Act Four Live: Pop culture with Alyssa Rosenberg (May 21)

May 21, 2018

When the credits come up at the movies, the pages in a book run out, or the last commercial rolls over the end of a television episode, the story might be over. But the discussion is just getting started. Here at Act Four, we’ll get together every week to talk about the best (and worst) in pop culture. We’ll also try to sort out why the stories we love mean so much to us, and what they mean for the rest of the world.

Hi everyone! Happy Monday! As a reminder, this is the last Act Four Live chat before I start my maternity leave. And on a personal note, thank you so much both for being here every week, and for all your support and parenting stories over the past few months. This is the part of my job that routinely gives me the most personal joy, and while I very much look forward to getting to know my baby over the next few months and getting to see my husband become a father, I'm also going to miss you all very much. I know you'll save up great questions and thoughts for me in my absence, and I'll look forward to hearing them on my return (likely on October 1, though that's not set absolutely in stone). With all of that said, let's get to it!

Is there one example you'd be willing to share about a pop culture secret that although it's obvious none of your or anyone else's business, you'd still like to know i.e. who (director Matthew Vaughn, Michael Fassbender, Jason Sudeikis, Ashton Kutcher) is the father of January Jones' son?

I will be honest: I genuinely don't have a huge amount of curiosity about celebrity gossip, which I distinguish from actual pop culture news and ephemera. I think part of it is that I read a lot of Perez Hilton during his nasty period, and I got burned out on this sort of speculation and sliming people. I don't care who January Jones had a kid with. I don't care who Mindy Kaling had a baby with. It just doesn't light up any sector of my brain.

That said, is there genuine news I'd be curious to know? Yes. I would love to know who knew what Harvey Weinstein was up to, and when, and how they decided what they were going to do about it. I'd be interested to know what the relationships between people running major franchises, like Kathleen Kennedy and Kevin Feige, and the people directing the movies that are a part of those franchises are actually like. But most of what I'm curious about is stuff that affects how our pop culture is actually made, not the private lives of famous people.

Don't get backlash against Hillary Rodham Clinton endorsing Andrew Cuomo. I can get people disagreeing with it, but it fits into who Hillary Rodham Clinton is. She is a party person. "For the good of the party" means something to her. I don't live in New York and not a Democrat or Republican so no bone in the fight, but you kind of need people like HRC to make party's work. Not be blind about it, but loyalty matters in party politics? Her critique of Bernie Sanders not caring about down-ballot races or building up the party seems pretty reasonable. Acknowledging someone is being reasonable doesn't mean he or she is right or "I agree" though. Agree or disagree, I think HRC's point not to be dismissed.

As much as this would be interesting to wade into, in the interests of full disclosure I have a close relative who is a top adviser to Nixon, and thus have decided it's better for me not to write or comment about the race! Please forgive me my ethics. :)

Loved it! Also, the "American Masters" docudrama profile of "Little Women" author Louisa May Alcott, which helped delineate the family's facts from the novel's fiction.

Have you read "Eden's Outcasts," the great joint biography of Louisa May Alcott and her father Bronson? If not, I highly, highly recommend it (along with "Prairie Fires," the wonderful and devastating new biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter Rose). It's so easy with these classic novels to conflate the authors and main characters, but I actually find that "Little Women" and the "Little House" books become more poignant and powerful when we see them as attempts to make order and meaning out of somewhat chaotic lives.

I can't find anything worthy of watching on tv or at the cinema these days? What are the top 5 shows I have never seen? Just climb into my brain and help a brother out por favor?

I honestly can't answer this question for you unless I know what sorts of things you like. I can tell you what I like, but without a sense of your preferences, it's impossible for me to give you useful recommendations!

Just curious if you had the experience of well wishes from people you didn't expect? Doesn't have to be famous folks like Aaron Sorkin or Beau Willimon.

Since Aaron Sorkin and I got into a rhetorical tangle at a Television Critics Association panel a while back, and since I've written repeatedly about how wrongheaded I think Beau Willimon's vision of American politics is, I neither expect nor particularly wish for congratulations from any of them. I have a few sources who I've known for long enough and speak to frequently enough that it made sense for them to know I was pregnant, and they've been very kind.

Sometimes I think the folks who put out the silliness of the monarchy come across kind of silly themselves. Did think this twitter thread was kind of helping in sounding a more smart about why be against monarchies.

I have absolutely no interest in living under a monarchy, but I very much enjoy spectacles like the Royal Wedding. People who chide folks for the sin of, say, appreciating Meghan Markle or a great Royal Wedding dress are frequently revealing their own inability to hold two competing ideas in their heads at the same time. Part of not going completely insane in a world that is very, very far from our ideal is being able to take some pleasure where you can find it without letting it blind you to all the work that we have to do to make juster, more sensible societies. And part of the role of fantasy is to allow us to exorcise impulses that we'd never actually act on.

What books about film would you recommend? I know you've mentioned some Hollywood history books before, but I'm interested in finding ones that speak more to the craft that goes into making movies and/or how to interpret them (so, I guess, film criticism)

I have not spent a substantial amount of time reading books about the technical side of filmmaking, honestly, though there are obviously a ton of great ones out there. In terms of where to start, I'd probably suggest picking one of the books by a filmmaker or editor whose work you are at least somewhat familiar with, whether that's David Mamet or Alfred Hitchcock, not least because that will give you more concrete points of references for what they're talking about.

In terms of books that will help you think about how to interpret movies, which is a very different thing from how to make movies, I'd actually recommend two memoirs. Roger Ebert's "Life Itself" is a wonderful look at one of the defining critics of the 20th and 21st century. And I just finished Frank Rich's memoir "Ghost Light," which, while not about movies, traces the emergence of his early critical sensibility as a child growing up in Washington, DC and falling in love with theater. I don't think there's a technically correct way to appreciate the movies, or pop culture in general. There's just the process of figuring out one of many ways to watch them. Those two books are excellent accounts of what that process was like for two very good critics.

I don't have a question - just wanted to give you my best wishes for the childbirth. And everything that comes after that!

Yup! For a few more days, at least. And thank you. Your good wishes mean a great deal to me and my husband; it's really special to know so many people are rooting for us.

I've been looking for pictures of the 53+ flowers on the veil. Are there any? Will there be any?

If you're looking for a slideshow of the flowers from the Commonwealth countries and California, I can't help you there. But if you're looking for the sketches released by Kensington Palace, there are some more details here.

Are Prince Harry and Oprah Winfrey good friends? Is she just a big fan of 'Suits"? Do anyone just invite Oprah Winfrey to their wedding if they think she'll show up? Is the celebrity element really more relatable to the public then if they had invited political leaders from the U.K. and Commonwealth Nations?

Given that Prince Harry is currently sixth in line to the British throne, his wedding was more a personal event than a political one. As a result, I think he and Markle had a lot more freedom to invite whoever they wanted, rather than worrying about political considerations (though, despite Harry's friendship with Michelle Obama, they clearly decided to avoid a dustup by inviting neither the Obamas nor the Trumps). I have no idea if either of them is friends with Oprah Winfrey! But if they are, good for all three of them. And I love the story that Winfrey decided her initial dress photographed too white and had Stella McCartney whip up a last-minute alternative for her so she wouldn't compete with the bride; that is silly wealth and celebrity connections in service of good manners, and I am into it.

I felt like we being a bit oversold on the mega success of her acting career. In the broad spectrum of people with acting ambitions, she's in a very select group of working ones and "high on the call sheet" although there is that feeling in acting that after every job one is back to square one at the auditioning room. Still Grace Kelly was world famous in her own right with an Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role, Alfred Hitchcock's muse and string of famous lovers before she married the obscure Prince of Monaco. Is it wrong to say she wasn't in Grace Kelly's league? Granted not many actresses are. If one of her co-stars on "Suits" got married, probably be on Entertainment Tonight and shows like it, but not covered until after the second commercial break.

I'm not sure who you think is doing the overselling? And why the need to distinguish her from Grace Kelly? Markle was a reasonably successful TV actress who also ran a blog and did some charity work, and now is going to do the last item on that list on a much higher level. I hope it works out well for her, and the beneficiaries of her efforts! 

When the mini-series about the Trump administration is made, what role should Costa Ronin, who has become the go-to Russian infiltrator in both Homeland and The Americans, play? Wishing you all the best!

Hmmm, just facially, maybe Michael Anton, author of the notorious "Flight 93" election piece? Also I admit that I like the idea of breaking him out of some typecasting. Poor guy is too talented to be slotted into playing a Russian operative forever.

I remember seeing a lot of posts about WaPo's benefits packages a few months ago. Do you get parental leave (paid, I hope)? How about your hubby? Congratulations to you both!

My parental leave will be paid through a combination of sick leave, the four weeks of paid parental leave the Post gives us, vacation time I rolled over from this year, and vacation time I've earned this year. My husband gets twelve weeks of paid parental leave, which is awesome, and I'm really glad he'll be able to spend that time at home with us. He is already really good at reading stories to the baby, so I'm looking forward to a long summer of him doing that when she doesn't have a lot of amniotic fluid in her ears. Thanks so much.

Just wondering how you are and your GD is?

I feel good but tired, and I'm fortunate that my GD has been controlled by a combination of diet and exercise. This kiddo and I are both getting into the finish line in good shape.

Shakespeare's plays were pop culture, but at some point became regarded as serious works. Ditto Dickens' novels (although the musical "Oliver!" returned Oliver Twist to the pop canon for a while, and the novella "A Christmas Carol" seems to straddle the pop-serious dichotomy). And many popular songs from the early-to-mid 20th century are now relegated to "The Great American Songbook." So my question is, what do you and the chatters think are the older CONTINUOUS pop culture works that have always been and still are in pop culture? Elvis maybe?

I love this question, and while I don't have a fantastic answer for it, I'd love to hear readers' responses to it. And I'm going to save this as a  possible newsletter topic.

For decades the true identity of "B. Traven," the author of "Treasure of the Sierra Madre" has been a mystery (see: And the search for Amelia Earhart's remains continues.

That's a good example of something where it would be interesting to know, just because it would illuminate a classic work of art!

I admit I'd be with you on that one, but then I realized that if the WaPo website had a headline along the lines of "JANUARY JONES RELIEVES IDENTITY OF SON'S FATHER" I'd click on.

I might, too, though less because I feel like the identity of that person is interesting, and more because I'd be curious to know about Jones' decision-making process and her experiences as a mom. Maybe that's a distinction without a difference.

Welcome to the world of sleepless nights and discussions about poop. Do you think your work perspectives will change after having a baby? I used to think not, but I've become a lot more sensitive to violence against children to the point where I have to change the channel or read spoilers to make sure I don't have a super adverse reaction.

I expect them to, and I'm excited to see what parenting does to my perspectives. We were relaxing over the weekend by watching "The Fate of the Furious," because my brain is broken and sometimes you just have to be a lazy goofball, and I joked to my husband that one of the most interesting thing about that movie is the way it models good fathering. Dwayne Johnson's character is deeply devoted to coaching his daughter's soccer team. Jason Statham's character is redeemed in part by taking good care of a baby. Vin Diesel's character, long the worst part of that franchise, does the worst dadding in it--seriously, the plot is him basically telling his wife "So I had this baby I didn't know about with someone I was with while I thought you were dead, but you're excited to raise him, right?" But it's an interesting throughline.

If you've missed "Young Sheldon," I can attest that it's far better than I imagined (feared) it would be, including Annie Potts who steals every scene as his MeeMaw.

Passing this along!

But since you mentioned bueller, maybe comedy? I really enjoy The Good Place if you haven't seen it yet?

Also this! OP, I hope some of these suggestions from your fellow readers help.

You've mentioned that you plan to watch mostly baseball during your maternity leave, I was wondering what you have been thinking would make a good entrance point for you child to pop culture? I wonder a lot about if we were to try an reverse our "violence is okay, but sex must be censored" ideology in determining age appropriateness what would that look like?

I feel like that's a huge question my husband and I have yet to tackle in granular detail yet, though we have a running, jokey discussion about the right age for someone's first viewing of  "The Godfather." Honestly, we haven't quite gotten there  yet, and some of it will depend on the temperament of the kid, I expect.

Did you get to see Deadpool this weekend? If so, what did you think?

I did! My piece on it just went up. I found it basically forgettable, though some of the jokes are snappy.

I tend to agree with you. The gossip I am most interested in is the gossip that affects the TV show or movie I am watching. But that gossip can blend with more salacious gossip, as well. For me (and since this is anonymous), I really want to know about whatever happened between Julianna Margulies and Archie Panjabi on the Good Wife. Allegedly due to "personal" issues, the two did not like each other, which forced the creators of the Good Wife to push Archie to the side. It became a gag to see how long the show could go on without the two most interesting characters interacting at all. When Archie left, it looks like the "last scene" between the two characters was shot at two different times. It is a shame, because the handling of the conflict really pushed aside one of the most interesting/complex relationships between female characters.

An excellent point; sometimes there is crossover between more personal gossip and the substance of creative work.

Dull and ill fitting. Kate’s hair and makeup were significantly better than the bride’s.

My friends Jessica Morgan and Heather Cocks, who write the great fashion blog Go Fug Yourself, thought it was possible that Markle lost more weight than she expected in the final runup to the wedding. That wouldn't surprise me! It's a lot of stress, and I certainly have no idea how my body would handle something like that. The wedding ceremony dress wasn't particularly to my taste, though I did think it was nicely in line with Markle's clean, minimalist aesthetic. And I thought she looked *fantastic* in her Stella McCartney reception dress.

So, I read the Vulture article you mentioned in Friday's Act Four newsletter, and I have to say I found it pretty frustrating. I absolutely agree that movies need to include stories beyond those of cis white gay men, but I take issue with the argument that films about queer people need to be radical and subversive, as if their only value can be as political expression. Dismissing movies like Love, Simon and Call Me By Your Name as meek commercialism that caters to straight people is an annoyingly reductive view of queer filmmakers and audiences, IMO.

Honestly my preference would be a cinema environment that can accommodate both kinds of stories. I think Jung's argument is that assimilationist storytelling has eclipsed queer storytelling that aims at expanding our understandings of how sexual orientation and gender identity can function. I think it's probably the case that the assimilationist storytelling hasn't eclipsed a more radical kind of moviemaking, it's just that the former gets made and promoted by bigger studios and distributors that were never going to finance "Paris Is Burning" in the first place. That said, I'm very curious to see how FX's "Pose" turns out for precisely this reason: it's a mainstream show on what used to be a very explicitly masculine network about queer and trans people and the communities they create for themselves. 

Although Kate Middleton looked smashing at the wedding (doesn't she always?), I wondered if she deliberately chose to wear a re-run rather than a new outfit, so as not to appear to be competing with the bride.

I think there is a very strong chance that is the case, and I think it was a classy, graceful move (though I believe that was a new hat). 

LOVED the coverage of the royal wedding... it was just too lovely to even be cynical about. But I'm bummed at the lack of evening photos... think anyone will have any? I want to see the back of HRH MM's dress... and what the guests wore (besides Serena and Pyrinkha)... Any idea why no photos have been released yet?

Maybe because it's more of a private event? There have been some fun roundups of posts from guests' public Instagram accounts.

What profession is he in, out of curiosity... not expecting details, of course. I ask because some industries are more open to male parental leave than others.

He's the senior fellow at Media Matters for America. I cover the fun media, he does Fox News and the fever swamps. It's a weird combination, but we make it work.

I think as a send-off, we should right now discuss the Top 5 "Baby" movies. Three Men & A Baby probably makes it.

Hah, please do send me all your suggestions! I'll be reading email for at least a few more days.

read that the shelved Black-ish episode came up again during the upfronts. That episode had acquired a mystique that may last unless(until?) we do see it. I am curious about whether not showing it was really a "both sides agree" decision as the network continues to assert.

That is not gossip! It's very definitely news.

Love them and The Royal We! That is all :)

"The Royal We" is a complete delight. Highly, highly recommended for anyone in this chat who enjoyed the Royal Wedding and needs some fun summer reading.

The predicate letter is from a mom who has shielded her 8- and 6-year-old sons from all TV, while she and her husband only get their news from papers and online, so the kids won't see it. Needless to say she got lacerated by the Peanuts. My question is how you plan to handle your child's exposure to news (sometimes horrible) in a few years when she's old enough to start grasping some of the images and words.

I grew up this way -- largely isolated from pop culture -- and became a critic, so all I can say is that those parents should be careful what they wish for. :)

I think we'll try to talk to the kid honestly and carefully about what she sees and learns, with the understanding that it's inevitable that kids find their ways to thinks that will inevitably upset them. I remember having nightmares for weeks about the famous picture of a dead child being carried out of the remains of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building, and after reading "Children of Circumstance," a shattering New Yorker article about two young British boys who murdered a toddler in the 1990s. An early acquaintance with evil is always going to be awful. I just hope that even if I can't protect my child from some of the worst realities of the world, that I will always be there to answer questions and acknowledge fears as best I can.

Ooof - she fit into a dress she already owned, only a month postpartum? I was still slopping around in maternity tents at that point. Hope she's OK.

Ugh, I know, right? I hope she a) has the best industrial Spanx in the world, b) got to take them off and enjoy some of that wedding cake. For all her life seems glamorous, a lot of it is a really crushing job.

Folks, it's time for me to sign off. Thank you again for all your well wishes, thoughtful advice about parenting, and things to consider. I'll miss you very much over the next few months, but I look forward to our reunion in the fall. And in the mean time, if you want to send thoughts my way, I will try to check email occasionally at 

In This Chat
Alyssa Rosenberg
Alyssa Rosenberg blogs about pop culture for The Washington Post's Opinions section.
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