Act Four Live: Pop culture with Alyssa Rosenberg (Nov. 11)

Nov 12, 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.

Greetings, friends! I am very much hoping that we will not be plagued by technical troubles this week, and I apologize both for my fubar of two weeks ago and the wonkiness in our system from the previous week. Also, a programming note for next week: I have to take my kiddo to a doctor's appointment, so the chat will resume after Thanksgiving.

On a more amusing note, my colleague and pal Megan McArdle and I are working on a Thanksgiving package, which has involved doing some historical research into how the holiday was discussed and celebrated. So far, my favorite thing I've turned up as been this note from 1886: "The venerable Gov. Currier, of New Hampshire, makes no allusion to the Supreme Being in his Thanksgiving proclamation, and the Church is up in arms. Ministers refuse to read it and seriously resent the omission. But, having elected a Pagan who prefers to return thanks to Minerva, Ceres & Co., it would seem wiser to get along with his odd ways than to insist on his making hypocritical prayers. Wouldn't it?" Reading old news coverage is seriously the best.

I enjoyed Overlord a lot for many reasons, but a not-insignificant one is that Wyatt Russell delivers a pitch-perfect one-liner during the climax. One-liners in action and horror movies can get super cheesy or groan-worthy, but I get so thrilled when one actually lands properly. What do you think makes the difference between a good and bad one-liner? Do you have any particular favorites? Finn Wolfhard’s line about the clown in IT also comes to mind for me.

This is the kind of great question! "I'll have what she's having," from "When Harry Met Sally" is an all-timer. But I'd love to know what sticks in other people's heads, so I'll turn it over to the audience.

So I admit I was bit late to Beto love-in and still don't totally get it. I'm not a Texan, but if did relocate there, he'd have my vote. Still I went down a google rabbit hold and I think the weirdest thing was this attack ad against him. It was standard stuff about his 1998 D.U.I., but around the 10 second mark is a grainy smartphone video of him publicly intoxicated being spanked by a woman who might or might not be his wife (?). Man alive, everything in your life become public fodder, doesn't it?

This is something I think about a LOT with regard to parenting, in a number of different respects. My husband and I are members of the last generation *not* to live enormous parts of our lives online. It took us until high school to be spending a lot of time on instant messaging programs, and until beyond college when smartphones were ubiquitous. In some ways, I miss not having memories of those eras (though my awkward haircuts are best lost to history), but it's also really liberating to feel like I had time to figure out who I was as a human being before starting to leave an indelible impression all over the place. I don't know what it's going to be like to have a childhood and young adulthood where you're constantly aware that you're recording yourself. To that effect, my husband and I have been careful about the kinds of pictures we take and post of our kid, and the things we say about the baby publicly. I think we're probably not alone in that, but it definitely takes work and deliberation to make that so.

Sorry if you written it up already, but did you check "The Front-Runner" yet?

Sonny Bunch, who writes a column for me, had a very interesting interview with Jason Reitman and Matt Bai about the movie. I'll be curious to see it, though I'm coming to accept that in between pumping, a new role I've taken on (at least temporarily) in the Opinions section, and really trying to be there for my kid when I'm not in the office, that I'm going to remain behind on a lot of things for a long time. For those of you who have not had experience either being new parents or breastfeeding, it's really challenging to go catch a movie in the middle of the day when you need to be back in the office at specific times so you can make sure your kid can have enough to eat the next day. I'm not complaining about any of this, and I'm grateful to have a flexible workplace and a largely flexible job, but I am definitely still adjusting to this new normal, and will be for some time to come, I suspect.

So Ted Cruz's campaign is spinning the hell of his win that he was some kind of underdog to a superstar opponent as if him winning hands down was a safe bet and most Texans outside of his opponent's congressional district had no idea who he was. What bugs me is journalists acting like stenographers to this spin. Shocker, the chief strategist for Ted Cruz is not a neutral or objective source and how he sees the election might be worth pushing back on a bit.

Can I ask which journalists you think are being stenographers for this narrative? The coverage I've seen overwhelmingly seems to tell the story that it was never likely that O'Rourke was going to win, but that he got impressively close and helped boost turnout across the state in ways that had real implications for down-ballot races. I'm not sure I've seen any journalist suggest that Cruz was an underdog at risk of being upset by a celebrity candidate. Maybe that speaks to some sort of bubble in which I've ensconced myself, but I would really need to see examples of what you're concerned about to try to render a verdict here.

I really like this show and lord know they spend a pretty penny on it. It gets really cooking after awhile and the male lead was kind of hard to get into his storyline, but he got better. I think one theme is the Weimar Republic (a name used after the fact and not contemporaneously) was this fragile moment. It was the first democracy German had know after imperial absolutism and I think the message is that democracies are not inviable or self staining. Also kind of show the longtime influence of Russia on German politics and culture (you kind of forget how geographically close Russia and German are to each other).

I think there are a number of "Babylon Berlin" fans in this chat! I always find aberrational moments in history very interesting. I'm reading Frederic Morton's "A Nervous Splendor," about Vienna in 1888 and 1889, right now, and it captures a similar sense of momentousness. Something I've been thinking about a lot over the past couple of years is whether it's possible to identify when you're living through a historical or pivotal moment, and if so, how you ought to respond to it. Obviously, there are some developments that have historical significance by virtue of being firsts or being landmarks: the moon landing or the election of the first black president are clearly going to go in the history books. But during the 2016 presidential election, my husband and I spent a lot of time discussing this weird sensation we both had that we were at this precipice when the world order was changing and America's role in the world might be about to start to decline. I'm not claiming that we have some sort of special powers of prognostication (Election Night 2016 would have felt very different if we did), but it's definitely a feeling I'm trying to reckon with.

Just FYI - thanks

I will talk to my editors about these, I swear!

"Snap out of it!" "Yippee ki-yay mother f***er" "Dogs and cats, living together, mass hysteria!"

I have a "Moonstruck" poster hanging in my house that Norman Jewison inscribed "Alyssa-Snap out of it!" and it is one of my most treasured possessions.

I feel like "30 Rock" was one of the great all-time goldmines for one-liners. "It's after six, what am I, a farmer?" "Don't be dramatic. That's my thing, and if you take it away from me, I will kill myself and then you." "Guess who's got two thumbs, speaks limited French, and hasn't cried once today?" "

So in the story of the midterms and even in the story of the U.S. Senate race from Texas, this is barely a blimp. I can't think of anybody who really care about it. I know there have been a few posts about it, but site tweets from random accounts which isn't much of a standard and a lot of those posts are from right leaning outlets. Also there is such a thing as degree as in being mildly miff while still happy she did the Instagram post to going to streets and burn in effigy. Still this Live Chat is about pop culture, so let's dive into it? My "hot take" is Beyoncé Knowles can do whatever she pleases, especially in the political sphere, and owes nothing to nobody and certainly an Instagram post is more than nothing and the candidate himself was nothing but grateful to her. Still certainly I do somewhat wish she had done what Willie Nelson had done. Even more than that is I want the result of the election to different and the difference between the two candidates was about 220,000 votes so that a big enough margin that I doubt Beyoncé Knowles would the single factor.

My understanding is that she did made it possible to register to vote at her tour stops over the past year, which is more than nothing! Knowles-Carter has an interesting and complex relationship to public engagement at the moment: her work is highly political, but she doesn't spend a lot of time dissecting or explaining the symbolism in it. She doesn't really give traditional interviews anymore: when she was on the cover of Vogue, she selected the photographer herself, and wrote text to accompany them. She's also keenly aware of how the news cycle works, I think, and so she may well have recognized that doing something earlier would have gotten lost in a tide of new developments. There are a lot of ways for celebrities to engage with politics, and different things will be effective depending on what artists' relationships with their fan bases look like.

I have no idea if this is old or new, and it is apropos of nothing, but I accidentally came across this spoof trailer for The Shining as though it were a romantic comedy. Not only is it brilliant, but it makes you realize that with the right editing and music a trailer can make any movie look like anything they want it to.

I love trailer hacks (and also Honest Trailers). Cutting trailers is a minor act of creativity, but still one with a lot of room for innovation.

LOVED it! BTW, is it ever ok to ask a restaurant to reheat your soup?

I would think so as long as it's not Vichyssoise.

The tricky thing about one-liners is that a lot of them seem funny/clever/deep the first time or two you see a movie, but repeat viewings are not kind to them. I can't think of a specific quote, but "Independence Day" pops to mind. I love that movie and watch it just about every year, but those quips are not exactly fresh anymore!

I think that's actually a great mark of comedic talent: is a one-liner funny the 20th time you hear it? Or does it get old fast?

You left out my absolute favorite: "Working on the night cheese!"

That's "Working on *my* night cheese."

Two of my favorites, which reside at the opposite ends of the spectrum: "I carried a watermelon" and "In case I forget to tell you later, I had a really good time tonight." Baby's cringeworthy line (I've seen Dirty Dancing a bazillion times and still cringe!) is instantly relatable; haven't we all said something dumb/foolish/silly in front of the cute boy/girl/person we have a crush on? I know I have. Then there's Vivian and that line which is just the epitome of sweet romance to me. I am still waiting for the situation in which I can break it out (which I'm pretty sure will mean it's true love).

"No one puts Baby in a corner" is a great non-comedic one-liner as well!

"Follow the money."

And from TV's Don Draper "That's what the money's for!"

Somebody pointed out to me that "Aviator" is the top grossing movie ever yet it doesn't have any one-liners which is kind of weird, no?

You are giving me an excuse to write about the weirdness of "Avatar," (which I assume is the movie you're referring to, not "The Aviator," and so I'm going to take this for this week's newsletter!

When's the last time a US President missed a Veterans' Day (or Memorial Day) commemoration at Arlington National Cemetery (as Trump did today)?

Obama observed Memorial Day in Chicago in 2010. George W. Bush was in Texas for Veterans Day in 2007. George H.W. Bush was in Kennebunkport in 1992. Ronald Reagan missed Memorial Day in 1983. So as much as it's fun to chronicle the outrages of the Trump administration, and as much as his excuse seems pretty flimsy, this is not exactly uncommon.

Also 'Show me the money!"


In your piece on the reader comment re Bohemian Rhapsody, you wrote, “Bill Cosby was an icon to a lot of black Americans.” I think he was an icon to a lot of Americans, black and white, just like I think August Wilson’s plays chronicle the American experience, not just the African-American experience. I often feel as if black Americans are considered black first and Americans second. You’d never say Death of a Salesman chronicles the white American experience.

I actually want to push back against that a little bit! I've written in the past about what a White History Month might actually look like. And I think that it both can be true that "The Cosby Show" was broadly popular and also that it had specific meanings and significance for some black viewers. The same can be true for a lot of other things: I think that "The Godfather" has a particular meaning to my Italian-American extended family (and that it might land with other audiences in highly specific ways). I think that "Crazy Rich Asians" had significance for some Asian-American viewers--the reaction to the mahjongg scene comes to mind--that it might not have held for some general interest audiences. Cultural artifacts can mean multiple things to multiple audiences, white audiences included.

"It's not the years, it's the mileage" from Raiders Of The Lost Ark. "...What am I, a farmer?" is one of my all-time faves, too.

It is so sad and frustrating to me that Alec Baldwin is such a troubled person, because he's such a tremendous actor, as those one-liners from "30 Rock" indicate. "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," and Andre Braugher in particular, have really taken up that mantle. His intonation of "I cannot even" is one for the culture record books.

I saw "The Shinning" at like age 4 and thought it was hilarious. I beg my parents for a big wheel and Tony really stuck with me and started doing that voice with my finger and started calling my mom "Mrs. ___" like he Danny's mom. I think was just too young to any clue on atmosphere. I don't even think I got the two little girls were ghosts because they weren't see-through. For longest time and I keep saying it wasn't a scary movie even though I couldn't really remember it and I'm the biggest scared-y-cat about horror movies (I saw Tom Hanks comedy The 'Burbs and super scared by it). Then I finally saw it at age 25 and I couldn't get that I know I saw this movie (I mean the nice cook get a axe to the stomach) yet it totally went over my 4-year-old head I guess.

That is fascinating! Just goes to show, art can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people.

It is weird/sad that the American president is so vain that he can't go out in the rain because of his hair.

As someone with extremely humidity-prone hair, this may be the only area in which I have any iota of sympathy for Donald Trump.

1. Lou Grant (Ed Asner) to WJM-TV job-applicant Mary Richards on the pilot of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show": "You've got spunk. I hate spunk!" 2. Computer-match Amy Farrah Fowler to Sheldon Cooper at their first meeting on "The Big Bang Theory": I don't object to the concept of a deity, but I'm baffled by the notion of one that takes attendance."

Oh, man "I hate spunk!" is one of the great ones.

This could be a slippery slope for some of us... "Not great, Bob!" and "I want to burn this place to the ground," "My name is Peggy Olson, and I want to smoke marijuana" all come to mind.

I definitely say "Not great, Bob!" when I want to express distress at a farcically awful situation. One of the great joys of "Mad Men" was how funny it often was.

Just going to break in for a second to note that TMZ is reporting that Stan Lee is dead. He's obviously someone with a complex legacy, but there's no question about his impact on American culture. And the later years of his life are a sad testament to the damage that can be done by elder abuse. 

we had a drinking game in college to the new hart show - drink at every Hi Bob. lots of drunken afternoons - sigh

Hah! That sounds fun and also slightly dangerous.

OTOH, "Mystic Pizza" elicited mixed feelings among the Portuguese-American community. Although at least at the weading reception scene at the end, they used a group of authentic Portuguese-American musicians (led by Dennis Paiva) performing authentic Portuguese-American folk dance music. And the setting of the film "The Accused" was moved from Portuguese-American stronghold of New Bedford, Massachusetts, to the state of Washington, and entirely scrubbed the ethnicity of Portuguese-Americans from the "Big Dan's" gang-rape case on which it was based.

These are such interesting examples!

Love that fake Shining trailer! (In the trailer I'm thinking of, at least, it's "Shining," not "The Shining"--I assume it's the same one.) I teach college history and actually use it in class to talk about the importance of context and word choice. Not sure any of them have actually seen The Shining, but I love showing it---so I do! Also shown in class: "She turned me into a newt!" "A newt?" "I got better!" (Ok, I guess that's a 3-liner, but it's spectacular.)

You sound like a really good teacher. :)

I'll always remember the restraining order that he swore out against stalker Sheldon on "Big Bang Theory."

He's had such an interesting meta-career, that I wonder if it obscured what appear to have been very real and said issues around his care during the end of his life. 

Folks, thanks as always for keeping me company. I hope you all have wonderful, relaxing Thanksgivings, and I'll see you back here at the end of the month.

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