Act Four Live: Pop culture with Alyssa Rosenberg (Jan. 14)

Jan 14, 2019

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.

Good afternoon, everyone! I hope those of you who have snow days are enjoying them immensely, and that those of you who didn't managed to get some fun outside time yesterday. Let me tell you, introducing a baby to snow is a DELIGHT, especially when said baby decides to try to eat a snow ball. If you've got the day off and you're doing cultural consumption, tell me about your snowy-weather treats.

I get not wanting to give him the attention he so clearly craves, but I also dislike this he-who-shall-not-be-named routine about Donald Trump when talking about i.e. "certain politicians" talk. Just say his name. It's silly and annoying otherwise.

Can I ask who you see doing this? I do think there are certain cases where multiple politicians are behaving in a certain way: if we're talking about racist dogwhistles (or outright racism), it's totally reasonable to lump in Rep. Steve King with the president. That said, if you're talking about Trump, of course we should go ahead and just say who we're talking about!

On the he-who-shall-not-be-named question, I think there is a certain case to be made for thinking about how much head space we want to allow the president to occupy. It's absolutely worthwhile and critically important to be politically engaged, of course. But I do think for all of us, it's worthwhile to think about what the line between engaged and obsessed is: it's possible to spend an enormous amount of time thinking about someone without getting anywhere productive. Politics is a long haul. Even if Trump is defeated in 2020, it's going to take a tremendous amount of work to achieve certain kinds of change in this country. If that's a priority for you, setting healthy boundaries that will let you stay in the fight are tremendously important.

Seems very niche to English current events requiring some beforehand knowledge? It kind of reminds when I first saw "All The President's Men" and the Watergate hearings, impeachment treats and resignation are just brief text on a news feed teletext at the very end. I guess audiences at the time it was made were more than familiar with Watergate, but honestly I wasn't and kept waiting for it throughout the movie.

Do you mean you weren't familiar with the way Watergate played out? Or that you were less familiar with the politics around Brexit? I think one of the things that makes "All The President's Men" distinctive as a movie is that it's so tightly focused on the process of doing journalism. It's not about making the President or his men the characters (for that, watch "Dick, "which is, for my money, the actual best movie about Watergate). It's about the work that journalists do, and so when the dominoes start to fall, it's off-screen because that's not actually the story.

Megyn Kelly wants back on TV, right? However many millions of dollars she got to go away and however many bad reviews she got of her morning show, if she wasn't the type to really want and/or need to be TV, she wouldn't be who she is.

My husband, the senior fellow at Media Matters (and the person who cracked the Trump-Fox News dynamic), is the actual expert on Megyn Kelly in our family, since he's spent years tracking the way she's toggled between her viral Megyn Moments and the culture war and racial demagoguery stuff that was her actual bread and butter at Fox News. But I will say I find her fascinating, and the best single article written about her is Caitlin Flanagan's big piece in the Atlantic in 2017. As Flanagan wrote then "Fox News turn a nobody into a star—but only of a certain size. You can’t become a Katie Couric or a Diane Sawyer or a Barbara Walters at Fox, so Megyn Kelly is off to the big time, which will crush her. NBC is not going to let her roll her eyes at black activists, or tell her audience that Santa is white, or hector a Planned Parenthood supporter with a horrified “Where’s your humanity?” Her recent adoption of Sheryl Sandberg–style 'you go, girl' feminism isn’t going to help her either. There are only so many uplifting reports on workplace mentoring you can file before sleepy viewers start clicking around. The reason Kelly was so great at Fox is that, unlike just about every other woman to be called this, she actually is a badass. Settle for More aside, she’s spent her career really not caring if you think she’s a racist or a pro-lifer or a bully. She’s a strong, strong woman—but she won’t be one at NBC. She’ll be like everyone else." I think she absolutely wanted to make the leap, but it's unclear to me now why she wanted to make it other than that it was the next prize to snaffle. And I have no idea what she'll do next.

Has anybody else noticed how "This is why Trump won" has kind of dropped out the common parlance?

I would desperately hope that by this point, we've learned that Trump won the election for a whole bunch of reasons, and that dealing with all of them matters. But that might be giving everyone too much credit.

Trivia question for the Live Chatters. Who were the U.S. Presidents who didn't carry their home state? NOTE: home state as in state of residence, not state of birth since that is more common i.e. Lincoln carrying Illinois, but not Kentucky where he was born or more recently George W. Bush carrying Texas, but not Connecticut. Not to post ANSWER: James K. Polk lost Tennessee, Woodrow Wilson lost New Jersey, Donald Trump lost New York, and Richard Milhous Nixon didn't carry New York (Nixons moved to New York after his lost in the 1964 California gubernatorial election).

Posting this because I'd like to hear the answer to the question, and also the explanation for why it happened.

So I was reading Matthew Yglesias and Bill Scher with their "hot take" take downs pieces about Beto O'Rourke and being Canadian, it reminded of something. Maybe you remember this or maybe you don't, but the Prime Minister of Canada was at a tech lab and a reporter snarly prefaced his question, "I'm not going to ask you about quantum computing." pretty much saying of course pretty boy dunce wouldn't know what it was and the Prime Minister proceed to give a succinct explanation of quantum computer. A bunch of reporters in Canada like Jesse Brown or Martin Patriquin who kind of look like Scher or Ygleslias, 40s, pudgy, balding, just couldn't accept he knew what quantum computing was and wrote-up posts along the lines of "Way to read the Wikipedia page, Justin." I get not liking a politician and none of them are above criticism, but none of the pieces felt very substantive. I can also accept he can know what quantum computing is, especially after he just send the day at a tech lab where the director said he came across as very knowledge about computing. In the "it's all just a rehash of Junior High" worldview, I think there are some men who view themselves as brainy and their self-value comes from it so it seems to upend their world when a man they view as attractive is also smart and really invested in showing it not to be the case.

There is a whole lot to unpack here, but broadly, it strikes me that we have a whole lot of work to do around gender roles for men. One of the reasons that feminism is so important to me, and that I think feminism is ultimately for everyone, is that I believe that rigid gender roles do a tremendous amount of harm to men as well as women, in ways that are often difficult to acknowledge or talk about. It's so frustrating to hear these conversations treated as a zero sum game, or to hear that feminism is misguided (or that the work of feminism is over) because men have shrinking life expectancy, or are dying at higher rates due to suicide or drug abuse. The answer to this dynamic isn't to stop trying to empower women. It's to look at what about gender roles is harmful for men as well, and to look at how we can shake up gender roles for everyone. You can't take pressure off men to be breadwinners without expanding the sense that women can be and without dealing with the wage gaps that make it harder for women to provide for their families on their own.  You can't make space for men to be sensitive and emotional without changing perceptions such that we understand that people of all genders can be sensitive and emotional without being weak. All of us need to be doing this work together. It's the only way to make progress for all of us.

Among other reason to not be very excited for next season is the focus is more and more of the weaker actors, Emilia Clarke and Kit Harington. Even Dinklage is sidelined since I'm can't even remember what, if anything, Tyrion did last season so unsure what he has coming up. Jon Snow and Daenerys have had their moments, but they don't have a lot of range among other things. Jon Snow is a tiresome with seven seasons of stuff showing him becoming a leader yet he's still doing the reluctant warrior shtick and that's only one of complaints.

One of the hardest things about adapting "Game of Thrones" was always going to be the casting, not least because so many of the characters started the series as children and needed to grow and change tremendously over time. In retrospect, the casting directors did an incredibly good job with this: Sophie Turner and Maisie Williams are tremendous finds, and I absolutely cannot wait to see what kinds of careers they have once the series is over. But it's unfortunate that two of the less-strong choices were for two of the characters who have ended up at the center of the show. I tend to think that Clarke is a stronger actor than Harington is, though part of the problem is also just that Dany has much better material than Jon. It's not the end of the world, but it does mean that the show is slightly less good than it could be overall.

Can I just say I love this show? That is all.

Yes. You can. 

My husband and I watched the Fred Rogers documentary "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" over the weekend, and it really drove home for me how much stories about people trying to be good and trying to address the emotional needs of others in straightforward, empathetic ways now seem much more radical than anti-hero narratives. I was about to start typing more along those lines and then I realized you'd given me a column I wanted to write, so I'm going to save some of those thoughts for later in the week. Thank you!

I was born and raised in the flatlands of San Francisco Bay Area, so never experienced sub-freezing temperatures, let alone snow, until I was 21 and took a trip to the Midwest in winter. My conclusion was that snow is highly overrated, and I only wish I still lived back home where it didn't snow. Can you imagine? We NEVER had a single day of school canceled due to weather, K-16.

LIES! Snow is great. And I say this as someone who walked through three feet of snow to get my braces off, after a blizzard knocked out electricity in my town for multiple days. 

Have you seen this movie? It's a very understated but accurate look at current teen culture. One problem with every movie of this variety is how to depict texting and other non-verbal forms of communication. Sometimes they show a close-up of a device and you're supposed to read the screen. Other times they have pop-up bubbles on screen. Other times they read the text in voiceover. It's sometimes tough to read the small text on a phone, especially on the TV broadcast of a theatrical release. What movies have done it well and what is the best way to treat it?

I actually thought "Crazy Rich Asians" did a nice job with this in the opening sequence, showing news traveling through an expanding text chain. The movie jumped between shots of the texters and visuals of the expanding web and the words of the texts. Other thoughts from the room?

John Mulvaney's "Horse in the Hospital" bit from his latest stand-up special never names Trump by name but it's very clear who he's talking about but it just makes it all that much funnier.

One nominee!

For little kids nothing beats a big bowl of snow and a wooden spoon. They love it!

One of my greatest accomplishments as an adult was teaching a friend's child to bang on a pan with a wooden spoon. The theory was that you ought to leave 'em louder than you found 'em. I didn't think to add snow to the mix, but that is definitely a great idea. I am very much looking forward to teaching my tiny human how to make maple sugar candy in a pot of snow once said tiny human is slightly older and can have sugar as a treat.

I thought it was a mocking way of saying "too much virtue signalling" which can be wrong and can be right rather than a serious analysis of the Republican victory.

That's true, it can have multiple meanings! I don't think the use of it as satire has gone away entirely, but I think the overly-portentous diagnostics have been muted a bit, which is healthy.

I can't help but wonder if her star would have declined some years earlier were it not for (genuine) public sympathy for her over her husband's premature accidental death. But she couldn't ride that horse forever, and now her callousness and irresponsibility at FaceBook can no longer be excused because of her widowhood.

I want to be very careful here, because I don't think anyone has said that being a widow was an excuse for any of the decisions Sandberg made as a business executive. I can sympathize with her experience as a young widow and admire the way she handled her husband's death and her family and think that her decisions at Facebook have been bad for the country and the world.

With that bit of throat-clearing out of the way, I think "Lean In" was more blip than revolution. I don't think the "Lean In" circles caught on in a particularly culture-changing way, and while I think the book was a useful self-help volume for women in certain kinds of careers, it's not going to end up being a lasting document. That's fine! Self-help is a perfectly fine genre! The book definitely inspired me to think more proactively about my career and to ask for more money at various points. Sandberg's star has dimmed, but it was also never as high in the sky as a clever marketing campaign might have made it seem.

"This Is Why Trump Won" has always had the same sort of ironic dissonance as "Thank, Obama" had. It requires a certain level of context to determine whether the speaker is being sarcastic or not. In the Trump Era, the perils of violating Poe's Law (It's impossible to be a parody of something without some people taking it seriously) are just rife.


I'll one up the snow-and-spoon treat. Scoop up a little fresh snow in a small bowl or cup and drizzle some (real) maple syrup on it. THEN did in with that wooden spoon!

As you may have noted, this is on my agenda for future snowstorms.

I feel I can confidently say that New Yorkers have always been aware of Trump's many flaws.


How do you count Al Gore losing Tennessee which he represented as a senator despite being raised in DC?

Original poster, you want to weigh in here?

She's leaving with what, $69 million that she ended up not even having to earn. With very little effort she could live in the manner to which I am sure she has become accustomed without ever working for another dime. She could pursue a hobby, or start a less incendiary career.

In general, I think this is a very interesting question for everyone to think about: is there a point at which if you had a certain amount of money, you would quit working no matter how old you are? I've thought about this idly, since our family is part of a lottery pool, and the conclusion I ultimately came to is that there's a point at which I would stop accepting a salary, and where I might drop down to working a couple of days a week, but it's hard for me to see a point at which I would stop working entirely.

Now, when it comes to Megyn Kelly, it's absolutely true that she has enough money to simply retire. But the terms of her departure from television mean that she's lacking something that money can't buy: respect and professional esteem. Maybe she can decide she doesn't care, and will spend the rest of her life by the beach. But I suspect that will not be the case, and that she'll attempt to make a comeback of some variety. I'm not sure that Kelly's talents are necessarily oriented towards the things she'd have to do to start rebuilding that respect. But simply from my own perspective as an amused observer, it would be interesting to see her try.

I think I asked you this already but I forgot your response - will you be watching this? I'm gonna check it out for sure.

I was mixed on the books, but if I have time, I'll give it a try.

But any and all kinds of rain are simply wonderful. Wait, dry and windy weather is actually the worst, but any more than conversation snow (sticks to the grass and makes the trees look pretty but just makes the pavement wet) is close.

The official position of this chat is anti-rain, except to the extent necessary for nature and crops and generally healthy ecosystems.

don't know if you saw it, mostly rather hum-drum except when Chuck Lorre accepted a creativity award. All the BBT cast introduced him via the "vanity card" texts he puts at the end of each episode, and his speech reminded the critics that for the most part they have panned his work -asking "not sure why they are giving me an award given . . . " Was the most honest seeming moment of the night.

This is one of those moments that illustrates the bifurcations in the critical community that I think are often invisible to a lot of folks. There are multiple kinds of critics, with different kinds of preferences, and I know and respect a lot of critics who like Chuck Lorre's shows a lot. They aren't necessarily the ones who are driving a certain kind of conversation, but they're well-read and they represent a big slice of American television viewers. Critics are not a monolith, even if we sometimes seem that way, and plenty of critics like Lorre.

can I express a pet peeve? Real maple syrup that is identified as "organic." They get the sap from a tree in the woods. No one sane puts artificial fertilizer on the forest. Or bug spray. Yeah, I guess that it costs something to get the certifying body to tell you to go ahead, but it is silly. Also, when I was in Ireland last spring, a high end grocery store (we stopped by for ice cream cones) sold Canadian maple syrup branded as from "Vertmont." Not cool, Canada.

In general, I think "organic" labeling is slightly exhausting.

So does being a Democrat today mean just either defending a random congresswoman from Queens because of conservatives I've never heard of are jerks to her or piling on whoever this congresswoman tweet out shade to online. Please people, enough self-congratulating and do something like volunteer at a local food bank.

I am not sure why you're putting this question to me, dear reader.

Okay, dear readers, I have to run off to a meeting, but I'll see you here this time next week!

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