Act Four Live: Pop culture with Alyssa Rosenberg (April 1)

Apr 01, 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.

Greetings, friends, and happy Monday! My baby  has decided to stop sleeping in favor of midnight crawling practice, so if I'm lightly zombiefied (definitely a slow zombie rather than a fast one) today, I apologize in advance. My husband and I also started rewatching "The Sopranos," which made me ponder an idea about the series' ending that I haven't seen elsewhere before. And I'm closing in on finishing Marlon James "Black Leopard, Red Wolf," about which I feel like there's been curiously little cultural discussion. Anyone else have thoughts?

I'm not as negative about AFD. I do find it annoying when the press gets involved it. I just like I've wasted my time reading a whole article until realizing, "Oh yeah, April Fools" Online, everyday is sort of "April's Fools Day" anyway.

In general, I agree. The occasional brilliantly-executed April Fool's Joke is the exception that tends to prove the rule. This year's delight comes from the Los Angeles Times, which published a pitch-perfect satire of the pieces the New York Times tends to write about food scenes in other cities that the Gray Lady tends to dub "emerging" even when locals have known about them for years. It's a great joke, because it absolutely nails an ongoing and irritating phenomenon without being mean-spirited, it's genuinely funny, and no one is deceived in a way that's damaging or embarrassing.

I did think it was somewhat interesting in Stephanie Carter's post she specially called out late night hosts (saw the clip where Jon Stewart WENT TO TOWN over her and Biden). Curious if any of them address that particular part about themselves?

For context, in case anyone in here hasn't seen the Medium post in question, Stephanie Carter is explaining that the public interpretations of a picture of her with Joe Biden were not accurate to her experience. This has been an issue because of a recent piece Lucy Flores wrote about how Biden's conduct affected her.

I'll be curious to see if they respond. I think this whole incident is a useful reminder that no one person's story can stand in for everyone else's experiences. It can both be the case that Stephanie Carter was not uncomfortable and that Lucy Flores was shocked and upset, and their responses to being touched by Joe Biden are both completely legitimate. This is why it's not necessarily a good idea to assume that because someone else was  okay with your behavior that everyone will be, or that because one person found something offensive that everyone will. It's worth treating people as individuals, rather than as blank canvasses onto whom you can act any way you please.

This feels like a can of worms subject and a small part of this whole thing, but can people stop sharing the photos online of Stephanie Carter or Maggie Coons, let alone their commentary on those photos. These people have been on record for years that whatever somebody's else interpretation of how they look, total strangers don't speak for them let ignore what they've said about how the massive amount of press, not the former Vice President, is what made them feel uneasy. I don't what the make of "If I was in that situation..." stuff, but Stephanie Carter and Maggie Coons were they didn't send up the Batsignal for others' "hot take."

I think it's reasonable to use those photos as evidence that Joe Biden has a pattern of touching women in a fairly enthusiastic way, but *not* reasonable to tell every woman he's touched how she is supposed to feel about the experience. And if a woman is on the record with those feelings, it's especially inappropriate to project onto them or tell them that their feelings are wrong in some way.

I've been rewatching GoT ahead of the final season, and it's been great as a reminder of how fantastic the show can be. It's also been interesting how my perspective on different moments or plots has shifted. Maybe the biggest change this time has been realizing how sad Theon's story is. I used to find it mostly just unpleasant to me, but it now strikes me as a really effective portrait of how destructive toxic ideals of masculinity are to men. Anyway, I was wondering what some of your favorite parts of the show have been. What do you think are the show's best season, episode, character, and battle? What's a moment, episode, or storyline that you think is under-appreciated?

I totally agree with you about Theon's storyline, which is tremendously tragic. Among my favorite parts of the show: the long arc of Sansa and Arya's relationship, culminating in their takedown of Littlefinger; Jaime Lannister's growing realization that decency feels better to him than transgression; Sam's discovery that his brain is as powerful a weapon as a sword; everything involving Varys and Tyrion. Dany's raid on the wagon train is one of my favorite battles, mostly because it illustrates that the power of the dragons can be ugly and terrorizing as well as magnificent. I don't have a single favorite character or episode; I just don't particularly think about the show that way. The cliché in horror movies how a cell phone either can't get a signal, battery dies, or gets broken is worn territory. Having watched a few murder mysteries, there's another cliché is how when somebody has gone missing, but their cell phone is still on (sometimes even sending text messages), but it's always never from the actual owner because the owner is probably been murdered. Never trust when the cop says, "Oh your sweet teenage daughter has to fine, her cell phone is on." in a murder mystery.

Indeed! Let's see if Jordan Peele can find something creative to do with these little computers we all schlep around in our pockets.

There's an episode from "Black Mirror" third season where bees have been replaced by robot bees and somebody hacks into the control to cause them to kill off every person who went online to rush to judgement using a "#DeathTo" hashtag. I used to think it was kind of a dumb concept, but less so now. Bit sick of "Fuck off and die" attitude of social media.

Honestly, this is a reason I spend a lot less time on Twitter than I used to. Some of it is that the rushes to judgement can be wrong. Some of it is that they're conversationally incredibly boring: when everyone dashes to affirm an initial read of a situation in an effort to bolster their moral standing, the discussion doesn't actually go anywhere or help people get to a new and more productive place. And finally, I don't necessarily understand the drive to position myself morally in this way. I'm not running for office, I don't always feel the urge to fill out a checklist that people can examine to determine if I've taken the correct positions. Sometimes it's a lot more edifying to pursue a subject of genuine interest that isn't caught up in the controversy news cycle.

Guidelines for (un)acceptability? I'd say they need to be no harmful, not humiliating, preferably funny enough that the recipient can get "in" on the joke quickly enough to enjoy the joke, rather than being the butt of it. Agree?

I'd add that they ought to genuinely reveal something, which is why the Los Angeles Times story worked so well. I think "not harmful" is more important than people think: as someone with extremely serious food allergies, I always find April Fool's Day really anxiety inducing, even though I blessedly don't work with anyone who would lie about ingredients and think it's funny. 

I did some of that recently. Two things I noticed. One was Christopher has a lot of relapses. Seems kind of "go-to" for the writers. I didn't realize how much of Janice was in the series. I know she's a character in the show, but I thought side character, but there's a lot of Janice. Her character must have been a favorite among the writers.

I guess you could think of it as a go-to, or as a reasonably realistic depiction of how a lot of addicts *do* relapse. And as much as Janice freaks me out as a character, I think Aida Turturro is incredible in that role, and I think once Livia (and Nancy Marchand) dies, the show really needs that toxic female counterpoint. 

Curious if you read "The Intercept"? More and more, with frequency its staff moves into the campaign, not-exactly-100%-accurate hit pieces on other candidates and defense of everything he does so much a stretch, it's feeling more and more like a Fox News for Sen. Sanders.

Not particularly! I will sometimes read a longer piece of reporting from them, but it's more of a case-by-case basis.

I'd never heard of him until his murder, yet I'm saddened in particular because he had a reputation for trying to bring peace to the 'hood.

Yeah, it's been interesting to me to see the response to his death. Stacia L. Brown's thoughts in particular were resonant to me; some of it's the man himself, some of it is the larger echoes with other deaths.

Hi Alyssa, Sorry the baby isn't sleeping, and hope the little one gets back into a better sleeping patter soon (I sympathize: I am single mom to a very much non-sleeping toddler...). I recently saw "The Aftermath," which was NOT AT ALL what I expected. I will do my best not to spoil it for you or anybody else who may not have seen it but wants to, but the entire premise of the movie was not well divulged in the trailer or description, and ended up being something far too personal and emotional for me. I stayed through the movie, and it was fairly well done, but the movie that I thought was founded primarily on intrigue and attraction really had a much more tragic, painful foundation. How much should trailers or descriptions reveal? Family-related challenges (which was at the heart of the movie) are REALLY hard for me to handle these days, so I wish I had known so I could have skipped it altogether.

This is such a difficult question, since I both completely sympathize with your desire to be able to brace yourself (or decide to skip a show or movie entirely), and I also feel for artists who want their stories to be able to unfold without the audience knowing everything they're about to see in advance. In general, I tend to feel like it's incumbent on those of us who feel sensitive to particular things to do our research in advance. That's one of the reasons I can't get too worked up about pieces that discuss the ends of movies that publish right when films come out; they're genuinely helpful to those of us in the audience who are trying to take care and protect ourselves.

These aren't just random women. These are people he knows and knows well. If you are going to cite those photos as evidence that he did this to a complete stranger in receiving line, I think that's kind of nuts.

Oh, sure, that feels like an overreach to me.

I think you just nailed it. It is the assumption that it is OK that irks me so hard. Person A was OK with it. She claims he had reason to know that she would be fine with it because of how close the families were. OK, fine. But he has been doing that to all sorts of women who stand in front of him at various events for decades. He couldn't have been close family friends with all of them. The real problem isn't that it is sexual, it is primarily infantalizing. That is the way you touch a young child in a family photo if you want to make sure they keep facing front. He is very tall, but that doesn't mean that it is OK for him to treat anyone under 5 ft 6 as a child.

Hmmm, I'd be curious to hear if others feel that way.

This one from REI is one of the best I've seen: I was midway through before I realized it was a prank - but in four or five years? Who knows?

That kitty cat looks so cozy in that tent!

Is that even a thing? It sounds like a Law & Order set up for a homicide involving reckless endangerment or some form of criminal battery. My favorite April Fools Day is usually the Think Geek new products. This year the onesie with the built in bean bag chair is less inspired than other years since it isn't the sort of thing that you would actually want to own. It is much easier to have the lounger and the bean bag separate. I do think the Banksy toaster was pretty darn clever.

When I was a kid, people actually did lie to my parents about ingredients in restaurants (or lied about whether they'd checked ingredients), and I got sick a couple times as a result. I do think the proliferation of people who falsely claim they have allergies when in fact they only have preferences has made people somewhat callous about legitimate concerns. I can definitely see something like this happening. Maybe I'm being a little paranoid, but it's a real fear.

I posted a big, obnoxious I-stand-with-Donald-Trump meme on FB for April Fools. Don't do that, it screws up the FB algorithms and I am now seeing ads and friend's posts that I want nothing to do with.

Your experience can be an education for the rest of us!

On NPR's "Here & Now" just now, it was mentioned that some of the supposedly evidentiary photos have been altered.

Link, please?

MINIMAL SPOILER: Did you see the starting episodes of "Mrs. Wilson" on PBS's "Masterpiece" last night? I thought the concept sounded weak (husband had a previous wife and children), but was amazed at the way the story unfolds. Looking forward to conclusion. It's based on one of the sets of series star Ruth Wilson's real-life grandparents.

Ooooh, interesting. This is on my list to check out. I adore Ruth Wilson, and she's basically the only thing that's got me excited about the "His Dark Materials" reboot.

if she was running for president? I get talking to her about a new series of her show, or about her make up business, or about her kids and expecting a new one. I just don't get where running for office comes in?

She's done a certain amount of issue-based lobbying, and in an era when Donald Trump can be president, it isn't entirely unreasonable to ask people who are gifted at burnishing their personal brands if they entertain political ambitions. 

The Biden story isn't online yet, but here's the program link:

Thanks for passing it along!

At the end of the day, I think it's reasonable to distinguish between Biden's touchiness and other, more serious forms of misconduct. It's also the case that I am not exactly enthusiastic about Biden's candidacy for many, many other reasons. As we go forward, I am trying to hold all of these different ideas in my head at once.

I don't think he intended to creep anyone out, had sexual intent, or was infantalizing. I think it is reflective of his personality and likely was the norm where and who he grew up with. My family (midwest, German/Italian) had a lot of the mannerisms Biden has, kissing lighting on the lips, hugging, putting hands on shoulders etc. There are behaviors that when we look back with a 2019 lens they are sexual assault now even if not called that then. What Biden does I would not consider assault now, although with people more apt to speak up its likely true he is realizing not everyone interprets his gestures as he intends (and thus should change).

This strikes me as a perfectly reasonable interpretation. I don't see Biden as a predator. I see him as someone who in this, as in many other areas, is very much of a different era, and has not necessarily updated his behavior and thinking to keep pace with changing norms.

Thanks, all. It's time for my 2pm meeting, so I've got to head over there and spin out some ideas for the week. Have a wonderful time, and I'll see you for our last chat before I go on vacation on Monday.

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