Pop Culture Live with Alyssa Rosenberg (Nov. 11)

Nov 11, 2019

Is your favorite book or show over? The discussion here is just starting. Pop culture writer and editor Alyssa Rosenberg will be online every Monday at 1 p.m. Eastern for Pop Culture Live, where she'll talk about the best (and worst) in pop culture. She'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. Submit your questions comments on pop culture and her latest columns.

Read Alyssa Rosenberg's columns or catch up on past Act Four Live chats.

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Happy Monday, lovely people! How are you all doing? My husband and I have been rewatching the most recent season of "The Crown" in preparation for the arrival of the third season this weekend, and I have to say, it's given me a fresh appreciation for how good Matt Smith was as Prince Philip (that Claire Foy has been excellent needs no enumeration). Other than that, I'm happily "Watchmen"-ing away (and rereading the comics), and waiting to talk to you all about "Ford v. Ferrari," which I liked very much.

Last week's episode of "The Good Place" took a seemingly irredeemable character in Brent and gave him more depth in 30 seconds than I could have ever expected. So credit where it's due to the writers and equally so to Ben Koldyke for a remarkable performance. I am amazed this show is so comfortable continually refreshing itself mid-season, and can't wait to see how it ties up the series. What are your thoughts as the show nears its end? Sincerely, Mostly Here Because I Wish More People Were Talking About "The Good Place"

I have to confess that I am behind on this season of "The Good Place," due in part to the demands of a major project, but I am hoping to catch up shortly. I'm happy for any other "Good Place" fans to chat away here, though; I'll happily pass along your responses to each other.

I read his criticism of Marvel, and I'm not sure I understand his complaint? It seems to be a cross between "Old Man Yells At Cloud" and "If it is popular, then it cannot be Art". Am I missing something?

I think you are, a bit! I'll have a longer piece on this up on Wednesday, but I think Scorsese's objections are a couple-fold: first, that Marvel movies are not made under the independent creative direction of writers and directors, but rather that they are guided by an overarching corporate process; second, that though they are taking over cinema, that they are not interested in exploring the full range of human experience; and third, that they're more geared towards producing repetitive sensation than fresh insight. I think the whole "not cinema" debate is something of a distraction from these debates, which to me feel basically inarguable. Of course the Marvel movies are cinema, in the sense that they are a visual mode of storytelling that's projected on a screen. Whether they're good art, interesting art, or good for the cinematic arts as a whole is a very, very different question.

I hadn't really notice it much either way. Read one actor defending it, but just curious what you think of smoking? www.digitalspy.com/tv/a29456345/dublin-murders-bbc-cast-smoking/

When we talk about smoking and Hollywood, it's worth it to be cognizant of history: the tobacco industry explicitly worked with the entertainment industry to promote smoking and make it look glamorous, and did so very, very effectively. I think a policy of minimizing smoking in content aimed at younger viewers, except for reasons of historical or factual accuracy, makes a lot of sense given this history. "Dublin Murders" is definitely not aimed at younger audiences, so I don't see any real problem with having a character on the show smoke. And I don't think anyone has a policy that would, for example, forbid the characters on an adult-oriented period show like "Mad Men" from smoking. Also, given that tobacco use has fallen for a lot of communities, it's perfectly reasonable for entertainment companies to cut out depictions of cigarette smoking; it simply isn't as common a behavior as it once was, and it makes more sense to use cigarettes as an act of specific characterization.

Do you ever wonder why America knew adopted the remembrance poppies for November 11th?

My understanding is that the American Legion pushed for them to be a Memorial Day symbol in the United States. And it's also the case that, since World War I wasn't fought on American territory, our relationship to the conflict is somewhat different. It makes sense that our observances would be different as well.

I feel like I can appreciate the character's role within the narrative and therefore appreciate the performance in that regard, but the real Prince Philip wasn't as awful a portrayed in the TV series.

Well, "The Crown" has thus far focused on Philip's performance as a husband, rather than some of his views and remarks that have proved more controversial over the years. He's a complicated person, as most people who have lived in proximity to great power for much of their 98 years would be!

I've been seeing a lot of best of the decade things. While I have fond memories of looking at "Best of the 1990s" things when I was teen, the past two decades feel either too dark or confusing or close to have a clear image of what it was like. In fact it feels a little like now people are looking at how crazy the 2000s were, in ways that they mostly didn't want to talk about when that decade was closing. If anything, I feel like this past decade was about revising our image of earlier decades, for better or worse.

I want to sit with this a bit, so let me take this as the newsletter post for this week!

I have to agree with the the earlier poster about Ben Koldyke on THE GOOD PLACE. Brent almost blows up the series perspective by being a character who mostly sees himself as better than average and stuck in his ways, really adding to the stakes of what if most humans don't want to be redeemed? what if we/they are too much of a culture that is unredeemable?

One thing I've been thinking about a lot lately is whether or not people actually want to be good. Discussions about so-called cancel culture and certain aspects of Trumpism both assume that the people who participate in each of these movements, such as they are, assume themselves to be superior. But in some cases, I wonder if people revel in a sense of permission to be judgemental, to be crude, to not have to suppress their feelings of frustration. I don't know that I have an affirmative answer, but I do think our culture lacks a rich, positive moral vision that people are invested in a broad-based way at the moment.

I was usually am with you on not caring about "spoilers" or that we over use the term and things considered "spoiler" really aren't (i.e. there's a bit difference between just basic plot or setting stuff versus the identity of the killer in a whodunit mystery). BUT I watched the first episode of "Dublin Murders" and I knew that one of the lead detectives named "Rob" with a perfect BBC English accent and the sole survivor little boy "Adam" from the killings twenty years ago are the same person except he was send to English boarding school after the murders and now going by his middle name. It was weird since so much of the first episode is hinting and hinting on this and then it the big reveal yet of course I already knew so the whole episode felt kind of inert? I kind of wish I didn't know.

I sometimes wonder if the things we assume are intended to be major plot points are actually not as secret as we guess. You might see how this plays out over an episode or two lest you judge it a mistake.

Hulu's "Looking for Alaska," an adaptation of the novel by John Green, depicts teens smoking and drinking as its intended to depict the the author's experience at an Alabama boarding school. But Hulu put up a message at the end of the first episode encourage viewers struggling with their mental health, substance abuse, and other issues to seek help. They even put a website up with resources: https://www.hulu.com/looking-for-alaska-resources# Seems like a responsible way for the show to remain honest while acknowledging the problematic nature of the subject matter.

I'm certainly of the opinion that more information is always better, and that if there's a graceful way to convey that information without contorting the narrative in a preachy direction, I'm all for it. Of course, it's worthwhile to make sure the resources in question are the best ones, and that they're capable to handle a potential spike in use. But at the end of the day, it's just true that younger people behave in ways that older people might not like them to, and that good art about young people may not always model ideal behavior. Under these circumstances, I tend to think that the imperatives of good art should prevail, but I'm all for helping folks get assistance if they need it.

Well by his logic you'd need to dismiss most of the "Golden Age of Hollywood". Incredible movies were made with profit in mind, often churned out at a dizzying pace. There's nothing auteurist about "Casablanca", a classic case of corporate movie programming elevated by talent and happy accidents throughout its development.

Oh, for sure: great art can be made under many, many circumstances, even ones that don't at first glance seem conductive to artistic freedom. I do think some directors like Scorsese find Marvel disconcerting because the company has basically brought the structures and production method of television to movies, with considerable financial success. That's probably the one area where I think some of Marvel's doubters are wrong: the television model has produced tremendous art through collaboration, even within considerable corporate constraints. But it's worthwhile to have all these different production models available to us precisely because they can facilitate different outcomes. 

I thought the weirdo relationship between Anthony Armstrong-Jones and his social climbing mother who left his father for titled aristocrat was kind of underappreciated. It really motivates his reason for wanting to marry Princess Margaret and the groundwork as laid throughout the season before he overly says it on Westminster Abbey for the wedding ceremony.

For all I find "The Crown" agreeably low-stakes, I think one of the things it emphasizes is how punishing it must be to live in a class system like the one that governed mid-century Britain. Obviously we have our own problems with income inequality here in the United States, but I cannot imagine what it must feel like to believe that all of your possibilities in life are determined by your last name and your family tree, or your ability to graft your own family tree to a more advantageous one.

I really hate when people defending Marvel movies emphasize how new and of the moment they are. They're stories about decades old characters, based on slightly newer comics books. Having an extended universe on the Big Screen is new, but it comes with this nostalgic heavy actual content that doesn't really deal with our current moment in a meaningful way like anything that isn't under the control of such a tightly controlled brand can.

This is absolutely my biggest quibble with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that it has this much power but very little interest in doing anything with it. The movies are moderately diverse but don't have anything to say about race or racism; they've thrown in some allusions to LGBTQ people but have no insights into homphobia, and in fact, have deliberately avoided homophobia and misogyny even when they're in settings where those factors were tremendously important. They don't even have very much to say about power and the proper role of the state. Their only purpose is the continuation of their own dominance. And form a corporate perspective I get that, but as entertainment, it's a very dull imperative.

I think my preferred Prince Philip performer is still Finn Elliot as the younger Prince Philip? www.itv.com/news/2018-08-23/the-crown-star-finn-elliot-stoked-with-gcse-results

He is also very good!

How long will it take people to realize that "the twenties" isn't referring to Jazz Age, but a two months from now?

It hadn't occurred to me until this moment, so I'll have to make the adjustment myself!

Okay I'm all about high-falutin' awards-bait cinema, but the whole Avengers saga was just a whole lot of fun and an unprecedented experience. I'm also a big fan of Dumb and Dumber and The Jerk and Anchorman. There are plenty of apples and oranges and bananas for everybody to enjoy at the movies.

Oh, I enjoy quite a few of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, and I adore "Anchorman," which I think is an absolutely genius movie. The concern people like Scorsese, and to a certain extent I, have is that the apples and oranges and bananas are no longer going to be available, or at least not available in proportional quantities. Scorsese is worried because a movie like "The Irishman," which cost a lot of money to make, required the use of newer technologies, and starred a bunch of guys in their seventies, may not be makeable in the future. He couldn't get it funded through traditional channels, and had to turn to Netflix, which is spending prodigiously to build its own content base, but may not have the financial wherewithal to do so forever. If we get to a place where all that's left is big, broad, crowdpleasers with a lot of special effects, a movie as specific as "Anchorman" might get harder to make in the future, too, even though it's cheaper. If all studios want is to take expensive swings for big rewards, our moviegoing culture could get a lot more boring.

One thing that they often refer to the child murders happening 21 years ago yet the evidence files are labeled 1985. Apparently the show is set in 2006. Maybe there's some unique about 2006 ("Celtic Tiger" economic boom?), but I don't enough about the real Dublin to know.

There were also riots in Dublin that year.

That's funny. I did kind of noticed how much the male lead Killian Scott was smoking cigarettes. Maybe it's because he's so physically fit looking so hard to reconcile in my head somebody who looks like he cares about his body so much also smokes?

Well, as we all know, humans are awfully contradictory creatures!

Did you ever watch the TV cartoon of "The X-Men" from the 1990s? Just thought it was neat the voice of Rogue has become a politician. www.thestar.com/politics/federal/2019/11/08/x-mens-rogue-is-now-a-liberal-mp.html

I always love seeing people develop these sorts of second acts. And if you've been primarily a voice actor, you probably have a better shot of actually pulling off this sort of transition, or any transition at all, really.

Doesn't it undercut Scorsese's point that he went for very expensive, heretofore unavailable technology to bring his particular thing to the screen? That strikes me as really mechanical and distancing. I'd rather see technology making flying Avengers than shaving off some decades from his aging cast.

I don't think so! I don't really think this is a matter of technology being good or bad. Rather, it's about the ends to which people put it, and the level of creative freedom they have in doing so. There *is* a difference between a director using available technology to a specific effect, and a situation in which directors don't actually have much control over a considerable amount of the movie they're making because the second unit director and the visual effects team simply handle that part of the storytelling. It's not immoral or anti-art to use the technology that's available to you. 

A question before we go: are any of you watching "His Dark Materials"? I'm enjoying it so far, but I'm curious if it's catching on.

he gets to have an opinion, no?

Indeed he does! I've been glad to see this vigorous debate, though, I think it's useful to be able to talk about these developments!

Nope. Didn't even know it exists.

HBO, Mondays! If folks are interested, we can discuss next week.

That's all for today, folks! I'll see you next Monday.

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