Pop Culture Live with Alyssa Rosenberg: Penance for Prince Andrew

Nov 25, 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.

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Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you all have plans that involve a minimum of travel and family conflict, and a maximum of whatever Thanksgiving food you enjoy the most (for me, it's broccoli gratin, stuffing and pumpkin pie). A quick programming note: I'm off next Monday, December 2, due to the intricacies of the scheduling among the op-ed editors, so we'll reconvene the chat on December 9. Also, I'm not caught up on last night's "Watchmen" because my husband and I are elderly/the parents of an 18-month-old and can't actually stay up that late. So talk about it all you want, but we'll have to talk about the show in greater detail in a couple of weeks. 

I've tried to understand this story. He hasn't actually been accused a crime. There is an unproven allegation of him sleeping with a 17-year-old which he denies claiming he was in Pizza Express in Woking with one of his daughter and this allegation is illegal depending on the state, but isn't illegal in the U.K. and either way the person only went to the press and never went to police. Some of Jeffrey Epstein's victim want him to cooperate with the F.B.I. with an interview which he isn't required to do because he has diplomatic immunity and some worry it would set a bad precedent as well it's unclear what he could actually testify to prove. Still his unsympathetic indifference during his interview and "technically legal" and hanging around a Pizza Express on the day in question are not great defenses.

There are two separate issues here: one is whether Prince Andrew committed statutory rape, the other is whether he has spectacularly bad taste and colossally awful judgement that have rebounded to the detriment of the monarchy. The first allegation seems unlikely to be decided in court: for all Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles have moved to sideline Andrew, I would be incredibly surprised if they allowed him to participate in any conversations with American law enforcement for the reasons you describe.

But does Andrew have absolutely no idea how he comes across and the impact his obliviousness has on both the institution he is supposed to represent and sexual abuse victims? GUILTY AS CHARGED. His continued friendship with Jeffrey Epstein after Epstein served time in jail for sexual misconduct was appallingly unwise, and suggested that he prioritized his chummy access to a rich man more than the women that man victimized. Andrew's interview on the subject, and his fumbling defenses were spectacularly ill-considered. Try to separate these two things in your mind and I think it'll be clear that Andrew's behaved like an idiot and the monarchy is right to sideline him: there is simply no way he can be an effective advocate for any charity or cause now, and no circumstance in which he wouldn't be a distraction. Given that the monarchy's sole purpose is to provide uncontroversial entertainment and boosts to good causes, there is no public role Andrew can possibly play anymore.

I thoroughly enjoyed the film "The Chaperone" which aired on PBS last night. But I was surprised to learn that it received only 43% on Rotten Tomatoes' critics' score (although faring far better with viewers). Admittedly I'm part of the target audience for this film, having enjoying Julian Fellowes' writing and Elizabeth McGovern's acting on "Downton Abbey," as well as having read Barry Paris' bio of Louise Brooks when it first came out. And several of the movie's other cast members also gave exemplary performances, IMO. But I'm still puzzled as to how critics could have been so negative. Do you think they're out of touch with this aspect of pop culture? LINK: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_chaperone_2019

The thing about artistic quality is that there isn't an objective measure of it. And we all might be a bit better off if we recognized that we can like things without requiring them to be great art. Maybe critics don't resonate to Julian Fellowes work the way you do. Maybe "The Chaperone" just didn't get that widely reviewed, and the sample of people who did have a chance to review it turned out to hate it. Maybe "The Chaperone" is extremely up your alley without actually being extraordinarily good! And if that's the case, it's not actually a negative reflection on you at all. 

My friend Willa Paskin, the television critic at Slate, actually wrote a good piece about just this subject recently, inspired by Apple TV's "The Morning Show," which she thinks is not very good but also very much enjoys. As she put it: "We’ve forgotten how to have bad taste with dignity, with humility, with any sense of proportion.

Bad taste, like a bellybutton, is something everyone has. To be human is to love unwisely but too well, to be thrilled, satisfied by the middling thing that hits the spot, whether it’s a movie or a partner. It’s bad taste, fine taste, whatever taste, not good taste, that makes us singular, particular, human. (Who only loves good things? It’s too boring to contemplate!) While we could hardly be accused of living in an era of good taste, we are living in a moment where we have elevated bad taste to the point that it no longer functions with any self-effacement. Bad taste no longer knows that it’s not that good."

Freeing yourself of the need for everything you like to be validated by critics and other viewers is great! It lets you develop your taste independently, and it also lets you recognize when you're just plain treating yourself. I am currently re-reading Tina Brown's "The Diana Chronicles," not because I think it's a great work of literature or even biography, but simply because it's utterly delicious and gossipy, and after a hard week and in the run-up to a holiday, it's what I crave.

The critics who hated "The Chaperone" probably aren't wrong. But neither are you for enjoying it.  

I was wondering if you ever finished BLACK LEOPARD, RED WOLF? I am currently listening to the audiobook of it as that's how I do most of my reading these days, but I think it's not great for the audiobook format as I'm constantly having trouble keeping track with the stories within stories aspect of it, which might be better if I could easily flip back a few pages and remind myself, "here's where this part started and why".

"Black Leopard, Red Wolf" was one of the books due to be released in 2019 that I was looking forward to most. And though I finish almost every book I read, I simply couldn't make it through this one. Like you, even though I was reading it in print, I had one hell of a time keeping track of characters and events. And the part of the book that I actually found most effective, the horror scenes, made it much harder for me to read "Black Leopard, Red Wolf" before bedtime, which is when I tend to do my most concentrated reading. This is saying something: I just read "People Who Eat Darkenss" and "Lost Girls," both of which are fairly terrifying true crime books, back-to-back, but "Black Leopard, Red Wolf" just spooked me in a way that was impeding my progress. If I try again, I'm going to have to start from the beginning. But given everything that's on my list, it may be some time before I take it up again.

Who was the Hooded Justice unmasked during the integration in the opening scene? I didn't understand that part.

Someone else want to weigh in on this!

over the weekend. Hadn't heard great things, but hoped that was because it was...overly dense which I generally don't mind. I didn't particularly like it, but what really struck me is that I don't think it passed the Bechdel Test. There were only three female characters of any note besides Catherine. Two were the wives of her son, and all they talked about was the son and producing heirs for the son and maybe, once or twice about her late husband. There was one female "friend" character and all Catherine and the friend talked about was men, largely about which ones they were sleeping with/wanted to sleep with. It seemed odd in a miniseries about one of the most powerful women in western history. Then I thought a little more. If you are doing a program about a very powerful woman from history, an overwhelming majority of them are going to spend their lives with men and talking about men. If you are only powerful woman in that place and time, of course you aren't going to have a lot of other women around to talk to about troop movements, freeing serfs, what to do about the famine, etc.. All the other women are excluded from those roles, because, by definition, you are singular in your situation. So, I guess I'm wondering if the test is even useful in historical dramas. It seems much more relevant when you are doing something modern and deciding how the genders of the characters should break down. Why not have the CEO, judge, lawyer, doctor, neighbor, coach, criminal, or whoever be female. If enough of them are, a few will have conversations that involve the normal progression of the plot, and not just be wives/girlfriends characters. It isn't so much about what the female characters say. It is about how many of them there are and how they are involved in moving the plot forward. If Catherine and one of her daughters-in-law had had a conversation about hiring a maid, it wouldn't have done anything interesting to the script.

This dovetails with something I've been thinking about a great deal lately, so I'm going to snaffle it for the newsletter this week.

I would love to hear your thoughts on last night's Watchmen episode (This Extraordinary Being). I'm just starting to wrap my mind around the substance, but thought the form was just so well done.

Passing this along so other readers can weigh in.

You occasionally write about growing up with very little pop cultural exposure. What made you want to dive into it? If you were going to give advice to someone who wanted to give up, or get away from pop culture what would you say?

This may be a little more emotional than you expected, but: I went through a very painful post-college breakup that left me with an apartment I could afford but at the expense of having enough money to do much else, my first cable subscription, and not a lot of friends in DC. I started watching a lot of "Law & Order" re-runs, because what else was I going to do with myself, and I got fascinated by the structure of the episodes, the long-arc character development, and honestly, with my own fascination. Obviously, my life got more interesting and less lonely, but it was a very interesting course of advanced study, falling down that kind of rabbit hole. 

If you're looking to get away from pop culture, I'd set yourself an ambitious project. If you're into history, read Edmund Morris' Theodore Roosevelt's biographies, or Robert Caro's Lyndon Johnson books. If you're more inclined towards literature, pick some classics: do the Iliad and the Odyssey, read a couple of different translations, or read a Shakespeare play a week. Or go really wild! Listen your way through some symphonies! Take a walk for the length of a television show each night! Whatever you choose, having a really concrete project will help you focus and give you distraction when you might be tempted to fall back into a pile of re-runs. 

Will the Q movement ever fade away or is this going to get worse?

I don't follow American conspiracies in as much detail as Travis View, or NBC's Ben Collins, or someone like Reason's Jesse Walker. But from what I see, I suspect that the Q movement will get smaller but more devoted, and that it will hardly be the only conspiracy theory to infect the American mainstream. One of the best books I read this year is "A Lot of People are Saying," a look at how conspiracy theorizing and its role in American politics has changed over time, such that these theories tend to sow additional confusion instead of seeking to explain the seemingly inexplicable. I highly recommend it if this is a subject you're interested in, but only if you're prepared to get extremely depressed.

I watched “Ford v Ferrari” at Angelika today (I’m solo retired, so I’m open to freelance assignments like this!). I agree FvF is vastly entertaining action-drama involving two of 20th century’s most influential auto manufacturers, one of mass-produced cars (and hits like the Ford Mustang) and reliable trucks (F-150), the other the pinnacle of exotic Ferrari supercars and international racing, 24 Hours of Le Mans prototypes. So, American ingenuity, brashness, muscularity in the form of Ford and Shelby-American versus European history, arrogance, refinement circa mid-1960s Ferrari. Except half of Shelby-American’s (Matt Damon’s) ingenuity, brashness and muscularity is his English driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale), talented, abrasive, monomaniacal. Miles’ wife, Mollie (Caitríona Balfe) may be a nod to male v female diversity, but Balfe takes the edge off Bale’s intensity and provides needed warmth and feminine beauty. Perhaps a necessary distortion of the truth involves the diffused criticality of Phil Remington (Ray McKinnon), who was the true singular engineering mastermind behind the Ford GT40. Also, Ford Senior Vice President Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas) is not the cardboard nemesis (“…who interferes with Shelby and Miles at nearly every turn, though with no discernible reason.”). Beebe’s racing decisions were much more complicated than could be explained in a movie; he’s mostly dramatic license and effect. While sympathetic Vice President Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) instigated Ford’s ill-fated takeover of Ferrari, he’s simply outranked by Beebe, Henry Ford II’s (the “Deuce”) (Tracy Letts) top yes man. The power dynamics of bureaucracy war against profound human relationships and vice versa. Anyway. Contrary to the movie, Enzo Ferrari never attended Le Mans. Finally, in case you’re curious, yes, the crowd scenes are CGI.

Thanks for the additional historical context!

not feeling sorry for myself - just looking for some ideas how to spend the day alone...

Readers, want to recommend our fellow chatter some really terrific books, movies or music that might occupy much of a day? If you haven't seen it, a full day on your own might be the perfect time to watch the Godfather trilogy...

As a non-American, I never understood how Thanksgiving being on Thursday works in the real world despite seeing tons of representations of Thanksgiving in movies and TV shows. So you travel on Wednesday or the Thursday morning to be with family? What about the Friday?

The way Thanksgiving works intersects with some of the relative inhumanity of the American workplace in difficult ways! When you travel depends on when you can get off from work, and ditto for whether or not you can take off Friday. For example, my husband's office closes on Friday, but the Post, being a daily newspaper, obviously does not, so while we'll be with family on Friday, he'll be fully off while I'll be on call. You do what you can, and make calculations about the cost and hassle of traveling on Thanksgiving itself or the day before. We do our best, which is basically what you could say about everything involving balancing family and work in America.

His alibi includes that he doesn't remember her. My immediate reaction is that if it's true, it's only because there've been so many, which isn't a pretty picture.

There is just...a lot happening in his rationalizations, which to a certain extent, aren't worth parsing beyond how gross it all is.

So a pair of billionaires normally known as Thomas Steyer and Michael Bloomberg are running for President, and trying to sound folksy by using only nicknames of their first names. Some of us are not deceived. (They sure aren't Bernie or Joe, who are entitled to do this)

I think in general, politicians and public figures tend to go by more familiar names; it's not really something that Bloomberg and Steyer are trying per se. I suspect you might be lightly overthinking this, which since neither man is likely to be president, may not be worth your time and energy.

read your response (and agree) but he has lots of years left, so what does he do now?

Quiet penance?

I don't have strong feelings about her or her music but am pretty impressed that she has been so effective in pushing back her back catalog. After so many stories of artists, especially women, being bullied by "management" it's fascinating to watch a single woman, even a superstar woman, get traction.

Yeah, I think that whatever else she is, Swift is an exceptionally gifted public relations specialist. This isn't something that people automatically assume of her, because she's so often enmeshed in feuds and controversy, but I think she's been unusually deft, so much so that the private equity firm that was behind the takeover of her record label is trying to broker peace between her and the new owners. 

So far, what I was worried about happening is happening... Trump's support is solidifying. Public opinion has hardly moved (even though it's not over in the House). But, I'm still glad it happened. Hearing reasoned experts talk about the situation at length (esp. Fiona Hill) was very refreshing, and it was nice to be reassured there are still people like that in government.

I do think that President Trump's base of support has been consolidated some time now, and that impeachment was never going to make a substantial difference among his core supporters. But, as you suggest, there's a real value to simply having all of this on the public record, and to reminding people what professional governance looks like.

I think, and others can correct me, but the scene from the TV show within a TV show about the Minuteman/Watchmen showing how everybody thought Hooded Justice was a White man instead of a Black man and Regina King's long-lost grandfather? I was kind of bummed out since the first Hooded Justice was played by Cheyenne Jackson who was so, so funny as Liberace's catty gay lover who gets thrown over for Matt Damon's character in "Behind the Candelabra" so he was a welcome presence for me at least.

That was my guess for what was going to happen!

I've been surprised to mostly enjoy David Spade's late night show. It's kind of a Johnny Carson for the New Millennium, low stakes, low brow, low key. After political news all day and Trevor Noah at night it's an easy way to round out the day. Now that I'm old I usually DVR Seth Meyers for next day viewing.

This raises a question I'm curious about: how many of you are consciously creating your own more manageable schedule for television viewing?

Your colleague said it best a couple of weeks ago: Catherine is an expensive series that looks cheap. It just ....wasn't very good. It was like you have a ton of great ingredients, and they actively fought each other and failed to make a good meal. Watching it was like seeing a bunch of people having conversations about very different things, talking PAST each other rather than to one another. Just a big waste of time.

It happens! Art's not like chemistry: it's far more unpredictable, and more interesting, than that.

I wasn't as down on Beau Willimon's American adaptation of "House of Cards" as you were, but overall and especially over time, I wasn't as fond of it. I think because it was Netflix's "big" launch into original programming I still remember the hype, big stars, big directors, big(ish) writer, lots of money on production, etc.. and it was kind of bust. Maybe that is why I not as interested in the other streaming services. Maybe "House of Cards" kind of being a dud in the end makes me less exciting or willing to subscribe to other services since shows like "The Morning Show" have "House of Cards" 2.0 feel?

I actually think Netflix has gotten better at making television since "House of Cards," but this does illustrate a major challenge for the streaming services: you've got to hook people right off the bat, and if you don't have a huge content library to offer them, you're going to be in trouble. Unless people come to love Netflix originals, they're going to have a harder time with subscriber growth as they lose classics. Ditto for Apple, which doesn't really have a library at all. If I didn't have to have Disney+ professionally, and if I wasn't semi-amused by "The Mandalorian," I'm not sure I'd be sticking around except for the catalog.

I was in a similar situation many years ago. Very painful breakup, just out of college in a new city with no friends and no money. NBC's Thursday lineup was a lifesaver for me, especially Hill Street Blues and Taxi. I think Taxi's held up very well over the years and that wistful, melancholy opening still gets me.

I'd love to hear from younger readers if there are shows or streaming services that have functioned the same way for you.

I was fascinated to listen to a piece on this weekend's "New Yorker Radio Hour" exploring how a young woman who became involved with the white supremacist group Identity Evropa, and how she eventually got out. I hope that interest in such racist groups will wane, along with other conspiracy theories. "Samantha’s Journey Into the Alt-Right, and Back." LINK: https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/tnyradiohour/episodes/samanthas-journey-alt-right-and-back

Oh, thanks for passing this along!

There are plenty of people falsely accused of doing bad things. Indeed, just a few hours ago, this paper posted a heart-wrenching story about three exonerated men in Baltimore who may be home from prison in time for Thanksgiving. It sure doesn't sound like Prince Andrew is among that falsely accused group. His explanation for why it couldn't have been him with Virginia Guiffre at the dance club is fantastical (he was incapable of sweating because of his military service? Sure, Jan.). Beyond that, this is a man who spent decades being friends with a man who molested children and even went to a party celebrating that man's release from prison. Prince Andrew needs no one's sympathy. He's had a life of luxury and chose to do this with it. Why not devote your attention and sympathy to those who don't have family jewels and diplomatic immunity?

It's possible to believe that Prince Andrew is criminally innocent until proven guilty, and also to believe that his decision to prioritize his friendship with a man who was guilty of victimizing young women over concern for those young women makes him unfit for any role in public life. That's where I land. Complexity is just a lot more manageable than people tend to acknowledge.

Google Food & Friends, SOME or Martha's Table - they may be serving meals that day or can direct you to an organization that is. Do good AND meet people.

That is a far lovelier idea than anything I had suggested.

There's nothing wrong with the Godfather trilogy, but you also have to consider your mood, your food, and similar factors. About 20 years ago I was by myself, and Comedy Central aired a marathon of Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes. It was perfect because it was funny enough to distract me from any thoughts of loneliness, and it didn't matter if I happened to take a little stuffing nap, because I awoke having missed nothing vital. (Which would not apply to the Godfather trilogy, for example.) I'm not necessarily recommending this over, let's say, volunteering at a homeless shelter or running a half-marathon or reading a Russian novel (which are better in winter, I think)… or even going out to stores and laughing at the people who are shopping. I'm just saying, consider carefully and choose something that suits you.

Very wise advice, and a second vote for a day of service.

If you enjoy fiction, try reading "The Lager Queen from Minnesota" by J Ryan Stradal, or better yet listen to it on Audible for the wonderful accent the narrator has! It's a charming book whether you are from MN or not. It's just wonderful.

And for your solo Thanksgiving downtime...

Now I'm thinking of Dolly Parton's famous quote about how it takes a lot of money to look this cheap!

Indeed it does!

Don't forget that this is the man who had his ex-wife living with him and their daughters and who let her stay on after he found out she offered his "influence" to a man at a party for about half a million dollars or so. His morals are questionable at best. If he had any, he'd have booted her to the curb.

What a sad bunch of people, and what a mess.

I am also curious about this. In my house we do not consciously form a schedule, whether it is "Seth Meyers every night at 5" or "Fridays is for comedy" or "save up and binge every three episodes of black-ish." We just record a bunch of shows and then decide, on a whim, what we feel like watching in the moment. The exception is those two or three shows that we will watch live or almost live because we love them.

What makes the cut for you to watch live? In our house, it was generally "Game of Thrones" and "Brooklyn Nine-Nine." We love "Watchmen," but since I'm not recapping it, we haven't been able to bring ourselves to start Mondays zonked. I so wish another night had become the prestige TV night, though I know I'm telling on myself that I have trouble staying up to 10 these days.

So for casting Season 5 of "The Crown"... how about... Scott Thompson? www.youtube.com/watch?v=IloIoGj5Mj0

I suspect that is PROBABLY not the vibe that Peter Morgan is going for, but you never know, right?

Sadly, Alex Trebek of "Jeopardy!" has needed to undergo further treatment for pancreatic cancer (not a promising prognosis), while Pat Sajak of "Wheel of Fortune" recently had a dire medical emergency (don't know how he's doing now). This got me to thinking about who would be suitable replacements when it becomes necessary. I think Tom Bergeron would be perfect for "Wheel" (assuming that Vanna doesn't want to continue filling in for Pat, as she did in a pinch when he was first hospitalized), but I doubt that my favorite for "Jeopardy!" (Anderson Cooper) would be willing to make time in his already busy schedule to take on an added gig. Who do YOU think would make ideal replacements?

Oh, this is such a great question! My colleague Drew Goins wrote a terrific column for Act Four earlier this year about Trebek as neutral arbiter of truth. Cooper, with his news credentials, might fit the bill. But I'd love other suggestions from the audience.

Even before this period of too much towards streaming, I tried to discipline myself by not watching anything that shared the same time slot as anything else I watched, even though I rarely watch it while it airs. More recently, I can definitely say I prefer the episodes weekly to the binge format, but I try and be aware of approximately how many hours a week I watch when it's aired weekly, and when those shows are not new, substitute with something that I can catch up on and/or is made for binging.

Oh, that's fascinating and probably wise. I think a lot of us feel like we have to find a way to fit everything in, so simply declaring yourself to have a limit and making something earn its way onto your viewing schedule is extremely wise.

The difference is that Dolly does it intentionally.

And to fabulous effect.

Darlings, I have to duck out five minutes early to get a piece moved before the holiday. But have safe travels, delicious meals, lots of love, and I'll see you all back here on December 9.

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