Pop Culture Live with Alyssa Rosenberg: The gems were cut

Jan 07, 2020

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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Greetings, friends, and happy New Year! I want to thank you all for bearing with me as I've had to deal with a couple of scheduling tweaks in this chat over the past couple of months. I've been working on a top-secret project with a very large team on a subject totally unrelated to anything we discuss here, and that's caused some complications that are soon to be over. In any case, I'm grateful for your patience and continued presence, and excited to talk to y'all. Things that are burning a hole in my brain at the moment include "Uncut Gems," and your opinions of "Little Women," which I hope to watch this week. Let's get to it.

It used to be a "thing" where Royal Family members where sent off to be Governor-Generals of Commonwealth nations (as in-house representative of the monarch), but not so much any more. Wondering if you imagine Trudeau picking Prince Harry for Canada's next Governor-General?

Given a) that the current Governor General has only been in office two years and b) that Prince Harry's relationship with the rest of the royal family appears to be fairly complicated at the moment, this all strikes me as highly implausible!

Hi Alyssa -- thanks for taking questions today. More of a comment here, and maybe it doesn't matter since he's said he's done, but I don't get what the appeal is in having a host who phones it in and is not the least bit funny. To me it degrades the prestige of the whole affair. In fact, from here on out, all awards shows should be hostless, since so few manage to pull it off. Last year's Oscars didn't have one, and I don't think they were missed one little bit.

Yeah, it's one thing to try something unconventional with hosting, or to hire a known quantity because at least you can guess what your problems coming out of it are going to be. But to hire someone who seems to hold the whole event in contempt unless you're really committed to self-examination or self-parody or turning your awards show into a roast is just...odd. I do feel for hosts who approach these gigs sincerely and feel like they just can't win, since I think that is a genuine problem. There is not a clear public agreement about what an awards-show host is supposed to do, and as a result, the reviews are almost always mixed-to-negative. I generally favor a compromise: a much scaled-down hosting gig where the host's job is literally to facilitate the evening, and not to provide a lot of additional entertainment. 

Last week someone sent in a question about how people like new STAR WARS films in relation to their politics. While I think reducing this to how one identifies on the political spectrum is not quiet accurate, I wanted to talk a little about the fan reaction to the series's romances (or lack there of) because that seems to be very inconsistent with the various politics. As someone who reads a lot of criticism about how certain stories, especially ones geared towards women, romanticize abusive behaviors in a romantic relations, I am pretty shocked by some of the people I see online who really wanted Kylo Ren to both be redeemed and have possible happily ever after with Rey. There are declarations of "getting a bad guy to reform for your love is a power fantasy", which I don't think these same people would fly in discussions of other media. I am both fascinated and confused by this.

I will admit that I find it somewhat difficult to parse how anyone relates to any of the relationships in the new "Star Wars" trilogy, since all of them seem developed in ways that feel relatively nonsensical to me. To a certain extent, Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver have the most natural chemistry among any two actors in the movies, and given that, I can see why people resonated to them as a potential couple and tried to articulate why they felt that way. I don't know that I necessarily read him as abusive, per se: it's more like they are partisans on either side of an ideological divide and are unsure whether they want to stay on their respective sides of the divide or think the divide should continue to exist. But like everything else in these movies, the kludges and revisions are so overwhelming it's just hard for me to tell what people are thinking and why.

I honestly had a moment where I was really confused whether or not the U.S. was at war or not.

I constantly feel like we're living in a simulation, or a simulacra.

The more I think about "The Rise of Skywalker," the more I think Marvel Studios should be commended for how well it wrapped up its mega-arc with "Avengers: Endgame." Was it predictable and paint-by-number? Maybe. But it was also coherent! Particularly remarkable when you consider the sheer number of installments and creators to leave a mark on the series. "Endgame" built off of the previous films and didn't leave key themes or characters by the wayside. I'm curious as to whether or not you view it in a different light after the way Star Wars wrapped up this saga.

I stole this for this week's newsletter!

Someone recently described a particular European author/politician as a "public intellectual." I'm not exactly sure what this means, yet somehow it seems off-putting, at least to this American. And can you think of well-known Americans who currently fit this term? (I could only think of Condoleezza Rice, George Will, and the late William F. Buckley, Gore Vidal, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan). Your thoughts?

I generally think of a "public intellectual" as someone whose work concerns big ideas and concepts, but who sees their audience as the general public rather than academics or specialists. The economist Thomas Piketty might fit this description. Ditto Leslie Jamison in her essay work. Ta-Nehisi Coates obviously qualifies. But it's certainly a kind of nebulous term, and a contested one.

Adam Sandler was very good, but I spent most of the movie wondering why he hadn't been murdered already.

I actually didn't find that totally unrealistic: in general, murder is not a terribly common occurrence even though as a heinous crime, it looms large for us. One of the interesting things about the movie is that, to a certain extent, it's a story about how a minor character is pushed past the limits of their endurance.

Well, that's allegedly the very reason that King George VI made his older brother the Duke of Windsor (ex-Edward VIII) Governor-General of the Bahamas, to get him the heck out of Europe during WW II, given Edward's softness on Nazism. Back then it was like going to tropical Siberia.

I'm not sure things are at that point, either!

If Ricky Gervais didn't want to host, he could turn down the gig, but he loves his celebrity too much to do that. That's why it's so strange when people celebrate him for "ripping into celebrities," as if he hasn't chosen to do something for the sole purpose of being relevant.


I saw the Gerwig movie over the weekend. It was entrancing. I really had no interest in seeing another LITTLE WOMEN, as after reading abridged versions and seeing various versions through my childhood in the 1990s I decided to read the whole book around 2000 and decided I didn’t really like it. In the build up to this ones release I realized that I didn’t actually have strong memories of the plot points in any version. And that may have helped my enjoyment of the structural change for the new one. But, while I’m pretty interested in the whole negotiating the path to adulthood take, it also kind of left me cold. I remember crying over Beth’s death in the past but she barely registered here. I got Geary eyed over Jo’s loneliness, but that might have been more about my own loneliness and that was really disquieting.

Oh, man, when Beth died in the 1994 "Little Women," ten-year-old me sobbed so hard in the theater a neighbor lady who was at the same screening called my mom afterwards to make sure I was all right. I highly, highly recommend "Eden's Outcasts," a joint biography of Louisa May Alcott and her father, which really delves into some of the issues it sounds like Greta Gerwig explores in this interpretation of "Little Women." I'm glad to hear it sparked such complicated emotions for you, even if they may not have been entirely wonderful to experience; it sounds great.

Set aside Ricky Gervais (whether he wants us to or not), but man alive does Hollywood have a lot of awards and ceremonies for those awards. Maybe they could cool it a bit on them? Maybe?

Yeah, the awards I actually find most interesting are the ones awarded by the individual guilds, where it's actually experts at screenwriting, directing, producing, etc.  I'm more interested in the expert opinions, than in awards given by the broader, and in some cases, highly eccentric, voting pools.

Little Women was excellent. (I say this as someone who's never read the book or seen any other movie versions. I'm also a man, if that matters.) I loved Lady Bird, so I was looking forward to this one, and Gerwig and Ronan were great again. The actress who played Amy was excellent, too. I'd say it was the second-best movie I've seen in the last year. (That's no slight. But Parasite, remarkably, was somehow even better.) I was kind of curious about Uncut Gems, but the trailer just made it look unpleasant, for lack of a better word -- unpleasant people doing unpleasant things, which is usually not for me. And there seems to be a wide disparity between the critical reaction to it and regular viewers' reaction. Should I give it a shot anyway?

So, as someone who a) hates tense movies, b) is not high on Adam Sandler, I expected to despise "Uncut Gems." And yet, I kind of loved it. I said on my podcast this week that it's the kind of movie I would show someone if I wanted to explain what it is that makes movies unique as an art form: it's a spectacularly well-executed combination of visuals, writing, plotting, and scoring. I think it's great, even if I didn't find it uniformly enjoyable. But of course, it's totally okay to go to the movies to enjoy yourself and to opt out of this one. Just caveating that it surprised me in good ways.

And yet Tiny Fey and Amy Poehler have done the Golden Globes to perfection (three times!), and Ellen De Generes hit all the right notes on the post 9/11 Primetime Emmys.

Yeah, these three seem like the consensus choices for how to do the job right.

So I came to Little Women late. I'm 54 years old and I started the novel on December 21, then finished it the morning of December 25, and went to see the 2019 movie with my daughter that afternoon, and then we watched the 1994 movie the next day. I loved the 2019 movie because it captured everything I loved about the book: realistic acknowledgement of the confined spaces where women lived, and a joyous depiction of how they thrive in those confined spaces. (I desperately wish to be part of the Pickwick Club.) And my few objections to the novel -- all of which were turns of the plot -- were delightfully addressed in the movie by a couple of ingenious additions. The 1994 movie was fine, but it pales, literally and figuratively, by comparison. Above all else, Marmee was exactly right in 2019: in 1994 she was a saint, but in 2019 she was a human being struggling to be good, and we saw her strength just as the daughters would have seen it, in glimpses. So yeah, I liked it.

Oh, this is so interesting, because I don't see Susan Sarandon's Marmee in the 1994 adaptation as a saint at all; part of what's wonderful about Sarandon's performance is that you see the strain she's under, and how much effort it takes her to be good a lot of the time. What was it like reading the book for the first time as a mother? I'm curious to see how I feel about it again now that I'm a parent.

Tonight is discount night at the local theater and I haven't caught up. I have four contenders: "Knives Out," "Rise of Skywalker," "Richard Jewell," and "Bombshell." If you were coming with me, or just giving me advice, how would you rank them?

1. Richard Jewell, which has a core infuriating decision, but is a fascinating movie and has a fantastic central performance.

2. Knives Out

3. Bombshell, though I haven't seen it

I cannot in good conscience recommend that you see "The Rise of Skywalker," even at a discount.

I like having this chat on Mondays. But if you have to postpone, I'd say it's better to postpone to Wednesday, if only because Tuesday is so crowded with chats.

Noted for the future, but this Wednesday is miserable for me for stuff with this related project, and I just couldn't make it work. 

It's that the foreign press sometimes has different tastes than various US organizations that distribute their own film and TV awards.

Yes, totally, although it's also worth factoring in that the foreign press who vote for the Golden Globes winners also have a vested interest in getting very famous people to show up at their party and sometimes pick nominees with that in mind.

Governor General of Canada's mother's maiden name is Carrey and it's not just a coincidence. She and Jim Carrey are distant cousins and honestly, maybe it's just me, but I kind of see a family resemblance (similar eyes).

OMG you are in fact correct. That is uncanny!

I was wondering about this. I think he's guilty, but does "the media" (for lack of a better term) have to as well? How does it covered? Is he "smearing" or "questioning" his accusers? Is he "denying" the accusations or "defending himself against" the accusations?

In general I think there is a difference between questioning someone's testimony and attempting to disparage them in a way that encourages people not to engage with their testimony at all.

She might leave early or maybe it's just hot air.... www.cbc.ca/news/politics/payette-rideau-hall-national-post-1.4950648

This is now officially a British-Canadian politics chat. I'm into it.

What really bugged me was the kiss between Kylo and Rey. I mean WHY? Why boil down the battle between good and evil forces in the universe to some unrequited whatever? I was very happy with Rey being the hero of the saga, but whyyyyyy did they have to make it some kind of twisted love story at the last second?

I suspect that was a fairly classic "let the chemistry between the actors lead the plot development rather than any actual plot development we've been doing" decision. But I could be wrong.

My two cents. Also, it's the Golden Globes- everybody is drunk, nobody cares, and try as they much, it doesn't have the cachet as the Oscars or Emmys. Happy New Year btw.

Maybe the correct way to think of the Golden Globes is that the folks who attend are basically going to a comedy show where they know they'll be heckled, as long as Gervais is hosting? Not my thing, precisely, but everyone's got their preferences.

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