Pop Culture Live with Alyssa Rosenberg: How to process Kobe Bryant's death

Jan 27, 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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Happy Monday, everyone! I'm sorry I forgot that last Monday was a holiday and had to hold the chat a week. I have clearly been running a little harder than is perhaps wise. Let's get right to it!

(Sorry I accidentally submitted this with a heading and no message.) In the years since you did your big series about portrayals of cops, what aspects would you most like to change or expand on? Do you think that there are changes from the trends you noticed?

I can't believe it's been three and a half years since that series came out! I guess having a kid does weird things to your sense of time. But in any case, if I were to add to the series today, I think what I'd like to do is a whole feature on Dick Wolf, and how his thinking about policing has changed over the run of both the Law & Order franchise and the Chicago shows he's doing now. There's been some interesting waxing and waning over time there, and I do think that one of the reasons the Chicago shows have been so successful is that they've been a kind of defense of the police at a time when policing is very much up for debate in American society.  Wolf is one of the people who most influenced American thinking about policing, and he deserved more space in the series than I gave him at the time.

Having heard the podcast's collective disappointment about 6Underground, I found myself wondering whether some of the credit you give Michael Bay for Pain and Gain might well accrue to some of the other filmmakers. Could it be that Bay's auteurist masterpiece is mostly the product of, say, the screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, or cinematographer Ben Seresin, who haven't worked on any of Bay's other movies?

Sure! Movie-making is a collaborative process, and everyone involved in it deserves some credit. At the same time, though, Bay pursued this project, took scale rather than his usual salary to make it , and as director, he's ultimately responsible for the overall outcome of the movie. He hired Seresin, and Scott Rosenberg to punch up the script. So I give him a lot of credit for the movie, which is highly engaged with the themes and images that have defined Bay's career.

Hi Alyssa and Happy Monday! I was knocked out with a less-than-fun cold and ear infection this weekend, so while kiddo was at the grandparents' house, I had time to binge a bit of Netflix. I ended up watching 3 episodes of "Cheer" and the 3 episode miniseries on Aaron Hernandez. It's hardly an apples-to-apples comparison, but, since I watched them back-to-back, I couldn't really help contemplating the different approaches (and obviously, subjects) these series took with their subjects. I LOVED "Cheer" and appreciated what Netflix tried to do with "Killer Inside, " though I don't know that it always succeeded. How do you manage viewing and considering such different topics/approaches/reactions and are there ways you think the viewers can situate themselves--or the stories being told--to understand the documentary better?

Hmmm, I'm not entirely sure I know what you're asking me to answer: is it how to approach very different documentaries about sports? Or about how to think documentary film in general? If you can clarify, perhaps I can help.

Genuinely sorry to hijack your chat like this but I'm sure where else to ask. I'm incredibly angry about reports that Felicia Somnez was suspended for sharing a factual article. I think it's truly appalling that a news organization would penalize one of their own reporters because people would rather engage in hagiography than wrestle with a complicated legacy and the perpetrator of a grave crime. What's the best way to let Post management know that this isn't the kind of journalism I thought I was signing up to support?

It's totally okay! I understand that this is a story a lot of readers have been following with a lot of interest, and my colleague Erik Wemple is reporting on it at the moment. I'll defer to what he finds out and to what the Washington Post Guild, which represents me and Felicia and our colleagues, wants to say about the matter. The Washington Post's reader representative is Alison Coglianese: you can reach her at alison.coglianese@washpost.com. 

I grieve above all for Kobe Bryant's family, who have lost their husband/father and a daughter/sister. However, I also remember his sexual assault trial, which revealed a negative aspect of him that mustn't be forgotten. On the other hand, however, he demonstrated a tremendous work ethic and high level of excellence that are worthy of admiration. As a member of the public, I grieve for good things he might well have done with the second half of his life, that society has lost with his early death.

I've been thinking a lot about the idea of living with contradictions lately. That's an idea that's particularly salient when it comes to assessing Bryant's life. He was accused of rape, and apologized to and settled with the alleged victim. He also championed female basketball players, including his daughter; just recently, he gave an interview in which he talked about the WNBA players who he thought could play in the NBA alongside men. Bryant didn't live long enough to achieve a new balance, if it's even possible to do such a thing: after all, how to you measure incalculable damage to one woman against some good done for others? We simply don't know who he might have become. And we're going to have to live with that set of contradictions and unanswered questions.

Anti-abortion activists for around the last 30 years have co-opted Susan B. Anthony into their cause despite no scholars agreeing with them, but now they are taking Baby Yoda as well? http://www.mediaite.com/politics/baby-yoda-signs-spotted-at-anti-abortion-march-for-life-in-d-c/

That's the thing about symbols and memes: you can't control who gets to use them or to what ends they're put. They're inherently fluid, with no real stable meaning.

Hi, I always read you in ThinkProgress and just noticed you are now at the Post! Congratulations! I always enjoy your work. Mazel Tov xoxox -- Rachel Feldhaus

Thanks, Rachel! Although to be fair I've been here for six years this spring!

I don't really have big objections to the nominations. I personally would have included Greta Gerwig, but it's not as though I think Tarantino or Scorsese are undeserving. My takeaway from Franklin Leonard's excellent guest column was, well, at least women and people of color are making great movies.

I think it's healthy not to take nominations for the Academy Awards too seriously: the Academy is like any other body composed of human beings. It's vulnerable to members' tastes, whims, time constraints and biases. Oscars aren't some objective determination of what's good, and in fact, they often don't age particularly well. 

That said, while it's wonderful that women and people of color are making great movies no matter whether or not they're nominated for awards, it's also true that those awards can make it easier for artists to get their next roles or get their next projects financed. The reason to care about the Academy Awards isn't because the Awards themselves are truth. It's for the movies they make possible down the line.

How much do you think HBO had invested into Watchmen? There was a tremendous buildup, a lot of people wrote about it, and then --- nothing. Not going forward with a season 2. Do you think they are looking at WestWorld with fresh eyes, now that they don't have another fantasy/sci-fi show to act as a tentpole for their programming? Because Dark Materials isn't it, and the multiple GoT prequels are just too problematic anymore.

I think they always understood that they were buying the show as a limited series with the possibility of more. In that regard, it was hugely successful as a stand-alone story. I don't know that this changes the plan for Westworld in any particular way: it's not like HBO was treating it as a poor stepchild. But yes, I'm sure they're on the lookout for their next big thing, as they always are.

I firmly believe that if Michael Bay released that flick under a pseudonym, rather than under his name, it wouldn't have gotten nearly the slings, arrows, and pans that it did from critics, and it may have gotten a bigger box office to boot. It's a modern crime classic, and while it's "big" and "loud", it's not "dumb", like most of his latter ouvre. Just a tremendously good film - I wish he'd do more flicks like that, and less alien robot dreck.

Yeah, me too, but at the same time, he seems to just really enjoy himself with the dreck. And I agree it would have been fascinating had he released it under a pseudonym, though hard to keep a secret.

Re Baby Yoda: What about copyright and trademark laws?

I mean, Disney could try to shut it down, but then if they appear to get politically selective about which fan expressions they try to stifle, it could create a huge headache for the company. I understand why they'd pass.

Over the last two weekends my husband and I have watched, Joker, The Irishman, Once Upon a time in Hollywood, and My Name is Dolomite. They were all pretty good, and I definitely think My Name is Dolomite could have been listed among the best pictures of the year. #OscarsSoWhite was so long ago, do the Oscars still have a race and gender problem, or was My Name is Dolomite just not as good as I thought.

The idea that "#OscarsSoWhite was so long ago" makes me feel incredibly ancient; it really was not that long ago, and the entertainment industry has hardly turned everything around since then! I suspect "Dolemite Is My Name" was probably more of a casualty of Netflix deciding which of its movies to really promote during Oscar season than anything else: the studios tend to focus on a couple of things, rather than campaigning for everything with equal weight.

Did last night's Grammys seem especially boring to anybody else? And how did Usher manage to make Prince songs so unsexy?

I'll throw this one to the audience, since I had a sinus headache and was totally knocked out.

Alyssa, I hope your week is off to a good start. How does the Post (or other newspapers) determine whether a particular qualitative statement is correct or misleading? As a particular fan of religious news reporting, over the course of the law week I've noticed a few particularly bad statements in the paper. For example, (on Jan. 23) a news report described Michael Sean Winters as "an authority on the U.S. church." That suggests both some sort of professorial pedigree as well as even-handedness, whereas Winters is really just a widely read very left-wing opinion columnist. Similarly, on (on Jan. 14) an article described Pope Benedict as making a "vow" to remain silent on major church affairs. A "vow" has a highly specific religious meeting, particular in the religious context, suggesting a specific a formal religious commitment was made. In reality, the better characterization would be "commitment." Is that kind of characterization simply up to the reporter? The misleading statements suggests there's no actual check. (Or perhaps religious news reporting is simply very difficult without more of a background)

Since I don't work in the newsroom and didn't have any hand in either of those two articles, it's impossible for me to tell you anything about the judgements involved there. Sorry!

Your column made me think of Anne Fadiman's essay "Never Do That To A Book," from her beautiful collection "Ex Libris," in which she writes of the two major approaches people take to caring for books. She mostly distinguishes between people who write in books and those who don't, which is not quite the issue you are engaging. But she does note that when her estimable father read cheap paperbacks, he would often tear off and discard chapters as he read. Sigh.

Hah! Thanks for reminding me of that essay, which I haven't read in ages. Anne was one of my writing teachers in college, and is a friend of my family's. She's the best.

Seems like every year there's a Liam Neeson starring action-thriller movie and wondering if there will be one this year?

You're in luck! On September 4, you'll get to see "Honest Thief," about a bank robber who tries to turn himself in only to discover that the police are corrupt. He's also in post-production in an action movie set on the border...

which is why it's always helpful to talk to a lawyer? Even assuming there was a case here and it's not a permitted parody use, free use, etc. how would enforcement work in practice? Disney hires detectives to track down an individual seen as using a hand-drawn baby yoda at a protest and then files for an injunction to keep that individual and anyone at a similar protest from using baby yoda again? Assuming you do all of that and the court goes for an extremely broad prior restraint on speech, are you going to ask the police to wade into crowds to start taking away the offending graphics? That's both constitutionally dubious and a nightmare for the copyright/trademark holder. Although it would make for tremendous video. The fact is, the law doesn't help much when the offender isn't trying to profit off your IP.


Did you catch Melissa Villasenor's spot on SNL's Weekend Update? She'd written a song for each of the contenders: JOKER, IRISHMAN, 1917, etc. The title for each was "White Male Rage". Not altogether inaccurate.

Indeed, although taken together, the movies get at an idea that is somewhat more interesting than that!

Somebody I just can't picture getting upset at all over Oscar nominations and "Oscars so White" is Bernie Sanders. Don't mean it as a knock, but I do wonder if maybe that's part of this conservative-leaning men's embrace of his candidacy?

Yeah, I think that part of Bernie's appeal is that he thinks that economic class analysis subsumes other identity categories, and I think that is attractive to a lot of people. It doesn't mean that he or they are correct in that analysis, but it definitely has a constituency.

I recently started reading Neal Stephenson’s CRYPTONOMICON and while I’m mostly enjoying it, I’m curious about refitting the 1990s portions into a period piece about the 1990s instead of contemporary project on how the internet “will develop” from 20 years ago. This has made me think about how much I’d like to find a comprehensive coverage of internet developments, from being primarily for the defense industry to social media over running things. I’m not sure one could exist, or would be better served just by looking through contemporary documents both non fiction and fiction, but I want a better articulation of what changed than I’m finding.

What about Brian McCullough's "How the Internet Happened," or Yasah Levine's "Surveillance Valley." Or Andrew Blum's "Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet," or Katie Hafner's "Where Wizards Stay Up Late"? There have been a lot of great books on this very subject!

My local theater is showing all of the Best Picture nominees in one weekend. But I can't possibly go to all of the ones I haven't seen because I can't stop my life for a weekend. Could you tell me how you'd prioritize these four: 1917, Jojo Rabbit, Joker, Parasite. Thanks!

Personally? Parasite, 1917, Jojo Rabbit and Joker.

I know you are right that I exaggerated when I said it happened so long ago. I should have said it felt like it was so long ago. And, I know change takes time. And, I know the Oscars aren't the end all, be all of movies. It just feels like there's been so little change. Like people still aren't being heard. And that's frustrating.

It's really hard to turn an industry around in the best of circumstances. And sometimes it's hard to see change coming: in the entertainment industry, it can take years for projects to be conceived of, written, funded, shot, edited and distributed. Maybe we'll see the fruits of #OscarsSoWhite in ten years, maybe we won't. In the meantime, things definitely feel pretty status quo.

I don't know why and I get it's dumb and why did I think it was real and what does it matter to the premise and all the rest, but I was kind of surprised at myself for getting disappointing upon learning James Corden isn't actually driving during his Carpool Karaoke segments.

The things we allow ourselves to believe for entertainment...

I am surprised to read and hear people (including all three of you on the podcast) saying that superhero stories are inherently fascistic, in that they assert that society is better off when people assume the powers to which their abilities naturally entitle them, and when inferiors defer to the wisdom of their betters. For my entire life I have seen superhero stories making exactly the opposite argument. While they are certainly power fantasies, they are also stories about the appropriately restrained use of power. Superhero stories teach that it is wrong to use power for personal gain, that it is right to help people who have less power when they are being oppressed by unjust persons of greater power, that we should care about the effects of our own actions on other people, that we should not compel others to act contrary to their consciences even if we think it's for their benefit, that it is almost invariably wrong to use lethal force. The four "Avengers" movies directly confront these themes, and many of the other Marvel movies, the Nolan Batman movies, and the Arrowverse shows also address them in various ways. And "The Incredibles" should have put to rest any arguments that powered persons have a right to exercise dominion over others because of their powers. To be sure, creators can tell interesting stories when they play with the fascistic implications of superheroics (e.g. Moore-Gibbons Watchmen), but to claim that the genre is inherently totalitarian is a terrible misreading, and I don't know where it came from.

I think the flaw in your argument is that all of these movies ultimately rely on benevolent superheroes to act in a constrained and responsible fashion. The very fact that they have antagonists at all is a reminder that people do not, in fact, always behave this way. Superhero movies sell us on the idea that people a) will choose to behave honorably and b) the people who choose to behave dishonorably will generally come out ahead. I think that's a crazy bet to take.

One summer when we were still in school my sister and I found an old copy of Little Women on the book shelf. We took turns reading it to each other until we got to the back and realized at least a whole chapter had been torn out of the book. I still don't know how it ends.

!!!!!!!!!!! Email me and I will personally send you an intact copy of "Little Women." alyssa.rosenberg@washpost.com

That would explain the dearth of car wrecks during the segments.


I think that describes my own thought process as well, despite never being much of a Kobe fan. I don't know how to balance and integrate the evil he did with the good he was doing, but I do know that his death now locks in both, and that's a shame. While he had enough privilege that he could routinely and literally fly through LA traffic to isolate him from a lot of the grind of doing so, even with that, having to coexist with 4 daughters had the possibility of getting him to look back at what he'd done in a very different light. That's now gone, and even if you're in the camp of viewing his entire life through what he did to the woman in Colorado as many are, I also think you have to look at the loss of what his potential growth could have been. It's a shame.

I think one thing that's very, very hard to consider, particularly in this political and social moment, is that maybe there are not ways to measure the different acts that make up a person's life and come to a concrete conclusion about them as a whole. We do not possess Maat's feather. But we're really bad about living with ambiguity and contradiction, and so we pretend we do.

Hopefully the poster is still here, but from Alyssa's lips to your ears (regarding coverage): The Washington Post's reader representative is Alison Coglianese: you can reach her at alison.coglianese@washpost.com.

One gentle note I would also add: please don't ask individual Post reporters to comment on decisions taken by other editors or reporters. It's not fair to folks who may not have any knowledge of those processes, and it puts Post folks in  a difficult position of trying to be accountable to readers while also trying to adhere to the protocols we're supposed to follow for public statements. I totally understand wanting to get more information, and I'm always happy to suggest the right way to do that. But asking someone unrelated to a story about it is not going to be the most fruitful avenue to a direct answer.

Not exactly a parallel, yet I'm now reading breaking news that Kobe's pilot had to seek special permission to fly in yesterday morning's heavy fog, presumably at Kobe's behest. While both father and daughter (as well as the pilot and other passengers) all died in the crash, the hubris behind the "fly" decision seems to ring a bit of a bell with Daedalus' sending son Icarus to fly (toward the Sun, with wax wings that were fatally inappropriate).

Charles P. Pierce thought the same thing.

Hey lovelies, I gotta dash to get a new computer and then to audience training. Talk to you all soon.

I've been working on the Internet since 1981, starting in grad school (we were funded by DARPA at the time). There's no one book to read that covers the history. Katie Hafner's "Where Wizards Stay up Late" does a good job of covering the early years. Jim Clark's "Netscape Time" covers the 90's transition to a commercial web and the Browser Wars. Michael Lewis' "The New New Thing" covers the dot-com boom. Cringely's "Accidental Empires" discusses mid-term Silicon Valley adventures. Ben Mezrich's "Accidental Billionaires" covers the startup of Facebook and social media.

Ooops, let me just add this for our original poster!

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