Pop Culture Live with Alyssa Rosenberg

Mar 30, 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.

Follow Alyssa Rosenberg on Twitter here.

Happy Monday, everyone, to the extent it's possible for days to be happy under these circumstances. Before we dive in, one important announcement: next week's chat will be our last. As I've mentioned before, the Post is slimming down its roster of chats and newsletters, and this is one that they've decided to wind down as a regular chat and transition to a special-occasion meeting place. That does not mean I'm going to go away permanently, just that we're going to convene for events like the Oscars and look for other ways to stay in touch. 

One of those opportunities launched today, with the book club Eugene Robinson and I are running. We're reading Hilary Mantel's "Wolf Hall," and potentially continuing on to the rest of her Thomas Cromwell trilogy depending on the appetite people have for it. I'll be hanging out in the comments on those posts, so you'll be able to find me there, though I'll probably want to stay fairly on topic for the benefit of readers who are participating.

And the Post would love to know any other requests or ideas you might have for me. Submit them here, and we'll see what we can do.

Has anybody ever done a piece on how Christian Bale as Batman and Daniel Craig as James Bond went from rookie just starting out to old men with doctors warning them they are too old for this within three movies?

Hah, yes, this is a semi-hilarious trend. At the same time, I think that starring in and promoting these action movies can be fairly draining process, and the training involved is no joke. Christian Bale went from "The Machinist," for which he'd lost a tremendous amount of weight, to "Batman Begins," a process for which he had six months to gain a lot of weight and muscle. That kind of whiplash on your body is tremendously strenuous! Daniel Craig has suffered a number of fairly serious on-set injuries while playing James Bond, including losing multiple teeth and a fingertip. Unlike a lot of us, actors don't necessarily get a lot of time to rest and reset from that sort of on-set accident: if a whole production is waiting on them, they may have to keep going without the sort of recuperation that would be the norm in other industries. So if they didn't seem to age during the periods when they're under contract on these sorts of fairly strenuous movies, that might be the surprising thing.

TOTAL SPOILER ALERT: By the eeriest of coincidences, one of the main threads in last night's episode was about an outbreak of diphtheria with an epicenter in a tenement where locals who had been displaced from their homes due to urban renewal were living. Obviously the writers couldn't have imagined that the airing of the episode would coincide with the Coronavirus pandemic. More likely, it was intended to be a rebuke of anti-vaxxers, since the diphtheria patients were unvaccinated. Luckily, diphtheria is a bacterial disease, so is treatable with antibiotics (unlike viral illnesses). The other important part of the plot line was how an outbreak of an illness gets tracked down to what we nowadays would call Patient Zero.

Coincidences will certainly abound! But coincidence or not, it may be a useful thing that "Call the Midwife" demonstrated these tracking procedures for American and British audiences. We're going to need to get a lot better at contact tracing if we hope to get back to normal at some point.

First off, his dad had COVID–19 so that can't be fun time for him, but still... what major celebrity moves to L.A. because they want "privacy"? Harry and Meghan won't answer this, but what was so wrong with poor old Vancouver Island?

I should note that I'm not certain that Prince Charles, who has tested positive for covid-19, is out of the woods yet, so those of us who care about the British royal family, even if only as a soap opera, probably need to keep holding our breaths. 

But on to your real question: Meghan Markle lived in Los Angeles before she was married, and given that it seems that she wants to keep working in some capacity and that she has a social network there, I can see why she might want to return. It's also the case that in Los Angeles, there are multiple targets for the paparazzi, whereas in a more secluded location, they'd be the only game in town, and thus the media might end up being more aggressive and disruptive. I still think this is a rather volatile situation for them and that it remains to be seen how it all shakes out, especially in terms of the financial independence they seem to crave. I continue to believe that it's going to be complicated for them to find work that doesn't represent an enormous conflict of interest.

After seeing some critics that I follow recommend it, I watched the documentary In Transit over the weekend. It's basically 76 minutes of passengers on an Amtrak sharing their stories, and it was so good and soothing. I believe it's still streaming for free, so I just wanted to suggest it to anyone in need of a movie that's hopeful, empathetic, and lets you do some vicarious cross-country traveling.

I'm all for soothing suggestions, though I wonder if some of us might find the prospect of a documentary set on mass transit a bit anxiety-provoking.

Have you heard any updates about concert venues in the area for this summer? I'm ready for Wolf Trap's lawn.

It looks like the plan at present is for Wolf Trap to cancel or postpone concerts through the beginning of May. I know that's not the news you wanted to hear, but I think it's particularly difficult to maintain proper social distancing in a lawn concert setting: movie theaters and other venues with assigned seating can at least sell seats with spaces in between them and develop procedures for getting people in and out of the aisles. That's just harder to enforce in a big open space.

I just finished the Showtimes series and I really liked the ending even thought it was a little sappy, your thoughts? Also can you recommend something staring Claes Bang?

Maybe "Broen"?

I wonder if the Post might want to reconsider this in the Age of Coronavirus, when so many readers are sheltering in place at home for the duration of the pandemic. Please convey my message to the Power That Be.

We made that case, and they offered us one more week. I'm not delighted about it either, but I also recognize that resources are scarcer than usual in these circumstances and I'm trying to respect that.

When most of us are now confined to our homes, and could really use some engaging outside interaction, is NOT the time to be taking away so many live chats. WaPo digital subscribers like me signed up much earlier because we wanted to support these chats in addition to the Post's fine reportage. To have the chats abruptly ended at this point is very upsetting indeed.

I know, and I'm so sorry. I do hope you'll consider making that clear to the higher-ups. And I promise I am not going away. Among other things, you can email me at alyssa.rosenberg@washpost.com.

Do you think the the Netflix series Tiger King will lead to a resurgence in exotic pet ownership in the US?

I...am not sure that's the message folks are taking from "Tiger King," but I have known myself to be wrong before!

There is an article being passed around Twitter about how podcast listening is down probably because of the quarantine, some of which can be attributed to people no longer commuting, as that's when they are most likely to be listening to them. As someone who is often balancing podcasts and audiobooks and listening all the time, I have noticed something similar. In addition to not having the commute time as ideal for listening to either, I'm less interested in listening while I work, or do chores. I need the help to cut off other people in the office, but when working from home, it doesn't quite work for me. I use the app Libby, which connects to public libraries for my audio books, and I must not be the only one going through this, because suddenly a lot of books I had on hold that weren't supposed to be available for weeks are available, indicating other people are cancelling their holds. I have been reading more of the books I bought but had dent gotten around to, as I now have the time and space for them. I find all of this curious.

I've been curious about that myself; I'm still waiting to hear what's happened to the numbers on the podcast I do with Peter Suderman and Sonny Bunch. We're in an odd position because we review new releases, but I think everyone's adjusting to the new reality. In particular, I really get it if folks don't have an appetite for true crime podcasts anymore. Reality is grim enough right now: we don't have to flirt with it.

I admit this, as Roman Catholic, I didn't notice the anti-Catholic charge in "Wolf Hall" the first time and only after reading about the work. Where are you on the notice that her work is "anti-Catholic" (unsure if that is the right wording, but you might already be aware of this lament of her work)?

Would you be up for transferring this over to the book club? I'd love to keep all our "Wolf Hall" discussion in one place.

Last night I watched the telecast on PBS of Garth Brooks receiving the 2020 Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, taped on March 4. One of the most conspicuous aspects was that none of the protocols we've come to accept as normal in the interim was yet in effect. People were within 6' of one another, Brooks kissed Nancy Pelosi and Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden, and several speakers handled the microphone (as well as Brooks). I now wonder how many present might have been shedding Coronavirus already.

One thing I've been thinking a lot in recent days is that while our response has obviously been too slow and to late from a medical perspective, from a social point of view, everything has changed tremendously quickly.  We have the same culture of mask-wearing or the experience of SARS that certain Asian countries have, and yet private citizens appear to be adapting. Watching television over the weekend, I was amazed by how many ads appeared to have taken the pandemic into account. We have to hope that some of these changes won't be necessary on a permanent basis. But I do think it's worth giving private individuals some credit for upending the way they live and work.

I don't get the thinking of "The Firm" here on the Sussexs. Loads of the "minor" royals have side hustles so why boot out Harry and Meghan since sure there were plenty who weren't that fond of them, but there also plenty that are. The "half-in and half-out" stuff didn't seem that wacky to me compare to the stuff that other royals get up to trying to finance themselves.

I think there are a couple of differences at play here. First is Harry's relative seniority in the Firm: a half-in, half-out position is different if you're on the minor end of things, a la Edward, or if you don't actually have a title and ongoing obligations, like the Phillips kids. Second, I suspect that the Queen and company feel that there's a difference between someone just getting interested in pursuing a different career and becoming totally disillusioned in a way that might cause a messy, ongoing public rift. I don't know if the position they've taken makes that more or less likely, but it's not as if Harry suddenly developed a passion for birdwatching and decided to become a professional ornithologist. Rather, he appears to have a fairly catastrophic break with his brother, who is the future king, and the institution of the monarchy as a whole, and however understandable that break may be, I can see why the leadership of the family might handle it differently than a simple wish to pursue a different career.

The early 1960's in later fictional works has kind of gotten dominated by "Mad Men," but they existed before "Mad Men." Thinking "Dirty Dancing" or what have you and there is this sadness in that setting since you know the Kennedy assassination and Vietnam are coming up. Of all things, "Family Guy" did a 90's flashback show last night and something about 90's is that 9/11 hangs over them since we know it's coming and wondering if they too will have that "you naïve people" or "sadness and trouble coming ahead" feel?

Honestly, my favorite 1990s period piece is the romantic comedy "Definitely, Maybe." In general, though, I think it's a bit of a mistake for period pieces to always harken back to seminal events like 9/11 or the Kennedy assassination. There is so much happening between those signposts, and the big events aren't always the best way to express the changes taking place in any given period. Part of what I enjoyed about "Once Upon A Time...in Hollywood" is that its alternative history allows us to see the culture of Hollywood that was in place around the time of Sharon Tate's murder in a clearer way.

Not sure anyone in this saga is thinking all that clearly. LA does seem an odd choice for privacy. The "Firm" is surely low on star power with the Sussexes gone. William has devolved prematurely to an even duller version of Charles, and Andrew's ongoing disgrace takes his branch off the stage. Seems like they could've worked harder to accommodate and/or protect Harry and Meghan than they did. I guess their debacle with Diana didn't really teach them anything.

I suspect the dynamic is somewhat different, simply in the sense that Meghan's racial identity, and the way she's been treated by the British press as a result, lends a new and toxic dimension to everything at play here. 

Another reader not happy that chats are disappearing. Really question the issue of cost - or are you really that expensive?

Please tell the higher-ups. And I think it's less a question of cost than of focus: there's a new team that's working on promoting and growing the chats that seem to them to have the most potential. I don't necessarily agree with the strategy, but I am all for finding new ways to engage with y'all. I am not going away. We'll find ways to stay in touch.

As it happens I am living away from my family because of a new job, so I am consuming more media than usual. And despite my resolution to read and watch The Classics, I am even more likely than usual to consume bite-size entertainment -- sports podcasts, low-stakes sitcoms, TV shows that lasted one season, YouTube videos. It's less that I need a break, and more that I get distracted more easily. More specifically, I am a devoted listener to Across the Movie Aisle -- I just heard Peter's gut-punch twist ending to "Contagion" as I started to type this -- and the fact that you are pivoting to reviewing a Netflix original makes me hopeful that you can continue to find an audience.

I really appreciate that! And it's good to have another perspective; I suspect the long-term trends here will take a while to become clear.

Whether tactful or helpful, oddly I don't think Prince William was wrong about his predictions he supposedly made.

He and Kate have made their own complicated set of accommodations. I don't think it's an easy family to be born into, or to marry into.

The reruns of "Friends" that show the Twin Towers. Agony. Then there's the episode that aired in Fall 2001, when Monica and Chandler are getting ready to leave for the airport on their honeymoon. As originally written (pre-9/11), Monica got mocked for wanting to leave three hours early for their international flight. Needless to say, that scene had to be rewritten and reshot.

In general, I prefer those shots to stay in there: they're a reminder that the Twin Towers existed. I'd rather feel the hurt over and over again than to see edits of movies that act like they were never there.

Jazz music feed online at https://20793.live.streamtheworld.com/WESAHD2.mp3

Oooh, great recommendation.

I wonder if the move to LA was partly the discovery by the Sussexes that they don't have the right to live in Canada. They haven't (and can't) meet the rquirements of the Immigration Act, either as immigrants or long-term visitors. At least in the US, Meghan is a citizen and can sponsor Harry as her husband, just as he sponsored her to Britain. And, if they do leave permanently, her application for UK citizenship is null and void.

I don't know the law here, but that's a good point if you're correct.

Considering the broad range of daily chats when I first caught onto them, the culling has already been pretty severe. There were political chats every day, auto chats, etc., and the pop culture chats seem most appropriate for regular scheduling. Preaching to the choir, I know, but these chats are a rarity among the "publications" I follow and a real selling point. They give the "paper" a personality and a personal connection to its readers. So, count me as anti-culling.

I hear you, and will pass all of your comments along. 

Folks, I have to go set up for a conference call. See you all here this time next week, and then in the book club and other venues going forward.

I have looking at the free access to British History Online collection. http://blog.history.ac.uk/2020/03/british-history-online-makes-all-research-content-free-to-individual-users/

Oooh, also great! And now I have to go for real. Take care, everyone! Be safe, stay inside, etc.

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