S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership. I’m Stephen Metcalf and this is the Slate Culture Gabfest, oops, I did it again, Ed.. It’s Wednesday, February 17th, 2021. On today’s show, St. Modde, it is a deep mutis. If you had to assign a Jinro, I guess you might call it a psychological horror film. It’s about a young hospice nurse who believe she’s being directly summoned. By God. You can find it on Epic’s. That’s Epic’s. It’s an add on on Amazon Prime. And then the all-American tragedy of Britney Spears is being told in a new documentary from The New York Times. You can find framing Britney Spears on Hulu. And finally, we discuss the billboard phenomenon, Driver’s License, a song by Olivia Rodriguez with Slate’s own charts ologist Kris Motlanthe. Joining me today is Jessica Winter. She’s an editor at The New Yorker magazine. She’s also the author of a novel Break in Case of Emergency. And Jessica, congratulations on a forthcoming novel, The Fourth Child.
S2: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me. I’m thrilled to be here.
S1: Yeah, it’s great to have you on. When is the fourth child expected, as it were,
S2: March 9th, civil March or preorder?
S1: All right. Superb. Congrats on that. Thank you. You’re welcome. And of course, Dana Stevens, who’s the film critic of Slate. Hey, Dana.
S3: Hey, Steve. Hi, Jessica.
S2: Hey, Dana.
S1: Hey, Dana. Any guesses why I didn’t sleep last night?
S3: Because of the horror movie that I forced you all to watch?
S1: Yeah, because Dana Stevens made me watch Saint-Marc, so I’ll be kind of groggy and out of it today. So thank you and our listeners. Thank you for that to. S. Modde comes from the first time writer director Rose Glass, it stars Jennifer Ealy as Amanda, a once prominent dancer choreographer who’s now dying of cancer. She lives alone in Norma Desmond like Splendor in a decrepit English seaside town to preside over her imminent death. She’s hired a new hospice nurse who is calling herself Modde, having changed her name after an unfortunate incident at her last job, Maude is a devotedly three to one. Maude is as devotedly a woman of God as Amanda is of the flesh. And she sets herself the task of saving her employer’s soul in the little time she has left here on Earth. Why don’t we listen to a clip?
S4: They got. Here is Amanda. Well, you know that. Thank you for bringing us together. Lord. And thank you for this meal, which we gratefully receive. Plus, Amanda’s body, which is hurting now, but has done so many wonderful things and bless her mind. Which is shrouded in darkness. And reach out to her like you did to me. Omine.
S2: You see? I feel like to put.
S1: Dana, this this movie, I think, is hard to describe and pat genre terms, it has the aura of a horror movie, of a great horror movie, like in the tradition of Rosemary’s Baby or don’t look back. Talk us through it a little bit. What what attracted you to this film?
S3: Yeah, well, this was I mean, I saw this almost exactly a year ago, which is when it was supposed to come out. And it really I mean, haunted me psychologically, haunted me. And not because it was, I think, particularly scary, but just because of that, the strangeness and beauty that you evoke and comparing it to a movie like Rosemary’s Baby, I put it on my 10 best list for last year, almost as a kind of harbinger of movies to come, you know, not knowing when it would actually be available. And I’m just I’m really glad it’s out now. I think it’s one of the best movies I’ve seen in the past several years, especially given that it’s a debut film from the director, writer director Rose Glass, who was only 30 when she made the movie, which makes one excited to see what she does next in her career. Yeah. How would you describe the genre of this movie? It’s sort of a psychological horror. The sort of attempt at conversion that you hear in that scene is a big, big theme of the movie. This kind of contrast between the extreme religiosity of the character who calls herself Maude, as you say, she’s sort of renamed herself after this. Something horrible happened in the past that we only get a brief glimpse of in in the cold open to the movie and her entire mission when she goes to take care of the Jennifer Ealy character and her wonderful Gothic house. I also love the design of this movie, is to convert her, to convert her to this extreme form of kind of self, mortifying Catholicism that that modde practices. So it’s this two hander kind of movie to. Right. It’s really a chamber piece. There’s a few other characters, but is almost only these two women. And we see them engaged in this kind of battle for the soul or what seems to be a battle for the soul of of the Jennifer Ealy character, who we can talk about that a little bit later, too. But I also love the the Jennifer Eilidh character, how she is drawn as this kind of nihilistic libertine, you might say. So there’s this very stark contrast between the two of them in a way that almost reminds me of a of a Robert Brossel movie. You know, in many ways, this movie feels like it could have been made 30 years ago just because it takes place in this very strange, creepy seaside town. It seems like it hasn’t changed since the 1970s or so. And and everything about it has a little bit of an outside of time kind of feeling. And I don’t want to say much about the last half because there are a lot of twists in the ending. I think the very last shot in particular is one of the best things in the movie. But we will not go there in the hopes that people will go to it unspoiled.
S1: Yeah, Jessica, I mean, I it’s whatever else is true of this movie, it’s deeply unsettling. It’s not really about jump scares or even really answering the question of what, you know, transcendental presence may be communicating with Maude.
S5: It’s just a peculiar
S1: movie that sort of starts out under your skin from the beginning and stays there. What you what you make of it.
S2: I like this movie. It’s it’s surprising and unpredictable. It’s certainly well acted. The ending is, as Dana indicated, is cuckoo bananas in a way that I will think about for a long time. I was I think, unlike unlike you guys, I was somewhat underwhelmed by it. And I think it’s partly because I think the film, which is 80 something minutes long, is going for a kind of leanness or economy, a real speed. And I think what results instead is is a is a sparseness or patchiness. And I think that’s particularly felt with the Jennifer Eilidh character. Amanda Ealy is tart and sour, delicious as a glamorous woman who is rightly embittered by her ongoing, slow, painful death. And she has a chemistry with Morphet Clark that I think has squandered a little bit. The fascination and attraction and contempt between these two women is thrilling and the movie is thrilling when there’s a had to have between them. But then Amanda falls out of the picture for a while, and I think that the movie suffers for it, which makes sense because is suffering for that absence, too. But when they do reunite without spoiling anything, it just feels too abrupt. There hasn’t been enough buildup. And I think that the biggest thing for me in being underwhelmed by this movie was wondering if it had enough ideas to sustain it. I mean, the main idea of the movie, I think, is that religious ecstasy is a kind of mental disorder. And that’s interesting. But I’m not sure that that observation is enough to sustain this particular movie. And what it added it up to for me is just sort of a a stylish and gruesome expressionist portrait of. Of mental illness, that’s just sort of splattered all over the screen.
S1: It’s funny, it kind of weirdly at moments reminded me as much of the Joker as it or Joker as it as it did of like Rosemary’s Baby or any of it’s obvious like Ha antecedence. It is
S5: that deeply
S1: unsettling, very intimate portrait of a mind in collapse depicted with a kind of totally right, like a kind of expressionistic intensity by the by the actor. It you know, it’s funny
S5: in Jessica, I actually think I fall
S1: somewhere between you and Dana on this. I love the the two hander. I love the relationship between the two characters and these two actresses. It’s it’s
S5: a remarkable
S1: thing to witness this louche woman of the flesh, you know, who’s playfully going along with this, you
S5: know, deeply
S1: self mortifying woman of God and attempting each is trying to seduce the other in some way. And I found that completely gripping both the performances and the kind of concept behind the relationship. Um, my feeling, Jessica, was it was asserting in
S5: a in a
S1: scrupulously agnostic way that religious ecstasy is mental illness and possibly mental illness is a form of religious ecstasy. And it proceeds along that knife’s edge through the whole thing. Not really answering the question of whether this person is in a direct dialogue with God or is mentally ill, that these are two different
S1: for looking at the same thing. And the movie has decided to suspend you between the two, just as in some way this person is and I where I agree with you completely, just because the second half of the movie, the two hander disappears and we don’t want to spoil it. But I felt that it became more deeply uncomfortable. Its commitment to portraying this woman as possibly quite sick and self-destructive was admirable. I thought it was very honest in that regard and extremely hard to watch as I found the Joker hard to watch. But but it lost the dramatic tension that seemed to me to be at the at the heart of it and and its own seductive powers of these two women attempting to
S5: kind of power play in
S1: a power, play one another, but submit the other to their own worldview in some sense. And once that
S5: disappeared, my
S1: love of the movie found itself mitigated.
S2: In terms of the genre question, I felt a big whiff of repulsion. And there’s also a big whiff of breaking the waves in the talking to God parts and also the moments of sexual objection. But I also I don’t know if you guys remember this, but at the turn of the last millennium, there was this glut of movies that were explicit, descendants of The Exorcist. And they they tapped into this weird kind of millenarian Catholic panic. And like nobody remembers them as individual productions. You just remember how many of them there were. There was there was a movie called Lost Souls with Winona Ryder. There was a Schwarzenegger vehicle called End of Days. Do you guys remember these? There was none at all.
S1: But there was a movie. I love that you do.
S2: There is this movie. Well, I had to I was like a baby film critic and I went to see everything. There was this movie called Stigmata with Patricia Arquette. There was a movie called Bless the Child. Gabriel Byrne was in like half of these movies. Like that was part of the bingo card for these movies, like Gabriel Byrne in this movie. And, you know, maybe I was brain poisoned by those movies. And there are sort of layers of Catholic schlock, but I just feel like Saint Maude is the best actor, best looking, best sounding, most skilful version of all those movies 20 years later.
S3: I don’t remember that particular wave of movies, but I have always found occult things to be the least scary genre of horror movie. And I feel like this movie somehow lives separately from that. In my mind, I don’t know why. I mean, any time there’s one of those horror movies actually hereditary is kind of one of them where all of this lead up to this Gabriel
S2: Karingal Auditory Bingo, I won.
S1: So you’re basically saying this movie should have had Gabriel Byrne? It would have missed it altogether.
S3: But wait, I’m actually setting this movie aside from that, because this movie doesn’t have that disappointing to me. Always disappointing a cold ending of, you know, and then they carved a pentagram into a go. You know, there isn’t that kind of ritualistic cult like horror here. And maybe that’s part of, you know, the repulsion comparison that Jessica made. It really is a travel inward into one person’s mind rather than, you know, connecting her to this conspiracy theory of these outward, you know, like John Cassavetes trying to get the devil in to impregnate her. And the simplicity of it was was a big part of what I loved about it. I would agree. It’s very rare, especially with this kind of genre movie that I want a movie to be longer. But I could have done with 15 or 20 more minute. It’s a movie I agree with more Jennifer Ealey, I mean, who doesn’t want Jennifer Ealy in everything, you know, I mean, she doesn’t appear in near enough movies. And when she does, you always want more of her. But I still I admire that that leanness in the simplicity and the boldness of this movie that just feels like it knows what it wants and it knows what it’s doing.
S1: And we agree. We agree both women are extraordinary and that it’s for a for a debut feature from a 30 year old, let’s say, filmmaker. It’s just got exquisite control.
S3: And I want to appends just for viewers who are squeamish about horror movies, as I know many viewers are, that I feel like this movie is fairly low on the scariness scale and less body horror really freaked you out. There are some sort of slightly Cronenberg moments, right, where you, you know, see the interiors of bodies or like bodies that are just sort of wrongly shaped. And there’s some incredible sound design of some, you know, squishy.
S2: There’s a big old scab about, oh, I really I just I just have to kind of take a walk after the big old guy. Yeah.
S1: That had me wide awake.
S3: Speaking of taking a walk, there’s also a very scary moment involving shoes that we won’t get into. So if that kind of stuff gets you, you might want to avoid or fast forward through parts of St. Modde. But, you know, there’s not any kind of large scale mayhem. I don’t know. I to me, it’s something that I found more unsettling and beautiful than, you know, straight up horrifying.
S1: Hmm. All right. Well, the movie St. Moritz Findable on Epic’s epics on Amazon Prime. Check it out. And, you know, let us know what you thought. All right, now is the moment in our podcast we usually talk business. Dana, what do we have?
S3: Yes, Stephen, our only business today is to tell our Slate plus listeners what the bonus segment is going to be today. We’re going to talk about the Gina Carano controversy, Gina Carano being the actress who is just fired from the Star Wars TV show The Mandalorian because of her social media posts, which her side is arguing were merely expressing a conservative point of view. But in the eyes of Disney and many people who saw these posts, they were racist transphobia and offensive in various other ways. We’re going to be talking about something that we can’t seem to get away from talking about this year, which is this whole notion of canceled culture and whether Gina Carano has been canceled or rightfully fired. So we will be talking about that whole controversy in our Slate plus bonus segment. Of course, if you are not a slate plus member, you can always become one by signing up at Slate dotcom culture. Plus, it only costs one dollar for your first month. And with that you will get ad free podcasts, exclusive, plus only content and many other benefits. Once again, you can sign up for that program at Slate Dotcom Culture plus also, of course, if you have ideas of things we could discuss in a future Slate plus segment, you can send us an email at culturist at Slate Dotcom. We’d love to get your suggestions for that segment. All right, Steve, back to the show.
S1: Framing Britney Spears begins in the present tense, there’s a movement to free Britney, free her, i.e., from a conservatorship that grant significant amounts of control over her life and career to her father, who may or may not have her best interests at heart. At that point, the documentary begins to backfill, tells the story of a girl from a small town in Louisiana who goes on to become a Mouseketeer
S5: first, then the
S1: biggest star in pop music and finally the biggest star in the world, during which time the misogyny industrial complex takes
S1: Over the course of the documentary, I think it’s fair to say that everyone in America disgraces themselves visibly. Britney Spears, her story goes so, so sour. The money shot monsters of the paparazzi surround her perpetually in a feeding frenzy just strobing of of flashbulbs. And she becomes a national punchline because she appears to be having something like a public crack up and then her father appears in her life. And to that point, he has not been a big part of the story and he effectively, legally takes over her life. Let’s listen to a clip. We will turn
S2: now to a story
S1: that is burning up. The Internet is just pouring in this morning. Yes, Britney Spears skeeball.
S6: Came in and she said she wanted her head shaved. The hairdresser refused. She literally grabbed the hair clipper and started doing it herself. And she said, I don’t want anyone touching me. I’m tired of everybody touching me.
S2: It’s so easy, it’s so
S3: much fun
S2: to take a celebrity who’s a young, beautiful, talented girl and ripped to shreds, it was so called Britney Spears had chapped head friends. And it’s a crazy thing Britney has ever done that didn’t involve marriage. It’s unbelievable. And so she’s saying essentially with no hair, I quit. Whatever you guys are looking for in terms of me coming back and being that person again, I’m not that person is gone. And you have you have destroyed her. The idea that people could look at that and only see a crazy person, well, just that just tells me that, you know what of what a vulture is. Society she was working with to begin with.
S5: All right, I should
S1: say the last voice we hear in that clip is Wesley Morris, friend of our program, and he uses the word vulture as Jessica I had Jackal’s in my note coming out of the clip, placing that in some
S1: Britney, the documentary really reminds you this all unfolds. The substantial part of the story unfolds prowar, which is to say before the iPhone, the rise of social media. So we’re still in a world with paparazzi and US Weekly mediating public relationships with celebrities. It seems to me she was sort of the last of a kind in a way.
S2: Yeah. You know, I think that this documentary does a kind of public service and simply synthesizing all of that footage and all of that information and creating a spare, straightforward chronology of it, because I think one of the best features of it is the way it says, OK, you remember that. But do you remember this? Like I, I remember her shaving her head. I remember her bashing the car with the umbrella. I didn’t know her. I didn’t remember that paparazzi had been literally stalking her that night. They followed her from place to place to place to place when she was in the middle of an agonizing custody drama. You know, she didn’t just materialize and start wailing on someone’s car in order to provide, you know, fodder for late night jokes. This was someone in horrible pain. And I think that the the documentary does a great job just laying that open for the viewer.
S1: Then I thought the judge, Jessica, is totally right. Right. The document is incredible reminder and a sort of fill her in of details that we may or may not know about this story, which is
S1: heartbreaking in its essence. And in some respect, it begins with
S5: this odd
S1: combination of hyper sexualization and innocence that defined her star image in the first place so that she appeared
S5: both as a very young
S1: adult, definitely pubescent girl. Right.
S5: That’s part of her emergence
S1: in the world, is this pop star
S5: who’s in a unusually
S1: high degree of control on stage that her dancing, her singing, her performing. She’s like the queen of that stage in a way that’s just mesmerizing, especially for tween girls.
S5: Right. At the same time, she’s this total
S1: toy, like this object
S5: who’s been
S1: massively sexualized by like for want of a better expression, by the male gaze, like she’s been turned into this totally passive object of sexual contemplation. It’s very awkward now to go back and look at that.
S3: Yeah. I mean, it seems like this is of a piece in the documentary talks about this a little bit, the way that we’re looking now at the way Britney was treated or Lindsay Lohan was treated in that period. Right. And and Monica Lewinsky. Right. I mean, it’s this moment where the the late 90s and we could go back way earlier than that and find some of the same things. But I think in a particularly media way. Right, because because of the Internet, even if it was pre social media in the sense that we know it now, it was not pre Internet and the way that journalism suddenly started to hyper focus on these figures. Right. These these virgin whore kind of archetypes that we created for ourselves was just so marked in that period and it was so recent. It’s just so, so bizarre to look back and say only 20 years ago or something. We talked about young women in a way that we would never, never do now. Right. I mean, that isn’t I don’t think because we’ve achieved any different sort of moral status. I think maybe social media is a part of it. I think maybe it’s just that celebrities have a little bit more of a humanized presence. They they don’t need to be stalked by tabloids anymore because they’re managing their own images online. I don’t know. To me, one of the things that that was most driven home by this documentary is just how much the media landscape and how celebrity culture have changed in the last 20 years and and how much damage was done, you know, during during that time. I mean, obviously to these women themselves, but also to all the girls growing up, then I mean, I was old enough in the 90s to essentially ignore all of this stuff. And I remember this happening kind of in the background and thinking who would possibly care about that? And but if you were, as you say, Steve, a twin who was whose whole self image was kind of hung on these figures, it would have been a really, really confusing time to come of age.
S2: There’s a there’s a moment it’s almost a throwaway in a montage in the film where an interview says to her, to her face, you know, everyone is talking about your breasts. Everyone’s talking about it. Right. Well, your breasts, you seem to get furious
S1: when a talk show host comes up with this subject.
S2: I’ll say this and she continues smiling and giggling like he is harassing her and gaslighting her to her face. And she’s trying to laugh it off. He won’t let her and I just feel like you take that. I mean, that interview would never deny you’re absolutely right. That interview would never happen now, like, no one would be permitted to do that now. But for Britney, you take that guy and all the guys like him and then 200 cameras in her face all day, every day, and then two kids in one year as her marriage is breaking down. It was almost like there was a conspiracy to drive her insane and it worked out so.
S5: It’s so true.
S1: I mean, it is at one point there was an interview with an US Weekly photo editor who tells a bald faced lie. He says, oh, it was all just aspirational. He’s trying to alibi himself because clearly he was a central player in the public destruction of this person.
S5: And that
S1: documentary knows what he doesn’t or pretends not to know, which is that there
S5: is a really
S1: sick feature to human psychology, which is that we resent what we aspire to. And there’s this highly ritualized public act of tearing down this
S1: that a shocking number of people participated in. And a very important part of the story is that is
S5: that after
S1: whatever kind of a breakdown
S5: Britney Spears has.
S1: She reemerges as a highly successful and highly lucrative performer in the context of the Vegas residency, which is just money printing machines like backup the fracking truck, once you get one of those and she has one of the most, if not the most popular. One’s in history, she’s able to do that, she’s able to work and thrive in public, but
S5: she’s deemed legally incompetent and that’s.
S1: Kind of the occasion for the documentary is getting at that contradiction, how can it be that this person can perform at that level as a showbiz performer
S5: and not at least
S1: be able to say, I want this person to be my conservator and not that person or or even I want that person to be my lawyer? A judge declares are too incompetent to choose her own lawyer and appoints one for her.
S3: Yeah. Can I say some of the things I didn’t like about this documentary? Absolutely. I mean, this may be the first time in history that I wish that two different things we were talking about on one show were longer. I wish there had been more mud and I wish there had been more of framing Britney Spears and that it had questioned or acknowledged a little bit more the fact that it was a right around. Right. I mean, they have no real access to anyone who is currently close to Britney Spears. They can talk to the woman who used to be her assistant. They can talk to, you know, journalists like Wesley Morris about the way she was covered or, you know, that that guy who who directed photography for US Weekly. But they really are essentially reconstructing this story from, you know, tabloid reports from the outside because she’s under this conservatorship. They obviously couldn’t get access to her or really to to anybody who is currently involved with her life. And so a few different things. I wish that the show had taken more time to give a sense of her as a performer. Her ascent as a performer is tracked via these, you know, a montage essentially of clips of her getting more and more famous. But we don’t really ever get to see a whole piece of a performance or, you know, get a sense of what she was like to perform with. And there’s not a lot of legal analysis about this conservatorship state. There’s a lot of, you know, people objecting to it and and a lot of airtime given to the to the hashtag free Britney movement, which seemed to me a weakness in the documentary that essentially this group of super fans has gotten together to protest outside courtrooms. I don’t know exactly what they’re trying to do with the hashtag Free Britney, but I felt like there was an element of the same kind of paparazzi style hounding in that group. I’m not sure that I am entirely down with the idea that a whole bunch of strangers get together and start advocating as fans for, you know, a legal status change in the life of their fave. There was something a little bit disturbing to me about that. This documentary just felt a little bit injudicious sometimes in how it presented information, who it spoke to and who it didn’t speak to. And and I just wish the documentary at times had slowed down and taken a little bit more time to unpack how these things happened to her and what her prospects are to to get out of that situation.
S2: Yeah, I agree with you on both of those points, on the the murkiness of the legal analysis and the the just lack of footage of Spears as a performer. I mean, on the first point, I found Jeff Bloomers essay on Slate very persuasive, arguing that the documentary just doesn’t need to lean so hard on the Britney on the free Britney movement to make its points. I think toward the end especially, it becomes a bit muddled if the documentary is, on the one hand impassively representing the free Britney movement as a cultural phenomenon like, hey, look at this thing, let’s observe it. Or if, on the other hand, it’s sort of co-op not coopting exactly, but maybe endorsing, tacitly endorsing the movement’s reporting and the and its take on the situation. I wasn’t quite sure where the editorial point of view was landing there.
S3: Yes. Spoken like an editor. That was much more clearly that I would say
S2: quickly and then. Yeah, I mean, Britney obviously deserves a mini series. And the thing that is really scripted, there’s surprisingly little MTV footage. And of course, we don’t know the reasons for that, you know, were the reasons editorial. Was it a matter of getting the rights? But I think that’s something that’s really missing from this piece is a full sense of why she became the phenomenon that she did. She absolutely embodied all the contradictions of girlhood and womanhood, that society, you know, burdens its girls and women when she was absolutely rendered as a freak sex object and she served all these symbolic cultural purposes. But she was also just a spectacular performer. You know, a lot of it was just as simple as that. She had an almost unbroken multi-year streak, for example, at the Video Music Awards. She would just crush that show under her foot every year of the year with a bodysuit, the year with the SMIC, the year she kissed Madonna and there was a joy and an abandon and a gymnastic skill to her dancing. You know, she was like a basketball player hitting her jumpshot. She was an athlete and she was in control when she was dancing. And one thing that I always come back to when I’m thinking about Britney and the documentary doesn’t mention this at all, I don’t think is that in 2004, which is the year the bottom really starts to fall out, that’s the year of the impulsive marriage. It’s the year she meets Kevin. Adaline, that’s also the year she explodes her knee on a video shoot. She really blows out her knee. She needs surgery. She can’t perform for months. She cancels a tour. And I just I just wonder if that was part of it, too, that this the thing that she was most in control of, the thing that was to my eye, the most spectacular gift that she had all of a sudden she didn’t have it and she never really got it back.
S1: Jessica. I thought that was beautifully put. I mean, it she was such a mesmerizing star.
S5: And I
S1: will never forget watching that, I believe live the MTV Music Award where she carries
S5: that snake.
S1: I mean, I’m horrified by snakes, right? A tiny little garter snake, three inches as long as me squeal and like, you know, running the other show, I just remember watching that and thinking
S5: that is an
S1: astonishing act of
S5: control. And to
S1: me, just overwhelmingly, the experience of watching this was just sadness, you know, watching a person capable of that degree of public control
S1: of also then fall apart in public.
S5: And really,
S1: thanks to the Jackel energies of the of the press and the public, it’s just it’s just heartbreaking. All right, well, it’s part of a series of documentaries being produced by The New York Times in conjunction with Fox and Hulu. You can find this on Hulu, as I did. Check it out and email us. Tell us what you think
S5: about freeing Britney Spears.
S1: Jessica, you’re going to drop out for a segment and then rejoin us for endorsements. We’ll see you in a little bit. All right, for our final segment today, we’re joined by Chris Malathy what a what to even call. There’s no like it’s a friend of the program almost without a.. You know, he’s first among fops. Chris, welcome back to the show.
S2: First among fops. That’s great, Steve. Thank you.
S1: Hi. Yeah, I thought I said to everyone, but. Yeah, but I’m just kidding, but great. Great to have you back. Your host of the podcast, The Hit Parade, and you write the Why is the song number one column for Slate? And that’s why we have you today, the song that we’re talking about, his driver’s license by Olivia Rodriguez. And as you say in your column about the song, which was obviously at number one, it’s rare that a debut single by a new artist connects with a cross-section of the public as fast as this particular tune did. Chris, why? Why did it do that?
S2: I mean, this may sound old fashioned of me, but to me it’s the song Stupid is kind of how I feel about this. And I feel like I’ve got some evidence for that. I do think that driver’s license is not only a well crafted song, it’s kind of a canny and exceptional song. It is kind of the Jensenius song that ever Z it basically mashes together the vocal styles sentiments. I don’t know, Zygi types of, I don’t know, several different GenZE superstars of the last decade, everyone from Lorde to Billie Eilish. I even hear a little Sean Méndez in there. And then, of course, you know, the person she’s most often compared to is Taylor Swift, particularly recent model Taylor. You know, in her indie folk mode, it’s not a folk record, it’s a pop record, but it’s got a similar emotional cadence to it. And of course, we need to talk to some extent about the drama and the celebrity back story of this song. But I’ve been arguing for some weeks now that the song is a bigger deal than even the celebrity back story. That’s my opinion anyway.
S1: OK, well, before we go any further, we got to hear it. Let’s check it out.
S2: A commercial driver’s license last week, just like we always talked about, because you’re so excited for me to finally drive up to your house, but today I drove through the suburbs crying, you know? It probably was that one girl who always made me doubt she so much, surely she’s everything I’m insecure about. Oh, yeah. Today I drove through some nerves. How could I ever love someone else? I know you aren’t perfect, but I’ve never felt this way. And I just can’t imagine how you could be so. Yes, you know. You said forever, now I drive alone past your street.
S1: Oh, my God, it’s so it’s so sinister, it’s so effective, it really is like Lord Adele and Billy Eilish, like Scott Mert’s synthetical emerged and it’s just it’s fucking working on me. I hate myself.
S3: I don’t see the Billy Eilish comparison, to tell you the truth. I mean, they’re yes, they’re both teenagers making kind of music in their bedrooms. But I feel like Billy Eilish, I’m not going to have the right words for it. Chris, you have to give me the musical terms. But she just seems to come from a place of more a less wholesome
S2: you know, I
S3: agree. This feels more like Taylor Swift to me. It’s sort of you know, she’s writing about this this sweet suburban love affair, whereas Billy Eyelashes whispering in her garage about drugs.
S2: Well, it’s interesting that Steve called the song sinister because there’s a sinister energy to Billy Eilish. His music, the the quality that I point to with Billy Eilish is what folks call the Amsler ness of Billy Eilish, the way she gets in real close to the mic. And her her vocalizing is almost tactile, you know, like she’s enunciating syllables. Yeah. Yeah. Because, like most think so there’s some of that. And Rodrigo’s vocal stylings, even though you’re right, it’s much more earnest. The yelping, her voice is much more like Lorde. The earnestness of the story she’s telling is much more like Taylor. And then somehow it mashes all these tropes together and kind of comes out in its own place, which, you know, to give Rodriguez credit, she co-wrote the song and she is a songwriter. She’s had she had a prior hit single, a minor hit single called All I Want that she wrote by herself. She’s definitely got a style and a trope. She’s, you know, plays piano, loves those, you know, tolling chords. And, you know, the song is just full of heartbreak from the jump. The first couplet, I got my driver’s license last week, just like we always talked about. You know, it’s not even triumphal from the jump. You know, it’s wistful and sad and heartbroken from the get go. And I really do think this is what folks are connecting to. I mean, I am surrounded by GenZE kids, including my two step kids, by the way, shout out to my stepdaughter, Ana, who is actually going for her driver’s license this week. So this song could not be more apropos for her right now. But about four weeks ago when I was playing this song over and over again at home, preparing to write my why is the song number one article about it? The kids don’t always sing along with what I’m playing, but my God, like, I wasn’t even playing it that loud. And they started belting it from downstairs and all of their friends are into it too. And they know every word.
S3: They it’s also a tick tock sensation.
S2: Right. And it’s also a tick tock sensation. However, this song broke so fast, it’s not one of those songs that you can normally say, well, you know, it had a month on Tock and then, you know, radio caught on and it rose to number one. No, it debuted at number one. That’s what’s rare to the point that Steve was making in his intro. This song debuted at number one, which is not unprecedented for a brand new artist, but it’s almost unprecedented for somebody like Rodrigo, because previously it was either you were an American Idol winner debuting at number one and you were brand new or you are a soloist coming out of a previously established group like Lauryn Hill debuted at number one coming out of the Fuji’s or Zayn Malik debuted at number one, coming out of one direction. Olivia Rodrigo. Other than her medium level TV fame, she’s really not coming out of anything other than this song. And she and it’s her debut officially promoted single. She had tracks from the soundtrack to her TV show previously. But this is kind of it. So Tick Tock is a part of the story, but it’s not as if Tic-Tac created the story by itself.
S1: Dana, before we go any further, what like what do you think of this song? Do you kind of groove to it or or.
S3: Uh, yeah. I mean, I think I felt a little bit about it like I did about about early Taylor, you know, where it was sort of I don’t think she’s based on this. Maybe as impressive a songwriter as the high school age. Taylor Swift was. But it’s a little bit of that sense of good for her. And I hope she does OK with her fame. You know, any time a young woman gets famous really fast, as we just talked about in the Britney Spears segment this week, there’s that worry like are they going to be able to handle it? But it seems like she’s been a professional for a while. So so maybe she’ll be cool. It made me wish. I mean, one thing it made me wish enjoying this song, maybe not like running back to listen to it 100 more times, but like like and getting to know it is that I just miss pop music. You know, I’m not a huge pop listener as listeners to this podcast know, but just pop music is a part of the the landscape right. In the pre pandemic landscape. You would have known this song because it would be blasting out of car radios or playing in bars. Right. I mean, you would be out in public hearing this song. And now that we don’t have shared public spaces to listen to music, I had no idea this song existed. I’m completely walled off from what’s what’s the number one song until Christmas. And if he starts talking about it, so so there was a there was a kind of a double sadness. There was like the sadness of the sweet teenage love song and then just the sadness of, you know, us not having a shared pop culture right now.
S1: But this I got to say, this is just so uncanny.
S5: You said good for her.
S1: Was kind of your feeling listening to the song like Good for Olivia Rodriguez. So I texted my 18 year old just turned 18 year old daughter. What do you think of driver’s license?
S5: She she texts back
S1: and I’m gay, so and then she goes, doesn’t have a lot of appeal. It’s OK. It’s OK, though, like, good for her. So there’s something about the song, right.
S3: It’s like so even even an eighteen year old thinks like, oh, that little girl is is doing so well. Your daughter’s probably
S2: three weeks older than three
S1: weeks older. Yeah. So that’s a weird coincidence. Chris, talk a little bit about, about Olivia Rodriguez herself. What’s her what’s her story here?
S2: So Olivia Rodriguez, I believe, just turned 18. She was 17 when she recorded this. She is a multi hyphenate, a singer, actress. She made her name on the Disney plus show and see if you can follow me here with the title High School Musical, The Musical, the series that is the full name of the TV show, which, by the way, is yet another thing that makes this as the punctuation there.
S3: Do we have to
S2: colon’s there are colon’s in between each word. Yes. High School Musical, Colen the musical, Colen the series. So that is part of what makes this so GenZE is that if you go back to the mid OT’s High School Musical started in 2006 as a Disney Channel made for Disney Channel musical movie, made for TV movie, and it turned into this long-running franchise that has spawned all sorts of stars, you know, that have, you know, everyone from Vanessa Hudgens to I’m trying to think Zac Efron, Zac Efron, thank you. Have all broken as a result of High School Musical. So High School Musical has been around for fifteen years and Gen Z has kind of grown up with it. High School Musical, the Musical, the series on Disney. Plus is this knowing Medda sitcom type thing where a high school is putting on the musical that was in the original High School Musical show or TV movie? Very Medda. And in that and a previous Disney show that Rodrigo was on called Bizarre Aardvark. In both of them, she’s either singing or playing instruments. So more than even most Disney Channel starlets, she was music was endemic to her persona from the jump. But her abilities as a songwriter are really quite exceptional. And as I said before, she broke in part thanks to a song that she wrote for High School Musical, The Musical, the series called All I Want. What is? Which really now, with 20/20 hindsight, feels like a rough draft for driver’s license or not even rough because it’s very polished, it’s it’s very produced and it’s quite a lovely song, but similar vibe, similar IMO, lyrics, et cetera.
S1: All right. Why don’t we go why don’t we go back to the
S5: song, OK?
S2: Yeah, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the notoriety behind the song, which is clearly part of the whole Zygi of it. So there are romantic travails dating back to the TV show where in February, the heartbreaker in this song is her co-star from the Disney show, Joshua Basset, who is himself a songwriter and a singer. So you have the line. I guess you didn’t mean what you wrote in that song about me, which in theory, you know, everybody is speculating has to do with Joshua Bassett. They costarred on the show and they dated as well. And they’ve since broken up. And then the blonde girl with whom Bassett took up after Rodrigo is allegedly real life Disney blonde Sabrina Carpenter, who reportedly Joshua Bassett started dating. She is also a singer. There have been answer records to driver’s license, one of which is not really an answer record. Joshua Bassett started promoting a song called Lie, Lie, Lie, which sounds really nasty, except he wrote it, I don’t know, a year or more ago. But the timing of the promotion seemed uncanny. And then Sabrina Carpenter has put out her own answer record called Skin, which made an appearance on the charts, albeit not remotely as high as a driver’s license. You know, and people have been dissecting is this really, you know, a Roman a clef? In the original demo of driver’s license, Olivia Rodriguez was singing about a brunette and she changed it to blonde in the final version, which either means that it wasn’t intended to be about Sabrina Carpenter or she changed it to be about Sabrina Carpenter. All of this gives it a free song. But again, there have been gossipy records forever, you know, Dating Back to Your Savane by Carly Simon in the early 70s and this kind of entra Disney Channel, Disney plus drama doesn’t normally result in a song that debuts at number one on the charts. That’s still quite exceptional and rare. So I would say the drama has something to do with it. But at the end of the day, it’s the song that is, you know, making people connect to it and relate to it.
S1: Hmm. All right, Chris, is the song still number one?
S2: Well. The short answer is, I don’t know, because we’re taping this on Tuesday morning, and in a normal week, Billboard announces the new Hot 100 on Mondays. But because this week we had Presidents Day, they’re not announcing the new hot 100 until Tuesday afternoon. And there’s actually quite a bit of drama right now because not drama having anything to do with the lyrics of driver’s license because Khateeb just dropped a new record that everyone is expecting to debut potentially at number one. The weekend is just coming off of his, you know, performance on the Super Bowl, which boosted two of his tracks, including the now ancient blinding lights and his current single, Save Your Tears. So any one of these four records could be number one. So by the time you’re listening to this on Wednesday, we will know whether a driver’s license stayed on top for a fifth week or whether Khateeb most likely ejected her. But the mere fact that they’re close, I’ve already looked at the underlying data and they’re actually quite close. Like the Khateeb record has more streams, but not much more streams. It has more sales, but not staggeringly more sales. And clearly, driver’s license has more radio airplay. The mere fact that there’s a chance that Rodrigo could hold off the mighty Khateeb and the weekend shows just how strong this song really is.
S3: Mm hmm. All right. Now I’m rooting for you, even though I’m more or less indifferent to this song. My my pride in Olivia Rodriguez precocity has me rooting for her against the weekend and Khateeb.
S1: All right. Well, stay tuned. We’ll find out, I guess, in a matter of hours whether this song fends off all comers on the perch at number one. All right. Well, Chris, as always, just a great pleasure to talk pop music with you. Let’s do it again soon.
S2: Any time, Steve. The culture gap festers. This is Chris Malathy with a quick epilogue after we recorded that segment on Tuesday morning. I am happy to report on behalf of fans of of you, Rodrigo, that driver’s license has held on for a fifth week at number one. Just wanted to give you that little update from your friendly neighborhood, Mohaqiq. And.
S1: All right, now is the moment in our podcast, and we understand, na na na na, what do you have?
S3: Stephen, I’m happy to be able to endorse this, because this is something that I actually saw and loved a while ago and there wasn’t any easy way to get it. And now there is. So I’m going to I’m going to endorse it for people. So last week, we talked to Mark Harris about his wonderful new Mike Nichols biography, which I finished in the time since then. And I really wish that I had read just a little bit faster because there are some things in the last quarter that I wanted to ask him about. But that’s a great book. Certainly read his bio, but that is not my endorsement. My endorsement is actually the commentary track for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, the first movie that Mike Nichols directed. That was in 1966. And it’s got a little bit of back story, so I’ll get into it. I saw stage production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf right before the pandemic started. I was supposed to write about that production and the history of the play and the movie, this whole long piece on Virginia Woolf for The Atlantic. It was this exciting assignment that I couldn’t wait to do. And then came the pandemic. I probably saw that play the week before the shutdown started. And so suddenly no Broadway show was cancelled, pieces canceled. You know, forget about who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf. And it was it was very sad to have done all that research and writing for nothing. But it did result in a lot of really great watching and listening to old versions of the movie and play and just researching as much as I possibly could about the Edward Albee show itself. And that also included listening to the commentary track that Mike Nichols makes with Steven Soderbergh on the DVD of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and commentary tracks. I think I’ve mentioned before when they’re well done or one of my favorite things, I’d love to watch a classic movie and then hear somebody really smart, hopefully somebody who worked on it, but if not just a scholar who knows it really well, get into every detail of the production, the kind of behind the scenes stories. And Steven Soderbergh is known for his great commentary tracks on his own movies and others. But his interviewing of Mike Nichols on this commentary track is just so fantastic. I mean, he knows the film so well. He’s curious about very specific technical things, right? I mean, where did you put the mike in this shot? You know, how did you fit the camera into this space? He’s really asking very technical questions. And and Mike Nichols remembers all the answers and has incredible anecdotes. As you know, if you read this biography, he was known for his storytelling and his his Sorich stock of Hollywood anecdotes. So he’s just you know, he’s got gossip and he’s got, you know, just personal stories about the actors and technical stories about how it was all done. And you just learned so much about that movie and about those two men. And it’s a lot of fun to listen to. So I didn’t want to endorse this before because I don’t want to make listeners have to go and buy a 25, 30 dollar DVD in order to hear the commentary track. But then I discovered that Indiewire posted the entire track. You can watch and listen to the entire track and a piece that came out, I believe, a few years ago on Indiewire, maybe back when this DVD was released. We’ll put a link to that on our show page. And what I really recommend, if you haven’t seen the movie or haven’t seen it in a while, is watch the whole movie first and then just go back and watch this commentary track. You will learn so much.
S1: Oh, that’s amazing. Jessica, what do you have?
S2: I have two very quick endorsements. Number one, I want to add to the chorus of praise this week for the new book. No one is talking about this by Patricia Lockwood. Listeners probably know Lockwood’s work. She’s a poet. She’s the author of the wonderful memoir Prestatyn. She’s one of the best and I think in arguably the most singular literary critic working today. Her pieces for the London Review of Books are literary events in their own right. And no one is talking about this is her first novel. It feels like two books and one the first is this sensational distillation of the language of Internet meme culture. And then the second is a heartbreaking account of a of a personal tragedy that can’t really find expression in the same language. I’m not actually sure this book is a novel, as other critics have said, but I’m sure I’ve never read anything like it in terms of its style or its form. And it’s just so exciting that it exists. And again, it’s Patricia Lockwood. No one is talking about this. And my second endorsement is I want everyone to watch the video of the guy in Amsterdam who falls through the ice. It’s an inspiring and beautiful bit of footage, and I think it’s going to help me through the rest of the pandemic.
S3: So we’ll put a link to that show. God, what
S1: a wonderful D. I love.
S3: It’s so suspenseful. I’m so curious about that. That Patricia Lockwood book. Jessica, I’m really glad to hear you recommending it because I completely agree that she’s got a voice that’s somehow between every genre it wants. And she’s she always does something unexpected, even just as you say, in a in a regular book review piece.
S2: Yeah. I mean, she surprises on the level of sentence. She surprises on the level of word choice, and then she can surprise with the entire architecture of a book. There’s really no one else like her. And I’m excited for for you to read the book.
S1: Cool. My endorsement this week is let me set it up a little bit. I there’s so much going on in American life right now, politically and culturally. And the way the two overlap and as we. Get into and we’ll get into in our hour plus segment, where the lines, principled lines are drawn between free speech, hate speech, acceptable speech, unacceptable speech.
S5: These are, to
S1: my mind, very contested right now and importantly contested. And when something’s importantly contested,
S1: way to approach it is essayistic
S5: and an attempt to be honest about the agony
S1: of not knowing. Right. The ambivalence of not knowing exactly what the right. Attitude is the right thing to do, the right public policy, the right set of private beliefs
S1: I think especially in the age of social media and Twitter, people draw these battle lines and mistake them for lines of principle. So I was heartened to read an essay by Laura Kipnis on transgression. It appeared in the journal Liberties, which the less said, the better. I was surprised to discover it appeared there. It’s no longer on their website, but it is on her website. But it’s very much about her attraction as
S5: a as a
S1: younger woman to the idea of transgression in
S5: art and the now
S1: probably. Overly simple association of artistic transgression with like left or emancipatory political beliefs and how all of those roles have been in the process of shifting over the last decades, really a couple of decades, so that you look back, for example, on some of the transgressive art that she loved in the 1970s and 80s. And she finds it, as she says, rapee, whereas transgression is now becoming a strategic tool of the old right and the far right in ways that make one less. Attracted to it is just a general concept or a sort of conceptual framework within which to think of progress or emancipation or liberation. And these are difficult things to think through. There’s not it’s not as
S5: though it’s not
S1: as though it’s as simple as saying clearly, this is right. This is wrong. Here’s the battle and I’m on the right side of the battle and I’m on the right side of history. This terrible phrase that has no meaning because we have absolutely no idea how history is going to resolve itself, how the present is going to resolve itself into someone else’s past. You know, her essay is called Transgression and Elegy.
S5: I just think
S1: it’s essayistic in the finest sense of the word. It’s a really thinking out loud, thinking through a careful probing of something about
S5: which there aren’t actually
S1: definite answers. And as always, with her just beautifully, beautifully written and filled with with pathos and humor. I think it’s just a terrific essay. So we’ll link to it on our webpage. It’s called Transgression Analogy by the essayist Laura Kipnis. All right. Thank you, Dana.
S5: Thanks, Steve. Well, Jessica, this was just
S1: a complete pleasure to have you on the show. Please, please come back as a guest host or a guest, one or the other.
S2: Thank you so much for having me. This was a joy.
S3: I loved your first book, Jessica, and I can’t wait to read your next one.
S1: Yep. I want to play it one more time. The fourth child is forthcoming from Harper. It’s coming out. When is it again, Jessica? March, March 9th, March 9th, my daughter’s birthday. There you go. Auspicious.
S2: Oh, perfect.
S1: Thanks a lot. Thank you. Thanks.
S2: Bye bye.
S1: You’ll find links to some of the things we talked about today at our show page that Slate dotcom culture first. We love it when you email us. Please do. At Culture Fest, at Slate Dotcom. We have a Twitter feed. It’s at Slate called Fast. You can interact with some of us there. Our producer is Cameron Drewes. Our production assistant is Rachel Allen. Our intro music is by the wonderful Nick Brittelle for Dana Stevens, Jessica Winter and Julia Turner. I’m Stephen Metcalf. Thank you so much for joining us. And we will see you soon.
S7: Hello and welcome to this Slaid plus segment of the Slate Culture Gabfest. Today, we gather to talk about Gina Carano and her tweets and the fact that she’s no longer a cast member of the Mandalorian or represented by her previous talent agency and the general status of political speech in Hollywood. Hi, guys. Thank you for holding down the fort in the normal show.
S1: Yeah, well, thanks for coming back and making it back four plus. It was great to not have a totally Julia free show.
S7: Love to, uh, love to not be completely absent. All right. So, uh, last week, Gina Carano, who has a role on the Disney plus Star Wars spinoff show The Mandalorian, reposted something on social media drawing an analogy between the way Jews were treated in Nazi Germany and the way conservatives are being treated in American society. Now, an outcry sprung up the hashtag fire. Gina Carano began trending and low. She was fired will no longer be appearing on the Mandalorian, a very popular show on Disney. Plus was dropped by her talent agency and now plans to make a movie with a guy. I don’t even know what the right now is for him. Ben Shapiro. Shortly after her dismissal, the commentator Jonathan Chait wrote a story for New York magazine comparing Corona’s firing to the blacklisting of communists in Hollywood in the mid 20th century. So, Dana, what do you make of all this? Should we be thrilled, horrified or neutral on the disposal of Gina Carano?
S3: I mean, I think that the deeper you dig into the story, the harder it is to to have some kind of neutral point of view in which you say, gee, it was it was her political beliefs that she’s being fired for and not, you know, specific acts of hate speech. And those are two. Obviously, they can be overlapping areas, especially in the current political landscape where, you know, it’s almost hard to distinguish mainstream conservative discourse from hate speech at times. But the argument that Jonathan Chait makes in this New York magazine essay that got people so riled up just seems like I think the most objectionable thing about it is that he doesn’t seem to be aware of what she was actually fired for. When you start looking into the history of of her her tweets, it wasn’t just this comparison, which is, I think, offensive in itself, but maybe not a firing offense. Right. Saying I’m just as persecuted as a victim of the Holocaust. But she has also, you know, retweeted anti-Semitic memes. She has said trans phobic things. Her her co-star, Pedro Pascal in The Mandalorian has a family member. I think it’s his sister who is a trans person. He’s also an immigrant from Chile. I mean, there are reasons that she does not seem like a desirable person to have in your workplace, aside from, you know, what she does in her spare time on her social media. So it’s it’s I don’t think it’s that tricky of a question in this case. Honestly, Disney is a corporation that can fire their employee or hire their employee at will. And I really don’t see the analogy between that and the kind of government suppression of speech or, you know, investigation and persecution of people with specific beliefs that you saw in the blacklist years. Steve, what did you make of this?
S5: I think if you
S1: can so minimize the. Really in some ways to this day, historically unique experience of the Jews in the Holocaust, you know, if you can if you can see it only through
S5: your own self-pity, that’s so
S1: minimizing is to not be entirely not anti-Semitic,
S5: you know. And and yet it’s
S1: not so directly anti-Semitic that you would say it’s an instantly fireable offense. I understand Dana’s point that there’s a larger context, but then that brings up the analogy that Jonathan Chait wants to make, which is to the Hollywood blacklist, to McCarthyism and to Dalton Trumbo. And, you know, the screenwriter who was, I think, among the most like sort of famously martyred of the of the of the blacklisted Hollywood writers. I mean. A couple of different things, one is that,
S5: you know, I don’t know that you
S1: need the
S5: government being
S1: intrusive or even a player in a situation in order for it to become McCarthyite, because McCarthyism, McCarthyism really does refer to a generalized atmosphere of fear and kind of preemptive fear where a lot of people who might not
S5: especially have, you
S1: know, Red Scare paranoia
S5: are really afraid of of not, you know,
S1: acting along with Zite, guised for fear of retribution.
S5: And I I just
S1: think if we’re getting into the realm of firing people for their political stupidity, their tone deafness,
S5: you know. Or their beliefs. You know, we’re in a
S1: zone that starts
S5: to get
S1: very fucked up and very
S5: awkward, um. I, on the other hand, OK, and I feel
S1: this very powerfully, we’re ourselves at a kind of historically precarious moment where energies
S5: that were at least semi
S1: safely on the fringes of American life under Trump became highly concentrated, galvanized and mainstreamed in ways that point towards gastly possible outcomes
S5: and. To the extent that people are drawing a line and saying.
S1: You must you cannot cross this line or I will totally dissociate myself from you, which is, I think, what mainstream culture has to do in a relatively free society when the enemies of the free society begin to gather force, there has to be an atmosphere in which people say,
S5: well, fuck you, like
S1: you can’t cross that line and then be sterilized or rehabilitated or cleansed or somehow. No, you you went down that road. Now you’ve got to pay the consequences of it. And I don’t believe in allowing conservative self-pity because the self pitying white male is the
S5: paradigmatic conservative
S1: personality type right now.
S5: So I’m struggling with all of it. And I. Want. The liberal
S1: and the left part of this country to try to
S1: with it and not pretend that it’s an easy set of questions. I mean, it’s the only thing I can hope for at this point, I don’t know does not make any sense.
S7: Yeah, I mean, I don’t think this is a slam dunk. Like, I don’t think it’s obvious. And I think there’s some factors that went into her dismissal. You know, some of them are probably invisible dynamics within the workplace. But anybody who’s deciding to fire someone is making a calculus based on more than the public can tell about from the Twitter controversy. So which does not mean that every management decision around dismissing an employee is justified at all, just that there there may be stuff we don’t know that cuts in both directions. I think the fact that it’s a Disney show and a Star Wars franchise has something to do with it, like Disney is just a controversy averse company. Their whole brand is like safe for children. Everything on here is safe for children. And so they may be less likely to want to tread into potentially arguably anti-Semitic or transphobia quarters than some other companies might. Um, but I do, you know, I mean, I read as much as I could about the various things she said in the past. And she seems to have adopted the social media position of like conservative provocateur who’s, you know, challenging ideas, objecting to the suggestion that she should put her pronouns on her profile by putting beep boop instead and then being at first apologetic and then rude and hostile when confronted about it and made to take it down. And, you know, she seems like she was skeptical of mask’s. She was skeptical of the election results and that sort of run of the mill conservative thinking. And I think that I think you’re right, Steve. That’s what’s so destabilizing is that we’re at a moment where the borderland between traditional American conservatism and run of the mill kookiness in American conservatism and von Kuhnen put on a Viking helmet and stormed the Capitol. American conservatism feel very porous. It’s unclear how you move from one to the other. And I wonder if that environment doesn’t have something to do with the response here. But I also think, you know, media and media writ very broadly to include entertainment is an industry very susceptible to shaming because it’s so audience based. Right. So you’ve seen me to ousters and accusations and in public discussions around racism and other factors and, you know, big newspapers and big media, big TV networks, studios, sets like these are companies that need to serve audiences and thus are responsive to what audiences are shocked and horrified by. You know, there are whole sectors of industry that are just less susceptible to public shaming. And we did not get very many stories about sexual harassment in media, in the finance world or the corporate law world or other places where people are more familiar with taking the money and keeping their trap shut. And I do not think the fact that there were not a huge number of media stories out of the worlds of finance and law suggest that those worlds are devoid of sexual harassment. I would be willing to bet the extreme opposite. Um, so there just are industries more susceptible to kind of public shaming or or campaigns. But I do think looking at her posts, you know, it’s certainly up to Disney what kind of people and thinkers it wants to work with. But, um, this this feels like a more borderline case than, uh, I might have expected when I first read about it. And that’s interesting because you wonder what other borderlands they might wonder and do. It also sets an interesting precedent for, you know, for Warner Media and HBO, Max, and all sorts of people who are trying to figure out how to further monetize the Harry Potter franchises. If you’re if you’re not allowed to participate in the gigantic media ecosystem because you’re dallying with transphobia, one wonders when that begins to stay in the bigger Harry Potter verse.
S3: Yeah, maybe you guys are making me see this is more nuanced than I did upon reading about it. But I think that this is something that, as you say, Steve, it’s something that the left has to think about or, you know, the whatever we’re going to call the side that is not conservative in the political landscape is so different than it was even at the in the first years of social media. This is such a hot button thing right now. Right. I mean, what what it means to be a conservative. In this in this precise moment when it seems like the legacy that he has left behind is essentially that conservatism has become indistinguishable at the edges from, as Julia says, you know, being a person who would openly march in insurrection on the Capitol, I could almost foresee a landscape where social media is controlled by entertainment companies the way it is right now in journalism. Right. I mean, the way that New York Times journalists are not supposed to tweet about politics or kind of engage in in those kind of public discussions, I could imagine Disney trying to keep their content wholesome and safe by just telling their actors they couldn’t post. And that would be, you know, a worrisome, a worrisome act.
S7: Right. I mean, if you if you end up with companies in a position of false equivalency where they’re saying that actors can’t, you know, advocate for political campaigns or or march for Black Lives matter or, you know, again, they’re corporations. So it’s not clear that consistency will be demanded of them. But, um, and for all that celebrity speech about politics is not always useful or illuminating. Like, it’s, um, it’s probably better to have it than to not, I would say.
S1: Right. I mean, because there’s the there’s the letter of the First Amendment and then there’s the spirit of the First Amendment. And I don’t think a free society and the most,
S5: you know, generous reading of that concept is simply promoted by a purely
S1: literal or legalistic reading of the First Amendment right. It’s much more about
S5: a general
S1: feel of what’s the opposite of McCarthyism, if you know, it’s the absence of an atmosphere of fear so that one feels as though speaking one’s mind doesn’t result in a death sentence, you know, career death sentence.
S5: And and yet
S1: we’re at a kind of new moment. Post me to post Floyd Post, you know, or or during BLM and, you know, a moment of.
S5: Pretty agonized public reckoning and the were
S1: under the free societies under threat, right, from people who really
S5: would like to. You know,
S1: destroy its liberality because of Trump, and so it’s to me these things are just I can only express
S5: a kind
S1: of awful ambivalence about it because I don’t see. Where the principled lines can get drawn.
S7: All right, well, Gina Carano will no longer be appearing on the Mandalorian show that when I watch it appears to have no characterizations whatsoever. And so hard to know if anybody will miss her. That’s probably not fair. Many people I know know and love the Mandalorian, but there’s no relationships in it between anybody that seemed to matter. Everyone’s just like, oh, that baby Yota is cute. OK, sorry. Side criticism adjourned. And, uh, thank you guys both for weighing this matter. And thank you, sleepless listeners, for supporting Slate and its journalism. We’ll see you soon.