S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership. I’m Steve Inskeep. The Slate Culture Gabfest always regathered edition. It’s Wednesday, May 12th thousand one. On today’s show, Girls five ever comes to us from the Tina Fey Comedy Factory. It’s about a Spice Girls like Girl group reuniting in middle age. It’s on Peacocke, the streaming service of NBC, as I understand it. I think that’s what that is. And then which vaccine did you get? Apparently, even a huge public works campaign undertaken in the spirit of universal well-being can be turned into a status competition in thousand and twenty one. What else did we expect with Pfizer? Is the most supposedly status C symbolic of all the jabs. This is crazy. And finally, the disciple is currently up on Netflix. It tells the story of a young musician in Mumbai trying to keep alive the tradition of Indian classical music in an otherwise indifferent world. We’ll be joined by Justin Chang of the L.A. Times, the great film critic who has been championing this film as maybe the best of the year. Joining me now is Julia Turner, the deputy managing editor of the L.A. Times. Julia, hey. How’s it going? Hello. And of course, Dana Stevens is the film critic for the also wonderful film critic of Slate. Hey, Dana, how’s it going?
S2: Pretty good.
S1: Shall we shall we dig in? Let’s do it. Girls five ever is a girl group from the 90s, a one hit wonder who disbanded, whose members each found their way into fames somewhat pitiless afterlife. Fast forward to now. When a rapper named Little Stinker has sampled their hit, they get asked to back him live on Fallon’s show. And you have the basis for a Tina Fey shepherded sitcom The Creator here is Meredith Scardino, a writer on Fey’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. It stars Sarah Barillas as the chill one busy Philipps as the hot one. Paula Pell as the kind of ordinary one. I don’t know how to put it. Renee Elise Goldsberry as the kind of tough one. Let’s listen to a clip. Not a bad.
S3: That’s why we’re the.
S1: Why girls five,
S4: because, Carson, we’re going to be in the game longer than four.
S3: How did you guys get together?
S1: I’m sorry.
S4: We gather we’ve been best friends ever since we auditioned for a man in a motel in New Jersey. We also had the same advocate on to a newspaper. But it was fate that Larry picked us because we’re going to be friends that famous forever young, five, six, seven
S3: and another forever.
S1: Julia, let’s start with you, you know, this is a great setup, just listening to that clip, it kind of writes itself in a weird way, but of course it doesn’t. It’s got the Tina Fey genius behind its comedy writing. What do you make of the show?
S5: This is a very enjoyable show that I can hardly recommend to people who are still pulling themselves out of the dregs of lockdown and figuring out how to adjust to normal life with things to do. Maybe that sounds like a less than glowing endorsement, but it does require you to figure out how to subscribe to Peacocke, which is like the 11th service that everybody has noticed. Dreamer’s is a lot. So I feel like that’s the fundamental question. Is it worth setting up a new streaming service that you have to either keep or remember to cancel in order to watch this show? And I would say yes, I think so, although I also do not think the show is as strong as 30 Rock or Kimmy Schmidt, and maybe it will become that strong as it grows on me over time. But the performances are a little more uneven in the characters, a little less well defined, I think, than in some of those classic shows. However, the star to me are the songs which are written by Tina Fey’s husband, Jeff Richmond, who’s who’s always been behind some great musical numbers throughout the Fey oeuvre. And there, as you could hear from that initial clip, never has been. I’ve just been saying that song around the house all weekend, and there’s many more funny songs to come in the show. So, you know, between having Sarah Birrell’s and Rene Elise Goldsberry and yeah, you have some real singing and musical chops in the show and they make use of it in a way that’s pretty fun.
S2: What do you guys think? I really hear what you say about this being a late lock down. So I had this I had this thought about standards after watching this show where I sort of see all the criticisms that there could be to make of it. And yet it’s perfectly enjoyable enough for me. Like this is as much as I need right now, these silly songs and these and these sort of heartful performances from really, really likeable performers that I want to get into. Each one of the the four girls, there are only four of the five girls because one of them, we learned in the first episode, tragically passed an infinity pool accident. I think a lot of the criticism about this show seems to have circled around its familiarity and the idea that it’s too much of a retread of the 30 Rock style with extremely dense jokes every every second. I mean, every line essentially contains some sort of new twist or joke. As someone who who only watched 30 Rock a few times, like I’m familiar with the show, but did not at all follow when it was on, I’m really impressed that there’s there’s still somebody out there writing with this level of density. This does feel a little bit like an old school sitcom, but that feels so welcome and comforting right now. And I really like that this show doesn’t ask you to do anything except laugh and tap along with the songs. There does not seem to be a huge, deep story emerging about each character. We don’t learn a ton about their family lives or backgrounds, except for the Sarah Barillas character, who’s sort of, I guess, the main one, the one whose family we spend some time with. And we don’t learn even that much about the girls relationships with each other or sort of how they’re readjusting to to being together after all these years of the band being broken up. But the show moves so quickly and is so full of Sparkle that I was perfectly happy to have all of those frailties fully, fully evident. I’m not sure that I would subscribe to a brand new service for it, but there are other things to subscribe to peacoat for, one of which is an old school sitcom, The Office American version. So if you’re a sitcom person who likes things like 30 Rock or Brooklyn nine nine, something that is just sort of a palpable lozenge of a sitcom, then I think this is right up your alley.
S1: Oh, my gosh. I’ll be the little stinker at the picnic. I didn’t like this. And here’s why. I mean, it was a couple different reasons. The first is that, you know, back in nineteen eighty nine or nineteen ninety or whatever, it was that the geniuses behind The Simpsons decided to throw a bunch of Harvard smart asses in a writers room and have them, you know, you know, attempt to crack each other up and outdo each other and thus create a super joke and script. It really was something new. It was totally fresh and it was very appropriate to the cartoon format because you weren’t supposed to believe that these humanoid but clearly not exactly human figures of Homer and Marge cetera were real. It was a cartoon based style of writing. The revolution, as I understand it, of 30 Rock in some sense was just transferring that to a live action format where the people are kind of half cartoon’s, half real. The sentiments being gotten that were kind of shallow and fake, it was appropriate that it was backstage for showbiz because showbiz is kind of like that. And the most important thing about it in some sense, I mean, in addition to the remarkable performances of Fey and Alec Baldwin and the ensemble cast was super dense writing, setup, joke, setup, joke, setup, joke, setup, joke. I can’t do that really any more in two thousand and twenty one, I have to admit, that’s just me. I voice this, you know, sulphurous opinion on absolutely nobody else at the picnic. I just find it exhausting and I don’t find the people real. And then the second thing I didn’t like about it, just congenitally it just rubs me the wrong way, is just I hate entering into a universe in which what’s real is the media and not human beings at all. And I just finished call my agent, which is just for me was what I needed to get through that. Hopefully knock on wood, tail end of pandemic, which was like I needed my two best friends, you know, and for that I needed to believe they were sort of real and that their dramas were kind of like my struggles or dramas. And that’s only more pathetic. I don’t see that this means that my tastes are elevated in any sense whatsoever. But I got drawn so into that show. And a distinctive thing about that show is I don’t think there is one set up joke, much less 15 per minute in the entire thing. And it’s actually witty, which I’m not sure this is. Julia, I know you loved 30 Rock. And when I watch 30 Rock, I laugh. It gets me, but it gets me in a way that I don’t always love in some sense. I just yeah, I know I’m wrong, but
S5: there’s like the cartoonish ness. And then there’s sort of a cynicism underlying the jokes just about human kind and human nature. And sometimes there’s some sweetness to. But there’s there’s a lot of hard stuff in there. I mean, I would slightly contest your genealogy of the joke packed comedy. And I think the writers of Seinfeld and, um, and Frasier would have some would have would have some some remarks for you potentially about that, about agreed. The density with with the 30 Rock is maybe another level to me. I mean, I think this can get us back around to the performances that Dana wants to dig into, which I think we should as well. I think the issue here is this is an eight episode run and I think the Kimmy Kimmy Schmidt seasons, I think we’re 10 or 13. And obviously 30 Rock was like a proper, you know, television show with twenty odd season and the. Spirit of these Fey comedies, I think, is that the cartoonish ness is this like brassy facade that ends up as the carapace to it, actually very specific human being over time. And like Jenna Maroney is a very precise human being. Tina Fey, the Liz Lemon character, is a very specific human. You know, the character Alec Baldwin plays is is like not just macho boss guy, but like a very particular, much robust guy who you end up having. He ends up being as real as Andrea Martell. It’s just you have to go through all this. You know, you have to kind of get it through repetition and get into this, like, particular way of talking and being to see the humanity. And I think that was true in the Kimmy Schmidt show as well. And here the portraits seem a little bit fuzzier. And I think if you there’s just not quite as much time for the humanity to emerge behind the jokes. But I’m curious to know, Dana, which is your favorite performance here?
S2: I mean, I think they just have such good chemistry. They’re all great together. Favorite performances,
S5: I think you mean three together.
S2: I mean, just even the silly repetition of like the no, it’s just how far this show takes. The idea of sticking a number somewhere in as a syllable of a word is in itself funny. But, yeah, I think the stand performance and surprising one to me is probably Renee Elise Goldsberry, who of course, we know as Anjelica from Hamilton primarily, at least I did, and and who I think of therefore as being this sort of gracious, elegant, sophisticated singer, which she is on stage. But the person that she plays in is this show is so much more she’s still lovable. She’s not a she’s not at all a character that you dislike, but she’s so much more craven and narcissistic and self-serving. And she’s just very, very funny at playing that and also incorporates her vocal chops into the part in this hilarious way, because the idea almost is that her character is a kind of savant. You know, she’s not particularly she certainly has not handled her career well. She’s not particularly smart about the way she’s living her life. She’s kind of a mess. But she has these incredible pipes that she can knock out a vocal run at any moment and often does in the middle of a sentence for no reason. And Goldsberry is just so, so funny at playing that, especially with Sarah Barillas opposite her another Broadway diva, but one who’s so on like Sarah Barillas is so much more sort of low-key and and internal in her way of performing. And so the two of them as performers. And eventually in this show, roommates are really good surprise. But also I just have to shout out Paula Pell, who is the member of the group who appears 20 years later having come out as a lesbian. She’s also just broken up with her wife. She is just such a fascinating character in a very, very funny woman. She’s also not a singer as busy. Phillips, the other member of the foursome, is not. But they’re all just so, so good at seeming at once sort of like self parodies of show biz types. But also, I think people that you have a warm feeling for I mean, maybe because I haven’t watched so much Tina Fey, I don’t I don’t feel some sense of of alienation from these characters at all. I agree that they could be better drawn. This show could be a bit better written in the non-singing parts and we could know more about them. But as we bounce from performance to performance, I kind of feel like I’m getting to know them that way.
S1: So I just want to say the ensemble is terrific. I love the songs. I just someone who didn’t love the style of the comedy. I just was waiting for another song to come on the brilliant. I could see the show deepening and getting much better. I just I adored the songs. And to be clear, the show is very, very clever. I mean, I just find myself exhausted by the style of comedy, the pace and the density of it. I find a little snarky and overwhelming, but it’s brilliant. You cannot believe that that many precisely funny things are being said in the span of one minute of air time. So I have taken the stink a little bit off of the skunk at the picnic. All right. Well, the show is Girls five ever. It’s on Peacocke. So scale the paywall and find Tina Fey and Meredith Scardino and some wonderful stuff behind it. OK, moving on. All right, before we go any further, this is typically where we talk business. Dana, what do we have?
S2: Yes, it is, Steve. And all we have to tell you that in Slate plus our bonus segment is going to be about cars today. This is from a listener question from a listener named Tanya who writes in to ask about what is each of our relationship with car culture since we live in three different places with three very different relationships to cars and driving. We will talk about how much we drive, whether we drive, whether we like to drive and other feelings about cars. I think that will be particularly interesting in the case of Julia because she’s moved to Los Angeles in the last few years. And so she obviously has a very changing relationship to car culture. So if you’re a slate plus member, you can look forward to hearing that vroom vroom after the show. If you’re not a slate plus member, you can sign up today at Slate dot com slash culture. Plus, it’s only one dollar for your first month. And for that dollar, you get access to ad free podcasts, exclusive plus only content like our thrilling conversation today about cars. Mine actually is thrilling because I can tell you about all the crashes I’ve gotten into the past and you can sign up for that at Slate dotcom slash culture plus. And if you’re already a slate plus member and like Taniya, you have a topic or question for us in a future Slate plus segment. We welcome it. We seek it every single week. We wonder what to talk about. And we love when you send us ideas so you can always email us at culturist at Slate Dotcom. We’d love to hear from you. OK, Steve, what’s next?
S1: All right, well, when I went to go get my vaccine, I did this thing where I in order to get it, you know what otherwise would have been prematurely, I volunteered at a vaccine site in Albany and it was so incredibly moving. It was a giant public works project. Look, I have never seen in my lifetime I feel like I’ve only read about it in history books going back to the New Deal or something and an expression of biodynamics. And there’s a new sheriff in town. And I just felt so selfless. It was like I was building the Tennessee dam with my own two hands or something. And then I’m exaggerating, but I sort of also mean it a little bit. And I wake up only to discover Dana Stevens, that it is now possible to turn which vaccine you happen to get Fizer Moderna JMJ or God forbid, AstraZeneca into a kind of status competition, you know, or pardon my French pissing competition with Pfizer supposedly as the sexiest, most desirable of the vaccines against which Dan Kois of Slate rightly pushes back and says, wait a second, isn’t the answer. That is competition’s settled by who gets the rare thing, in which case, as he says, I got the you know, I was one and done baby. I got the Jay and Jay, only seven million of us out there. Why isn’t he at the top of the heap? People, I guess, or being semi serious about that? I mean, I just cannot quite pick through it and figure out how much is like, you know, shit eating irony and how much of it how much of this is serious. What do you make of the vaccine competition?
S2: It’s just so extremely silly. I knew nothing about this. I had been really I mean, I’m on this this is a separate subject, but I’m sort of on this news diet both because of, you know, deadline and because of just not being able to take the news anymore. Like, I actually do not taken any news. It has to find its way to me through some sort of third party. So I completely missed that. There had become this semi ironic status competition among the vaccines until we decided to talk about it. I guess to me, it’s just it’s an example of I mean, it’s the narcissism, small differences thing, right, when you’ve got so little to talk about and so little kind of gossip floating around as we do in our current isolated pandemic universe, I guess something like which is the cool vaccine can become the topic of conversation. But it sounds like to the for the most part, this trend, which is I think pretty self consciously ironic and silly, originated on Tic-Tac among, you know, like people who people who are designing their Tic-Tac both to pick up on silly memes like this and to debate questions like, you know, who’s hotter and who’s doing the hot thing. So why not apply that to, you know, which pharmaceutical company is putting antibodies in your arm as well? I have to say that in the midst of all this, I did it just as happens with astrology, that even as I sort of thought like, this is nonsense, I started thinking, but what’s my profile into it? So I’m just curious which vaccine you guys got and why it turned out to be that one and whether you attach any status with it. I guess I’m the sort of boring Normy who got the Moderna vaccine. But one thing, it didn’t seem to be entering into all these debates and discussions about it, which was the only thing I cared about and thinking which one to get, not that I had a choice was what were the side effects of even all this great coverage of this. And there’s been one, as you say, of defending the Pfizer vaccine and other kind of examining the whole phenomenon. Nobody has been talking about what are the different side effects of each of the vaccines. And supposedly, I believe Maidana is supposed to have worse ones than Fizer. Right. Did any of that figure in for you guys,
S1: which, by the way, means it’s the best of the vaccines are? Julia, this is like astrology. It’s so obvious that you’re a fizer princess.
S5: I am a fighter princess, you know? But I will say, I mean, I am reading all these stories. I guess people need things to talk about. And I guess the the there’s a potential upside in arguing that a vaccine is a desirable status object because it could help push the overall vaccination drive, which is slowing down as the people who definitely want to get vaccinated have done so. I obsessively research the vaccines ahead of time and was trying to figure out which one was the safest to get and was like, you know, getting to the point of my research where the fact that I am a reporter convinces me that I’m also a scientist and doctor. And I was like reading like NIH papers and like just I don’t know. I mean, I think so much of the last year is about control. Right. What rules do you put on your life to try to control whether you and your loved ones will be impacted in the worst possible ways by this pandemic? And so the whole process of getting the vaccine and then adjusting to life as a vaccinated person is about changing those rules and relinquishing the rules of control you’ve set and establishing new ones. So I went through like a whole crazy texting, random friends with scientific. Knowledge like spirt, where I for a while was convinced that I actually wanted the JMJ vaccine because its mechanism was less new with the Maryna A than or its mechanism was less knew than the many vaccines that Pfizer and Maturino represent. And anyway and then it was like hard to tell which vaccine you were going to get where. And I was able to get an appointment for Pfizer. So I got Pfizer. So my desire was to be a JNJ person and then they stopped. That was before they actually officially change. But change was just very hard to get in L.A. for a while. So it’s a slightly more complicated story than just being a Pfizer princess. But now I am a Pfizer princess and I will accept the designation.
S1: I mean, of course, this is incredibly silly. The only thing one wants is for more people to be lured into or be lured. They shouldn’t be lured. They should be running with both feet and total enthusiasm to go get it. But whatever gets more people to get jabbed, to get stuck, to get these antibodies in their system so that we, you know, not only killed the virus off in that individual person, but we create a population of dead ends for the virus so it doesn’t freaking mutate and become something, you know, wretched or forces, you know, even if the boosters are are are easily dialed up on the old MRN, a microprocessor. And, you know, you know, even then, like, just having to get a booster is is a drag. And let’s just kill this freaking virus already. If some inane game that involves a competition to get the best one brings more people in to get it. That’s great. My main worry is that is that there is a not entirely anecdotal, unscientific suspicion about the JMJ vaccine. I mean, they’ve had trouble rolling it out. There have been at least some possible issues with a serious side effect. I hate to not get in the spirit of the fun of this, because it is very funny. I mean, some of the stuff is just utterly hilarious. You know, Pfizer’s only for hot people or Moderne is for the middle class or some. I mean, it’s just also over-the-top and hilarious. I will say it’s how you could possibly have come up with a status distinction between the Pfizer and The Moderna, whose discrepancy in efficacy is within a margin of error, I have to believe is within a margin of error. One is ninety five percent. One’s ninety four percent. There’s I guess I guess it’s tied to the fact that maybe Pfizer was the first one to report its results. And so there was this sense, just thanks to the vagaries of the news cycle that Pfizer somehow had, you know, was the Jonas Salk of stop and coronavirus. But all of it is just it’s so kind of not entirely deliciously preposterous. People should just go get the vaccine. Like, if you are hearing my voice, you are reluctant at all to get this thing. That’s the only thing that matters. Like turn your like you’re a little on switch right now. Turn yourself into an off switch.
S2: Yeah, but, Steve, doesn’t it seem more likely from a public health perspective and if I were looking at this from some macrocosmic perspective of somebody who was really trying to get more people to get shots into their arms, I think I would not like the divisiveness of this this tick tock meme and greed and ironic bunch of dissing of vaccines at all, because, you know, obviously there’s going to be some portion of the population that just gets that filter down to them as somehow Pfizer is better. All right. It’s going to protect my health better or it’s safer, especially after the Jay and Jay had that very small, but but, you know, meaningful in people’s minds, association with blood clotting in some people. If you start to get the sense that, you know, this one’s the classi vaccine and I’m holding out, unless I can get it, then you are minimizing. And for most of the experiences that I heard, I mean, Julia was researching which one to get, but most people I know didn’t have much of a choice. It was sort of, you know, it depends which location you get an appointment at or drugstore and what they happen to be carrying. I also wanted to note in terms of how it got to be that Pfizer was essentially because of one percent difference, I guess, or for some utterly meaningless reason associated with the classi vaccine, that one of the funniest things we read in preparation for the segment is a piece from The Atlantic wherein the reporter, among other things, interviews a linguist who develops brand names and talks to him literally about the name Pfizer and why that might appeal to people more. And he comes up with some really interesting theories about it. For one thing, it’s a familiar name to most people being the maker of Viagra, which is an extremely famous medication. Even if you’re outside the medical industry, everybody knows what Viagra is. And he has these these linguistic ideas about why the word Pfizer feels luxurious because it has a silent letter in it, because because it’s a proper name which people associate with designers. And let me just read you a little bit of what this is second hand. But what you got from this linguist is fantastic. He says many high end fashion brands are named after people like Pfizer, Fendi, Prada, Kenzo, and many are two syllables like Pfizer. And then he also says it’s a cool word because of the fancy sounds, which are fricatives that give you this sense of movement. Whereas Moderna, Dorcy, old Maidana that you and I have in our Dorcy body, Steve has has a lot of stops. It’s a it’s a it’s a word that goes moderne, you know, that has these consonants in the middle that make it sound, in his words, slow and plodding. So actually, I think it’s kind of fascinating to think of, you know, people are so used to we Americans are so used to branding and status and comparing everything to everything else. And, you know, just the idea that you can take anything, even the name of a pharmaceutical company and turn it into a brand and start fetishizing it is just it’s a weird and interesting to me.
S1: I mean, I’m so proud of the fact that I got the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Universal middle class. You know, this is this is like Brandeis and Felix Frankfurter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg approve of the Dorcy antibodies coursing through me right now. And you you gotta let them let them eat Moderna. You know, Marie Antoinette on the frickin balcony vaccine.
S5: Oh, I will accept your punching bag because it seems like you could just as easily make the argument the other way. Like, don’t you feel like you could just, like, control, replace Pfizer in Moderna and all these stories and like you could have the linguist being like Moderna. It sounds modern. So people associate it with the most advanced technology in future. And Fizer is hard to pronounce, like
S2: Julia Julia, he actually addresses that he says is also very literal, like a budget brand would be. And he says, do you really have to call yourself modern if you’re selling pharmaceuticals that are in fact based on cutting edge technologies? No, you’d be more cool about it.
S5: I am just saying you could I’m sure you could find a way to spin the argument the other direction. I mean, I think I will say, since you reference our pal FDR, Steve, the real reason to get vaccinated is to turn yourself into an off switch. I love that metaphor. The the other reason is that these vaccination sites are so moving. I have now been three times to get my two jabs. And then I also took my father to get his first shot and. Just the sheer you know, you can be a Tina Fey cynic about the human condition, you can look out at the world of politics and the economy and everything that’s happening nationally and internationally and feel pretty depressed about where the world is heading. But it’s like, you know, score score one for humankind. Like actually humanity working together can accomplish amazing things from the scientists who figured out how to do this, to the manufacturers who figured out how to manufacture it to all the logistics and distribution people who figured out how to distribute them to all the volunteers, nurses, Brandos, everybody in a neon vest waving you into this line or that line. Whoever showed up in the morning to set up the cones and the tents and the, you know, be the people who go over. If you honk in your car and you’re having a side effect, like it’s so moving. Like I cried and cried when my dad got his first shot just being moved. It like what humankind is capable of, which I feel like is what these vaccination sites are a testament to. And so all of this narcissism of small differences stuff is, I suppose, entertaining, but really get any of them, just go get them. I mean, you know, with the I don’t mean to be dismissive of the JMJ blood clotting concern, which seems both very minor, but there is a recommendation that if you’re a woman of a certain age, you should actually try to get the other ones just to eliminate that risk. But, you know, to do a little homework and then just go get the one you can get.
S1: Absolutely. I’ll let that be the last word. Get your shot. All right. Moving on. The movie The Disciple, now up on Netflix tells the story of Sharrod, a young man who’s trying to turn himself into a singer. He’s trying specifically to learn how to properly sing Hindustani, a northern Indian classical music, which requires a rigorous form of discipleship to in this instance, at least, a specific master is very challenging. As we come to understand, one must learn somehow to connect up simultaneously to tradition, to a great tradition, to the wellsprings of the cosmos. It’s a very religious and devotional music, and one must also find one’s own ability to spontaneously improvise within the form, as someone says at one point in the movie, to satisfy both your guru and your God. And as the movie shows us, while also fending off Facebook Star Search kinds of TV shows, traffic jams and even porn, the movie is written and directed by Chaitanya Tom Hanae. Let’s let’s listen to a clip. I mean, the movie is overwhelmingly not in English, but there is extraordinary music throughout. Let’s listen to some of that.
S3: Yes. No. He. The. The. The.
S1: OK, well, we’re joined by Justin Chang, the great film critic of the L.A. Times. Justin, welcome back to the show. Thank you. Good to be back. Yeah, it’s great to have you. Justin, your pieces about this one for NPR, one for the L.A. Times have been really wonderful. You’re championing the movie you clearly love. Talk a little bit about why you love it. Yeah. I should just say, you know, like most probably most American viewers coming to this movie, I went into this knowing nothing about Hindustani classical music. And, you know, I would reassure anyone thinking about watching it, which I do recommend, but no expertise or knowledge of that music is required. I mean, of course, if you’re well versed in it, you’ll probably appreciate this film even more. But one of the many impressive things about this movie for me is that it actually does try to teach you something about this music in a way that doesn’t feel like it’s being dumbed down. It feels very intellectually and aesthetically curious about the music, about its spiritual dimensions and everything. You said, Steve, about the fact that it requires virtuosic technique and brilliant improvisation skills and also like ten lifetimes worth of dedication to pursuing philosophical enlightenment that enlightenment and moral purity and all of these things which are probably so alien and seemingly obsolete. This whole art form seems perhaps that way to most of the world and possibly most people watching this movie. I think that’s why it is just on the most basic level of valuable document and tribute document of and tribute to this art form. And what’s so fascinating about it to me is that this movie does all this within a story about a failed or frustrated artist, someone whose career is largely about frustration. I mean, Hollywood turns out so many inspirational movies about gifted artists and geniuses, and they tell you almost nothing about the art itself. Tom Harney has made this movie that through the prism of struggle and frustration, I think goes so much deeper. I just loved how kind of unsentimental the movie is about that and heartbreaking to to.
S5: Yeah. I had a moment in the middle of feeling like, oh, it’s like whiplash. But if the drummer is not that good, I mean, it’s not it’s not much like Whiplash and many, many other ways and in the ways in which pyrotechnic drumming is different from Hindustani music. But there’s a there’s there’s sort of the same ambition, frustration, drive toward art. But the interest is in the not quite getting there as opposed to the the virtuoso and the prodigy. And it’s there’s so much interesting emotional terrain there.
S2: Yeah. Julia, the movie that, you know, in many ways it’s completely unrelated, but that pop to mind for me was Inside Llewyn Davis, the Coen Brothers movie, which is also about someone who’s so passionate about an art form that they know so much about and practice endlessly. And yet you get this sense like they’re never going to make it as a as a performer in this art form. And it’s even though we’ve just cited a few movies that are about it, it’s a fairly rare way for a movie about an artist to approach art. Right. I mean, there tends to either be a triumphal narrative of someone rising to the top because of their hard work and talent or, you know, some sort of the artist crashes and burns kind of biopic structure. And this movie has none of that, which makes it so unexpected. I mean, something I really loved just in about this movie is that you really didn’t know where it was going to go, even though that doesn’t mean that it’s suspenseful and full of twists and turns. It’s very quiet. It’s you know, even for someone who loves movies, it is definitely slow but slow in the best way, slow in the slow food way, right where the rewards make it, make it so worthwhile. But there are some very intense scenes, including scenes of great emotional power that are delivered in this very curious way with these long framings that you talk about in your writing about the movie. Right. That the most of the shots are most of the scenes are in one shot and usually from a fair distance, so that even when characters are undergoing some sort of intense emotional experience, you are seeing them in the context of the room they’re in, all the other musicians, maybe the audience, et cetera. And it really makes you, as the viewer, have to have to do a lot of the work in a way that I really appreciate to kind of fill in the lines. Right. There’s not going to be a close up or a musical cue that tells you how to feel. Even though this movie’s packed with music, there’s no music outside of the music that the characters are creating. So there’s never a moment that the filmmaker is is kind of tipping his hand in that way about about how you’re supposed to feel, including about the guru, the relationship. The central relationship in this movie is between the young man and his his old teacher. And it’s true that these relationships in this form of music are you know, they go on for generations, as the guru tells them. At one point, you know, it wasn’t until I was 40 that I could start really performing this music effectively. And he’s saying this to a 24 year old disciple, you know, but the movie also and I won’t give away how, but it also has some really wonderful scenes that question, that disciple, good relationship and don’t idealize it and start to ask, you know, what’s behind this kind of dedication. And the way it handles all of that stuff is just is just so beautiful. I’m really, really glad that you are. Leading this movie, because it would have passed me by I mean, I’m a movie critic and I hadn’t heard about it. Netflix has just done such a terrible job of letting people know they have this gem on their system.
S1: Thank you, Dana. Yeah, they really have. And I mean, you know, I did know this. I had been looking forward to this director’s movie because I’d seen his first movie, the very excellent legal drama court from several years earlier. And so when I saw that he had a new one, which the screened at the at Venice last year and where it won a screenplay prize and also played at the virtual Toronto and New York film festivals, I was I kind of went in, you know, despite not knowing anything about it except just having high expectations. But, yeah, I mean, just the Netflix thing, you know, and I said in my L.A. Times review, it’s like I try to review movies, not release strategies. But I do think that this fits into a larger troubling pattern about the way Netflix treats the movies that it acquires from overseas. And, you know, not just overseas, but, you know, they don’t trip a lot of their American domestic product all that great either. But I have really mixed feelings about what Netflix does with international movies. I’m sure a lot of filmmakers have mixed feelings, too, because, you know, it’s wonderful to have your movies streamed out all over the world and countries all over the world. And for some, that’s enough. And then there are movies like this one that were clearly meant to be seen on the biggest screen possible and I mean in a in an outside covid situation. Right. So, yeah, I just I think this is not the first time Netflix has done it with this, but it is it rankled a little bit that they did it with a movie that did have a pretty high critical profile coming out of the festivals and should have just been, I think, presented marketed just a courtesy email to some of the journalists who supported the movie and are interested in the movie would have been even better. And I think they do this time and time again with a lot of movies, especially from other countries. They did this with the Taiwanese drama A Son last year, which got a lot of acclaim, but which Netflix didn’t even seem to realize it had acquired, and they just dump it on the platform. So that’s just a sign. I just to me, it seemed relevant to write about because I don’t know, because this is a movie about it seems so hideously ironic, given what the disciple is about, which is that this art is worth pursuing, studying, preserving, giving your full attention, giving it love and care. And and they just treat it like it’s a product. And that’s bothersome. Justin, I really wanted to highlight that, that the what I love about the movie is also what I love about your review, which is that they’re both written with this wisdom about the relationship between commercial success and authenticity that goes way beyond some simple antithesis. I love the way in which the movie I mean, you know, this movie, as you know. Right, is this movie is not good because it’s obscure. And the movie repeatedly explores the idea that this music is authentic because no one knows knows about it or cares about it anymore, that that’s that that shouldn’t be mistaken for the source of its authenticity, even as the movie is very, I think. Skeptical of the forces of popularisation, it’s yes, it’s just it’s just the wisdom of this movie is remarkable. And another doubling that that struck me is that, you know, and I’m being somewhat simplistic here, I’m sure, but Western music to my ears has a built in narrative structure to it. It tends to have a clear beginning, middle and an end. It’s in that sense, I guess you could say sort of somewhat linear. And whereas this music is almost turning up the volume on the cosmos, in a way, it it it’s structured so completely different, different, differently. And and over time, I think the music teaches someone like me who’s unfamiliar with this kind of music, to hear it and understand it, which I think is extraordinary by the end of the movie. I love this music and I think I understand why discipline and dislike discipleship have to go into making it in order to make it correctly. And the movie itself also is non narrative isn’t quite right, but it’s meditative, non-linear. You flashback, you flash forward. It’s just so curious. Like the curiously like the thing that it’s about. It’s really a beautiful document and I appreciate the fact that you pointed us in the world to it.
S2: I also just I wanted to shout out the main actor because we haven’t mentioned any of the cast yet. But but Aditya Modak is his name, and he ages so convincingly in this movie from his early 20s to maybe about 40 that I actually had to check at the end. Is that a different actor when we see him in in the later segments? Right. I mean, he’s just a little chunkier and has a mustache, but he carries himself so differently. And you see so much what’s happened to his, you know, to his mind and his heart over those years that has changed him. It’s really extraordinary performance.
S5: It’s funny, we’re we’re also talking this week about girls, five other Justin, and so we’re actually focused exclusively on musical plots, about the aspirations of 20 something musicians and then what they’re like when they’re near 40, which I mean, it’s like hard to hold these two cultural products in your head at the same time. But but but actually, they have something in common. But no, his his performance is so astonishing. And and the movie sort of teaches you how to read it in a way in the same way that it’s teaching you how to read the music. I mean, you as you follow along, even if you know very little about it, the way in which he’s able to perform satisfaction with one of his performances, frustration and tentativeness with one of his performances. I mean, he’s acting through singing and through this very technically difficult kind of singing. And, you know, obviously, as we’ve seen with the Billie Holiday movie recently with Judy last year, like the singing performance is a thing that actors do and that is often a a bravura type of thing to do. But the particulars of. Being able to convey. When one feels one has gotten it right, when one feels one hasn’t, and then when the external perception of that, when when the performance gets approval from his mentors and gurus, which is sometimes when he thinks it well and sometimes when he won’t. So fascinating, like the subtleties of his performance is very contained but but so powerful at the same time. I agree. And I’m so curious to see more of this actor’s work.
S1: I hope he appears in more films. This is his first screen role. I mean, he is a singer by trade. So, of course, and this is you know, is he’s a nonprofit. He’s not a trained actor or anything. This is and he’s a natural. And and it’s interesting what Dana was saying about the visual style, because this is a performance, you know, this is a character study. And this performance registers on so many of those nuanced levels, even though we are there are very few close ups of his face. So, so much of it is his body language and his interaction with the people around him. And this is what I love about this style, which I I don’t know what I call this style. I mean, it’s I think it’s you know, it’s a style that I’m personally very used to and I love. But I know most people who maybe don’t watch a ton of, you know, what have you labels like art house movies, art, movies, they’re reductive. But you know what I’m talking about where a lot of it is composed in these master shots. And I think that that is where a lot of the wisdom and the nuance of this movie comes from, because there’s something about a long take where you’re seeing a room, where you’re seeing bodies in a room. You just it allows for all these different tones and inflections to come through. The movie is not just splicing reality into little bits and shoving them at you. And like one idea for per frame. No, it’s like there’s five or maybe ten ideas per frame. And it’s, you know, the camera, the way I love the way it just moves, you know, through this crowd. Is there meditating or is there listening to this music and it creates this hypnotic, meditative effect in you, the viewer. And I also just love that the way that, you know, the way that in a way, Sharod Aditya Modocs character is is never really the hero of his own story. I think there’s something about the way he is visually undercut because he is you know, he’s often center frame, but he is not dominating the frame. This is a movie that is about art, but it is also kind of against solipsism in a way. It is sort of it never lets you forget the world around you in the world in which he has to deal with all these commercial considerations and temptations and frustrations and setbacks. And I think that is so that is all, I think just really tightly, intricately bound up in the way the movie was conceived and shot. And I’m sorry to go on so long, but really quickly to it’s worth noting that, you know, Alfonso Cuarón is an executive producer on this movie, and Chaitanya Tamani was was mentored by him and worked on the set of Roma. And there are some similarities just in terms of the way these two movies were shot. And so and Cuarón gave a lot of guidance to the director on the disciple, including hooking up with the Polish cinematographer Michael Sobell Kinski, who shot the movie so beautifully. And another irony there, because Netflix, of course, gave Roma the grand deluxe treatment because that was an awards contender and it was fans of our own. And they treated his own mentors, his own mentees movie like garbage by comparison. So it’s just layers of irony. Well, Justin, as always, just an absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Please come back soon. And thank you so much for championing the disciple. It’s just a great film. Oh, my pleasure. And I’m so glad you did this. And thank you for having me. All right, now is the moment in the podcast where we endorse Dean. No, no, no, not not, not, not, not, not.
S2: Well, you know, Steve, you know that on the very rare week, probably the only week that we talk about a movie about Hindustani music, that I’m going to recommend some Indian music. I didn’t want to get into it during the segment because I didn’t want to pass myself off as someone who actually knows anything about this genre of music. But as you guys know, this is the kind of music in general, Indian classical that I listen to all the time. It’s kind of my Steve, you were calling it the expansion of the Cosmos music or something. I listen to this music a lot when I’m writing and trying to work. And I think part of the reason is because it’s non Western and it’s not recognizable to me. And so my mind doesn’t find patterns in it is easily right. So you don’t get an earworm stuck in your head. At least I don’t when I’m listening to Rodrguez instead. It’s sort of like a space that you’re exploring because it’s like jazz. It’s an improvisational music, which is what the movie is all about. So I’m going to recommend an album that I was reminded of in the course of the movie because they talk about this. Remember the scene where there’s a flashback to the main character as a kid with his dad? Right. His dad being also a passionate admirer of this kind of music. And his dad asks him to name the morning ragas, which is something that, again, I can’t explain what that is, but morning ragas is a thing. And I remember that once on my you know, whatever it was, Pandora playlist of Indian classical music, something came up called Morning Rodrguez. And I sort of thought it was like, Oh, isn’t that nice? You know, a theme of an album like music that you listen to in the morning. But it is in fact this whole genre of Indian music. And there’s also afternoon ragas and there’s seasonal ragas and there’s sort of ideas. And again, I hope somebody listening can explain this better than me. But, you know, it is that certain melodic structures have to do with certain times of day, times of year and moods. And the album that I first discovered that through is called Morning Ragas. It’s by Nikil Banerjee, who is this great classical guitarist who died in nineteen eighty six and and who actually had, you know, that kind of guru relationship, the guru disciple relationship that the movie explores with the kinds which is this historical musical family in India, including Ali Akbar Khan, who’s one who’s become quite known in the West anyway. Morning Ragas Bombay 1965 is a live concert by Nikil Banerjee. That’s just a really great exploration of this kind of music. Even if you know nothing about it, I think you’ll enjoy it. And there’s a fun story that I saw in connection with the album about the Modeste, the extreme modesty of Nikil Banerjee, who was giving this concert, and the person who made the album. Asked if he could record this concert in nineteen sixty five and Nikil Bannerjee essentially said, Why I’m not good enough yet. You can record it later on, but the guy ended up recording it anyway and it became this legendary Raggett album. So Morning Rodrguez Bombay 1965. The artist is Nikil Bannerjee on sitar and it’s on Spotify, Amazon music and all over the place.
S1: That’s marvelous. Julia, what do you have to endorsements.
S5: The first is that I am reading the Patrick and QIf book Empire of Pain, which is this epic history of the Sackler family and their role in launching first Valium and then OxyContin and and spurring the opioid epidemic in this century in America.
S1: And man,
S5: it is a good piece of reporting. And man, it is a good read like you might think. That sounds like there might be. I don’t know. I’m not sure it immediately conveys rip roaring ness in the same way that Keefe’s previous books say nothing about the troubles in Ireland did, because it might sound sort of bureaucratic or backoffice or something, but just the human drama of this family and their complete inability to recognize how their power and the ways in which they’re failing to account for it is ruining and ending lives. It’s just a fascinating page turning portrait of moral calamity. And I’ve plowed through it in like three days. So strong, strong, strong recommend. I mean, I’m hardly the first to say this book is good, but if you need to hear it from me, in addition to whatever else you’ve heard it to pick it up, then now you’ve heard it, pick it up. It’s great. My second endorsement is there is a wonderful profile of Nick Brittelle, a good friend of mine who composed our theme song, I think now seven or so years ago for this show in the New York Times magazine this weekend. And, you know, as a journalist, I have great respect for the work of journalists and it’s hard to get things right. And we try and we do a lot. And, you know, but when you read about a friend of yours, you don’t always fully recognize that this is just such a beautiful portrait of Nick and his way of working and the impact of his music. And he’s gone on to do incredible things. I mean, my one quibble with the profile is it sort of underplays the fact that launching the Culture Gabfest theme song was clearly the. You know, the launch pad of his career, it’s very subtle about that, although it spends a lot of time on a college band that I’ve heard a lot about over the years. So that oversight aside, it’s just a great portrait. So if you enjoyed that episode, you should check out the profile, which is really, really wonderful and has great scenes of Nick Brittelle working with Barry Jenkins on the music for Underground Railroad, the adaptation of the Colson Whitehead book, which is coming out on Amazon later this week. And I think we will also put in our show page a link back to the 2014 episode where Nick gamely collaborated with us after we gave him a truly insane brief trying to describe with three totally different opinions. But we actually thought our theme song should sound like so. Read the profile, go back and listen to our old episode if you want the deep cut and definitely read Empire of Pain.
S1: Oh, here, here. Oh, my gosh. It was really I have such vivid memories of being in Nick’s apartment and messing around with both him and all of his cool equipment and just throwing this completely nonsensical word salad at him. And out the other side eventually came our theme song. It was just so it was so he’s such a great guy. I mean, in addition to being stupidly talented. But anyway, we have to have him back on. Oh, my gosh. Any excuse I mean, maybe the, I guess Underground Railroad when it comes out. But that’s going to be a while. But something sooner, hopefully. All right. This week I want to I want to endorse something quite serious, which is the guest essay in The New York Times. Quinton Jones is not innocent, but he doesn’t deserve to die, which is interactive with video. It’s written by the writer Suleika Jaouad, who herself received a death sentence in the form of leukemia about eight or so years ago when she was very young. Twenty three incredibly promising writer and journalist really thought she was facing her demise and wrote about it in a series of columns for the New York Times called Life Interrupted, which were extraordinary in their own right. But a death row inmate named Quinn Quinten, Philip Jones, he goes by. Quinn began to write her, saying, I also have a death sentence. And I reached out to her and they began a correspondence. He is set to die on, I believe, May 19th, about a week from when people will be listening to this. You can join in an effort to spare his life by emailing the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, on Quinn’s behalf. What I like about admire most, I think in some ways about Suleika Jaouad plea on behalf of him is that he’s not innocent and he doesn’t deserve to get out of jail, which is exactly how Quinn himself perceives his situation. He committed the crime. It was at the time a heinous crime. He was 20 years old and completely fucked up on drugs. He has redeemed himself in prison as a human being. Does he wants to live out his natural life behind bars? He’s not looking for any kind of clemency or freedom. He just doesn’t want to die. And I think if you watch the video featuring him, it’s impossible not to conclude that he doesn’t deserve to die. I think there’s a beautiful piece of advocacy journalism and writing, and I think his own testimony is really worth seeking out and watching. So it’s on The New York Times now. It’s called Quittin Jones is not innocent, but he doesn’t deserve to die. It’s by Selecta. I’d check it out. Julia, thank you so much.
S5: Thanks, Steve.
S1: Dana, as always, a real pleasure. This is a fun one
S2: as five ever.
S1: Yeah. You’ll find links to some of the things we talked about today at our show page that slate dotcom culture first. We do love it when you email us. We try to get back to you. Our email address is Culture Fest at Slate dot com. We have a Twitter feed. It’s at Slate called First Hour. As you now know amply, our introductory music is by the extraordinary Nick Brittelle and subbing in for Cameron Drus this week. Our show is produced by Jasmine Ellis’ and Asha Solutia. Our production assistant is Rachel Allen. For Dayna Stephens and Julia Turner, I’m Stephen Metcalf. Thank you so much for joining us. We will see you soon.
S5: Hello and welcome to the Slate plus segment of the Slate Culture Gabfest. Today, we take a listener question in a plus segment. I’d love to hear each of you talk about your relationships to automobiles, Julia. Our cars, a bigger part of your life now that you’ve moved to L.A.. Dana, do you have a car in the city? Steve, has the pandemic put a halt to your duties as your kid’s chauffeur? And if so, are you grateful or do you miss it? Yeah, the automobile. Let’s give her a spin. Dana, do you own a car?
S2: No. I mean, a better question is, have I ever owned a car? I mean, I certainly don’t own a car in New York City. And in fact, part of the reason I like living here and wanted to come here in the first place is that you don’t need to have a car. I think I and I now don’t even have a valid driver’s license, which is actually been something of a problem in my life, because on the occasions when we do rent a car and do a driving trip, I can’t even contribute any driving because I, I let my California driver’s license lapse when I moved to the state and never renewed it. I now just have like the state ID, you know, that that doesn’t allow you to drive. And that is because the world is just a better and safer place without me driving. If I owned a car once in grad school for about nine months, it was my boyfriend at the Times car that I bought off of him when he moved. And in those nine months that I had the car, I think I had three fender bender accidents. And in other cars I totaled my parents car when I was in high school. Luckily, I was safe and the person I was driving with was safe and we weren’t even speeding or anything. I was just spacing out and ran a stop sign. I just I think that I am, too. I don’t know why I would need a doctor to tell me what I am to in order to do it. But I’m to do something to drive, maybe anxious about driving, maybe spacy while driving, just not comfortable behind the wheel of a car and at this point have not been behind the wheel of a car in so long that except for, you know, if it was a straight stretch of highway and I was sort of helping out with a long drive or something, I would rather not ever have to drive again. So everything that I hear about this city or any other city becoming more pedestrian or getting more public transit makes me happy, not just because it’s greener and it’s better for the city, et cetera, but because it’s less pressure on me to have to get behind a wheel. Yeah, so that’s my story. Basically, I went from being a not very good driver to a non-driver and now to probably never again driver.
S5: All right, Steve, do you miss your duties as a chauffeur or are you grateful to no longer be schlepping around half of New York in western Massachusetts?
S1: Oh, my gosh, I miss it’s so, so, so much because it’s this unanticipated feature of parenthood that you have your children hostage to you for multiple hours every week where, you know, it’s like you actually you do end up. I did I ended up talking to them like, you know, kind of sitting around with them and joking around with them and getting, you know, I don’t know. It was just, you know, we we have an intimate household. It’s not that they repaired to the rooms and we’re always on their phones at all. But there’s a tendency to that among ordinary teenagers in this day and age. And and there was just something quite peaceful. And also, weirdly, I hate to say it like skeletal restructuring about your life. Like I live a very freelance life, as you know. And yet there was a structure to my week like ballet and, you know, is is Wednesdays and Thursdays and Saturdays and piano is Mondays and crew is this and on and on and on. And, you know, two things happen simultaneously covered in. My second child went away to school on the half hour with her all the time. But but the skeletal structure disappeared and so persay. I don’t miss being inside an automobile. I think automobiles are scourges. I do think that they have destroyed the last remaining fabric of society in some sense. I hate the way American cities are designed around automobiles. Robert Moses to me is one of the you know, he’s just in the pantheon of American villains for me. But at the same time, very specifically, my life was structured around the cars. Oddly, is a familiar social space. And I, I really miss that. But, Julia, you moved to Los Angeles, I mean, you moved from New York, where you probably didn’t have an automobile and never drove and you moved to L.A. and now you were part of the giant, you know, tangled circuitry of Los Angeles highways. Inevitably, I mean, less so because of covid. But surely your life has changed.
S5: I have so many different things in different directions to say about cars. One of the most striking things about joining the L.A. Times newsroom and overseeing a team of similar size to the team over at Slate is that like someone has a car accident every month, like it’s late, nobody, nobody ever had a car accident, that there are very, very few. And they’re mostly it’s like a it’s just a it’s a it’s like a reminder to a New Yorker of what car safety is like. Very thankfully, they’ve all been, you know, fender benders and everybody’s been physically safe and fine. But like, nothing happened to my car. I can come in. I’ve got to go deal with the like. Just that’s just a thing that happens a lot when you get more road miles. And it’s a it’s a striking difference in, you know, the L.A. population versus the New York population. I will confess, since we’re close to having been a pretty heavy uber user in both cities, actually, like in in New York, just it would especially with with my kids and with with doing long distance. When my husband was in L.A., it turned my commute from a half an hour into like eight minutes. And so I would pay for the additional 40 minutes a day of either work or children that I would get from that. And in L.A., I also did a lot of Uber commuting because then I could spend the time doing email and doing work and just doing the calculus of like paying for paying to be in the backseat and then tethering and having an extra hour and a half to do work is part of what helped make it feel possible to do all the things I try to do at once in one life. And that was sort of fun, but begin to see much less fun as the pandemic began to seem like a real thing. So I started driving myself, you know, month or two before everything locked down, just as the news was on the horizon. And I think I’ll probably do more driving of myself in the post pandemic future as well as just in terms of the mechanics of it. I really love driving like I enjoy. I don’t know. I just enjoy it. I, I enjoy a car with some nice pickup. I enjoy looking out over the road. I like the feeling of command and control. I have, I think, a healthy respect for it. I try to be a really safe and responsible driver whose passengers never feel a sudden acceleration or deceleration. I don’t live up to that. But, you know, I just enjoy it. I think that I find to be a stumbling block in L.A. It’s actually related to our our Fizer conversation. It’s like I don’t understand how you get a car. Like as someone in New York, you have all these, like, external objects that that are identity signifiers, like your coat or your bag or your shoes, like you’re sort of walking around the city with things that suggest what kind of person you are and what your values are and what your aesthetic taste is and is. As I think listeners to the show know, like I love clothes, Dana loves clothes. We have fun talking about that stuff. Like it’s enjoyable to, I don’t know, decide to be this kind of person on a given day. And it feels like with a car, you just buy one and and that’s you forever. And we we had a Honda Odyssey minivan in New York, and I loved the non-state asness of the Honda Odyssey minivan. And we we still have a you know, we are our cars. Here are dialyse minivan and a Subaru Forester. And we enjoy the extreme parent focused ness of our rides. But I find it a little like. I don’t know, it’s just you you buy one and then that’s the one you have for ten years and it’s like I would like to have an electric car that worked well, but like, I don’t want a Tesla and be out there shilling for Elon Musk. Like, I don’t know, it just it just I don’t know. I find the notion of purchasing a car for me as an individual Los Angeles human, which I think is the thing that, like lots of Los Angeles humans do, I find very overwhelming. Like I can’t figure out what all the brands mean, which maybe sounds silly, but is an actual thought I’ve had and now I’m sharing it with you. Steve, do you do you like the actual mechanics of driving them, like the feeling of responsibility and being behind the wheel?
S1: I have to admit I do can I just confess that I am? First of all, as a young, very young kid, my first word was car. All right. I was obsessed with cars and I couldn’t wait until I could drive. And it turns out I’m like a really good driver. I mean, you know, there’s just no way around it. I mean, I went to England, had to borrow a car from a friend to run an errand. It was a stick shift. So not only did I have to drive on the other side of the road, I had to shift with my left hand instead of my right hand. I had to flip everything and like, I just could do it right away. I mean, if anything else about life were driving, I mean, I’d be God knows who I’d be right now. I mean, you know, I just, you know, I’d be Nick Brittelle. I mean, did you read that profile? I mean, this is such a fucking gearshift, but like, I love what a polymath Nick Brittelle, the composer of our theme song is. And you just sit there reading it like I’m Michelle Obama much. Mishler but I’m a great driver.
S2: I learned two incredible things from that Red Steve that you are incredibly proud of your driving prowess. And I want, like, a little video of you driving in England and that your first word was car. That is such a good piece of Steve trivia.
S5: Yeah, there’s some good Steve Yoanna in there. I mean, I you know, I also think about how much, you know, we’re all thinking about fear and risk. And what’s your risk of getting a blood clot from the JMJ shot and what’s your risk of getting covid and what’s you know, humans are terrible at thinking about and calculating risk. And then we live all the time with extraordinary risk, which like every time you get in a car, the likelihood that someone something bad will happen to someone is so much higher than so many things that we fear and don’t do. And, you know, I my mother had a sister who was killed by a drunk driver before I was born. And and you think about self-driving cars and the potential for a future that might have fewer automobile based fatalities or maybe a future with fewer cars. And sometimes I think we’ll look back on the hundred years of cars or hundred plus years of cars, like we look back on the heyday of cigarettes, like what the hell? Where all those people doing driving around, killing each other in gigantic machines. Like, I wonder if my kids will ever learn to drive or whether that will be self-driving cars by the time they’re ready. And I and I feel a loss of like them not getting to, you know, two lane blacktop it on the American roadways. But I, I also think it’s crazy. And I actually have a desire for my husband and I to take a defensive driving class together here in L.A. Like, I just think it’s a crazy responsibility. Every day, every day you go out. It’s a huge responsibility for the people in your car and the people everywhere else. And, um, you know, we haven’t actually done that yet because who does all the things that are in their mind. But I, I, I aspire to do that and to take the responsibility with the gravity that it actually should have for people. And, you know, it’s just funny what’s what’s normal to people here. And I will also say that anyone interested in this subject should read Tom Vanderbilt’s book Traffic, which I actually think changed my driving style. Like there’s a ton of fascinating information about it, about sort of roadway engineering and traffic patterns and their evolution over time, but also about what makes driving safe and safer. And reading that book caused me to focus on a couple of different things in driving that are particular safety dangers, like the the distance you leave between the car ahead of you is like the single greatest indicator of of crash avoidance and safety, like just making sure that there’s always that you’re not like up on someone’s tail is the most important thing to do. So it’s a it’s something that I found myself observing more as I as I drove more after reading that book, I probably read it again now that I’ve moved here. All right. Well, sleepless listeners, thank you so much for asking that question. If anyone knows what car I should buy to not be a jerk, I’d love to hear it. And someday, Steve and I will drag race at some future live show. Steve and I will compare our driving skills in a knockdown, drag out drag race. And, uh, Dana can wave the checkered flag. All right, thank you so much for supporting Slate, supporting our show. We’ll see you next week.