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S2: I’m Stephen Metcalf and this is the Slate Culture Gabfest Parasyte without a host edition. It’s Wednesday, February 12th, 2020. On today’s show, the Oscars went head over heels. Wow. For South Korean filmmaker Bong Juninho, we discuss parasite’s huge night along with other wins, losses, snubs, flubs and, of course, all that speechifying. And then the glorious return of Patrick Stewart to the part of Jean-Luc Picard on Star Trek, Picard and Next Generation. It’s a Next Generation reboot. We will be joined by Rissa Martinelli, a Slate star and a Trekkie completist, which I think will help us a little bit. And finally, the great imaginary city known as New York. Joining me today is the deputy managing editor of The L.A. Times, Julia Turner. Hey, Julia. Hello. Hello. So what a giant collective hangover in L.A. is like people move in slow, driving slow and in a fog every.
S3: Well, none of us have had a February ever, because the Oscars are usually at the end of February. So we’ve all looked up and are just like, wow, a whole month. What do we do?
S4: And of course, Dana Stevens, who’s just every month is February 4, Dana.
S5: I have no idea. That means I identify gloomy and gray. I love a great guy.
S2: Christina, hey, you are the film critic for Slate.com. I should say listening probably doesn’t know that. All right. Well, Sunday night, obviously, where the 90 second Academy Awards, it was there was sort of one Dana dominant storyline, which is that the movie Parasyte from South Korea became the first non-English language movie to win the best picture. It was essentially a landslide in favor of that film. I loved your beautiful up of that night of victory for the director, Bong Joon Ho. And what I think absolutely going in was the movie of the year. The Academy kind of got it right this year. Do we feel good about it?
S6: Hell yeah. I enjoyed that telecast more than any Oscars in a long, long time. And it really was because of, you know, what I ended up writing about for Slate, which was this story that emerged over the course of, you know, it typically long, heterogeneous, shaggy, sometimes fun, sometimes weird Oscar telecast had this kind of emerging story within it. You know, of this this really industry changing win by Bong Joon Ho’s parasite industry changing because it’s the first time a foreign film has won best picture. It’s the first time, Julie, you can correct me on this as maybe more of an Oscar expert than me this year, but also the first time a Korean director, I think even an Asian film had ever won for best original screenplay. That was a complete surprise. Him winning best director over Tarantino score says he. You know, these Hollywood legends that were also nominated alongside him was a huge surprise. And it was just to me the feel good story of the night and made the entire thing, the kind of weeping on the couch occasion that I don’t usually have while watching the Oscars for sure.
S3: And then the other thing is, it’s the first ever Oscars for South Korea. I mean, South Korea had never, I think, even been nominated for a international film. And they’ve had a growing go.
S6: Right. They’ve had just an amazing couple decades in cinema. So to see any of that recognized was was really gratifying.
S2: Julia, there’s maybe a slightly forced attempt to reverse engineer from the outcome to a meaningful inevitability, perhaps some, as if the academy is speaking with the unitary voice and saying something significant to the world. Is that the right way or the wrong way to look at this? It feels enormously significant that this picture one, it follows on an awful win last year. Green Book and an interesting pattern to recent. Winds aside from green book, shape of water and moonlight. Where are we in the history of this award?
S7: Well, I think it’s become this parlor game to try to read political significance into the awards and on a couple of levels. One is just the general like, what does it mean? What art do we valorize in this particular political moment in American history? And then the other is, of course, close reading, what kind of impact the changes in the academy as a voting body will bring. You know, one thing that Justin Chang noted in his essay on parasite’s, when was that? When you think about what it means that an international film has never won best picture before. That means that Bong has done something that Bergman never did, that Truffaut never did, that that kind of the greats, the lions of cinema never did. And, you know, for many years, this was a trade show award. Right. Everybody in one town who made a bunch of stuff in one corner of the industry, certainly the most moneyed certainly, and the one with the most attention, not necessarily the one where all the best best movies were getting made, patting each other on the back and voting for their friends and being like, yeah, yeah, yeah, those Europeans get up to some cool stuff. But we have a special place for them. The best movie of the year was whatever the heck it was. And you know, in its efforts to increase the diversity of the voting body, the academy voters have gotten much more global. So the general openness, I think, to the idea that cinema. Is not a purely American medium. And the product at the American film industry is not necessarily superior to everything else. It just makes sense that there would have been a groundswell for that.
S8: On the other hand, it was so startling.
S7: I mean, the the typical precursors went to 1917. And I think there really was a sense that 1917 would win. And, you know, you could detect if you are close reading the websites, the pieces that had been pre-written in case 1917 won and that were sort of hastily revised to accord with reality and the facts on the ground. But the combination of seeing the academy letters move in this exciting direction and do it with a little bit of surprise just meant it was a great night of television watching.
S2: Yeah. And kind of the perfect capstone to what I think was a kind of genuinely wonderful year in movies. I got into it with a friend over email about the state of Hollywood in 2020 and it instant in order to win the argument, which was of course a total necessity. I set about enumerating all of the good movies and not only what movies I thought were good this year, but the number of movies I thought had a genuinely daring element to them. So Joker, you could say, is maybe a vacuous piece of exploitative trash. It also features one of the more unnerving depictions of mental illness sustained and unnerving depictions of mental illness I’ve ever seen on screen by walking Phoenix right on down the line. There were elements of Judy that I thought were marvelous on nominated films that are typically overlooked by the academy because they’re funny, like knives out. Wonderful picture. I mean, it was the year I thought that movies definitively pushed back on both the blockbuster. Right. The the the the mother that eats its own right in feature filmmaking and on and back on streaming TV, which steals all the watercooler, you know, thunder, as it were, and really produced wonderful torkel about movies. I mean, we experienced on the show week after week after week, I thought and what that brings to mind is how easy it would have been for the academy to give the award to another movie this year without it having been a controversial snub to Parasite. You could have given it to this gigantic, feel good, epic, self-consciously cinematic epic of 1917. You could have given it to score sexy. You could have given it finally to Quentin Tarantino. People would have complained that was a little animistic for Hollywood, but still like a big sort of self-conscious, important, interesting movie from now a veteran director. But instead, they gave it to this movie. And I I don’t know whether it makes any sense to impute to the academy a unitary sense of purpose or statement. But I do think what interests me about the choices, that it’s a thriller, it’s a genre movie. It’s some of it’s genre elements are as beautifully and definitely handled as Hitchcock by far. It’s also a very serious, intended social commentary film directed at the global 1 percent. It’s Indian, it’s foreign. But it’s also a global hit. It’s done very good business. It’s certainly now going to go for 200 million global. With this win, I would think on an $11 million budget. So just made a great, great return on investment. And in a way, because of all of that, it answers this perennial question or this question we’ve had for 30 years and the Academy Awards. How do you square the circle? Right. Sometime in the 80s, the movie business split into me. Broadly speaking, there are many exceptions, but the movie business basically split into blockbusters and indie movies right around 89 with Batman and Sex, Lies and Videotape. You started seeing these two lanes start to form. And what the Academy, of course, wants is a movie that. Has done big business that ratifies Hollywood, as you know, not just the not just the money making machine, but something that injects itself into the common unconscious of the culture. You know that that isn’t just a movie that’s seen by a boutique audience. And they want some self-conscious quality to that film. And it’s been harder and harder and harder to find a single film that will do that. And I kind of wonder, Dana, is it possible that global cinema might have an opening there, that there are you know, there is a way in which beginning with Truffaut right up through Bong Joon Ho, European directors have this interesting, very heartfelt, fetishistic worship of Hollywood movies, including genre Hollywood movies. And they can embrace that the way Godard did in Breathless or Truffaut did and shoot the piano player were on and on and on and on. Sergio Leone, in making those westerns, European and just global moviemakers may embrace some elements of big time old fashioned Hollywood filmmaking while injecting into it the touch and feel of a non-American sensibility and produce movies that can please the academy.
S6: Yeah, I mean something that kept occurring to me. Watching the slow and joyous conquest of Parasyte over the world of the Academy was that it would be easy in the typical academy discourse to frame that as the underdog. Right. Maybe the the movie from outside, it’s less expected to win. That’s slowly taking over. And there certainly was that that kind of momentum and excitement about an unusual, unexpected movie taking over. But you couldn’t really call Parasyte an underdog. I mean, as you point out, it’s been a massive global box office success, especially for a subtitled movie. I mean, it’s just done extremely well for a movie that makes people have to read subtitles all around the world. And it’s also gone through the year, just collecting the Palme d’Or. And, you know, every award, not every award in sight, but a great deal of acclaim from various critics, groups and guilds and lesser awards or awards that a precursor to the academy. It’s more like the other dog, you know, it’s the dog from a whole different culture, a different side of the globe. And Justin Chang of the L.A. Times. Julia, your paper, I believe, wrote something about how the Oscars needed bong this year more than Bong needed the Oscars. You know, there is a sense in which the the world that was opened up to, you know, maybe blinkered Oscar viewers or Oscar voters was, wait a minute, there’s a whole global world of cinema out there that is making money, you know, getting reviews, selling tickets, creating conversations. That has nothing to do with the Oscars whatsoever. And you had that feeling a little bit from Bong. I think in his crew during the course of the night that they were delighted to be there and to be getting all those awards. But they didn’t necessarily regarded as the culmination of success that they could possibly achieve in their career, because he’s already a superstar in Asia and has been doing well there for a decade and a half.
S7: Can we talk a little bit about the show? I mean, the victory is so exciting that, of course, we must give it its due. But I thought will a path can put our finger on this really nicely. So much of the host. The show seemed designed to insulate the academy from how white most of its nominees were and how male most of its nominees were. And it seemed like a show constructed in advance of Parasyte losing. So there was this self-conscious emphasis on diversity in the performances diversity as the text and subtext of many of the presenters speeches and remarks, all of which is good. I mean, better to that are to be aware of your blind spots and proclaim them even if it felt slightly calculated. I think to insulate from criticism, but like just the wild jamboree of what the show was made for entertaining, watching and like to me almost all the musical performances other than Cynthia ERIVO were kind of delightfully what the fuck? I loved the opening number in which essentially characters from all of the not nominated films like Rose like Zombies and danced around and did a herky jerky. I mean some of some of the more from nominated there was a joker from. And there was a joker figure from the Joker in there. But we had the jumpsuits from us. We had I think characters from Dolomite and from Queen and Slim. We had the Midsomer team and eventually denominate was like cloaked in a, you know, sacrificial flower. Cohn left Lawrence PEU at the end of that movie. So that was just sort of hilarious. And Denominate opens the number, saying something about how she’s proud of all the female directors who didn’t get nominated.
S9: This was the text of Steve Martin and Chris Rock’s monologue. There’s just a lot of attention paid to how diverse the nominees were.
S7: Not this year. And then the events of the night just kind of kept creeping up on the academy and proved out that, in fact, the structural changes they’ve made to the voting body have probably had an impact, even if it wasn’t totally apparent a nomination. Morning.
S10: And then we also just have to talk about the two.
S9: Truly, truly incredible lead up to the Eminem performance where they did a montage. There’s just like a classic Oscar montage where they were like songs, sometimes in movies they can be powerful.
S11: Remember all these movies that had songs in them that you liked and you watched like Titanic with My Heart Will Go On and I will always love you from The Bodyguard. And there’s like a clip of the training montage music from Rocky that I don’t remember the name of. And you’re like. Movies.
S10: They did have songs in them. And then somehow in this like I mean, it’s really almost all the choices were like that. Like, just truly iconic. And I don’t say the word lightly movie choices. And then they get to Eminem backstage and 8 mile. Not necessarily a movie that stands toe to toe with Titanic and Rocky, although a fine film deal like kind of violent build up to in the verse is about to drop. And he’s in a room and he’s rubbing his hand in his hair and he’s walking down the corridor. And suddenly you’ve gotten like 30 seconds of swelling violin and you’re like, when is Eminem going to rap? And then it cuts to deliverance. And you’re seeing Burt Reynolds in a vest and you’re like, what the fuck?
S8: Why did they think that Eminem. For some reason rises out of the Florida celebrate the 18th anniversary of 8 mile and 18th anniversary. Who can forget like just that?
S10: Just the true or randomness of it as a moment was so delightful. And then, of course, it became clear once you thought about it for a sec, that Eminem had won the Oscar for best song that year. But being younger and Brasher had declined to show up and grace the Oscars with his presence. But this year he agreed to finally give the best song performance he withheld from us in early 2003.
S8: It’s like I don’t I haven’t quite been waiting 18 years to see Eminem perform Lose Yourself on the Oscars stage, but it seemed as though the Academy thought maybe we all were. That was weird.
S6: It was almost like a bait and switch. Right. Because the montage really was one of those classic, which I love. I love the classic corny Oscar montages. And I wish there was one for every category, basically. Right.
S10: I tweeted something negative about it and then looked at Twitter and said, you had immediately after me tweeted something very positive as well.
S5: But that was before it got to this is the bait and switch. That was before it got to the Eminem part. I was kind of grooving along like, yeah, risky business. That Bob Seger song totally associated with it, remembering great movie songs of the past. And then suddenly toward the end, it started to spend an extraordinarily long time on 8 mile. I was thinking, was 8 mile really that big of a deal?
S6: And why are you visiting this? Why is this taking up such a large portion of the montage? And then that bleeds into Eminem, giving a quite extended life performance of lose yourself with people in the audience rapping along. And I sensed something sneaky behind the scenes, like Eminem’s due for a comeback. And he’s going to drop some surprise album. And his agent has just negotiated this. I mean, it’s just too random that a movie from 18 years ago, not even a round number anniversary, gets that much play. But yeah, that was part of the random fun that made the ceremony, I thought quite enjoyable this year.
S12: Yeah, he does have a new album, but I I would not underestimate the academy’s ability to think that everybody knows every job and title of academy history and would know what a big snub it was when he didn’t perform it, when a big deal it was for him to finally perform like it, which left most of us clueless.
S13: I will say that I was really happy that the songs, the nominated songs were back. I think it was last year or the year before that they decided to save time by not having anyone perform any of the nominated songs. And to me, that’s part of the point of the show. If you’re not making it to some degree into a live concert at which things can actually happen. Then you’re just cutting out the spontaneity of the show. And so the fact that it opened, for example, with almost an old school, Debbie Allen choreographed style, just cheesy montage, tribute to the movies of the year with Julia. As you said, all those costumed dancers from the non nominated movies just gave it a feeling of lightness and joy. And also just Janelle Monae, as is the bomb. She’s so fun to watch perform in in any context, even in a sort of silly number like that.
S2: Agreed. I my one. Objection. Those that overstaffing, a lot of the montages and performance, you know, pieces in itself is fine. But if it leads to the best picture winner, the light’s literally going out on them. When MyDD, you know, like seconds virtually into their acceptance speech, they turned out the lights on the parasite producers and Bong Joon Ho, you know, which provoked the audience to Brownley Boo and basically in unison, scream out, put the lights back on. I mean, I just I it is confusing to me. I mean, I guess it’s not confusing at all. You have that many egos, that many vested interests competing with one another. You are going to overstuffed this turkey every time trying to satisfy everybody. But it always ends up massively insulting some winner who just wants to go through a routine acceptance speech being a natural. Abbreviated in ways that just always seem to be offensive in one way or another, it always seems to be exactly the wrong person symbolically, and I thought that was terrible.
S6: But honestly, Stephen, I wrote about this a little bit in my praise of the various Parasyte acceptance speeches that kind of gave the ending a triumphant feel because it was real life theater. You know, the audience would not let the lights go out. And so the last note that we saw Parasyte go out on was just the audience loves you so much that they are demanding, you know, a curtain call, Dana.
S2: And exactly. And reminds me of one thing I really wanted to say and I do be curious to hear if you both agree with me, the room was so with the choice and so with Bonked, you know, that movie and the Landslide. I really felt at that that the room itself, Julia was was totally behind this win, like warmly, almost effusively enthusiastic about it.
S12: By all accounts, the room was with all of it. I mean, we we I was leading a team here in our L.A. Times offices, but we had a number of reporters and photographers onsite. And at every time that we were posting in our channel, like, what the hell is Eminem doing there? They were reporting that the whole crowd was on their feet and ecstatic that Eminem had risen through the floor. So, yeah, I think I think it was a popular night. I mean, I will also say that if if Renee Zellweger, his speech was not a case for playing off the winners when they go on too long, they don’t they have never seen a better one.
S11: She just got so tangled up. And whatever she was trying to say and it reminded me of one one thing that I’ve noticed about this season, which is that the speeches seemed a little bit less accidental. After the awards, Brad Pitt told one of our reporters that he’s written all of his own speeches this year, for which he’s gotten a lot of praise, not the fact of his writing them, but their quality, but that he, quote, has a lot of funny friends. And so he really has thought about what it is to perform an acceptance speech and like put the work in to make the speeches good. And that’s part of why the speeches have been good. And I found myself nodding along and thinking like, yeah, entertain us through the season like that.
S7: That was that was effective. Some ways his speech this time was kind of the least exciting and full of funny jokes. And the Rene speech seems like a case for getting a punch up man for your speeches. On the other hand, I was sort of startled by that response in and of myself, because what I think I’ve always loved about Oscar speeches is when someone gets up and seems truly surprised and then manages to say something charming and eloquent in any case. And of course, prefer the actors. They’re actors. So part of what has worked about Brad Pitt’s speeches is his feeling of being surprised and off the cuff and eloquent in the fact that they’re all plan is sort of endearing. On the other hand, what keynote speech? I know that a lot of people have found his speeches arresting and moving. And the part where he spoke about his brother River and choked up was in fact moving.
S11: But his whole thing about angry cow is just really want to order a steak. I mean, I I did not find him to be an effective political communicator.
S6: Yeah. I mean, there’s always that balance without what makes a good Oscar speech. It has to be spontaneous. But you don’t want just complete disorganized rambling like Renee Zellweger is, which honestly kind of annoyed me that she had not done more preparation than that. And she knew she was going to win that awards. She was 100 percent the favorite to win for Judy. And the idea that she wouldn’t have pulled together a few remarks just made her seem a little spacey and disorganized, at least whacking him for all his wackiness. His speeches are planned. They have a point. They may ramble, but I don’t know. I mean, I walking’s weirdness to me as part of the charm. So I love when things go south and suddenly we’re talking about cows being separated from their calves in bundled in with all the rest of social justice throughout history. But yeah, I appreciate. Well, think of their cries of anguish are unmistakable. Oh, cut the poor calves. Oh, what Keene feels so much. He just feels so much. But if you think of Olivia Colman speech from last year, which we all adored. Right. I mean, that was a great balance of her seeming legitimately surprised were her sort of spurting out some rather silly, spontaneous things. But also it being an elegant piece of rhetoric that communicated, you know, her gratitude and excitement. It’s obviously is a hard moment to manage when you’re you’re up there, but especially when you’re somebody like Rene, who has just been marching throughout awards season toward the inevitability of that win. Right.
S2: Of 45 seconds speech in memory that you’re an actor, as has been a hobby horse of mine for forever. Like just don’t do the towering falsely humility of pretending that you never thought you could possibly win. Lukey, just assign yourself a 13 percent chance, right? Like you know of winning. And on that 13 percent, spend 15 minutes writing a 30 second speech. Jesus Christ. Oh, my God.
S14: I read her hers as I thought she had a speech written and memorized and forgotten. That’s how I read it, because she kept. She seemed like she kept losing a thread that didn’t make that much sense in and of itself. And then kicking it back up again. That didn’t read like her Globe speech seemed like, oh, God, I didn’t do this. And then this speech seemed to me like a prepared speech that she that she best. But I mean, no. I will now. But she she pulled a Judy.
S1: Right. I mean, you give the people what they want.
S15: This past year of conversation, celebrating Judy Garland and across genders. And I mean, so I’m sorry, it crossed generations and across cultures has and has been a really cool reminder that it’s so that our heroes unite us now the best among us who inspire us to find the best in ourselves. You know, when they unite us, when when we look to our heroes, we agree. And that matters. Neil Armstrong, Sally Ride to Lourdes Fighter and Venus and Serena and Selina, Bob Dylan Schaus, SASE, Fred Rogers, Harriet Tubman. We agree on our teachers and we agree on our courageous men and women in uniform who serve. We agree on our first responders and firefighters. And when we celebrate our heroes, we, you know, we’re reminded of who we are as one people united.
S13: Julia, as a closer Oscar watcher than you’ve been in the past, I wonder how you feel about the shortened season. Another thing that I felt very relieved about when this Oscars was over was, hey, we’re just starting the month of February and award season is over. And I think that not having that extra month that drags into, you know, campaigning and then stories emerge about petty things that happened during the campaigning, and I just didn’t feel as sick of and burned out by the Oscars as I usually do by the time they come. So I really hope that they keep this shortened season and give the awards in early February from now on.
S14: They have already announced that they are not doing so and will not do so.
S5: So that’s part of the general worsening of everything.
S12: We were all wailing about it. I mean, it was truly you know, we had our team at Sundance the same night as the Grammys. The film team all just wants to go like lie down in a corner and die. I think it was very grueling. You know, the woman who runs our envelope award coverage put out, I think more issue was than ever in the shorter window and was essentially like closing two whole magazines a week for three months, like for we poor, poor people on the fringes of the awards. It was very, very grueling.
S11: I think it did create for some surprises in that it flummoxed some of the predictors just because. 1917 kind of snuck up on the Globes because of when it was released and then it seemed to get this wind and you know, I think if there had been a few more weeks and the early predictor awards had been more stretched out, the parasite ascendancy might have been capture rebel and those awards first. I mean, essentially, everyone, including us, predicted 1917. But Glenn, with our awards predictor, had kind of an inkling in his predictions that Parasyte might be poised to take it just from the level of excitement about Parasyte in the room where all of the other awards had been given to, you know, the PGA and those other ones have been given to 1917. So if there had been a little bit more time to do some of that reporting and digging, the big winners might have come as less of a surprise and there might have been less of a sense of, you know what I don’t want and I’m not sure I want to get this more traditional movie random. I thought maybe, oh, if 1917 is going to win anyway, maybe I’ll make a move for Parasyte that added up to something. So it’ll be impossible to really untangle what role the shortened season had in this in both this outcome and the feeling of this outcome. But no, essentially everybody in the industry was like, don’t do this to us.
S8: And the academy was like, okay, never mind. Sorry, no, we won’t. Maybe now that we’ve all been through it, people will come to them and say, you know, that wasn’t so bad, actually.
S11: And then next year they’ll change it again. But so it is critics that love it then story. Now, I think other people do, too. I mean, like I said, we’re all kind of marveling at the expanse of February before us. But, you know, the academy has a storied tradition now of announcing big changes and then on announcing them. So we’ll see if they if they go back.
S1: All right.
S2: That was the 90 second Oscars, obviously was a huge night for a great movie and a pretty good night all around for the Academy Awards. That will give him another year. All right. Moving on, before we go any further, we typically talk business right about now. Dana, what do you have?
S13: Business Week is just to let our Slate Plus listeners know or those who are interested in becoming Slate plus listeners, that for Slate. Plus, today, we are continuing our Oscar conversation down the road of fashion in our regular segment on the Oscars. We never got into the red carpet fashions. Who is wearing what? What it meant, who looked great, who looked weird. What it means to look great and weird in 2020 at the Oscars. And that’s always fun to talk about. I feel like especially with Julia, who has such a great eye for fashion herself. So if you’re interested in hearing that segment or signing up for Slate Plus so that you can hear such segments, you can go to Slate.com, slash culture plus anytime and sign up to support our show and all the other great podcasts at Slate. All right, Steve.
S2: Back to the show, Star Trek. Picard picks up the story 20 years after the feature film Star Trek Nemesis left off. That means it takes place after the death of beloved data and the destruction of Romulus. Picard is now an old man tending his vineyard, being traduced by the media for his role in a botched rescue mission. When he meets a mysterious young woman. She thought she was an ordinary human from Seattle, as she says. I think quite fondly. But she may not be she may be a synthetic lifeform, not only a synthetic lifeform, but some kind of techno offspring of data. This is the seventh or eighth. I can’t quite determinate from googleing live action Star Trek TV show. It has a 10 episode run on CBS All Access and of course it returns the marvelous soon to be octogenarian Patrick Stewart into the title role. Let’s listen to a clip.
S16: My, my is Rich’s honesty.
S17: Who said that? Well. What do you want to hear? I saw your interview. Do you know me?
S18: Do you know me? No. Look at me. You’re not sure? You’re not sure?
S19: How do I know that? Who are you? I was with my boyfriend. We were in my apartment. They put a bag over my head. Couldn’t see. Who are they? I don’t know. My boyfriend. They murdered him.
S2: To help walk us through the deep mythologies and very well built out worlds. We’re joined by Marissa Martinelli of Slate.com Marissa. Welcome to the show.
S20: Peace and long life. Steve, lesser known Vulcan greeting.
S1: Oh, dear. Well, see, this is just it. We need a geek complete completist to help us with this reboot.
S2: So clearly you were a fan of next generation. Right?
S21: I am. I’m a fan of all the live action Star Trek iterations, although I will caveat that by saying that for anyone to claim to be a Star Trek completist is a pretty daunting role to have to fill. There are some true diehards out there.
S6: Yeah, and depending on what you consider canon, right. I mean, there’s just sprawling, you know, novelizations of videogames every last year, iteration of Star Trek.
S2: All right. Well, what does it add, ignorant, Tom? Is that the phrase you can argue? Talk to our ignorance, which I think is vast as the as vast as the Star Trek universe itself. But ratcheting it down a little bit. What do you make of this reboot? Do you like it?
S20: I do like it with the caveat that it is moving so slowly. I feel that even three episodes in it has only just begun, which is perhaps not a good sign for the show as a whole. But I do appreciate that it is trying something very different as much as it is, even with the name and the main character treading on the nostalgia of the old Star Trek. Really, Picard is the only.
S21: Figure from the past, too, we’re following, and in that respect, it’s almost an entirely new show anchored by this one beloved character. So in that respect, I I wonder how it’s holding up for people who are in major Trekkies because I love watching him navigate this new world. I’m not sure if that’s the case for everyone.
S11: Can I can I speak to that question as someone who watched a bunch of next generation and for whom Star Trek The Next Generation with Picard and Counsellor Troi and the automatic water machine is essentially my primary experience of Star Trek. I found I’m relieved to hear you describe this as slow moving because I found the show glacial and bewildering. And I was so happy to see Picard and to listen to Patrick Stewart’s sonorous gravel, which I would you know, he could do anything and I would watch it. But every thing else, in addition to seeming like a lot of exposition and setup and plot, I did not know, for example, that data had died in some recent installment of something or other. I just couldn’t recognize the show tonally. Like what? Part of what I loved about next generation was the kind of corny disposability of it, the TV ness of it, the kind of procedural plots like, oh, there’s a problem on a new planet.
S8: Let’s go to the planet. Action debate. Internal strife with the cast swishing doors. Hey, we fix the planet doodoo on to the next planet like that tone.
S7: And I’m probably describing it terribly. And so you can tell me what I’ve gotten wrong. But like, I wanted some daring do some swishing doors, some tight suits and like a bright Technicolor palette. And instead, I got like the VFX murk of the kind of lesser reaches of the Marvel universe and a lot of like ponderous quiver voiced like you would about the future of the type stuff.
S9: And I was like a bummer. This just seems like all the other stuff. But I’m just a complete ignoramus about what’s happened in the film. So maybe I mean, I guess I’ve seen the Chris Pine ones, which have a little bit more of that. They have some of the new VFX whatnot, but also some of the old wit and sparkle. But this one seemed murky and ponderous. What have I missed that?
S20: Chris Pyne Movies are tricky because they’re set in an alternate universe, although obviously they are seizing on the visuals that acts of like the 1960s series.
S22: So that as a data point, you might want to sort of push out of your mind. You’re right. There’s everything you said is correct. The chunky knitwear, the earthiness of this show is very not Star Trek, which I say with an asterisk because there have been many different Star Trek’s over the years. But for people who are our most experienced with the 90s, you know, Deep Space 9, Next Generation Voyager, there is a certain aesthetic.
S21: And this was a big issue when Star Trek Discovery first premiered, because it totally changed the look of what we would expect from a Star Trek show, although it was a little bit more along the lines of Enterprise, which is the prequel show from the early 2000s that everyone forgets or wants to forget. And so I think there’s room for both. I like the earthy quality of the show as a start, because as I said, you know, it’s really just three episodes in getting off the ground finally. I mean, literally, they have not flown into space. Picard has been sort of chilling on his vineyard, retired. The call to adventure has just reached him. He’s taking a very long time to answer it. So aesthetically. But but the showrunner has spoken to this. And the thought process is, though, it is a little bit of a retcon in that respect. Fashion looks to the past. And so it’s maybe sort of this this era is harkening back to something that’s more familiar to us. But it’s a cyclical fashion that is now coming back into prominence. I don’t know if I totally buy that explanation. I did laugh at all the beards and sweaters in terms of like Brooklynites being transplanted to this version of the future.
S13: Well, the funny version of the future that we see here in this is mainly taking place on earth. What we’ve seen so far, there’s a few cuts out to outer space where the Romulans are, as usual, up to no good. But most of the time we are in San Francisco, as it will be in 23:00, something which actually I kind of appreciated the weirdness of that vision. You see the Golden Gate Bridge going to what’s now Marin County, but it’s surrounded by these, you know, super futuristic buildings. And one of the things that 7:07 Cisco seems to be serving for the Bay Area seems to be serving for in this future of 23:00, something is that it’s the archives, right at some sort of like digital database of everything that’s ever happened in the history of Starfleet. And that seemed like a perfectly logical extrapolation of the information economy in in that area. Now, there’s a there were some moments where this utopianism. That Star Trek has traditionally been associated with, right, that it’s not a dystopia, but a utopic future, had some interesting kind of twists. I mean, Earth in the future seems like this place that’s kind of got it together that sort of has a global culture star fleet still seems to be, you know, in command, although there’s some question about whether they’ve done the best things with their authority. But if you’re somebody who knows the series, mainly from the original series, which is what I completely connected to it as a child and still absolutely love, but hasn’t so much follow the later iterations of that vision of what the planet might look like during the years that all of this stuff that we’ve been watching has been happening out in outer space, was was kind of well-built. You know, I liked seeing that world. I do wish, though, that this show had the discrete plot structure of both the next generation and the original series of Star Trek. In other words, that there were adventures that took place within an hour and that they were more or less resolved at the end of the hour, because the deep mythology that’s being planted already in the first three episodes of this, Picard just seems like it’s going to be very slowly unfolding and somewhat tiresome to follow. And when things happened that had to do with that young woman that we heard in the clip who comes to Picard with this question of, you know, why she’s having these strange psychic experiences and being drawn, for example, to go have Picard save her even though she doesn’t know him. Those things just seem to point toward this long, murky X-Files level exposition that I was not looking forward to. And I kind of want some wooshing doors in space pretty soon.
S2: Well, did Dana, you know, you say that it’s a kind of a pleasant version of the future, and yet they did the most dystopic ex-christian thing of all they built on the Marin headlands.
S5: Mm hmm.
S21: That’s not quite what I thought was going to follow that. David? Yes. Well, anyway, this is a very bleak version of the future, especially for Star Trek, because this is, I think, the farthest out that any show has ever really, truly gone into the timeline. And when Discovery aired, what was frustrating about it is that it was another prequel and it seemed like the creators were afraid to venture further into the future. They could not picture what that would look like. As you know, the real life has caught up to the original Star Trek and we’ve missed some milestones. The eugenics wars did not happen, which is part of the that’s supposed to happen in the 90s. So they’ve been adjusting the timeline and so to set a show this far in the future. And it’s so bleak. I mean, artificial life forms have been banned because of an uprising on Mars in which they killed people. The planet, Romulus, Starfleet, effectively just let it be destroyed, which is, of course, why Picard well became disillusioned to begin with. And I think the best relationships on the show so far have been between him and his Romulan kind of caretakers, servants, friends. It’s not really nailed down exactly what the relationship is, but the warmth they have toward him as a result is really interesting. But yeah, this is a dark future and it’s for the aesthetic choices.
S11: Marisa, having seen more of it than I have. Michael Chabon is one of the executive producers of this. Can. Is there discernable shape honoree in this? I was not unable to detect any in what I was able to watch, which is not as much as I would have liked because there was a CBS all access outage last night when I had clear time to watch more of this. But like I love Michael shavohn, he seems like a great person to assign to this project. I do not associate him with pilotless murck. Can you see his fingerprints on this?
S20: That’s a hard question to answer because Star Trek is very fixated on issues of the canon and the fans are notoriously persnickety. And I think this show has maybe more in common with Star Trek Discovery, which is a show he did not work on.
S21: He has been a very he’s been very vocal in communicating with the fans. So one thing that the CBS All Access Star Trek shows do is curse a lot.
S13: It’s weird to hear a character in Star Trek say, fuck, yes, it’s such a clean universe that we associate with it, right. Star Trek is the goody goody sci Sci-Fi franchise.
S21: And he had a really great explanation for that, which is that it was always the FCC and not the federation that led to characters not swearing and that this version of the future. It’s not about perfection. It’s about aspiring toward perfection. I think he has a good understanding of the franchise as a whole. And so that may have reduced any kind of a touristic vision. And it’s just it’s there’s too many hands involved, I think, for you to really see his fingerprints in particular.
S13: Lots of hands, including I saw you, Gene Roddenberry, the son of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry is one of the executive producers on the show. So presumably he was brought on there in some way to provide continuity. Right. I mean, famously, Roddenberry’s this I don’t know, guru like figure for the Star Trek fandom. And so it seems maybe important that his son was brought on in some way.
S21: He’s always very involved. Another important voices. Kirsten Buyer, who also worked on Discovery and I I interviewed the crew behind Discovery when it was first area. And they are so careful about the canon. And she is sort of the keeper of the canon. It’s not quite like Lucasfilm, where they have a dedicated story group dedicated specifically to keeping Canon, but everyone involved is such a diehard fan that it’s almost unofficially every single person involved just knows the past our tracks in and out.
S2: So I have a question, which is the OK. So it’s important to keep franchises like this myth, correct, because of the nerd factor and the audience. And so you’ve got a keeper of the canon or whatever, you know, kind of Vatican like a job title you give such a person. But isn’t there something else that might be being violated here, which is that for me and I like Dan, I’m a child of the 60s who grew up watching the original Star Trek in repeats, you know, in syndication. And so for me, the defining thing about the franchise has always been its heart and its quality have always been sort of inversely proportion that it’s cheesy and under. Right. Like it’s the fact that it’s cheesy and under produced is where it’s immense and unkillable charms kind of come from. It’s like it’s the silliness of the kind of paunchy pajama wearing Captain Kirk and the kind of little bit of a kitsch factor to it, but not too much like this.
S5: The salt shakers used as props that they went and got in a store on Melrose or something. I mean, the stories of the kind of cheap production of that show are so endearing.
S23: Right. And then when you kind of reverse it like this and you bring in all these peak TV bloodlines and like, you know, Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Tush Show, help show run it all of a sudden you kind of get get it reversed. And now to me, the dominant aesthetic of this one is, is a kind of fan service nostalgia that’s fallen into a kind of it’s almost like a it’s almost like its own aesthetic. Right. Where you simply need to show a 79 year old Patrick Stewart in, you know, in that character. And you can just sort of hold the camera on him, like Warhol training the camera on the Empire State Building. And the fans are going to swoon. It’s like if you’re not if that doesn’t if that doesn’t have that effect on you, this kind of ponderous, you know, non expositional style is is like, where is this going? Look. Get the guy in the tights and on the frickin space ship.
S21: Steve, you might prefer foxes, the Orville witches. I didn’t call the Parrot Search Act, but really it’s the Nomad’s to 90 strike.
S1: I sense an insult there. But I. But also, you’re probably right.
S21: There was a sincere recommendation that Seth Macfarlane. Star Trek, you know, cosplay that he has put together for himself. What actually has a lot of Star Trek’s executive producers and talent involved. And a lot of the cast have made appearances on the show. So that’s a data point to consider. I think your complaints about Picard are legitimate. I think you could say the same thing and probably people did say the same thing in the 90s about the next generation. Right. It’s not the original series. It looks different. Who’s this British guy? I think a lot of that it’s hard to define Star Trek by its aesthetics for that reason. And I this was a quibble with discovery that I took issue with because, yes, it was leaning a little bit toward Star Wars. He, you know, blue hologram aesthetics and the suits were all uniform. He got rid of the iconic Red Shirts. And then in season two, they really brought in that stuff. So it’s hard to say wait and see, because I don’t know if people will be able to stick with this very slow moving show long enough to wait and see. But I think there are chances that once they get off the ground for them to bring in some of that classic trek stuff.
S13: I know that some of my trickiest friends, I mean, people I had a boyfriend in college. He was just really one of the first people I ever knew who was into a fandom and just had an unashamed allegiance to that fandom. And he just loved Star Trek, especially the original series. But everything Star Trek and I still follow him on Twitter. He’s still a Trekkie and he loves Picard. He’s very, very fond of it and thinks that it is in keeping with what he loved about the franchise in the first place. And I don’t know if that has to do with the presence of Patrick Stewart or with, you know, that that struggle between utopian and dystopian ism that’s being played out in the show, but it worked for him.
S20: If you can get past the desire for more episodic TV, it really is classic track.
S21: I mean, there are moral quandaries at the heart of it that for me are the best of Star Trek’s episodes are about, you know, philosophy and and Admiral Landry. Yeah, it has a lot of Star Trek classic villains, the Romulans, while also bringing them into the fold and really exploring them rather than just vilifying them, which is what? Startrek does with all its best villains, the Borg, which we haven’t even gotten to play a major role in the show. In fact, Jonathan del Arco, who had a very small part but memorable part in the next generation, has been brought in as an actual character, which is so fun to see. You know, Starfleet is full of evil admirals, as it always has been and always will be. That sort of that. It’s a red flag. Whenever an admiral is onscreen, I think in that respect, it does press all those buttons. It’s just a matter of getting used to a new look at a new format.
S3: Well, and to the degree that the glacial pace is counting on our love and admiration for Patrick Stewart to carry us through. I mean, in a way, he seems like Atlus kind of holding up the show and and luring you through the ticking minutes as you wait for some ship somewhere to go somewhere. Like, that’s a pretty good bet if he had to pick an actor to play that role. He’s pretty good.
S6: I have to say that I laughed when he named his dog, as we heard in the clip, we played number one. Given that that was his second in command and the next generation ship. Right. Reicher character played by Jonathan Frakes, who I understand has directed a couple of episodes of this this new show, Picard. But I just I would not be happy if my most beloved boss of my past. You know, with whom I had gone through incredible adventures, eventually named their dog after me.
S5: It seems a little bit of a one in tribute to my favorite Gina.
S20: Her whole show is that when he’s putting together a crew for his mission. People are like, take jocketty, you know, take Wharfe. They would drop everything.
S24: He’s like, no, I couldn’t ask that. I’m like, ask them. We all want to see them, but they’re not going to be on the show.
S6: Right. That was basically just gesturing at TNG characters who are not gonna be revisited.
S20: Some of them will be. I mean, Jonathan del Lago is back. Jonathan Frakes, who played Reicher, is supposed to at least appear for an episode. He’s been a pretty prolific director within me, directed a few episodes of Discovery.
S25: He directed a few episodes of the Orvell, for that matter. Gerry Ryan as seven of nine from Voyager, sort of the standout character will be brought into the fold, which makes sense since this is a show largely about the Borg. And she was sort of our first main, you know, freed board character, the Borg being the cyborg race. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile. She reaches rediscovered her humanity. So it makes sense given that the show is explicitly freeing Borg and exploring the Borg further, that she will at some point show up with or without stilettos. It remains to be seen.
S2: All right. Well, so Star Trek, Picard and thank you, Marissa, for coming on to walk us through it. That was extremely helpful. Thanks for having me. Okay. For our third and final segment, we’re going to talk about an article in The Times magazine by Willie Staley, who’s a story editor at The New York Times and occasionally contributes pieces to it. It’s called The Television Fantasy of New York. It’s a meditation on New York City is imagined by television principally. And it takes us through two steps. His argument does. First, New York City is commonly depicted as a creative class utopia that tends to forget what was there before such people inhabit the city. And that also can’t really jibe with current economic facts on the ground. The economic reality of what it really cost to live in New York relative to your income as a member of the creative class, people live significantly better miss the friends syndrome than they actually could could in real life. So it’s a fantasy city to begin with, and it’s forgetful of the kinds of people that have lived there previously and still live there today who are not members of the creative class. He gets into the narcissism of this, to my mind, in an interesting way, which is that even as as smart, intelligently produced, self-conscious shows like Russian Doll try to acknowledge this narcissism, they turn every person who’s not a creative class person into a secret creative class aspirant or into a kind of a zoo animal, a sort of specimen of what New York can be. And the thing that he focuses on, Julia, I think, quite candidly, is the bodega, right. That that that once people become conscious of a New York that has been lost and is in the process of being lost. There’s this fixation on the bodega as this island of an old New York like this. You know, this dirty, ill lit place. Right. To turn the Hemingway’s phrase on its head, a kind of memory, the one last memory, Frank fragment of the lost city, the one that preceded the $15 craft cocktail and the Zagat’s guide.
S4: And he talks about how high maintenance and and Russian doll both have very significant like pregnant Lee, significant scenes and bodegas. I thought this is an enviable piece of writing. I thought it was very conscious about how the city is depicted. It was both loving of those depictions and satiric of them. What you make of it?
S3: I thought this was a really interesting essay that put its finger on something I hadn’t quite. And something that we talked a little bit about in our discussion of Amazon’s Modern Love show, which is just how peak television. Is depicting New York right now, and the narrow argument is that I think some of these romantic and nostalgic representations of the glory and multi-faceted ness and abundance of human types in New York are trying to assuage potential viewer guilt about the gentrification of New York and their role in it by a in some ways incorporating non creative class types and characters, but then flattening out the actual potential differences that might be met in those characters and making them all kind of aspiring screenwriters or secret doctors or something else that might be recognizable to an affluent Netflix viewer on their couch. I thought it was a persuasive string of observations about modern depictions of New York, although I’m not sure it fully captured for me what’s interesting about TV’s obsession with New York right now. Dana, what did you make of it?
S13: I mean, I didn’t really understand the argument this guy was making. I don’t love this piece at all. And maybe it just because I’m a big fan of high maintenance and rush and all. And I know that his point is not to trash those two shows. In fact, as you say, Steve, he’s quite affectionate toward many things about them. But I felt like this is one of those polemical cases of somebody starting out with an idea, an idea about gentrification and representation of New York on screen and then just shoehorning every example that came along into that idea, whether it really fit into it or not. That was particularly evident at a certain moment when he compared these new style shows that he’s talking about, you know, their way of representing or maybe blunting the representation of, you know, the inequality that gentrification represents by comparing them to Girls and Sex in the City, both of which got around that question by just not acknowledging the existence of gentrification, diversity, other New York’s within New York. And maybe I misunderstood his argument, but it sort of seemed like he was saying, oh, well, at least for all of their blinkered, earnest girls and Sex and the city did X thing. Right. And I just wasn’t quite sure what that X thing was supposed to be. I mean, in other words, I guess I don’t know whether he’s trying to decry the romanticization of New York or just to say that he would like it to be done in the way that he’s used to seeing it or something. And as a as a big fan of high maintenance, I could think of several recent episodes of the show that do something very different from what he’s talking about, which is I think I guess if you had to sum up what he doesn’t like about this kind of representation, it’s that there’s these sort of whimsical encounters between these superficially different New Yorkers, but that actually turn out to be exactly the same. And I’m just thinking of I believe it was called mushrooms, possibly the segment, but there was a really dark episode of high maintenance from last season that was about a veterinarian, an Asian guy who works as a veterinarian. He’s extremely depressed, but not treating his depression in any way. And then he decides to start micro dosing on mushrooms, which I think he gets from the guy. Right. Our our we dealer who ties together all the episodes of high maintenance and then kind of abuses and has this horrible experience at work where he’s high on mushrooms while trying to save the life of a kitten is absolutely hard to watch and awful. I will give away what happens, but that isn’t a story of whimsical encounters between people of different social classes. It really is just like a horrible day in the life of this one guy who’s not an artistic aspirant at all. I don’t know. I just I guess I would attribute more diverse writing and characterization to those shows to Russian doll and high maintenance than this guy does. But above and beyond that, this seemed like something that happens a lot in New York Times opinion pieces where somebody takes anecdotal experiences from their own life and tries to spend a minute to this much bigger argument. And I’m not just not quite sure about, for example, the long passage about that guy’s apartment in Bushwick and how much it cost at a certain year and how gentrification spread throughout his neighborhood. That could be interesting for a personal real estate confession, but I’m not sure how it ties into this big argument about how we are representing New York on the small screen.
S4: That’s so funny. I just sort of this is an enviable piece of writing through and through really sincerely. I thought it was filled with wonderful sentences like bodegas must bear the burden of a whole generation’s yearning for the very stuff their presence in New York has eliminated. I thought it was how just to use of horribly pretentious term I thought was like dialectical.
S2: Who was really thinking about how gains and losses balance against one another really imply one another in some deep way. And there are two, to my mind, really dominant young creative class dilemmas that he’s trying to come to grips with. The first is that never in the history of the United States has a single city attracted so powerfully to itself. Young people and creative people. And never has that city been more expensive to live in. Never has it priced them out so ruthlessly. And so people, young people, creative people are trying to navigate that dilemma. And then a larger creative dilemma, which is that a certain kind of person. Has the cultural capital and the literacy slash high literacy to create content? You were faced with a pretty hard dilemma, which is either you write about what you know and you don’t violate the line between authenticity and authenticity and you end up writing about people who live in your bubble. Or you appropriate the experiences of others. Slash project upon them your own experience. And I thought he was just extremely sensitive and had many examples. It wasn’t just one example here, one example there of these shows making a good faith effort. I mean, I do think it is in the best sense of the word, a dialectical argument. It’s like they’re caught in the same trap that I’m caught in that we’re all sort of caught in and trying to find their way out of it. But as you try to get out of the net, it’s just ensnares you further in some respect. And it to me, to my mind, that adds up to a love, love, love letter to the city. I mean, not that’s what I think is what’s interesting about it is that is that that is how you live. The reality of New York City in the 2020s.
S3: Yeah. I mean, I like Steve thought this was a good essay worth reading. I think, Dana, your point about gentrification, though, hit a nerve with me, because I think it’s not certain to me that the anxieties of gentrification in place are what are driving these characterizations where there’s sort of a curiosity and a desire to bring in more diverse voices and experience. But then sometimes a certain kind of patents or dead end in the tunnel in in how they’re characterized. I think the risk in his argument, though, is that he seems to be suggesting, okay, why is a generation of really interesting creatives essentially suggesting that the way you can know that the quote unquote other is, you know, connect with them in a human fashion is to recognize your own impulses or instincts in them. And that seemed kind of blinkered, like I agree some that I thought he did have a wealth of examples, numerous examples from numerous shows. And that’s part of what makes the argument strong. But I do think that there are counterexamples in the way that people are portrayed in those shows, too, that that that didn’t quite come into the focus of the piece.
S2: But, Dana, you know, I think the attraction to us of this essay, other than its own virtues, such as they are, is just the idea that New York is an imagined city. Right. The great cities in the middle of their various renaissance is always, always ah, there are always certain key figures who invoke and imagine, like Dickens, London, Samuel Johnson’s London, Woody Allen’s New York, on and on and on and on. What what what are some of those touchstones for you?
S13: I mean, I guess the bigger question that reading this raised for me is something that I remember thinking just watching TV over the last I mean, more more 10 years ago or so than now. But I think it may still be true. Now is just why are we setting so many of our fictional stories and worlds in New York? I mean, I say this as a New Yorker who came here because I love this city, who can’t imagine leaving the city because I love it so much. I’m interested in its history. I’m just this geography. I mean, everything about New York is fascinating to me, but I am also very aware that it occupies an outsized place in our entertainment ecosystem and that every single show seems to be set on either on one of the two coasts right. In New York or Los Angeles, either. It’s a show about some sort of, you know, New York cultural media, finance world, or it’s about the fringes of the entertainment industry in Hollywood, about which there are millions of shows. And I’m sure producers are sick of getting pitched shows like that. And a part of me feels this nostalgia for the TV world that I grew up in, where, you know, The Mary Tyler Moore Show took place in Minneapolis in The Bob Newhart Show took place in Chicago. And those were obviously probably all filmed on soundstages in Los Angeles with a couple exterior shots to establish what city you’re in. But just the idea that every place in the country is somewhere that stories could be unfolding that are worth telling. Seems like it’s disappearing a little bit from the entertainment landscape in that if something is set in other parts of the country, it will have to be all regional and gritty, you know, and like showing how authentic and gritty it is to live in the Midwest or the South or something, as opposed to there just being places in the country that are interesting to explore and learn about whether or not they have some particular class marker associated with them or, you know, an authenticity marker. Does that make any sense? I mean, even as a New Yorker, I just get sick sometimes of let’s watch a new sitcom. Oh, establishing shot of Manhattan Skyline, you know? Right. Yeah.
S3: Especially when there are different levels of specificity in versions of New York that are that are portrayed. I mean, one thing that’s striking to me here in L.A. and in my own lived experience of New York is that it feels to me that for the last decade, L.A. has actually been the cultural capital in the place that.
S14: That young, talented people moved to because for the last decade New York has become so much more expensive and so much less hospitable to them and just by virtue of having more space. Your money has gone further. Here, if you are a creative person who hasn’t quite figured out what your thing is yet, you know, I’m always trying to be conscious of the fact that I also got just older during my second decade in New York. So maybe I met fewer of the people who are coming to town. But it felt like many, many, many of my creatively inclined friends moved here over the course of the last decade. And, you know, in Los Angeles, there are a ton that we have this problem, too. There’s tons of representations of Los Angeles. There’s tons of representations of being in or on the fringes of the entertainment business. But there are so many shows that are representing different aspects of the city. There’s Vita, which is set in East L.A., created by Tanya Saraceno, which is an interesting show that might be worth discussing at some point. And then there’s this show debuting soon on Netflix called Hand to Find, which is about young, upwardly mobile Latinos moving back to Boyle Heights. So there are broader versions of this city, at least coming to the screen, largely made by creators of color.
S2: All right. Well, The Pieces by Willie Staley of The Times Magazine, it’s called The Television Fantasy of New York. Sort of split on it, but I think it was great. Check it out. All right. Moving on right now is the moment in our podcast we endorse.
S13: Dana, what do you have, you know, for my endorsement? I think I’m going to shout back to the Oscars again, because something that we really didn’t get into, although we talked about parasite’s wins and we talked about various speeches, we didn’t talk about Bong Joon Ho’s speeches. And to me, the the greatest takeaway and the thing that I wanted to rewatch that I went back and rewatched several times yesterday just to get that happy feeling again were Bong Joon Hos, three acceptance speeches, four if you count that he was up on stage when best picture was one, although the producer, as is traditional, gave the speech there. They were just masterful examples of acceptance speeches, even though they were given in a foreign language with real time interpreter next to him. He was so relaxed. He seemed so grateful for his award. He seemed not overprepared, but, you know, very sincere and sort of organized in his statements and particularly the best director award, which was one of the big surprises that he got. And the tribute that he did to Martin Scorsese, he during it was just beautiful. And so you can obviously watch all those on YouTube. But as a bit of self-promotion, I will note that I wrote a piece for Slate that was just about bambinos acceptance speeches. So they’re all bundled together, the full video there. So if you want to have an easy place to go and watch some really wonderful happy moments of a very good filmmaker accepting his very deserved awards, you can go on slate.com and look for my piece on Bunkie, whose acceptance speeches the title, if you want to search by that is Bong Joon Ho’s Oscar night had all the genre-bending twists of his movies. There’s a lot of other great Oscar coverage up on Slate as well. But if in particular, you want to zero in on some bong joy, that’s the place to go.
S2: Excellent. Julia, what do you have?
S26: Perhaps you guys have a sense of what you’re worried about in the world. Perhaps you’re concerned and trying to suss out how to think about coronavirus. Perhaps you have anxieties about the forthcoming election. You know, perhaps you if you if you live in upstate like Steve, you’re worried about ticks.
S3: Are you worried about the coming Western Hemisphere takeover of Pablo Escobar’s cocaine hippos? If not, perhaps you should be. I would commend you to read Chasing Colombia’s Cocaine Hippos by Peter Rowe in the L.A. Times. Studying the wild population of hippos descended from four who on Escobar’s $63 million Colombian ranch. When he was bested, most of his menagerie was taken away to various zoos. But essentially, hippos are such pain in the ass that nobody took them for some reason. And now they are propagating in the rivers of Columbia, you know, eating a lot of grass, pooping in the river and generally reestablishing the presence of megafauna in the Western Hemisphere. In a surprising fashion. And hippos are no joke. So I would encourage you to go learn about Colombia’s cooking hippos. I think the cocaine is just in their history. But nevertheless, very interesting story about the ecology of Colombia.
S2: All right. Well, I want to this week endorsed two very different sort of obituaries for the great literary critic, translator, essayist, philosopher, novelist George Steiner, who died on February 3rd. The first was a predictably beautiful appreciation by Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker. And Adam, quite rightly points to Steiner as almost the last of a certain type, like the man who just embodies complet. You know, almost all the European literatures seem to flow through his person all at once. They’re all at his fingertips and. There for him to recite or refer to know across all the romance languages. Just a remarkable and you know, for many years, quite a accessible writer for The New Yorker, too. I mean, just sort of this towering figure of a kind that I think was probably only possible thanks to emigrate all the displacements of the 20th century, especially the mid early to mid 20th century, where someone really would become, you know, sort of deeply fluent in the literature, you know, literatures of of especially of Europe. It’s highly Eurocentric version. But anyway. And but then there was the second piece in. And plus one that I highly recommend to people. And I’ll just read the first bits of the first paragraph. George Steiner is a charming but monstrous narcissist in November 2001. I spent an amazing evening with him and the capital C. celebrated capital B, poet at the professor of poetries House. Things got started when another professor, the poet and an artist, the poet spouse, complained laughingly about the Xerox machine in the university English Department. What follows is, I believe, a pseudonymous Li written but probably accurate account of a remarkably decadent insidery dinner in 2001. This is definitely telling tales out of school, but it really shows how pompous and insular the literary world can be, especially as it intersects with academia. And it’s not so it’s not so unloving as to libel the dead. It didn’t strike me as blasphemous, but where Adam’s piece gave you the sense of how right and beautiful it is for a single person to purport to carry with him the entirety of the canon within his own person, this piece gives you the it gives you that. The flipside of it is just how how monstrous it is to believe you embody literature and thought itself. And I think the two operate as useful correctives to one another and together form of, I think, a 20/20 vision into into what this person’s legacy was. But if nothing else, read the plus one one because it is hilariously funny. Oh, my God. It is really an incredible fly on the wall experience. I’ve tried googling the author of this wonderful piece, Kinton Ford, and it does seem to be an nom de plume, but maybe it’s not if you’re actually Captain Ford. Please email me. I want to thank you for that wonderful piece of writing.
S27: Thank you, Dana. Thanks, Steve. Thanks, Julia. Thank you.
S28: You will find links to some of the things we talked about today on our show page at Slate.com Culture Fest. And you can email us at Culture Fest at slate.com. Please do. We love it. And if we haven’t gotten back to you just now, just love this correspondence. It’s very, very funny. We have a Twitter feed. It’s at Slate Cult Fest. Our producers just Justin Marley. Our production assistant is Rachel Allen for Dana Stevens and Julia Turner. I’m Stephen Metcalf. Thank you so much for joining us. Thank you. We’ll see you soon.
S29: No, no, no. When?
S3: Hello and welcome to the slot, please segment of the Slate Culture Gabfest. We are bringing you an Oscar bonus. The clothes. What did we think, Dana? For some reason, I’m going to come to you first. Which looks ruled for you and which were duds.
S13: Hmm. Well, unquestionably. I think one that will be remembered in roundups of great Oscar gowns passed will be Janelle Monets entrance costume. Of course, later she changed for that opening number into a sort of Mister Rogers sweater that became a tuxedo and, you know, had a bunch of costume changes. But her red carpet outfit, which was this Ralph Lauren designed silver. How would you describe it? A cow, old hooded sort of science fiction slash nun’s habit that was covered with these faceted sparkling crystals that caught the light incredibly. So that when you would see her in the audience and she was sitting pretty close down near the stage, all you could look at would be this sparkly rainbow. That was Janelle Monae. I mean, that was just she’s kind of a triumph at fashion anyway. She’s just really great at the red carpet. But I thought that was exceptional and really fit her sort of doll like tininess. You know, she was like a a space doll that you just wanted to get different outfits for. And the dress they styles spaced out is perfect.
S14: It had some kind of structure in the skirt so that it was perfectly conical, didn’t have a poofy whoopsy feeling, but didn’t have a modern, boring drapey feeling either. It was otherworldly.
S13: It was completely original. And like everything she wears, she seemed really comfortable in it. I mean, that is a huge part to me of what makes somebody good at the red carpet fashion stuff. Right. Like Lupita Nyong’o is an example of this. She wasn’t there last night, but she wears the most outlandish things sometimes. And she always seems like she’s wearing blue jeans. You know, she’s just perfectly at home in them. And that adds a lot to somebodies confidence. What else was a remarkable dress? Oh, Sandra. Oh, had this great concoction of pink, poofy sleeves and weird whipped cream ripples and again, seemed very confident in a dress that a lot of people wouldn’t have been able to pull off. What else is coming to mind? Oh, Kristen Wiig in that really strange somebody compared her dress, which was this very formed, sort of almost felt like construction. It looked like a Yayoi Kusama art piece or something like that. Somebody compared her to the world’s most fashionable sea slug, which I thought was a great comparison.
S11: Someone else compared it to lasagna noodles, which I like.
S30: Yeah. There was something funny about it. I mean, she looked great at it. She actually looked more glamorous, I think, than she has at any of these events in a long time. But it was a dress that had a lot of humor and wit in it. So I appreciated that. I don’t know who else is there. I feel like I wish there were some atrociously crazy costumes, something like Gwyneth Paltrow’s odd getup for the Golden Globes that I could bag on, but I can’t think of one right now.
S3: I thought Laura Dan’s dress wasn’t so hot. I mean, she’s looked so fabulous the whole award season. And I thought this one was weird. The baby black tassels kind of dripping down of late ice. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, the notion of mixing something prim with something kind of bad girl in the bar room saloon vibe, I would like to see Dern in. But I thought I mean, she’s radiant and looks beautiful.
S11: And it, you know, far be it for me to speak ill of Laura Dern. But I think that was her best Oscar season. I also really loved Scarlett Johansson’s dress, which I’m curious what you thought of a Dana and U-2s to you, which was shaped really interestingly, and had all these delicate little dangling chains on it. It maybe it was too boring for you, but I thought it was just perfectly flattering and cool.
S30: Yeah, well, I mean, she did something that you can almost never go wrong with, which which is that she chose a dress in that kind of chamas fabric. Right. That kind of thick, flowy silk that makes everyone look like a Grecian goddess. You took the words right out of my head. And so I agree with that. But I wouldn’t say it’s the most daring. I think I tend to like. I mean, I love the Bjork’s swan dress. You know, I tend to like her outfits that have something witty and strange about them, that have a little bit of an element of a mech costume gala. You know, maybe not quite that over the top, but there aren’t just trying to make you look like a pretty movie star. And a few people, including, I think, Caitlin Deaver, I was a little bit sad that somebody so young and so fresh who could really get away with wearing just any crazy thing had this, you know, very glamorous, structured get up that sort of made her look like Rita Hayworth or something like that. I guess I enjoy a little bit more when people explore what’s personal about their particular style of beauty.
S3: Yeah. To that end, I should say that I really loved Natalie Portman’s cloak, embroidered with the names of all the female directors not nominated this year. I mean, in addition to thinking the dress was cool, I just thought the conceptual fuckyou of the cloak was pleasing.
S6: Agree that. Sure was great. It made me think about the future where ability of that cloak was trying to think of other occasions when you would show up with a cloak embroidered with neglected female directors, I am sure that I would find a way to repurpose that somehow.
S3: Enough of this amateur chit chat, Steve, which looks stood out for you?
S2: Well, you know, if you thought about it, you could guess who I’m going to lead with. Your kimmey Тimothy salame.
S30: Really? You like this? His ski jacket situation.
S1: I mean, he kind of stole my heart. It was like a pretty great fuck you, dapper little fuck you. What’s not to love? One person called it gas station Dracula. I thought that was quite funny. It’s good that he got. He was the Karate Kid. This set the wags on fire. Yes. I like Bong Joon Ho with the like jet-black hair. jet-black shirt jet-black tie. jet-black tux. Seemed to work for me.
S30: Oh wait. I have something to say about the whole Parasyte crew because when they got up at the end to give that last best picture speech, it was the first time the cast had gotten up on stage. And I don’t know if they planned all this together. Right. And they’ve spent all of Oscar season traveling together and seemed to be a very close knit ensemble. But everybody was in black except for part soda. The young woman who plays the sister. Right, the sister of the poor family in the movie who had this fantastic fuchsia, almost looks like a felt gown or something with a little bit of fringe. Very simple, fit perfectly. But she was the one person in this vibrant jewel color amidst this sea of black. And and it just looked really great on stage. It seemed like they must have maybe planned all that out together.
S3: I will say I mean, Billy Porter just keeps setting a higher and higher and higher bar for himself. And it’s tough, man. Like when we were all stunned and surprised by his amazing ensemble at the Oscars last year. And then he had sort of the retractable fringe hat at the Golden Globes. By the time you get to this, Eric. Oh, do you like chest piece made of gilt feathers and something kind of Technicolor terracotta futures, print gown like, I guess, you know, if if he’s not being carried on a litter, he’s really kind of underdressed, don’t you think?
S10: Right. It’s just it’s it’s gonna be exciting over the years to see him keep trying to top himself. I felt like this was the first outfit where I was like, yeah, I mean, that’s Billy Porter.
S11: But I didn’t I didn’t feel completely bowled over by it. I will have the temerity to admit I mean, one thing I will say is just. I do think post Harvey Weinstein and me to Oscar fashion as a spectator sport feels diminished, like you just are more cognizant of the fact that this is so much work and that these are the way in which these actresses bodies are, you know, put commodity in Hollywood like it just for all of that. As someone who likes fashion and likes thinking about fashion and feels like this particular humanoid runway show is, it is a more exciting fashion moment than any official fashion week anywhere. I think I made an argument on the show against the Ask Her More campaign and was like, no. Like, you hear one of your jobs as a successful actress is to perform fashion a couple times a year on these red carpets. Just pick something cool and let us talk about it. This isn’t necessarily the forum where we’re going to talk to you about your work. It’s not like the conversations with the men are like super deep either. But I don’t know. Despite I I feel like I didn’t win an argument. Like there’s just sort of a deflated psychosis around these. And that’s probably good. But doesn’t it feel slightly less electric?
S13: I mean, AC, we talked about this the year that I really was at the Golden Globes, not the Oscars, but we talked about it the year immediately post me to when all the actresses decided to wear black in protest of the fact that they had always had to carry this torch of being, you know, the sexy, glamorous movie stars. And nobody seemed to enjoy that. The audience didn’t enjoy it. The stars didn’t enjoy it. It goes back a little bit. Also, maybe to Ivan, remember our discussion of Gone Girl and me talking about the FMF atoll and how I did not want me to and gender equality to kill the femme fatale, all that great archetype of movie femininity. I just I really hate the idea that women dress only for men, that women dress only to be sexy, and that the whole point of this excitement about fashion around the Oscars and other award season shows is just sexist bullshit, and that it would be much better if everybody was just wearing, you know, boxy rectangular black gowns or something like that. I mean, why shouldn’t there be fashion and fun and fantasy that women get to engage in and enjoy for themselves and for each other? And if you don’t enjoy that, then sure. Dress it down. I really appreciate what Billy Eilish brings, especially for the really young women that are her fan base in that she never wears body conscious clothing. Right. I mean, she has a style for sure. She’s got her crazy green fingernails in her green hair. She’s some kind of baggy Chanel suit on. But even though she is a young and beautiful woman who could no doubt look amazing in some sort of form foot fitting gown, she makes a point of never wearing any of that stuff because she just wants to be comfortable. So I don’t know. I guess I feel like there should be a wider range of possibilities of what one wears on the red carpet for sure, but not that we have to feel guilty about just saying, look, Charlize Theron looks amazing in her gown. You know what? What is so sexist about appreciating beauty and the fashion that helps to showcase that beauty?
S3: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s not necessarily sexist oppression, but the oppression that if you have chosen the field of acting, you must also take up like a performative minor in fashion. I get that like it seems fun to me, but I bet there are four people for whom it feels like an onerous burden that’s sort of tangential to the profession they’ve actually chosen and the stakes for not engaging and fucking up in some way. Right. Those are a little bit diminished from where they were, but that you’re going to be pilloried if you somehow don’t hire the right coterie of hair and glam people. I get the complaint that that is, you know, oppressive. And the fact that that falls on women rather than men is is annoying. I mean, the way I feel, you know, if you’d go to a TV hit and you’re a woman, you got to like put on an outfit and get your hair blown out. And if you’re a guy, you can just like show up and say your thoughts. I mean, and you don’t have to you could put it, you know. So I have made similar complaints myself, but still, I just love this attic’s of it. So it’s fun that there are people who enjoy the play.
S2: Well, I just would add very quickly, it’s just so incredibly gendered because men have a uniform, right? I mean, it’s just the tux. You can go ahead and rent one. And it’s pretty obvious that two or three brands you might, you know, you might select from and you put it on a you don’t think about me. It’s just it’s just the I do you know, the thought and the novelty required of women is just so out of proportion to men who just don’t have to think about it at all.
S6: That is true. But you could also look at the expectation that men must masculinity wear her tuxedo with slight variations as a fashion person that they’re in. I was watching the Oscars with my daughter this year and we were just noting how varied the women’s outfits were compared to the men’s and she just had imagined being a man. How boring. You know. Yes, yes. But the idea that the tuxedo is your only choice.
S2: You’re just going to be exciting as yet a white tie instead of a black tie, I guess, but I don’t think I meant I can’t speak for my gender, but I my impression is that no man regards that as a as a prism and it’s a total liberation from having to think about it. That’s just tell me anything about me. You know, I you know, if you wanted to think that way as a woman, you would not be allowed to, I imagine.
S30: I don’t know. I guess I feel that there are a few more people playing with that now, so I feel a bit more comfort about it. I mean, just when I think of, you know, the Billy Eilish comfort look, or I remember a few years ago, it was when precious. was nominated that Mo’Nique was going down the the red carpet and showing off her unshaven legs underneath her gown. That is just incredible. I think that they’re starting to be little moments of subversion that can that can peek through. But in general, I guess I sound like I’m defending the fashion industrial complex and me.
S5: No, no, no, no. I mean, I look, I’m with you.
S14: But I do think it’s striking that it’s not like Billy Eilish is showing up in, like, athleisure. You know, she’s she’s very in control of her own aesthetics. And that’s a Chanel that’s a Chanel lounge suit that she’s wearing now. Oh, yes. She can show up in that. And it feels very intentional. It doesn’t feel like she biffed it. It’s like this is my statement. And now you’re not comfortable in the argot of making a statement with your clothes, whether you choose to do it by wearing a vava buxom thingamajig or fuckyou Chanel lounge suit or, you know, a gigantic red seaweed lasagna noodle like, you know, if you’re just kind of not interested or not engaged hard or more outside of Hollywood and a little less than the know of, like who do you hire and who are your people and who’s your glam squad and who’s this? And that like at the bar is high. It is sexist. But I like it, I think is where I come down. We’re turning into the waves.
S7: Who’s saying, as always, is this sexist? We’ve accidentally done a wave segment. Sorry, waves.
S6: Well, there is one place that more freedom in female fashion shows up at the Oscars. And that’s what the people who aren’t stars, you know, and it’s fun to see women go up and get an award like the two production designers for Once upon a time in Hollywood who won the Oscar for production design. And they looked great, but they looked like, you know, middle aged ladies in nice blazers and chunky jewelry and things that they might have had in their closet. And I imagined them getting ready and just thinking, I’m not Gwyneth, I can’t compete. I’m craftsperson and not a star. I maybe don’t have the kind of money that I could spend on just looking great for this night. So I’m just kind of sort of blow dry my hair, put on my best outfit and see how it goes. And I really respect those people because that in itself is kind of a fuck you to the to the glamour. Police, right?
S3: Yeah. I love those outfits the best. Always myself, too. All right. Slate Plus listeners, thank you so much for supporting Slate and its journalism and for listening to this bonus segment of our show featuring Dana Julia and fashion expert extraordinaire Steve Metcalf. We’ll see you next week.