S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate Plus membership. The following podcast contains explicit language.
S2: I’m Stephen Metcalf and this is the Slate Culture Gabfest stinker thinker edition. It’s Wednesday September 4th 2019. On today’s show on becoming a god and central Florida is by far the best title for a longtime. But it’s also a Showtime black dramedy starring Kirsten Dunst as a woman caught up in a multi-level marketing scam and then the sterling affairs is the latest podcast from the 30 for 30 folks at ESPN. It’s a deep dive into the Donald Sterling saga in which an NBA owner is caught on an audio recording making racist comments to his mistress. And finally who. Here we go again. Here we go again. It’s like this should be on pay per view. This should not be available free to anyone clicking download on iTunes. Julia and I are going to talk about Taylor Swift who has a new album.
S3: It’s called lover Ella. And by the way Slate’s own Carl Wilson will have learned opinions about this as well. Joining me today is June Thomas who is of course senior managing producer for Slate podcasts of course of course.
S4: Hello Stephen. Hello June.
S5: It’s been far too long it has been way too long.
S3: I’m excited to talk about. I feel like I feel like I’m always talking to you about TV when I watch TV. But now I get to actually talk to you about TV and then I should say we’re going to have a revolving third for each one of our segments today for the becoming a god in central Florida we’re gonna be joined by Heather l who’s a staff writer at Slate and something of a Kirsten Dunst complete list for the sterling affairs. Our producer Benjamin fresh is going to jump behind the microphone and talk about that podcast.
S6: And of course we have Julia Turner and Carl Wilson to talk about Taylor Swift on becoming a god in central Florida takes place in the early 90s somewhere near Orlando Florida. We’re led to believe it stars Kirsten Dunst as Krystal Stubbs a former beauty pageant winner who is now a baby toting waterpark employee. She’s the kind of tough dutiful quietly heroic woman who keeps the world together as her husband dares to dream. This husband it turns out is caught up in the dreams of a multi-level marketing company called tham which stands for founders American merchandise. I think it’s fair to say this is meant to remind the viewer of Amway I have no idea whether Amway is or is not a pyramid scheme but we are certainly meant to believe that Pham is in which you ostensibly sell household items ordinary household junk to your friends but in which what you’re actually selling is your friends to the organization. In effect you’re recruiting new members whose dues fees tuitions deposit various moneys go to pay off the people who got in earlier essentially funneling money in a pyramid structure up to the very very top. After her husband meets his untimely end we sort of have to have that spoiler it’s almost right up front in the first episode but the whole show proceeds from that premise essentially Crystal vows to take on fam but from within the belly of the MLM beast let’s listen to a clip.
S7: I love you love you too founders. It’s an expression of the founders a fantasy.
S8: Do you realize how embarrassing it is to be married to a stinker seeker. You’re a wife you’re supposed to support and respect the work I do because when I climb down you get the view. If you only trust me I will make your dream come true.
S9: And I will be destiny’s dream come true.
S10: Our hearts will be free and open and we will own a helicopter and one day you wake up in Haiti and you will feel my strong hands.
S6: All right well that is a lot of Alexander scars guard for a TV show that goes on to feature almost exclusively the story of Krystal. But but it’s such a good kind of captures the evangelical fervor around this hideous organization. Heather welcome to the show. I hear you’re something of a Kirsten Dunst complete host. What do you make of this TV show.
S11: Yes I’m a big fan of Kiki or Kix as she is known to her friends. I think Kirsten Dunst is the best thing this show has going for it. You know scar scarred is fun in the pilot. He’s sort of being a theme playing against type because you know we all know it Alexander’s guy’s guy looks like. But this show is really a showcase for Kirsten Dunst. It feels like she’s needed a big role to step in to it in the past few years she was on Fargo. But I have the sense that her career has been a little thrifty so it’s great to see her in this. And I think in his review addressed this a little bit. But for people in their 30s maybe some in their 20s she’s sort of a generational figure. We’ve grown up with her and enjoyed her in all these roles when she was a kid and then a teen star and then in Spider-Man and her Sofia Coppola muse phase. So it’s really nice to see her have a role to sink her teeth into.
S6: Yeah. June there’s a moment where he sort of says to her you know you ought to beg to be married to someone like me. And she just looks at him and says I don’t beg I’m not even going to try to recreate the way she says it but I have to say that was one of the better line readings I’ve seen and I mean I mean it in 12 13 years of doing this show it’s it’s so steely it comes from someplace really deep. What do you make of this TV show and her performance in particular.
S5: Well it’s interesting because I agree that she plays the role in a really subtle way which is unexpected because this is a pretty over-the-top show in many ways but I think it it kind of works on a level where when it it knows that the way to get someone into a muck an MLM scheme the way to recruit is by being subtle to a certain extent like you if you are two over the top you will put people off because you know you have to you have to hook them before you can really get them believing. And I think Kirsten Dunst manages to be relatively subtle in a role that could be you know like a hammer. And I think yeah the fact that she does play well has become something of a cliché of like this hyper competent woman somebody who is just kind of has tries to let other people you know strut their stuff but then is inevitably just kind of exasperated by their failure to be as amazing as she can and kind of takes over and you know is it can can do anything and can make anything happen. And is constantly thwarted and so has to turn to increasingly desperate things you know she tries to be normal she tries to do what you’re supposed to do but the world doesn’t want to let her be normal so she’s pushed into showing that she can be smarter than everyone else and that can you know that’s almost a recipe for a like boy really more of this.
S12: But I mean she pulls it up.
S6: Yeah I mean yeah. Subtlety is not the first word I would come up with to describe the show. It is satire delivered way over the top in my estimation at least. I mean here’s what I really like about it. It takes place in the early 90s back when we all still believed in capitalism. But it’s presented from a very distinctly post 2008 viewpoint when none of us really believe in it anymore it has a well earned jaundiced to it and then you know that the direction that takes it in is essentially saying that a multi-level scam you know I mean June as you point to it takes you have to disguise yourself as a friend in order to be the kind of con man or con woman that makes this work. And so what are essentially totally transactional relationships have to disguise themselves as human relationships and the satire is asking whether or not a multi-level marketing scam is a good stand in for essentially all of American capitalism. Right. So a world in which passive aggression bloodsucking emasculation describes themselves as self-help and deliverance via self-help. I when I believe the argument that the show is making in that direction I find it semi revolutionary but it’s painted occasionally Heathers so broadly you know as when for example in the initial episode the head of the whole scam. This kind of he looks like Mark Twain and is treated a little bit like you know a demi god essentially he’s this absent presence through most of the first episode because among the many things he sells are these hoard of cassette tapes that you listen to if you’re Alexander Skarsgard you know kind of all the time in order to get you into a religiously zealous mood in order to sell. You know we’ve heard his voice and then finally he lands in a helicopter and he delivers the eulogy and he’s in the church in which an ordinary priest or minister was going to deliver an actual eulogy as attached to an actual religion known as Christianity and instead you get this I think kind of heavy handed symbolic substitution by which we’re supposed to understand that capitalism as in America is a religion or is inextricable from religion. I you know occasionally I felt a little battered but I mean I love her performance in this I cannot tell you which is the most I’ve ever liked. Kirsten Dunst by far I mean I admire her but this is she seems to be inhabiting this role in a special way. But I sometimes feel a little bit like I’m like I’m being molded over the head with messages whose truth I already kind of knew going in a little bit.
S13: I think what you said about that multi-level marketing scheme being a stand in for all of American capitalism is true. But it’s also specifically that the MLM thing which has become newly relevant in the Facebook age there are so many women who are involved in in these businesses online selling jewelry and leggings. So I think it is important that we see that a woman is going to be the one at the center of this story because women are the ones who are really involved in this world online.
S11: And as Jean was saying are are leveraging their friendships and sort of their feminine kindness. I don’t know how how I would say it but leveraging their relationships to turn them into businesses and are kind of forced to do that in a way or think that’s their only option because of you know all the other forces that are keeping them down.
S14: But I agree with you that that some of it played better than others I mean some of it felt a little too familiar and reverse engineered I feel like I’ve seen that that mythical figure at the head of the the Empire before that the person who I wanted to watch was Kirsten Dunst.
S11: There are some other interesting characters though.
S13: What did you guys think of the the person who’s one level above Alexander scar scarred so that’s Cody’s Boehner.
S15: Excuse me boner. Yes. Boehner is played by a very young Canadian actor like he’s 21 years old or something yes and maybe I see. Yeah yeah. I mean he was great. He’s what I mean about like. Because I know I’m going to actually contradict myself. The more I talk about this about like the show is not subtle but it at the same time indicates that subtlety or complete over the top this is the way to go. You can’t be in the middle like Cody is Cody is a great character because he says it’s not clear if he believes his own bullshit but he understands what he needs to do that he needs to get his downstream motivated that he needs to just be constantly talking and you know trying to motivate constantly essentially feeding a bunch of B.S. to his down line. And he he is both a figure of fun and also somewhat sympathetic like he is flipped to way like a sort of annoying flea by the the big guy by you know the leader of the cult. I guess the leader of the organization who we’ve mentioned whose name is Obi Garbo the second of which I am sorry that names over the top. And so and then that since you I’m a little bit of sympathy for him that he’s trying so hard and yet he’s a nobody but also he’s exploiting people. We should mention too that Alexander scars God’s character is working constantly. He’s working a job as a insurance agent and then he is doing his farm hustle and he sleeps 10 hours a week. He is working himself to the bone like this is what this means to be in someone’s downline for the Cody character. What he’s doing is pushing Travis this character to death. So and yet there’s also still something like about someone who’s essentially murdering his friend slash business associate. I mean it is that is quite interesting.
S13: There are this buddy comedy sort of team where where you can tell they they love each other in this way where the way they express their love is through sales or whatever.
S16: Yeah. Yeah. I mean this is a portrait of hell. Let’s be honest about it.
S6: You know and and there are moments and moods when you believe we’re living this reality.
S15: I kind of I don’t want to watch more of the show because it puts me in like a gloomy place like it. I already know that the world is you know it’s all it’s. If the fix is in in in in you know in capitalism.
S12: And so it just like makes me depressed and gloomy rather than like I really was in a like I felt sorry for myself or sorry for the world when when I watched that by the end of two episodes and I thought I really don’t need more of this even though the acting is magnificent. Would you watch more Stephen.
S6: I am unlikely to stick with what I have to admit. And why probably. I think for a very. Essentially for that reason that it’s not so it’s it’s satire is not surprising me. No. Yeah. And wonderful as her performances it’s not going to carry me through. You know to find out whether she gets her revenge on this organization. What about you Heather.
S14: I think I will keep watching for her. But I act for Kirsten but I take your points. It’s it is kind of tough to watch and it reminded me of breaking bad. And in that light I just don’t want to be in this world. It’s she’s not an antihero in the same way. I think she’s meant to be more likable and someone you root for. Ellen you didn’t even mention that the baby and the single mother aspect but it seems like bad things are coming to her or only bad things and that stresses me out.
S17: All right. Well it’s unbecoming a god in central Florida it’s on Showtime. Check it out. We’d love to know what you think of it. Moving on.
S5: Time to do the business and Slate Plus today. We will be talking about sports rooting. All right let’s go.
S6: Donald Sterling was the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers a basketball team that in 2014 after decades of mediocrity and worse was finally on the rise when an audio recording of Sterling making racist comments to his mistress was leaked to the Web site TMC. Ramona Shelburne was covering the NBA and the Clippers as the Sterling drama unfolded for ESPN. She now has a hit podcast that deliberately hit podcast on her hands detailing not just sterling’s fall but his rise out of poverty. He apparently found shameful he became the largest residential landlord in the city of Los Angeles. And of course an NBA owner. And finally the league’s biggest embarrassment. Let’s listen to a clip.
S18: Attached to the text was an audio file and when the Clippers employee opened the file she heard this in your go how big man you don’t know yourself with walking with black people in it bothers you. Yeah it bothers me a lot. If you want broadcast that you’re associating with black people you have to use for fear with black people. I’m not you and you’re not me. It’s not to be a delicate and wiser and delicate Latino girl.
S19: It was shocking.
S20: The Clippers assistant immediately emailed the file to Clippers president Andy Roser and that’s how Shelly learned about the tape too. I didn’t even know that the tape was sent to the Clippers until somebody at a game told me that.
S21: They said they received a tape from her and I said what what is the tape about. So I said to Andy Andy Rosen. I said. Andy what are you doing about this. And he says oh well she’ll never do anything.
S22: All right. Well Ben let me start with you. You know just to give our listeners some broader sense of the show it’s it’s very much about the scandal but it’s also about way more than the scandal it tells the backstory of Donald Sterling as a super awkward wannabe who was desperate to create a simulacrum of the Lakers on all the excitement that surrounded the Lakers especially the 80s known Magic Johnson and James Worthy and Kareem made them you know something that all the Hollywood stars wanted to be around you know and so this guy manufacturers as seen around him that has this kind of weird delist vibe to it. I mean what I find remarkable been a bit about this whole thing is just how kind of shabby and pathetic the Donald Sterling story is. What did you make of it.
S23: Yeah there’s something darkly comic about his whole persona like he’s just this to say that he is a bad man is an understatement. He is a kind of monster really. He’s a slumlord. He’s obviously racist. He’s driven almost entirely by vanity and narcissism and the fact that he just kind of keeps succeeding. And in the end despite some embarrassment comes out two billion dollars richer essentially is a very American story.
S16: Another devastating parable of American capitalism. Exactly. I mean well done let let one detail I think we should get in here is there’s just an astonishing fact that I had no consciousness of.
S22: So here’s this pathetic kind of shabby you know simulacrum of a great American Capitalist slash sports owner and to the extent that he’s a wannabe who he wants to be as Jerry Buss the owner of the Lakers who takes the Lakers to glory in the 80s and is seen as a CO partner with Kareem and Magic and the greatness of that sports franchise. Well here’s the remarkable twist I’m sure you know what I’m gonna say it was Donald Sterling who gave Buss the money with which to buy the Lakers because Sterling was cash rich and Jerry Buss was rich in every sense except cash rich. This is just a remarkable American story.
S5: Yeah I mean there are lots of little details like that. You know I actually don’t watch basketball but I follow basketball I listen to basketball podcasts I. I followed this story when it happened. And yet even so I went into this thinking oh I’ll know everything you know not because I’m this big expert just because I followed the story right. What what you’re going to get that’s new. And I think it was just a very good kind of bringing together of lots of sort of wow strengths things that make you go huh. Like the fact that Donald Sterling was so important to Dr. Jerry Buss as he’s always referred to getting the Lakers to the creation of Showtime that he was jealous of it but also because he’s much cheaper than Jerry Buss was you know had his kind of knockoff version that’s originally in San Diego and then eventually he just moved the team to L.A. one summer just because he just didn’t want to travel to say come on like he loves Beverly Hills is his patsy doesn’t want to have to schlep down to San Diego all the time.
S24: And and yeah that he and he would have his kind of knockoff courtside stars instead of you know the huge reams of people that were in the Staples Center. Ah sorry. The forum at the other games. Yeah. There’s just these marvelous just elements that that children and the team of 30 for 30 just kind of bring together in five very compact episodes. It’s a story that never lags and yet you’re constantly being reminded of like oh wow. Yeah. I mean for example that you know when all this came out in 2014 it was during the Clippers first playoff appearance in many many years and they were up against the Warriors it was the beginning of the Warriors domination and just like those elements which are you know it is a sports story but there’s so much else that goes on. But there were just so many little things that you’re constantly just like hey don’t forget this.
S22: Yeah sure. I’ll give you a big one which is that. And this is what Jerry Buss and the Lakers did in conjunction with Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics for the NBA in the 1980s. In 1979 on the West Coast you could only watch the NBA finals after they were over on tape delay the seventh game of the NBA Finals was on tape delay on the West Coast. And that’s what you know principally Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Their incredible rivalry did for the sport it took it from this really also ran sport and turned it into the mega media property that it is today an object of incredibly compelling storylines. I mean you may not watch June you’re not alone in not watching NBA basketball but following it I mean figure the drama of LeBron James and where what team he’s going to play for next who he’s going to surround himself with Will Kawhi Leonard stay in Toronto after winning them their first championship are the Knicks going to get high priced free agents or as Dolan such a hideous owner that no one will come. No one came. You know these are these are all derivatives of what Magic and Larry did even before Michael Jordan came on and took it to a whole whole nother level. But let me give you another moment that I really really brought the whole thing into focus for me right at the very end. There was there’s a meeting between Steve Ballmer the CEO the recently retired CEO of Microsoft who’s worth something in the order of 20 billion dollars agrees to buy the team from the Sterlings but in order to jump through various hoops the final one appears to be a one on one meeting with Donald Sterling. And here you have the ghosts of capitalism’s past and capitalism’s future face to face in a room. You know Sterling made his money. You know you could say the old fashioned way right slum lording in L.A. And Ballmer he Ballmer Ashley has to tell him that he’s the you know who he is and what Microsoft is I mean this is the Sterling seems scarcely familiar with what the company Microsoft does and Ballmer has to explain it to him. And there’s just this odd moment where I want to be clear Donald Sterling is an unreconstructed racist piece of shit. Okay. I’m not trying to say that I’m sympathetic for him exactly but there’s this moment where you’re like God when rich people were just a bunch of silly wannabes that we could pity as opposed to these Nietzsche and overlords you know who sort of owned the infrastructure of all reality v attack. There’s this moment where I kind of liked the ghost of capitalism’s past a little better. But let me make something absolutely clear there’s another remarkable moment where Olden colonies a player who beat many people won’t remember but I remember he was just that he was just an incredible rebounder defender a great basketball player who didn’t score a lot but did the quote unquote dirty work on the basketball court. So his team could be better policies you know recalls this remarkable encounter with Donald Sterling where Sterling is sort of showing off Aldon policies to some friends of Sterling’s in the locker room and policies is kind of I believe if I have this right is only sort of half dressed and sterling at first is saying flattering things about policies. But as his as his as his spiel unfolds it’s just clear he has a plenty of fully plantation mentality when it comes to this player and it culminates in him saying look at this buck to his friends about policies and power and he’s it’s just you have to listen at this part of the podcast to me politics is like he says the words holy shit that fucked me up. I mean just what it is for a fucking young black man to be in man just to be treated like chattel. I mean that is the drama. It seems to me Ben that is absolutely at the center of this is to what. I mean this guy Donald Sterling was an owner right. And these guys were players but Sterling had a sense of what his ownership claim over them really was. That was really really sick and anachronistic.
S23: Yeah that tape especially is horrifying. I mean there are multiple similar stories in this podcast about him walking into the locker rooms at first you look first when I was listening to it it’s like he’s admiring their bodies and it sounds extremely homo erotic. But then you get the sense like oh no he’s thinking of these people as animals like as subhuman. And that’s even more disturbing I think. But the one question that I have for both of you I loved this podcast the. The only major thing that I keep coming back to especially on my second listen was thinking about Shelly Sterling who is the main subject who’s interviewed throughout the piece. This is Donald Sterling’s wife of 58 years something I know on this length of time and to what lengths she is complicit in all of this. She’s very charming in the podcast. She’s funny she’s all there. She’s in her 80s but she’s complete very sharp and I think that insofar as I think this podcast maybe has a flaw it’s that it lets her off a little easy.
S12: Yeah and it’s funny actually. I would recommend people check out the low post is my favorite NBA podcast. And Ramona Shelburne talked with Zach Lowe on a recent episode of that podcast and talked about the making of the series. And I think she I think she feels a little bit and I’m not going to projects and say guilty but I think that there were also I think even NBA insiders were a little surprised when Shelly says oh I’m still Donald and I are still together and maybe there is this indication that that there was kind of you know another scam was perpetrated. So because in the end the way that they were able to make this sale to Steve Ballmer go through very quickly for two billion dollars was that Donald Sterling was found incompetent mentally incompetent by two doctors and there is a fear. You know it’s the uncle junior defense essentially from the Soprano’s and there’s a feeling that you can’t say because you know we can’t prove it right. That maybe you know maybe he kind of went along with it and that Shelly you know I’m not saying that Shelly was like pretending to be broken up with Donald because clearly he had been you know being misusing her for many years although again she was definitely complicit. But yeah I think the role of Shelly and to what extent she was equally guilty. There’s another scene where in you know he one part of his slumlord ism was that he would kick out black and Latino tenants when he took over a building. So for example when he took over a lot of buildings in Koreatown he wanted to have Asian tenants rather than black and Latino tenants and he would just kick people out. And you know was sued for this many times and Shelly is caught on tape being horrible to a black tenant and she kind of has an excuse and Ramona let him get away with it even though I don’t think it’s very compelling. So I think she got Shelly.
S3: That was a great get she got that audio but yeah maybe she just let her offer her a little bit and to be honest someone like Donald Sterling doesn’t you know skate through life for decades and decades without a whole huge cast of enablers including the other owners of the NBA. I mean these were there were a lot of open secrets surrounding this guy not just mistresses but clearly a lot of his attitude towards the players and I think she comes off as a Jew as the chief enabler here. And I think Shelburne calls her on a little bit because she frames I believe the almost the entire show is framed with this concept of the mistress code which is you can go ahead and be my husband’s mistress and I won’t call you on it and I won’t go after you and I’ll even put up with it. But the whole thing has to be in accordance with polite society’s codes of covert ness and discretion. And you know and it was only when the mistress code was broken. That was the real discretion it was not the substance of what Sterling said on that tape which there is no way Shelly had not heard similar comments throughout her marriage from this person. It was the fact that it was made public in the way it was made public and that meant war. And that is really what precipitated the break in the Sterling’s marriage whether it was real or fake. Who knows.
S15: Well and I think that that is another reason that this was a great podcast that this was a piece of audio that started this huge you know scandal and you know that had major repercussions in so many different areas of life way beyond sports.
S12: And that that makes for a really great podcast and I also think that you know I’ve listened to other 30 for 30 series like The Baker meal go on was pretty interesting but it didn’t have like a complete arc it didn’t quite pay off whereas this has a full complete story and I think because it’s it’s they thought of it like a regular you know a a regular narrative podcast in fact as Ramona Shelburne said on on the low post they were very influenced by slow burn that the opening Shelly Sterling and Vista piano meeting in Neiman Marcus running into each other and all like that’s meant to be like the opening of season two of slow but I had that exact same thought and in a lot of ways this is a very very straightforward piece of radio reporting but the structure is actually I think pretty sophisticated because it starts in.
S23: It starts with the revelation of the tape and then moves backwards into sterling buying the team and then the next Epworth episode moves backwards in them further into his origins and there is a much less compelling version of this story that starts out with Donald Sterling was born in such a such a year in such a such a neighborhood and the way that they’ve structured the story really really works to his benefit.
S25: All right well it’s the sterling affairs it’s another great thirty four thirty from ESPN the podcast check it out and tell us what you thought. All right.
S26: Moving on all right.
S27: Well for this next segment we are joined by Julia Turner who is of course the regular panelist on this show and the deputy managing editor of The Los Angeles Times. Julia I’m so psyched that you could call in for this segment.
S28: Yeah I had a miss this week but it seemed like delivering a conversation about Taylor Swift’s new album that did not entail you and me fighting about it would be a dereliction of our implicit contract with Culture Gabfest listeners.
S29: So here I am ready to go.
S30: Oh my God. All right here here. All right.
S25: Well I don’t have much of an instruction prepped for this segment but lover is the latest record from Taylor Swift it’s her seventh. We’re joined by Carl Wilson Slate’s music critic to talk about it. Hey Carl welcome back to the show. Hey Steve thanks for having me. You have a lot of quotable lines in your review but you say that the album is inspired by her now three year long loves story with the flaxen haired and forgettable faced British actor Joe all when does this record sound like it so inspired by a forgettable faced British actor to him places.
S31: There’s there’s a kind of forced zaniness here and there and that the sort of most unfortunate moment on the record possibly is the most directly flaxen haired British boy attributing a song London boy which is kind of an embarrassing picture postcard from London.
S32: Of the most stereotypical British references that Taylor could come up with on crammed into one song. But overall no overall it’s more of it’s a reflective album that’s a little bit trying to integrate. I think that the sort of self-centred ness of a lot of Taylor’s work in the past with a more open and more kind of self-critical and attempt attempting to sort of come into maturity sort of love songs and just sort of what dominate here and with a few other notes on tracks here and there. But I think that that’s the that’s the thing that comes across the most is trying to imagine. And it’s always it’s always a thing with Taylor an artist like for the kind of the teen prodigy position and child star almost that you know there’s a there’s a delay or an out of sickness in the way that they tend to develop and and I think this album really finds her struggling to to get past that point okay.
S22: What money you pick a cut for us to listen to.
S33: Why don’t we listen to as an example of exactly that kind of search for a more mature and self-critical position and also an interesting one sonically. The archer. School. And go. Hundred donuts speeches I’ll. Lose. You. So.
S34: Much. I. Never Grow. Up. It’s. Getting so. Old. Me Hold on to you.
S35: Since we heard that first part of that song. I just want to say that this reminded me so much of Cindy Lopez time I do.
S6: Yeah. And then that little harmonized bit. Carl I could almost hear Neko Case singing that.
S29: Well well I did. I wish we could we didn’t get there and we just stipulate on the record that Steve that Steve Macca just for future discussion Steve my cat has now already compared Taylor’s have to Neko Case for the purposes of this discussion. I mean they’re both carved out a life for someone we know someone we know him to admire and unless the time he gifted me. Thank you Cook’s album years ago. It’s a huge fucking troll.
S16: Julia this I was trying to make this not about us but you know brewpub ready. I’m ready to pay per view this I need.
S37: Any second now.
S6: Never mind Reverend withdrawn send your question the girl speak on behalf of non carbon based lifeforms. What did you think of this record Julia.
S38: Oh I read I just found myself amazed by the consistency of her output and interests.
S39: I think Carl is very smart on the evolution of the Taylor persona here. His review is excellent. The fact that this is a return to Taylor the Taylor the romantic and Taylor interrogating the feelings of love and romance rather than targeting for the most part the feelings of fame power and taking flack on Twitter I think is generally like a good move for her. Although I agree that reputation turned out to be a pretty listenable album that was better than its initial reception might have suggested and I think it’s early in my listening to know which of these songs are going to endure. It feels like the exact same thing that I experience with any Taylor album where there are three or four songs that making make me feel swooning Li fist pump.
S28: There is one or two songs that are like dopey eyesores where you think Taylor. Come on. Haven’t you figured this out yet. Of which at least half I will probably eventually love. And there’s just interesting smart turns of phrase. I’m also interested to know Steve what you thought of her song The Man which sort of explicitly calls out people who wrote off her accomplishments because of her gender. To. Be. Just like the. Santa Fe.
S40: Okay. So in the past what six months we’ve talked about Ariana Grande Green Day and Billy eyelash the new Lana Del Rey album is amazing. I mean I don’t think I have some problem. You know and obviously I worship at the altar of Lucinda Williams and Neko Case and you know the idea that like I can’t connect with Taylor Swift because she’s a woman to me is just so it’s so preposterous that I’m applying some kind of double standard to Taylor Swift. I mean I think this is an okay album I find her bland. I think she does have this carefully evolved public persona which gives her the subject of the songs that she writes. But it’s a bit of a circle in which nothing that strikes me as real or flesh and blood really ever enters. I think it’s very canny very savvy content production on her part. It is the evolution of a you know of a persona. But it does not for me connect to the arising self-consciousness of an actual human being as they become an artist and a person in the world. Like that’s just not what this music does for me. I mean I just find her boring. That’s that I don’t. But to say that that’s somehow a sexist double standard is just insane to me that there are some people who apply who apply a horrible sexist double standard to Taylor Swift and that’s that’s perfectly fine for calling out as repulsive. But I just think that I think that that’s an inoculation in order to make her music criticism proof on exactly the grounds that it’s most vulnerable to criticism. You know that it’s boring and just to be clear Steve.
S28: I could not agree with you more that it is very very tiresome for women of any kind to say to criticize me in any fashion is inherently sexist.
S37: And I think that the reason I ask you about the men was not intended to be a gotcha but just that I find it’s a song that I find to be both kind of anthemic satisfying and a little bit limiting in terms of what a woman with talent and power can be because of course you make mistakes and people should be able to criticize you and it’s in it is not true in fact that every single thing you have done would have been accepted as totally fine if you were a man. Even if there are things that would have been received differently.
S41: So I find that song to be both like fun and a little bit kind of strategically obtuse at the same time.
S28: And I also don’t think that not liking this album a lot is sexist in any way. But I think we’re all circling the same thing which is that and I think that’s what I was getting to with my initial remarks on it which is it felt like turning on the facet of Taylor and having more of the same familiar product that I generally like coming out and the product that Steve doesn’t like as much coming out which is like wow okay 18 more songs that conjure this swooning feeling and have some good lyrics in them and have some sharp turns of phrase and you used I think the phrase ascending dynamism in your review Carl and it is so hard to use adjectives to describe the sound of things.
S37: But I was like that is what her music sounds like to me. And I was like yay there’s more some new ones for me to discover and love and listen to but it didn’t quite feel like a next thing.
S41: I agree with that. It sort of feels like a reset after reputation with some good songs and some less good songs but not quite an ascension or a new chapter since you haven’t talked much about the songs that you considered good songs.
S5: Could you say which ones you like. Because I have to say now this isn’t about me. I’m really not a music person anymore. But having listened to a lot of discussions about Taylor Swift I thought I was on the sort of Julia Turner Jodi Rose and Carl Wilson’s side of things.
S42: And then I listened to it and I just thought ha like it’s so aggressively kind of bland.
S5: I kept feeling there was a gear that I wanted it to get to like it. It’s like the beat never breaks or something like it’s just build built nothing. Next song. So I was really disappointed.
S42: I love profiles of her. I kind of like her. I love that she has a cat called Olivia Benson and then I heard her and I was like Huh. What was that like. Tell me. Tell me a good song and why why it’s good.
S43: I am fun. I’m fond of a lover which is that sort of I think about to be that the new single although already was sort of released but it’s kind of the country Wall wedding dance number which is really just a a really sort of beautifully executed example of that kind of pure romanticism.
S44: I really like Cornelius Street which is a but that was sort of more dire esque self examining thinking than paper rings which just kind of this pop punk.
S43: No. Yeah. There is lots of highlights to me. I think definitely you know this album is more packed. It’s it’s more tracks. It’s 18 tracks. It’s longer than anything she’s done before it sort of falls prey to this Spotify era album packing a syndrome which I think is really dragged down a lot of records in the past couple of years and I you know if this were a 12 13 track album I think it would represent itself more positively and I think she’s also trying to play to too many audiences at once.
S45: You know I think that there’s there’s still a lot of stuff here that’s directed at that sort of 14 year old audience that comes out to her stadium concerts and I think at a certain point you have to you know you have to let your audience grew up with you and not do that pandering and I think that things get blander at at the points where she’s trying to like serve all of those masters at once.
S37: Another song I’ll flag in addition to the man which is the one that kind of first caught my ear as a new treatment of relevant subject matter from her that I think also just fundamentally works as song.
S36: I really like the song Paper rings which is cute maybe too cute to your taste. KARL But just catchy as all get out. She wants me twice because it’s gonna be like and we did.
S46: Feels a little bit more sonically different and some of the other songs which I agree. I really like the Archer I really like afterglow. I like a lover.
S28: I sort of feel like there could be one you know eleven minute rock long like swoon a soundscape there’s not that huge I’m sure there are tons of people who know far more about music than me they could say why they’re all extremely different but they they sound more akin to one another than some other songs of hers on other tracks but that paper rings has a slightly different tone and syncopation to it.
S30: And I found it enjoyable and peppy can kind of levy another criticism against Taylor Swift here and I hope it comes off as hard as or consider it is that Carl I just find her boring as a singer. I mean I was really going back and forth between this and the new Lana Del Rey record which cuts me to the quick on first listen and I think I’m gonna heavily rotate over the next couple of weeks at least. I have no grand theory about why Lana Del Rey is an auteur and Taylor Swift is an I I don’t think that’s a distinction I would make even though it’s being imputed to me. All I know is that when Lana Del Rey sings When Neko Case sings When Arianna Arianna Grant and Brando sings you know Lord they all they all deliver something into the heart of me.
S6: And when Taylor Swift sings I I I I lose interest immediately. I just do not find her interesting as of as a vocalist any credence.
S47: Yeah I mean it’s an interesting comparison to make particularly because Jack aren’t enough who’s the producer of about two thirds of this record is also the producer of all of Lana Del Ray’s new record. Yeah. Norman fucking Rockwell and so and so it’s you’re really given an A A.B. comparison. I mean I think one of the things about Taylor you know remembering that she’s she comes from Nashville musically that there’s no there’s no blues and Taylor Taylor’s singing right. There’s no army and. And I think that to a lot of tastes that that removes a lot of the sense of depth in the thing. I think she does interesting things on this album with layering on her voice and I think there are some particular sort of emotional places that she’s good at reaching.
S43: Vocally I think she’s good at intimacy when she chooses to be. But yeah I mean I haven’t always found Lana completely compelling but this album this um kind of has not been knocking me out and yeah I feel the same same desire to put it in heavy rotation so. So yeah you’ve got me with that to some degree for sure.
S48: Julia looks like three on one here.
S49: If that doesn’t happen I just yet but we should do Lana we should do Lana in a week or two because I need to spend more time with that album.
S37: I’m excited too.
S30: I would love to Julia. I think they will. Kind of the both trope traumatized e-mails after our previous fight but mommy mommy and daddy aren’t getting divorced right. We can assure the listeners everything’s OK.
S28: I think it’s been several albums since we were on on that level on the rocks writing about Taylor.
S29: I think we’ve reached civil conflict about Taylor as a stage and we can only add that on the day. On that note rapprochement.
S30: All right. The album is lover it’s from Taylor Swift. Carl June and I think it sucks you know.
S48: But Carl the comeback come back on and talk about it already. OK.
S47: Yes with with not quite so much hosted misrepresentation I’d be happy to return to read Carl’s review of a lover.
S48: He clearly does not think it’s OK. So I want to be totally plain about that. Carl thanks for coming back on the show.
S43: It’s been great to be at this musical Yalta of swift conflict right now is the moment there a podcast when we endorse.
S25: June Thomas what do you have.
S24: So I want to recommend a book that I’m actually only a quarter way through. But if it even if it were to drop quality wise precipitously it would still be magnificent. It’s a novel by Jonathan Ko Middle England. He is a fantastic novelist. Like he writes great poets he writes great page turners. He writes beautifully about Britain specifically about literally the middle of Britain. He’s. His books are often set in Birmingham which is where he was brought up. And he is a writer in his late 50s who’s been writing you know since he was a young man and he often return he often like settles on big moments in British life. He returns to certain characters so you can kind of kind of follow threads and follow characters over the years. He doesn’t make too much of that. If like me you’ve been kind of reading them as they come out you don’t always like you know it’s not like it’s a parallel story or something but this one Middle England is about the sort of psychological and like Politico social emotions that we see leading toward Brexit.
S12: Effectively it starts in I believe 2010 and you know it just follows the course of contemporary history. It reminds me in that sense of pain and glory or just generally the works of Almodovar where he just keeps returning to themes not because he’s been repetitive but because he wants to like figure them out. And it also reminded me especially because it really sort of shows how much of what goes into the current kind of grievance holding that is prevalent in Britain these days comes from a feeling of kind of self-pity. It reminded me of another great book a book of non-fiction this time by Fintan O’Toole that was in Britain called heroic failure Brexit and the politics of pain. But in the US was released as the politics of pain. So I think those are both a fictional and a non-fiction examination of the sort of psychological forces that led Britain to this weird weird self pitying moment that it’s in right now.
S40: Fenton O’Toole is just a hero. Yeah yeah great right. Yeah. I have not read the politics of pain yet but thank you for reminding me of it. All right. Well lucky us. Julia Turner stuck around to endorse Julia what do you have.
S28: We can file this under sky blue Pope Catholic. Endorsements from Julia Turner but finally in the course of my television watching I have arrived at the Great British Bake Off.
S29: Oh my goodness. Oh so you’re in THE for Belgians right.
S28: But the bad puns are very charming. But just it is the Platonic competition reality show and it’s the rare reality show where the slow pace of it and the fact that every episode is nearly an hour actually gives you time to feel like you understand what they’re doing technically and then can assess whether they’re doing it well. Whether or not you actually know nearly as much as they all do about baking it also imparts in you a great desire to bake which like I also felt when I watch Project Runway All those years ago but and actually get out a sewing machine that things like up for campaign in the butt. It’s like pretty easy to toss some eggs into a bowl and actually put something in the oven. So the kind of combination between high skill and and kind of patience with technical explanation in the show paired with like the relatively low barrier to entry to feel like you are engaging in a related task is just so great. And also I will say this has I watched this with one of my children who has been less open to watching movies or other kind of high stress non kid TV entertainments. And they were really into it. They thought they watched vegan week with me and then wanted to embark on a crazy cupcake baking project the next day. So very fun for family viewing.
S5: Have you made a button Berg yet Julia. Have you attempted a home button bug.
S28: I have not attempted to home Batten Berg.
S46: My favorite is when they have technical challenges that I like please make like a garble of confidence and vowels that are so unrecognizable that it’s unclear even what culture of food you are trying to make without having any knowledge of what it is that you hope to produce in the end.
S37: It’s just a great show again.
S29: Sky blue Pope Catholic. But if for some reason like me you’ve been sitting on the Great British Bake Off fence there’s a bunch of it on you Netflix and go watch it. Ready steady. What if they ever need another hottest June. You would be so good.
S25: Oh my God that’s wonderful. This week I’m going to endure something that you can actually it’s it’s small. It’s obscure but you can actually experience it so hooray for me. It’s called Tinder SC to a woman in Hudson New York is making Mexican style sauces that are unbelievable. They’re by far the most interesting beautiful things I’ve stuck in my mouth and a very long time and they she has a website.
S27: We’ll put it up on our put it up on our show page but it’s Tinder TV and D.A. s seat Sagal s t a dot com.
S25: This is very small batch here. These things are out of this fucking world if you like Mexican food. This stuff is. I mean this stuff’s insane how good it is I can’t even begin to. I cannot find the words that knocked the vocab out of my mouth it was so good. I have to say I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s up there with the pie like sticking the pie. I’ll never forget in studio the two skeptics who’d been eye rolling me on everything I said. Did they finally eat the pie and I had creed Creedence at last with Dana and Julia and when Julia said into the hot mike she said oh my fucking god. After that first bite it changed the fortunes of this little prize the end forever. And I got to say it’s what this is in exactly the hope that that that that same ballpark. And then I’m the last to know about everything including the band snail mail a friend of mine introduced me this weekend. I know you all have heard it already probably but if you haven’t check it out it’s really fine. It’s really good it’s.
S50: Who is it like. It’s like all the other shit I recommend on the show. How about that.
S51: June as always. What a pleasure. It’s so great to have you back on. Thank you for having me. You’ll find links to some of the things we talked about today at our show page that Slate dot com slash culture fest you can e-mail us that. We love your e-mails. E-mail us at culture fest at Slate dot com. We also do Twitter we’re on a Twitter feed it’s at Slate. Cult fest. Our producer is Benjamin fresh. And this week Cleo Levon provided invaluable production assistance for June Thomas and Benjamin fresh. I’m Stephen Metcalf thank you so much for joining us.
S35: We will see you soon. All right everyone welcome to slap clues. We’re here now speaking to our members and supporters.
S42: Thank you very much for supporting Slate’s journalism and for enabling segments like this which can only be heard by members which might be just as well. Today we are going to be talking about our sports feelings. We’re going to talk about what we like what what we’re drawn to or why we have absolutely no interest whatsoever. Steve tell me about your sports. Tell me about your sports. Oh my God. I can’t say this. Tell me about your sports rooting in your sports fandom them.
S40: Well well first I just want to say upfront that I hope that this is like therapeutic and in the sense that it will reveal to me why a human being would take that amount of their life and throw it down the rathole known as the Mets jets Nixon Rangers. I think that I have almost perfect then overlap with Mike Pesca when it comes to sports fandom. But you know I mean lead out of the sports teams that I’ve followed. I mean I’m just clearly an underdog rooter. I mean it’s like you essentially you know I hope this doesn’t. I hope this isn’t talking out of school. But I met Julia’s husband for the first time I was the loveliest man.
S27: And I said so afterwards I said I wasn’t acting surprised exactly but it was just it was just the most down to earth lovely sort of you know tender and humane funny dry witty person imaginable who’s just great. And there was this pause and Julia looks at me and said he’s a Mets fan and I mean essentially there are two kinds of people Mets fans and Yankees fans. They’re there are you know in other words decent humane thoughtful empathetic human beings and then they’re like scum sucking front runners. And and you know what is it that you root for teams that will never ever ever going to win. And yet that’s got to be the appeal like there’s some masochistic attraction to year after year rooting for a team you know same old jets the Mets or the mutts. You know the Knicks are owned by Dolan. We spoke about in the main segment just the hopelessly nasty pathetic little Napoleon of a man who will never turn them into a you know triumphant franchise. What is it that draws you year after year to following these teams in hopes that they’ll break through. It’s clearly got to be some kind of you know ego projection or something but. But you know I’m just I’m hopelessly devoted to teams that never really break through and win with the exception of the 86 Mets who were sort of wonderful coked up bullies for one year and then kind of trampled over the entire sport and even they came pathetically close to losing it all in this hapless fashion but they managed to pull it out. And then you know I have to say one thing June and you maybe you can maybe this will cap the therapy session but you know my saddest moment or my sort of heaviest moment of melancholy as a sports fan can you guess what it was like oh gosh this is really more about my psyche than it is the history oh gosh I’m signing a petition.
S40: It was the hours after the Mets won the World Series Oh my God.
S16: That was you know was fraction period something so quietly devastating to my own self-image my sense of the world that my team had won at all.
S22: It’s the only time in my sports viewing history that my team has won at all. And I just for hours I just felt lost and bewildered.
S5: Well I actually have something like that so I know don’t really pay attention to sports except like the Olympics which is the ultimate like delight on sporty fun thing because you only have to pay attention for like two weeks every two years. But when I was a teenager and at various other points in my life but I’d like I grew up watching a lot of sports never doing any sports but watching a lot of sports. And when I was a teenager I was obsessed. I mean like obsessed with women’s tennis. This was in the 70s when it was you know the game was relatively new. It was kind of still scrappy and you know kind of finding its way. There were lots of kind of interesting people playing the game but I had a similar thing to what you’re describing because I was a fan of American players. I like Billie Jean King a lot because I looked like her when I was a kid and as much as sort of a eleven year old can look like a 25 year old. And and also you know there was some I could tell that we had some connection that I think perhaps was apparent to her at the time but I would go to a lot of tennis tournaments when I actually when I went to university I had a full grant. And in Britain I could and I also got sent to America because I did American studies and so I would go to like five or six tennis tournament’s a year I went to three quarters of the grand slam when I was like 18. I just missed the Australian Open and there was I liked the American players mostly sort of also around players who many of them later became commentators like my favorite players were John Russell Mary Carillo Barbara Potter Pam Shriver many of whom I think all of those to some degree or another became commentators but I would I would support the U.S. no at this point the U.S. players were dominant and British players were nobody Virginia Wade was playing at the time but she really was a South African. But one year in the whiteman Cup which has long since been abandoned because it became too much of a rout in the Royal Albert Hall the British team beat the Americans which was an amazing upset.
S12: And as I left the Royal Albert Hall late to go onto a bus to go home to Manchester I had that feeling of like oh my god this is what is this is this is such a strange feeling in this case it was to lose and not just be weird for shouting for Americans in the middle of a sea of Brits but of like a surprise because that’s the thing about sports in can’t actually predict what’s going to happen even when it seems like you should know and it should be predictable it’s actually not Ben fresh. You actually put in your own words.
S52: What’s your attitude. I have no idea what either of you were talking about. I don’t I I don’t I don’t. I’ve just never been a sports person. I guess I’ve followed I don’t know. My fantasy shyness is more around like music and stuff. And maybe I follow music and musical like album discography is in the way that other people follow sports teams like Kate Bush.
S4: She’s like the 82 mets. Well she’s better than that. As 82 a good year. Up and coming.
S52: But I guess my you know my views on sports have actually changed in the last few years especially since working in this office weirdly like before working this office I did not care about sports at all. I played sports as a child quite a few sports. I think my parents kind of had me play all over the sports hoping that one would stick. None of them did. I was not good at any of them in in high school. I was a terrible distance runner and I still actually like to run but I don’t I just do it at a slow pace for myself.
S23: And so I’ve just like never had this connection. I would watch Super Bowls at friends houses and I like you Steve would always find myself rooting for the underdog. I think that’s much more fun for sure. But the thing that’s changed for me is like working in an office environment now something we have a couple of TV’s in the office and during big sporting events during like the World Cup and during the Olympics they just turn on the sports on usually on mute or low and then just at various times people will kind of like congregate around the TV in the kitchen and they’ll be just kind of a fun moment. And it just sort of illustrates the way that sports help can bring people together and it’s like it’s a fun mostly harmless thing that’s hard for me to get like really mad at except when you’re talking about Donald Sterling and the structural inequalities and problems of sports and the you know the head sorry the the head injuries that people are suffering but just the the act of watching sports itself. Yeah. It doesn’t bother me at all.
S24: There is a camaraderie like you. It was a way that I made my first queer friends which I again I wasn’t sure I really realized that at the time I was going I don’t know if that was why I went there but I was going to a place where on some level I knew I would meet people with whom I had things in common that I couldn’t really do in my normal life. And that’s something specific to me. But I think there are other ways that sports provides an easy community.
S5: You are a fan of this team. You know I are also I’ve been to like I’ve been in Africa I’ve been in Nigeria and you think well what do I talk about with people that I meet. What can we talk about well if you’re from Manchester you talk about man united even if you hate football.
S12: And so like there is this way of connecting with people which is harder with culture but I suppose is technically possible. Is that something that you’ve encountered in any way Steve. Oh it’s. I
S53: mean you know it’s it’s it’s I mean universal may be overstating it but it’s it’s it’s ubiquity it’s almost hard to exaggerate. You have a default subject of conversation to a gender it in ways that are sexist. I mean it is sort of you know this between men kind of camaraderie over talking about baseball and football. You know I will say I want to hasten to add that when I was and have been recently but in the past as well a college professor you know in my classroom I never ever ever ever mentioned sports or used sports as an analogy because it is so incredibly gendered. So I’m not saying I approve of the way in which homosexuality among men especially in the workplace and acts itself via sports talking but. But I have a lot of friends with whom I talk sports. And and it’s just a great thing the soap opera I mean effectively it’s this kind of never ending storyline following a specific team. The other thing I’ll say is that you know I’ve I’ve become uncomfortable the extent to which sports are you know absorb now into the entertainment empires that that you know of profit from them. And you know manage their talent. The other made major talent agencies. I mean I do think that that’s a real change. I don’t think it’s nostalgia to say that starting sometime in the 80s and 90s it it became an entertainment business in a way that hadn’t really been you know prior to let’s say the mid mid to late 70s to the great advantage of many of the players. I will also say I mean you know the use of free agency to get competitively bid salaries is a huge boon to the people who actually provide the the product.
S54: But you know there’s something about there’s something about like going to see a kid give you know the kid of a friend of yours play in a basketball tournament or just walking down a street and coming across a softball field and there’s a game going there is it has to be humanly primal I mean play is obviously humanly primal right play is the way in which the very very young of almost every species begin to enact. There is no relationship to the world under highly controlled circumstances in which the stakes are pretend right. And and like with the fact that we decide to keep part of that alive. Like it’s just in this country we don’t keep enough of it alive imaginatively you know. But that we keep this one piece of it very alive and very present in our lives. I mean I like that I like that relationship to you know like like baseball is not found in nature. You know you what I’m saying it is an entirely contrived rule bound activity that refined itself over the last hundred hundred and fifty years. You know so as they famously say like you know if you hit a ground ball to the shortstop and any level of play the base paths have been laid out exactly enough feet apart that the throw from the shortstop will either just get you out or just missed getting you out. Right. So it’s like it’s like there these beautiful contrivances and we all pretend that this be a piece of pigskin crossing this invisible line has a life or death feeling to it. I just think that’s an amazing thing you know and we love to yell.
S15: I mean that’s the other thing we love to do. There we go. All right. Well thank you so much Slate Plus members for your support. Dana Steven Julia will be back with you next week.