Culture Gabfest “Go Extinct Faster!” Edition
Speaker 1: This Ad Free podcast is part of your Slate Plus membership. I’m Stephen Metcalf and this is the Slate culture Gabfest go Extinct Faster Edition. It’s Wednesday, June 15th, 2002.
Speaker 1: On today’s show, Jurassic World Dominion is the latest in the blockbuster reboot. And this one Dinosaurs now roam the world all too freely. It stars Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard and various others from the very, very, very original, now extinct Jurassic Park. And then Jane Austen gets a wild and altogether I think lovely update in Fire Island. The movie was written by and stars Joel Kim booster as Noah or our Elizabeth Bennet will be joined by Vulture’s Alex Junge for that segment. And finally, does everyone marry the wrong person? So argues a New York Times opinion piece, we will discuss. Joining me today is Julia Turner, the deputy managing editor of The L.A. Times. Hey, Julia.
Speaker 2: Hello. Hello.
Speaker 1: And, of course, Dana Stevens, the film critic for Slate. Hey, Dana.
Speaker 3: Hi there.
Speaker 1: All right, shall we begin? Let’s do this.
Speaker 3: Ready?
Speaker 1: The extinct dinosaurs have been unleashed into the wild. Their wild, that is. Which is our world. That’s the premise of Jurassic World Dominion. We have various raptors nesting on our skyscrapers and soars of one kind or another foraging through our refuge. It’s a pretty great setup. Atop the set up, we get an evil plot to corner the world’s food supplies by a company that’s sort of a cross between Apple and Monsanto. We also get the de-extinction of Sam Neill and Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum. This one is like the first predecessor in the new trilogy. It’s directed by Colin Trevorrow. It stars Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard. Let’s listen to a clip. Now, as with a lot of these gigantic blockbuster event movies, we don’t really get to choose clips. We do get the trailer. We’re going to play a piece of it. In this piece, you’ll hear the voices of Laura Dern, Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum, all of whom were in the original Jurassic Park movies. And they’re back.
Speaker 2: Humans and dinosaurs can’t coexist. We created an ecological disaster.
Speaker 4: And I said.
Speaker 2: Alan grant.
Speaker 4: It and come out all this wages to catch up. Now did you.
Speaker 2: You come in or what.
Speaker 4: We are racing toward the extinction of our species. We not only lack dominion over nature. We’re subordinate to.
Speaker 1: Okay. Dana, I’m going to start with you. Humans and dinosaurs, can they coexist in a giant blockbuster movie? What do you think?
Speaker 3: Oh, my God. Okay, let me just start off by saying, Julia, I deeply resent that you forced us to watch this. After all, who escaped the bullet of not having to review this movie? This is so bad. I refuse to accept. If either of you has any positive feelings about this movie.
Speaker 1: That is.
Speaker 3: Altered by opinion of your opinion. And I. But I should also say going into it that, I mean, I don’t have a big connection to this franchise in the first place. Even the Spielberg original, which I saw much far, far after it came out, it’s not a movie I feel a deep emotional connection to, although I understand why it made the splash that it did. But this second trilogy to me is almost like the second Star Wars trilogy in terms of how much it betrays whatever there was good about the original franchise.
Speaker 3: The director of this third installment, Colin Trevorrow, was also the director of the first installment of The World. You know, follow up movies and I believe he wrote or co-wrote the middle chapter as well. So he’s been, you know, one of the forming minds behind this whole reanimation of the franchise. And I’m sorry, but he is just not a skilled filmmaker. There are movies that are long and feel sort of roomy because of it. I was thinking of the Batman in particular, a recent blockbuster we all saw that we liked with reservations and all agreed was probably 20 minutes too long. There’s a difference between being roomy and needing some trims and then the vast airplane hangar of boredom that is Jurassic World Dominion, in which I consulted my watch about every half an hour thinking it can’t possibly go on. And by the end, I was just in that state of despair, like, I will never have any experience in my life again. That is not watching Jurassic World Dominion.
Speaker 1: I got to say, Dana, tell us what you really think Stevens is the very best in.
Speaker 3: And I should say that even as somebody who kind of missed the boat on the first Jurassic Park movies, I get I get what was wonderful about them. And it was this sense of wonderment, right. Which was expressed by all of those original actors in the in the first movie who are back for this one, Laura Dern, Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum. And this sense of kind of excitement about the future, which is then, you know, disappointed by the kind of awful cynical realization that there’s this company exploiting the dinosaurs. This movie doesn’t seem curious or excited about dinosaurs. In fact, there was a great review I read I believe this was in Paste magazine where the critic said something like, If I had a child I hated who loved dinosaurs, I would take them to this movie because they would lose all their joy that they feel about this long ago. You know, Lost World.
Speaker 2: Mm hmm. I totally enjoy that.
Speaker 1: Oh. Oh, my.
Speaker 2: I mean, I can’t say I enjoyed it because I will make.
Speaker 5: Any straight faced argument that it’s good, but. First of all, the movie is worth watching alone for Laura Dern’s costumes.
Speaker 3: This was Coco. I thought of you, Julia. The long sleeveless blue belted coat.
Speaker 2: 100% would wear everything.
Speaker 5: In the movie. Like the.
Speaker 2: Sumptuous. It’s like. It’s like Eileen.
Speaker 5: Fisher plus, like sumptuous fabrics, amazing jewel tone colors. Like, I don’t know exactly what kind of loot she’s bringing down as a.
Speaker 2: Genetic scientist.
Speaker 5: At her university. But that was a beautiful wardrobe, very sumptuous, sumptuous science, lady clothes. It’s like it was like the science lady version of the chic art teacher auntie outfit.
Speaker 3: Well, it’s also a great example of layering, because if I understand it right, although this is very incoherently directed, so it’s hard to tell. But I think this movie all takes place in basically one day and night. Right. So she has to have this outfit that moves from, you know, around the world and through these incredible, you know, prehistoric environments and, you know, leaping onto helicopters or whatever. And she keeps shedding layers and having yet another chic thing underneath. Okay, we’re done yet.
Speaker 2: But. But that that that final slum.
Speaker 5: Slum jersey and her little antique locket.
Speaker 2: It works. Everything layer works. It’s just great sifting.
Speaker 5: Back through the sands of time.
Speaker 2: But. But. But it’s just. It is. It’s just an interesting.
Speaker 5: Document of how of what we require in terms of character and performance, in terms of our blockbuster stars at this point. And Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard and I really loved Chris Pratt and things. I’m not sure I love Bryce Dallas Dallas Howard in anything particularly, although I’m sure she’s been good and things and I’m just haven’t seen them. He, you know, he certainly can perform, right? He can be really funny. I thought he carried Guardians of the Galaxy through like his particular personality and charisma in a specific way. But this franchise, the reboot of it, seems to have required. Mm hmm. You know, just not that much character performance. And meanwhile, Jeff Goldblum shows up and, like, wiggles his finger and wears transition lenses. Again, the.
Speaker 2: Costuming throughout is really good. See it for the costumes? Oh, well, Julia.
Speaker 3: These these performers you’re mentioning that are so good are barely in it. I mean, Jeff Goldblum seems like he jetted in for one day to film a couple of scenes.
Speaker 1: And yet and yet I agree he’s for the minutes that he’s on screen, actually introduces character, characterization, degree of at least subtlety or at least some layer just below the sort of jazzy surface, you know. And suddenly it feels almost like a movie. But, you know, a couple of things. One is I totally agree that there seems to have been a kind of act of self deadening on the part of Chris Pratt in order to get his personality to fit into those the stupidity of the script, the flatness and stupidity of the script. At moments he seemed to me to be doing a George W Bush impression. It just is so awful.
Speaker 1: And, you know, I will say that I never liked this franchise going all the way back to the supposedly nostalgia inducing original, in part because Michael Crichton was just a fabulous cynic and it was constructed like something genetically engineered to please the most maximum number of people in a commercial setting. I mean, it’s just like, you know, and then this tiny patina of satire to redeem it.
Speaker 1: And but but at the end of the day, it’s Spielberg, you know, taking populist material to its maximum potential in the in the original. I mean, you know, they’re just you know, I mean, does no one understand that if you put a camera on a glass of water and you haven’t seen the dinosaurs yet? I mean, the lesson that Spielberg taught the world in Jaws is don’t show the shark. Don’t show the shark. There’s no shark. Watch shark. And you just build and build and build. And the same thing in that moment, he’s got that little glass of water on the dashboard that starts to vibrate with the very distant footsteps of the dinosaur. And that’s your first inkling not only that they exist, but how fricking big they are and what their relationship to the earth is.
Speaker 1: And, you know, that’s filmmaking, right? This is not this is anti filmmaking. There was a moment when I thought I actually want to do the math on how many stupid things there are per beat in this movie. You know, and Dana, I have to say, I’m shocked to discover that this movie takes place in roughly 24 hours because it exhibits literally none of the virtues of unity, of time or place.
Speaker 3: Yeah. So this is it’s that’s what I mean. It’s incoherently directed. It’s not just that it’s not good or boring or something. There’s not it’s almost like there’s not a meaningful temporal or spatial relationship between any of the multiple locations. You know, it has it just has a very kind of madly expensive and yet filmed in, you know, 24 hours kind of feeling.
Speaker 2: Yeah. Well, the other issue is that with your point about not showing the dinosaurs.
Speaker 5: As they show so.
Speaker 2: Many dinosaurs all the time and the promise of the trailer and the potential appeal of this movie. Right. Is to be.
Speaker 5: Rise of the Planet of the Apes, of the dinosaurs. Like the end of the last one was all the dinosaurs get free. And you know the challenge in that, you know, the challenge for the franchise is you cannot then make it a horror movie where the dinosaurs are free and the human heroes are fighting the dinosaurs. Right. Because fundamentally the dinosaurs are like cute and a source of wonderment. And yes, they’re dangerous, but it’s our fault, you know, like you can’t make the dinosaurs the villain. So the dinosaurs have to kind of be the heroes, or at least like for whatever reason, they couldn’t follow the logic through. It was like, no, there just are dinosaurs everywhere. And all the scenes are the, you know, the pterodactyls nesting on top of the Freedom Tower. I don’t know if the pterodactyls are raptors, Steve.
Speaker 5: I feel like raptors are more ground based, but I could be wrong. All right. I’m. But I wanted more raptors charging through the alleyways of Malta and fewer scenes where a bigfoot showed up in the forest. And then someone just, like, rattled off a series of facts about how big the dinosaur was. Like, that’s a Dreadnoughtus something or something and all that.
Speaker 2: So. So they shouldn’t have put. So many alphas in this valley.
Speaker 5: And then the movie seems to think that we care about which of the fictional computer blobs wins.
Speaker 2: A fight like a whole 10 minutes of the final sequence is just.
Speaker 5: Like the various fake monsters fighting. And it reminded me of I know two people who were pals and Michael Bay’s latest Transformers movie recently on the set of shoots that was just like machines fighting on a bridge, like it was like a sub shoot that had no actors because it was just all going to be CGI.
Speaker 2: And I was like, Oh, this is that like the part where like somehow we’ve got by the end of the movie because it’s so Scarecrow stitched together.
Speaker 5: We’ve got like nine characters.
Speaker 2: And and I came out of it.
Speaker 5: Almost wanting to like play Jurassic Park.
Speaker 2: Like the whole last half.
Speaker 5: Hour is just the nine characters running around in the dark. And then they have almost like a dance move where, like, something big comes their way and they get into like a phalanx where you can see all of them in their outfits and they stare up at the thing.
Speaker 2: It’s green like they.
Speaker 5: Scream, or then they just like, look quietly and like hope it won’t notice them. And then they, like, scamper around behind the nearest overturned tank and then, like, assemble into their little dance phalanx again.
Speaker 2: Like, and they just keep adding people into the thing. It’s like the family picture they keep. Oh, it’s like, Oh, your boyfriend’s home for Thanksgiving. I’ll get him in the picture, too. Come on, come on. Just it’s so unwieldy. So they’re doing that for, like, 20 minutes. And then. And then they’re just like. And which of the big apex predators in this fictional valley is going to win? And then we just watch, like three dark blobs stab each other with variously shaped cause. I don’t know. I just thought it was hilarious.
Speaker 3: There’s even a moment in one of those late dino fights where one of I think it’s Chris Pratt, somebody in the phalanx of people says, Come on, this isn’t about us. And then they run off to whatever their getaway vehicle is. And it’s sort of like, Well, why is it about you? It’s your movie. The screenwriter could have made it about you. It is not inevitable that we have to watch a CGI dinosaur fight and.
Speaker 1: No. Yeah, and also I just like Julie. I just want to double back one point I really take. It’s like they turn them into raccoons, they turn them into deer. You know, they’re like pests. They’re they’re rifling through your frickin recycling garbage. It just, you know, and of course, they don’t go for any humor at all. The whole thing is just po faced nonsense. Can I make.
Speaker 3: A point about that, though? About the presupposed world? I mean, the actual the set up in the first 10 minutes or so seem like it could have had some intriguing connections to, for example, climate change, right? I mean, COVID, the reality of this world that we’re living in where there’s sort of horrible things that we just live with and tolerate. And the idea that, you know, we’re some number of years out from the last movie and that dinosaurs are now just in the world as almost like pests could have been a really interesting setup for some, you know, social critique, social satire, some kind of allegory. And the movie completely abandons that by having everybody pretty soon converge on this, you know, enclosure where the dinosaurs are, where we’re just on another island with no stakes, right? I mean, it’s just it’s such it’s throwing away everything that could have set the movie apart and made it interesting. It’s like an anti smart movie.
Speaker 1: Okay, well, on that note, it’s the new Jurassic Park movie. It’s got the minion in the title. It’s only in theaters that made a bundle of money. Julia loved it. If you if you if you have an opinion about it, we’d love to hear it. Shoot us an email. Okay. Moving on. Right.
Speaker 1: Well, now’s the moment in our podcast where we talk business. And Dana, what do we got?
Speaker 3: Steve We actually have three items of business today. It’s a packed week at the Slate Culture Gabfest. First of all, an announcement about an upcoming live event with Slate. If you want to get up to date on everything that’s happening with the Supreme Court right now, and that is a lot of things, many of them very disturbing. Please come to the Bell House in Brooklyn, New York, on Thursday, June 23rd. A lot of Slate’s best writers about the judicial system and the courts, including Dahlia Lithwick, Mark Joseph Stern, a Carucci, the host, will be Susan MATTHEWS at the slow burn Roe v Wade season that just started. Emily Bazelon A lot of slate. Old timers and bigwigs will be at the Bell House unpacking all the Supreme Court news, and they’ll also be a special live taping of the great podcast, Slow Burn, with the new season that just started about Roe v Wade and the history of abortion rights in the U.S., go to Slate.com slash Supreme to get your tickets for this event at the Bell House that Slate.com slash supreme.
Speaker 3: Our second item of business is to remind listeners about the upcoming Summer Strut episode. This is our annual tradition here, begun by Julia Turner, where we ask listeners to send us their favorite summer songs, preferably something you can strut down the street to with it in your headphones. We compile all these into a Spotify playlist, and then after listening to it for a couple of months, we choose our favorites and talk about them during a special episode later in the summer with Slate’s great music writer Chris M.A.. So please, if you have suggestions for the list this year, email us at Culturefest at Slate.com with the subject line Summer Strut. That way, we know where to put it in the pile and put it in the Spotify list. And remember to include the name of the song and the artist in the body of the email. We are really excited to listen to these, so please get the list booked up for us.
Speaker 3: Our final item of business, Steve, is just to tell everyone about today’s Slate Plus segment. This week, we’re going to talk about an online debate that was flaring last week around the movie Fire Island, which we, of course, are discussing this week after someone online accused the movie of failing the Bechdel test. Of course, many other people chimed in and said, the Bechdel test shouldn’t apply. The Bechdel test is nonsense. All kinds of arguments about the test itself. We thought that we would discuss the usefulness of the Bechdel test, quote unquote, which we’ll talk about what that is, whether you’re applying it to Fire Island or any other movie, TV, show, book, etc.. So if you’re a Slate Plus member, you’ll hear that later in the show. And if you are not, you can sign up today at Slate.com, slash culture. Plus, when you’re a member, you get ad free podcasts, you get bonus segments like the one I just described and lots of other shows have those too. And of course, you get unlimited access to all of the writing on Slate.com. Please support us and all of our brilliant colleagues by going to Slate.com slash culture plus and signing up today once again that Slate.com slash culture.
Speaker 3: Bless. Okay. That was a lot of business. What’s next, Steve?
Speaker 1: Okay. Well, Fire Island is a sandbar off the Long Island coast. It’s made up of endless beaches dotted with little seaside cottages. It’s also been a gay mecca since at least the 1930s. The new movie Fire Island is many things. It’s an homage to that island’s blend of hedonistic escape and romantic longing, as well as to the complex social politics within the gay community involving money and social class. It’s also a love story modeled very sweetly and very artfully on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, as well as an attempt to redress the underrepresentation of gay Asian men across all media, not just the movies. There is so much to say about this deceptively small movie. It stars Bowen, Yang and Margaret Cho in addition to many in a terrific ensemble cast. Why don’t we listen to a clip? In the clip we’re about to hear the main character, Noah, who’s played by Joel Kim Booster, is talking to his friend Howie, played by Bowen Yang. How he’s feeling a little disillusioned about Fire Island. Let’s listen.
Speaker 4: Coming here is a mistake. I can’t believe you talked me into this again. What the fuck are you talking about? You know, the only time I see you now as on face time. I’m serious. We used to come here to be gay and stupid. And now I come here. I just feel terminally ill. Home alone. Look around. We’re literally swimming in Dick. And I don’t mean like that. I mean, like, existentially lonely in here. And I have never had a monogamy industrial complex rears its ugly head. Listen, I’ve never had a boyfriend either, and I’m fucking awesome. Yeah, well, I’m not you. Yeah, well, you could be. I have to do is get laid once in a while. Fuck off. No, I’m serious. I mean, why not? You’re cute, you’re funny. You’re consistently the least repellent man out of all of us. I mean. I mean, your wingman. Everybody should fuck on Fire Island at least once. It’s like our birthright.
Speaker 1: All right. Well, to discuss Fire Island, we’re joined by Alex Jang of Vulture, the estimable culture site. Alex, welcome to the show.
Speaker 6: Hi. Thanks for having me.
Speaker 1: It’s great to have you. You wrote a wonderful both critical and reported piece about the movie. It was terrific. And I hope people seek it out. Why don’t we? There’s a lot to say, but why don’t we start here? This is a really, really good movie, in my estimation. I loved it. Can you describe Fire Island, the place maybe a little bit in the history of sort of gay iconography? And then let’s turn to the movie and whether or not, you know, the movie captures something of its essence.
Speaker 6: Sure. I mean, I think, as you mentioned, it’s been a kind of getaway for, you know, gay male New Yorkers since the thirties. And then I think, you know, with the post Stonewall disco era, it became a real hedonistic party island. You know, it’s a it was a place where you could go and everywhere you would just be surrounded by other gay men. So I think what what is really lovely about the movie is that it really captures that sort of spirit of, you know, what happens in Fire Island stays in Fire Island.
Speaker 1: Mm hmm. You say something I thought very interesting near the top of your piece, which is that you say in as much as Fire Island’s one of the first major studio, Gay RomComs, starring a queer cast, it’s a film preoccupied with the inherent contradiction of gay liberation, the freedom of post stonewall sexuality, as promised to some more than others. Talk about that and that specific aspect of the film, if you would.
Speaker 6: Yeah. I mean, you know, this this movie was written by Jochen Boucher, who I think is very perceptive of social dynamics and power dynamics in the world and also in the gay community, particularly. And, you know, if you don’t know much about him, he’s a gay Korean adoptee who grew up in the Midwest to very evangelical parents. And and I think that if you are a gay Asian-American man, you will sort of inevitably be confronted with this feeling of diminishment. You know, and I think that that that is that is always present. And I think that that is a constant negotiation.
Speaker 6: And so when you’re in a place like Fire Island that is supposed to be this kind of playground or utopia of gay sexuality and freedom and drugs and all of these things, you sort of realize that, that maybe you don’t get to participate in this in the same way. And I think that that clip that you even played sort of highlights that difference for, you know, a character like how he who’s played by Bowen and how he experiences this place and whether or not he gets to just sort of be free as Joel’s character Noah is.
Speaker 3: Alex and really all of you, I wonder if you had any thoughts about what this movie does with with friendship. I think my favorite relationship in the in the movie is the one that is not romantic at all between, you know, what would be the equivalent of Lizzie Bennet and her sister Jane in Pride and Prejudice, which is, you know, the Bowen Yang character, and Joel Kim Booster’s main character, who is also, as you said, Alex, the screenwriter of the movie. And it seemed like this was something really unusual. Obviously, the portrait of the entire community and of Fire Island itself is somewhat unprecedented in a mainstream rom. But I also I love that there was a mainstream gay rom com that has two best friends that are not romantically connected, don’t seem to have ever been romantically connected. And yet, you know, I really think that their relationship and how it evolves is the heart of the movie.
Speaker 6: I totally agree. You know, like I think my favorite scene was sort of the escalation of that argument or that conversation that we listen to just now where they sort of tensions rise to the point of, I can’t do this like you can, you know? And there was a real difference between how they experience the world, which I thought was, I don’t know, I’ve never seen that before, let alone any of this other stuff in a major movie.
Speaker 3: Well, even the essence of what they’re arguing about that we heard a bit of in that clip. Right. Which is sort of the value of a of what Joel can boost his character regards as a heteronormativity framed relationship. Right. This monogamous end of the the movie happy ending love the argument that they pursue throughout the movie about whether or not that is something of value and something that a human life or a romantic comedy should attain to is somewhat unusual within the framework of the genre.
Speaker 6: I think that what is really interesting about what Joel did with Fire Island was that he could take a kind of classic rom com trope and queer it and sort of make it feel right for him. And I think that includes his own tenuous relationship to monogamy and all of those things.
Speaker 2: I’d love to hear you talk a little bit about the.
Speaker 5: Rest of the ensemble and the dynamics and also some of the the villains. I mean, it’s I like to your language deceptively small, Steve, because it’s it’s kind of an easy watch in a way. It’s it’s a snackable movie. But there are so many dynamics. There’s a whole house full of multiple, like evil, wealthy.
Speaker 2: Gay men.
Speaker 5: Or whatever of varying degrees of thatch, business and jerkiness. And then there’s the kind of crew of friends who’s been going for years. And one of the things I really loved about the movie was the way it tracked the rhythm of a vacation and the sense you have of like, it’s endless.
Speaker 2: I’ll never be back to reality.
Speaker 5: And then.
Speaker 2: Oh, no, time is ticking away and not my.
Speaker 5: Taking. You know, the, the FOMO you can have for your own self.
Speaker 2: In your own vacation, in your own time. Like, I’m having so much fun. Am I having the right kind of fun in my special week of fun? Just the the savviness.
Speaker 5: About the the desperate rhythms of relaxation, I thought was something really interesting and smart about it that I didn’t feel like I’d seen in quite the same way. That sense of of the fun time ticking and then just the the social comedy in this is where the the echoes of Jane Austen are particularly fun and pleasurable of, you know, the detestable fancy neighbors. There’s there’s so much fun grist there.
Speaker 5: I’d love to hear you talk a little bit about that world sketching.
Speaker 6: Yeah. I mean, you know, Fire Island is like when you go, it’s a bit of a ticking time chair.
Speaker 1: You know, like you go.
Speaker 6: On Thursday and you’re like, I’m going to make the most of this time, right? And so if you’re a gay guy who’s like, I don’t know, so many people come who aren’t from New York or aren’t, you know, like living in the city. And so there might be even more pressure to, like, make the most of it and to have this kind of whatever this idea of a gay party would be.
Speaker 6: And I yeah, I think that that element of pressure is there’s a highly sort of pressurized environment. And then, you know, obviously everyone’s rolling. Molly, you were doing other drugs. And and so there’s this feeling that like maybe of magic to where you can, like, suddenly meet someone and have this incredible romantic connection. But then also everyone is going to have to leave the bubble at some point. You know, there it ends and then what happens after it ends?
Speaker 6: And I think Fire Island kind of smartly just exists within the bubble. It doesn’t really try to you know, you don’t really get much backstory on any of the characters. You just sort of are living in the world and living in the dynamics of the world. And obviously because of like weird property laws, you kind of can’t like build anything more on the island to like whatever land is there is there.
Speaker 6: Which also means that people who have the really nice houses, you know, those people are there and they also look a certain part and they have the right house and real estate and yeah it’s interesting how, how well things map to class and mix like that.
Speaker 1: Yeah. I mean this is precisely what I loved most about this movie, which is that I was a hetero normie who used to visit the hetero Normie and the fire island where we rolled, you know, with gin and tonics and adultery instead. And what and yet what I love is, as in America, what everyone has in common is, you know, Yimby versus NIMBY, depending on who actually owns the legacy real estate. That’s universal. And this is what I kind of adored about the movie as much as anything, which is that this is the best reanimation to me of Jane Austen since clueless.
Speaker 1: Right. And and the reason is just this flash of genius at the heart of it, which is that what’s Jane Austen about, right? It’s about eligible bachelors, country houses and the relationship of love to economic power. And the idea that it needs to be radically translated into the gay community on Fire Island is laughable. In fact.
Speaker 4: It was there all.
Speaker 2: Along.
Speaker 1: And someone saw it. It’s such a eureka. And then what I loved was also the execution, which is the movie comes at you in a in an opening blast straight. It introduces you to this ensemble with their bickering and their backstories. And it and I was like, okay, I’m a little overwhelmed, right? But then the way it settles into itself and the precision of its comedy and social awareness and its ability, its characters in its own ability to lapse into contemplative repose on. Most in melancholy, contrasting to the hedonism in the sense of the ticking time share. I really thought it was a beautifully realized film.
Speaker 2: Yeah, I mean, I think I love that description, Steve. I think the other thing.
Speaker 5: That was a revelation to me in this film is, is just Joel can booster himself, who both has written something so precisely observed, as you say, Steve, but like.
Speaker 2: Really.
Speaker 5: Carries the. I mean, the whole ensemble is good. And the the kind of the Bing leads in the dances are fun, too, but it’s an amazing performance. And he really, you know, as is the case with the the meddlesome best friend who just wants to get their kindly pal laid, uh, he has things to learn and things to ponder as well himself. And the performance is incredible.
Speaker 5: Talk a little bit more about Booster’s career and where this lands in it. It feels to me like a pretty major thing to do pretty early on in a way that makes me really excited to see all that’s to come.
Speaker 6: Yeah, totally. I mean, you know, I think that he had to write this movie in order to get to show off what he could do. You know, like nobody was going to make a movie, you know, even a generic movie about Fire Island or a gay rom com about Fire Island and decided to cast him. Right. He he had to write a film that was, you know, rooted in his own experiences that he could that he could then play. And I think that that’s the luck of and persistence of his career is that he can finally do that. I guess he started off mostly in standup. I think that’s what he’s known for.
Speaker 6: And he also this is going to be a very big month for him because he has he has psychosexual coming out on Netflix, which is a one hour special in a couple of weeks, I think, or the next week. So and he has like a, you know, a co-starring role with Maya Rudolph in her Apple TV show. So he’s very much about to be present everywhere, I think. But I think that these things are just a kind of culmination of his of of what he’s been working towards.
Speaker 1: Hmm. All right. Well, in addition to pointing people to the movie, which I think we all agree, they should see if they haven’t. I’d also like to point people to Alex’s piece, and Vulture went up on June 3rd. It’s called Pride and Prejudice and Fire Island. Alex Zhang, thank you so much for coming on the show. This was terrific and I really hope we do it again soon.
Speaker 6: Yeah, I would love that. Thank you for having me.
Speaker 1: I truly believe that everyone marries the wrong person. So goes the opening gambit of a very provocative opinion piece in The New York Times by Tish Harrison Warren. She goes on to say, If we as a culture view seeking personal fulfillment as a sacred duty, staying in an unhappy marriage is then seen as an act of self betrayal. That’s a characterization of the predominant attitude now towards marriage, unhappy marriage and divorce, regardless of what you make of her particular argument.
Speaker 1: Some ways of betraying oneself also seem to resonate as a kind of social betrayal. So divorce wasn’t back in the old days. Just the failure of a marriage. Divorce itself would be a social failure if divorces became widespread. Therefore, the individual bears some kind of burden unfairly, in my estimation, to the whole, to the social whole, anyway. Her observation, which I think is true, is now the logic of that has just been flipped entirely. It’s now perceived as a kind of social betrayal not to pursue your own individual happiness to the max. Anyway, I found this extremely intriguing argument. Julia, what do you make of it?
Speaker 2: I felt that it was probably useful to some people for her to have written this piece, but it felt a little straw man to me. Like, is there, in fact, a widespread culture that you have to divorce your partner as soon as you feel a moment’s dissatisfaction?
Speaker 5: I don’t know that there really is. I mean, I think she is talking about a real social phenomenon, which is that there is probably more of an assumption now than there was certainly 50 years ago that a bad marriage is worse than no marriage. And for, you know, centuries, that was impossible for women because women had in many cultures had very little way to be even a person in the world with property or money or means to feed and clothe themselves and survive outside of a marriage. So it’s a very new. Idea that that, you know, a marriage that isn’t fulfilling is inherently a bad one, and it’s probably worth pointing that out. But this piece suggested. I don’t know, a level of.
Speaker 2: Oppressiveness of that idea that felt slightly overstated to me, and I think we were interested in talking about it along with.
Speaker 5: Some other recent essays in which people write very publicly about their dissatisfactions with their partners and what it what it is to.
Speaker 2: Write about love and marriage for a public.
Speaker 5: Audience like that. You know what we make of those essays? There is something that. Is brave about it because it puts the reader, including me, in the position of of thinking like, well, I don’t know. That does sound like a tough marriage. And you say.
Speaker 2: Are you sure? Sure. You want to stay married? That seems like a big slog.
Speaker 5: But which is of course, the whole point is that that she’s finding the growth that is coming with her particular slog rewarding.
Speaker 2: So it seemed like a.
Speaker 5: Useful counterpoint, but perhaps one that slightly overstated the the prevalence of the everybody get divorced idea somehow. What did you think?
Speaker 3: Yeah. I mean, I don’t love this kind of he’s this kind of for one thing, it’s so short. Right. And what she reveals is so selective and calculated that I don’t really feel like I know the background of why these two people aren’t happy together and how I should apply that to my life or to life in general. And I don’t know. There’s just I feel like there is there’s something about this kind of performative.
Speaker 3: My relationship is a great piece, which ultimately is what this is. Even if she’s saying all these quite harsh things about the suffering that she and her husband have gone through in the last 17 years. There’s still something a little bit sanctimonious about the way that she’s holding up this portrait of this particular relationship as, as you say, Julia, a model of what marriage should be or some kind of instructive bit of morality. I mean, she says some things that don’t apply to every normal couple’s bit of unhappiness in their lives. For example, that the pastor who counseled them before they were going to get married said that they should not get married and that her husband himself, who is an Anglican priest, would not have counseled a couple who had the disagreements that they had when they got married to get married. She has a sentence that to me seems alarming.
Speaker 3: One paragraph begins. The last 17 years have had long stretches where one or both of us was deeply unhappy. There have been times when contempt settled on our relationship. Caked in heart is dried mud. Contempt is actually a specific emotion that I’ve seen cited before in studies as something that relationships can’t survive. You know that if one member of a couple feels contempt for the other, really feels like they’re sort of unworthy to be in the relationship, that it’s very hard for that relationship to survive. I have no idea if that applies to these two people. But I mean, there’s some stuff in this article that does have a little bit of the tone of I mean, she says, write it right out. We only stayed married for some years for the sake of our children and because of, you know, our religious beliefs. So that doesn’t seem like something that can be applied across the board to everyone to make, as you were saying, Julia, some larger sociological point about marriage. So I don’t know. I mean, these kind of pieces almost never make me come away thinking, oh, I see my own life or relationship in a different way. It’s it’s a little bit more like, well, sucks for you, lady.
Speaker 2: But.
Speaker 3: I don’t know what conclusion I’m supposed to draw from it.
Speaker 1: So here are the two aspects that interested me most. One is that, you know, what’s the super ego at work in any given age? You know, sort of at the social super ego. And, you know, in, for example, my mother’s generation, it was owing this, I think, a horrendously burdensome fealty to the nuclear ideal of, you know, sort of I mean, many, many aspects of it that are just screamingly anachronistic.
Speaker 1: Now, the male, you know, breadwinner and, you know, female homemaker and that just the gender division of labor and on and on and on. But what I like about this piece is it points to what the possible new cultural superego is. And you could argue if you wanted to be a little, you know, nerdy about it, sort of under neo liberalism, which is that the fealty that you owe is so internalized. It really is to your best self this construct that turns into right, it’s like supposed to be liberating.
Speaker 1: You move toward this ideal, you owe something to that ideal, but it’s actually it has this structure of a very burdensome superego for many people. And it’s, you know, it’s beset by the paradox of choice in the age of the Internet. And when one is single, you know, you’re on the Internet and you’re just constantly shopping across, you know, space and time, which are unconstrained. Now to discover the exactly right person for you.
Speaker 1: And so, in a sense, I liked the rhetorical extremity of it. I think what I found interesting about it, that I that I believe the author is not accounting for enough, is, you know, that strange, really dark wisdom of the Frost poem Road Not Taken, which is what he says about that road, is that one day I will justify my choice, as if it were the courageous one, whichever road I take. And that’s this incredible act of like prolific understanding. I know that I’ll be this sentence yes, for ten, 20, 30, 40 years hence, who will inevitably take the same consolation that others do?
Speaker 1: And as corrosive as regret is, this is like it’s non corrosive. It’s very solid thing. But it. Could be even more false in some elemental way than regret. I mean, she’s telling herself my choice was the right choice. And exactly the way the speaker of the Frost poem says, one day, I’m going to do this. But don’t believe me then. It’s not.
Speaker 2: And totally. I mean, the piece I think, has some interesting.
Speaker 5: Studies in it that show that for people who are unhappy, divorce didn’t increase their happiness. And and that’s really interesting. And, you know, I’m sure we are all. I think.
Speaker 2: We all feel.
Speaker 5: Fortunate to be people who have not gotten divorced. And I’m sure we all know people who’ve gotten divorced or who’ve considered getting divorced and have not gotten divorced. And it’s it’s super hard to do. You know, even when it is the right thing to do, it’s really disruptive and it’s really confusing and it’s really destabilizing. And, I mean, it makes sense that. That it’s not a step to take lightly. But again, that’s what sort of felt strong meaning to me about it. Like it is true that there is a broader cultural be your best self imperative. I think that is the most interesting idea here, but it’s not actually like everyone is going around being like, Oh yeah.
Speaker 2: Divorce, what a breeze. Nobody minds. The kids are fine. Like, Yeah, it’s really.
Speaker 5: It is a big deal, even if it’s on the table in a way that it wasn’t before. So that’s what sort of feels. Circular about the piece somehow.
Speaker 1: Hmm.
Speaker 5: I’m curious what your responses to people writing in a revealing way about marriages that they are in with living people, and also whether you can think of examples of writing about marriages that you are in with a living person that you really loved and responded to and thought were wise and profound and didn’t seem like a concatenation of facts intended to fill out an op ed.
Speaker 3: I mean, the first thing that came to mind and this is I haven’t read this book, so I can’t say which side it falls on, but I’m just thinking of that Heather Have Solecki book that came out earlier this year. It’s called Forever Land. And it’s essentially I mean, I get the impression that it’s almost more of a humor book in a way, although I’m sure it also has some some self revelatory stuff in it. But it’s the subtitle of Forever Land is On the Divine Tedium of Marriage.
Speaker 3: And I know from, you know, the response in the press at the time, like The View ladies were scandalized by it. It got a pretty negative review in The Times from someone who, you know, regarded it as sort of posturing. I mean, but Heather MALESKY, I think, went really far. And that’s the kind of writer she is. You know, she’s a very self disclosing writer in in exposing her husband’s putative faults and her own, too, I’m sure. But, you know, there were the comparisons of her husband, who is smelly pile of laundry and essentially sort of like the worst kind of domestic metaphors. It almost seemed like very edgy Erma Bombeck columns or something like that. And and people were really upset about it. I have no opinion about that book per se, but the fact that it created that outcry made me think about this. And I really think in general that I’m pretty turned off by this kind of writing. Like I almost never like the Modern Love column for The Times. It almost always to me has that slight scent of smugness, you know, of like Steve, with the road not followed, whatever road I followed is the right road and therefore implied the road that you two should follow.
Speaker 3: So, I mean, I wish I could say give some counterexample of a person who writes incredibly about marriage and family life. I think maybe with writing about one’s children, it’s a little bit easier than writing about an intimate partnership that’s still going on, but it feels really hard for that not to be a betrayal, you know, and I personally would I don’t think I can’t imagine a circumstance in which I would write unflattering things about my partner for publication while still hoping to have a successful relationship with them.
Speaker 2: Yeah, I mean, I think there there.
Speaker 5: Is often a posture when people do it that’s like my marriage is. I mean, whatever.
Speaker 2: It’s always smug. There’s no way to do it. That’s not.
Speaker 5: Smug because it’s either like unctuous, like my.
Speaker 2: Partner and I love each other.
Speaker 5: So much or it’s like my marriage is so tough and we’re so honest and real that like, I can just tell you about the laundry pile and you know, you deluded, she can handle it like how honest my marriage is. And you know, part of the compulsion of reading it was like.
Speaker 2: They really seem like they’re about to get divorced or maybe not. I don’t know. Maybe their marriage.
Speaker 5: Is on some astral plane. Well, you know, like, it’s it’s but it’s all fundamentally performance. And I guess I just feel sort of old fashioned and square like or fundamentally more a partner than an artist or something. Like, I just it’s a private special thing and I don’t want to write about it. And I sort of distrust the impulse to write about it in others in a way that’s probably not fair to them and to the multiplicity of human experience. But I want.
Speaker 3: To hear, I hope, listeners who who have counter-examples of, you know, we’ll know here is a great revelatory essay or book about a marriage that’s still ongoing and in some ways successful that they point is to it, because I’m sure it’s out there. Obviously it’s part of human rights they can be written about. Well.
Speaker 1: You gave me the greatest one of all time, maybe James Joyce and Nora Barnacle, right? I mean, it’s from whence we get, you know, both Stephen Dedalus is in Bloom’s relationship to Molly Bloom, right? I mean, like and I mean, she is Molly Bloom, right. In Joyce’s mind, she was maybe not in reality or Nora barnacles, but.
Speaker 3: Well, if something sublimated into a fictional character, though, does it count, I wonder? I mean, certainly I’m sure there are people who have had successful relationships that have subsumed them into literature, but that’s not the same as James Joyce saying. Let me tell you about Nora and all her faults.
Speaker 2: You know, man. Nora before coffee. Ooh.
Speaker 1: Well, we definitely get her after coffee and that last chapter of Ulysses. But a think but all right. This is one that listener mail will will be just a very rich vein, I’m sure. But all right. Kudos to you to some text. Let’s let’s move on.
Speaker 1: All right. Well, now’s the moment in the podcast where we endorse Dana. What would you bring in this week?
Speaker 3: So my endorsement this week is in honor of the late actor Phillip Baker Hall, who the announcement of his death just came out the day before we taped. And he was 90 years old. So he had a good, long life and a very long career as a character actor. Whether or not you recognize the name Phillip Baker Hall, I guarantee you will recognize his face and his voice. He’s completely one of those. It’s that guy character actors of the late 20th century who was in every other thing you can think of from, you know, Seinfeld to Paul Thomas Anderson’s debut feature Hard eight to oh my goodness I he was on he had his own sitcom. I believe people are going to write in and tell me other Phillip Baker Hall cameos that they can think of. But he really was one of the the great character actors of his generation.
Speaker 3: And last night in his honor, I went back and rewatched Secret Honor, which is Steve, you would be fascinated by this. I think in 1984, Robert Altman film, that’s a one man show. It’s based on a play with one character, which is Richard Nixon in his in his late years. It’s Richard Nixon post-Watergate basically getting drunk on his own in his study and kind of renting into a tape recorder. Are you familiar with either the movie, the play, the concept of secret honor?
Speaker 1: None of the above. And I’m I’m going to run, not walk. This sounds so cool.
Speaker 3: It’s such a bizarre curiosity. I mean, in some ways it doesn’t entirely work. The performance is fantastic. The reason to watch it is because Phillip Baker Hall, as Nixon is just extraordinary. And and the script is really good, but it feels strangely theatrical and enclosed. The music doesn’t really go with the with the action. There’s something a little bit off about it and maybe a bit dated, but it’s so, such a strange oddity and so worth watching for his performance.
Speaker 3: And also, I was thinking strangely timely in the same week that we’re watching or I’m anyway riveted to the hearings about January 6th and the late kind of mad king days of the Trump administration. So in many different ways, a lot of things converge to make secret honor the watch of my week. And I should also mention it’s streaming all over the place. But if you watch it on the Criterion Channel, the extras are incredible. I’m still in the midst of the extras, but there’s a commentary track with Robert Altman talking through the movie, which is great and and I haven’t watched this yet, but there’s also in a little interview with Phillip Baker Hall about playing Richard Nixon. So there’s a whole package on Criterion if you watch it there. And if not, you can find it streaming on lots of other platforms. Secret honor from 1984.
Speaker 1: That sounds just amazing.
Speaker 1: Julio, what do you have?
Speaker 2: All right. Well, I think it’s only.
Speaker 5: Fair that in a week when I primly complained that nobody should ever write about their marriage and in which I eagerly wait to be proven wrong by all of our listeners telling us about great essays, about marriages, that I reveal something.
Speaker 2: Slightly.
Speaker 5: Personal for my endorsement I want to recommend today.
Speaker 2: I don’t know even what to call it or if it has a name, but micro journaling maybe is the name I purchased.
Speaker 5: I think both from Amazon, which feels like a sad place to purchase. So intimate a tool. Two things one called the Five Minute Journal and one called One Line a Day. And each of them has like different little formats that basically ask you to the five minute journal has you like write a little bit in the morning and write a little bit in the evening and it’s like a little more self-help maybe.
Speaker 5: But the one line today I think is really fun and I think our our listeners would enjoy it, basically just has you write one sentence a day and gives you like enough space for it that you can kind of get creative with your dependent clauses in your semicolons if you want to, or you can just do something very short and declarative and it feels more like a little teeny, tiny daily writing exercise than the other one, which is, as I said, a little bit more like self-help, you and me going for California.
Speaker 2: But I think there’s just something.
Speaker 5: About the oddness of a life that has you sitting at a computer all the time, as mine does, and the feeling of time passing that just has has made me want to have a little bit of a recording impulse. I think maybe since my father died, I started doing both of these. And but it’s.
Speaker 2: Really hard to figure out how to do it.
Speaker 5: I’ve never really been a diarist or a journal keeper. I’m so much more fluent as a typist than I am in handwriting. Like, I really find it hard to express anything fluently in longhand. It’s like speaking another language like my hands just can’t keep up with my brain. And so it’s very frustrating. But then the thought of trying to keep like a typed journal is really I think I spend all fucking day typing things and I do not feel in a contemplative space when I’m looking at a screen. And so I hadn’t I just the notion of like, okay, I can write one sentence. In longhand today. And actually, it’s really fun to write a sentence and play with all the different structures and 4 minutes of the sentence can take. And then you end up with this like interesting little record of the, of the tiny textures of your days and really enjoying it. So one line a day and the five minute journal.
Speaker 3: I like that. I wrote down one line a day.
Speaker 1: All right. Well, in the spirit of brevity, I’m going to do a couple of songs that I’ve been listening to lately. I love the phenomenon of the I mean, the cover. Of course, everyone loves a good cover song. You know, an artist appropriating away from the original version, but also honoring it is pretty cool. The best is to me, to my mind, is just taking like a song that’s got virtues that have been overloaded with either false sentiment or bad production values or, I don’t know, they’re just a little too lachrymose or cloying, and they’re just turn into something that kind of ruins what might have been the heart of the song. There’s a great version by Leo Nocentelli, who of the meters of the old Elton John, slightly lachrymose song your song, which was, I believe, Elton John’s first big radio hit. And he just kills it.
Speaker 4: I hope you don’t mind. I hope you don’t mind what I put down in.
Speaker 7: Oh, wonderful idea.
Speaker 4: While you were in the. He just turns it.
Speaker 1: Into such a great, great song. And then this is not a cover, but it’s just what’s been absolutely slagging me lately. It is such the band, The Apartment is the most underrated indie rock band of all time. The lead guy was in The Go-Betweens for a little while, but he was like too downbeat even for them. That’s an oversimplification of that. He moved on to do his own thing. He’s still going and I just people should really give it a try. He just, you know.
Speaker 1: Anyway, he has a song that I wasn’t familiar with and there’s a great live version of it called Live at L’Ubu is that is the album L apostrophe Ubu. Because of course, the French understand this man’s genius and it’s called Everything is given to be Taken Away. The five. We have things in our hands.
Speaker 1: I don’t know. It’s just the dreamy, melancholy poppy in both the sense of pop song and like the flower that you walk through and become dizzy and sleepy, you know? It’s just so seductive. It’s a great song. Check it out. Julia, thank you so much.
Speaker 2: Thank you.
Speaker 1: Dana. Thank you. That was fun.
Speaker 2: Really fun. It was a pleasure.
Speaker 1: Yup. You’ll find links to some of the things we talked about at our show page that Slate.com slash Culturefest. And you can email us at Culturefest at Slate.com. Our introductory music is by Nicholas Patel. Our producer is Cameron Drews. Our production assistant is Nadira Goff for Julia Turner and Dana Stevens. I’m Stephen Metcalf. Thank you so much for joining us. We will see you soon.
Speaker 5: Hello and welcome to the.
Speaker 2: Slate Blues segment.
Speaker 5: Of the Slate Culture Gabfest. As a follow up to our conversation about Fire Island this week, we thought.
Speaker 2: We would talk about the Bechdel test, a famous test.
Speaker 5: About representations of women on film and in what circumstances it is useful. Like it’s such a common thing to throw to. There was, I will say, a flap about this when Hanna Rosin applied the Bechdel Test to Fire Island and then was criticized and then apologized. And I think, well, we can leave that by the wayside. But and you know what what was interesting, I think, to all of us about it was thinking through when is that a useful test? When is it not the most useful way to think about culture?
Speaker 2: So, Dana, first, what is the best doll test?
Speaker 5: And then as a critic, have you found it useful or revealing as a tool or is it just feel like a fun little cultural verb below or give us give us what it is and what your thoughts are on it?
Speaker 3: So the Bechdel test in its origin was not some sort of abstract concept invented to place as a template over pop culture. It was, in fact, a concept spoken about by a fictional character in a 1985 comic strip from the cartoonist Alison Bechdel. For many years, decades, actually, she drew the strip called Dykes to Watch Out For. That was a groundbreaking strip about this community of lesbians in the life they lived together. And one of the characters in the strip at one point talking about going to a movie with another character, says that she only goes to movies if they satisfy three basic requirements. First, there is more than one female character. The two two female characters in the movie have a conversation at some point, and the conversation is about something other than being the romantic interest of a man.
Speaker 3: So somehow, and I’m not quite sure here where the genealogy is, somehow that was lifted out of the comic, you know, started to be applied to pop culture by critics and people discussing pop culture on social media, etc.. And now there’s this free floating thing called the Bechdel Test, as if it’s some sort of, you know, data metric that, you know, people learn in economic science or something like that, when in fact it is something lifted from a fictional conversation between two lesbians in and Alison Bechdel comic strip.
Speaker 3: So then I guess the question is, is that a actually useful metric for us to place on pop culture? I mean, it’s a very funny and original idea as it occurs in the Strip. And certainly at the time that the strip was being written, I mean, she wrote it over many years. But, you know, this certainly would have been before the turn of the millennium, I think would have been a really useful metric for a lot of pop culture because, I mean, I know that I and probably both of you as well grew up in a world where there were plenty of movies. Almost every mainstream movie would not pass that test. And, you know, the girls were there as romantic interest or, you know, sexy eye candy. And we’re not actually having experiences and conversations on their own.
Speaker 2: They didn’t even get to fight, you know, poor, poor Laura Dern and Bryce Dallas Howard, who go off and fight the dead flaming locust husks, which we didn’t even.
Speaker 5: Get to in the power generator room, which we didn’t even get to. Thank God.
Speaker 2: They they wouldn’t they didn’t even get to like pick up a steel pole and like bonk the on the nose back.
Speaker 5: In the old days.
Speaker 3: Although I don’t know that Laura and Bryce ever get to have an actual chat, they don’t sit around and talk about anything, even dinosaurs. They just shriek in unison as giant locusts come.
Speaker 2: You, you, you. They are talking about locusts.
Speaker 3: So I kind of wanted to be clear, like, what can the locusts actually do to you? Granted, it would be gross for a lot of flying locust to swarm at you. But they’re vegetarians, right? Are they going to eat people’s faces? Anyway, back to the big deltas. So I personally would say and I feel this whenever a conversation about the Bechdel test flares up again on social media, that before anyone even says those words, they should be required to read the entirety of Dykes to Watch Out For and or Fun Home and have some idea who Alison Bechdel is, because it is a much more important part of being a lover of American pop culture that you know her wonderful work than that you apply this test somewhat randomly.
Speaker 3: I kind of think that in the era we’re in now, as demonstrated by a movie like Fire Island, which is completely about a marginalized community that we almost never get to see on film, that it’s not a terribly useful metric. I mean, if you’re outside of this, the ultra patriarchal world of sort of dude blockbusters, I’m not sure that this test is extremely meaningful. And certainly the idea that you dismiss something because, you know, this arbitrary requirement of a conversation between two women, not about a man, doesn’t occur in it. It just seems somewhat arbitrary to me and often becomes an excuse for people to have inflamed conversations about things they don’t know very much about.
Speaker 3: I mean, I was thinking of the movie stars born, the recent iteration of it with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, which I loved, and and how somebody was tweeting afterwards that that movie doesn’t pass the Bechdel test. I mean, it really only has one important female character, the Lady Gaga character. There’s almost not another woman who speaks period in that movie, much less about something other than a guy. But I find her character, Lady Gaga’s character in that movie to be, you know, extremely well developed and is arguably the heroine of the movie and didn’t. Bother me at all that that conversation didn’t take place. But it did cause me, I guess, when that was pointed out, to stop and think for a minute about that and wonder if it had any significance anyway. I just I think the idea that there’s any template that you place over art and say it must have this or it’s not good or not worthy or not ethical or something, is, is a very crude way of of portraying art.
Speaker 2: Yeah. I mean, and I think also to the degree that it’s like a schema, it’s pretty.
Speaker 3: Easy for.
Speaker 5: The big Hollywood shops to cheat it. I mean, you know, yes.
Speaker 2: There was one lady pilot in Top Gun and like. Yes, the like, yes.
Speaker 5: The representations of women in mainstream film have gotten a little bit more robust. And I think the Bechdel test is just it’s a really, really clever invention. Like it was a very it totally makes sense that it took off. It’s like a very useful shorthand for a particular kind of shadiness that was madly pervasive and it’s much less pervasive now. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the portrayals of women are that much better. They are better. There are more of them. There’s the the wisecracking.
Speaker 2: Daredevil pilot in the in this most recent movie. It was also a woman.
Speaker 5: And she was an interesting character in so far as we’re defining with people in this dinosaur movie as interesting characters. But like.
Speaker 2: The the the bigger question it.
Speaker 5: Opens on to, I think is does every does every movie have to be about everybody? And if you don’t want to make a movie about everybody, that’s not a literal four quadrant. You know, there’s some plot line that’s supposed to appeal to every single person on the entire planet. You know, how how can you focus on certain types of experience in ways that are respectful of and don’t devalue the fact that other experiences exist like that? That feels like the more interesting question about culture, about niche groups and then the like. What is the blockbuster doing? Because I feel like the blockbusters have just gotten better and in a way that I think sometimes feels cynical and making sure there’s a shot where like a rip to dame gets to bonk a dinosaur in the nose. And there is a little bit of wisecracking banter about the mechanics of the jet engine or whatever the hell. And so the test does feel a little less useful for this moment.
Speaker 5: Steve, what do you think? Have you found it a useful tool?
Speaker 1: Right. So that’s where I come out also is that it’s as a sort of crude stencil or template or filter or something like that or just test it. It’s, you know, it probably is it may not be entirely useful, but as a heuristic, it’s invaluable both for the role it has played and as an ongoing way of thinking about, you know, I mean, I would say kind of our. Behind the camera and in the executive suite as it expresses itself, consciously or unconsciously on the screen, and therefore enters all of our bloodstream.
Speaker 1: Right. Who I mean, among the most important questions is, you know, Post-metoo, especially in Hollywood, is like, who has the power to greenlight? Who has the power to make, who has the power to direct? Who has the power to write? And if that’s distributed properly, everything else will take care of itself. And until that’s the case, you’re probably going to ex post facto look at the product and say, you know, well, wait a second. You know, and and listen, I’m the and I and I say this sincerely, like I’m the clod on the panel, right? Like I’m the one who had the scales on his eyes because he was born, you know, his hat were born. I don’t know. I am mostly is is that white male and and it was helpful just to be like, what the fuck?
Speaker 1: Yes, of course, this never happens. Like it’s just missing from 99% of the movies that I watch and or have watched or admire or revere. And why the fuck is that? It’s it’s it’s it’s just these movies that we all grew up with represent the entire interiority and prerogatives of men and men as the ones who not only write stories, but feel as though they are just naturally the protagonist, the stories.
Speaker 1: And I, you know, I it’s always this way with something like this, right? When it happens, it tilts a lot of people on their head. It makes very many people angry and defensive. It, you know, on and on. But then as change finally begins to happen, it begins to seem crude. The fulcrum itself begins to seem sort of crude and anachronistic. That’s only a measure of its success.
Speaker 2: Right. I mean, exactly, Steve.
Speaker 5: And then for all that, it does feel like there has been some progress and the women get debunked. The dinosaur in the nose, like women directors in film, are still obscenely rare. 12% of the top 100 grossing movies in 2021 were made by women. And like, yes, that’s a slightly weird year, but it was 16% in 2020. And if you expand it out to the 250 top grossing films, it’s 17%.
Speaker 5: I mean, the numbers, the misrepresentation there are bonkers and and it’s structurally quite different than television where. The there are more women showrunners. And I think just this kind of is there’s an easier path to getting to direct a couple episodes and, you know, getting to write a couple episodes and kind of the different paths you get to directing and writing and television, you know, somewhat cynically require the studio or whoever’s paying for it to take a slightly smaller bet on you. And so women get more bets in TV and then they build the resumes that allow them to take on bigger and bigger projects.
Speaker 5: Whereas in film, it’s still a man’s world in a in a massive and insane way. So it’s it’s hardly accurate to you know, it’s not. I think that’s part of what makes it feel like such a tough line sometimes is like on the one hand, these major productions have gotten a lot slicker at being less egregiously gross about women. But it still feels pretty rare to see, you know, a woman’s gaze upon the world in the same way.
Speaker 5: So I don’t know. I mean, I think we’re all admiring of the Bechdel test and the way the conversations it has allowed us to have. But maybe we need maybe we need the next one. Like you don’t have to just punch the dinosaur in the nose. You also have to. I don’t know. I don’t know that there’s any reconfiguration of the gender tropes in in Dominion that would have saved it. But.
Speaker 2: But.
Speaker 5: But maybe. Maybe we need an evolution for it for the current filmmaking era we are in.
Speaker 3: I mean, I can’t close out the segment without just reiterating that if you have not actually read the work of Alison Bechdel, it will bring you immeasurably more than sitting around pondering the, you know, empty abstract concept of the Bechdel test. So please, I beg of you, at the very least, read Fun Home, really? One of the best books of the new millennium, in my opinion.
Speaker 2: All right.
Speaker 5: Well, Slate Plus, listeners, thank you so much for your support of our show, for your support of Slate and for listening to this bonus segment of the Slate Culture Gabfest. We will talk to you next week.