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 Clegg’s sponge edition on today’s show Breaking Bad has returned for a two hour coda on Netflix El Camino sews up the loose thread known as Jesse Pinkman and then the great British baking show or bake off. What have you has gone from a lovely little piece of Anglo affiliate to a global juggernaut. We discuss its latest iteration and whether it has held on to in the face of its mega success whether it’s held onto its tender charms and finally have the high hopes for the streaming revolution finally run aground on a glut of money and content and good old corporate greed. We will discuss a package in the L.A. Times Speaking of which. Joining me is Julia Turner the deputy managing editor of The L.A. Times and the editor in charge of that package. JULIA Hello.
S3: Hello. And of course Dana Stephens who is the film critic of Slate. Hey Dana hello.
S4: Good day.
S5: All right. Well diving in Breaking Bad is one of the I think it’s fair to say truly iconic shows in the history of the medium. The story of Walter White chemistry teacher nebbish turn turning over five seasons into a ruthless drug kingpin is one of the most perfectly realized dramatic and character arcs in the history of TV. But there was one loose thread at the end of the bloodbath finale. What happens to his sidekick Jesse Pinkman. You’ll recall that Jesse was Mr. White’s class fuckup back when he still taught high school. He turned him into his trusty meth cooking sidekick and it was Jesse I would think it’s fair to say played by Aaron beautifully by Aaron Paul who over the course of the TV became the show kind of the show’s moral witness and and a witness to Walter White’s total loss of humanity. Any sequel worth its salt would be asking not just whether Jesse lives or dies but whether and how he is saved or damned. Now we know I think anyway let’s listen to a clip. Here you go. The movie.
S6: Doesn’t matter. You seriously. Think if you were my age. Play along. Some conversation. Alaska. Yeah. If I were your age starting fresh. Alaska. Is the last frontier. Up there you could be anything you want. Alaska. Start over.
S7: Start fresh. One could. Put things right. No.
S6: So I guess for one thing you can never do.
S3: All right then I’ll start with you. That was that laconic enough for your face.
S5: The word I’m seeing in relation to this show this movie is superfluous though people seem to sort of like it. What. What do you think.
S8: Well it’s funny that you play that scene because I feel like that scene that scene captures a lot about what works and doesn’t work. About this coda to Breaking Bad so Jonathan Banks you here there as Mike Almond trout write the the implacable hitman who also ends up being a character on Better Call Saul the spin off which I think will also be woven into this conversation to some degree and we’re not sure whether that scene really takes place or takes place in Jesse’s imagination right. Because obviously Mike is dead at the end of Breaking Bad. He died right by the river where that conversation is happening you can hear the stream flowing in the sound clip and that moment never happened during the show Breaking Bad that we know of and so that’s the thing that happens again and again in this show is that in a sort of fanfiction like way it moves back to recognizable locations episodes characters from Breaking Bad and and imagines this scene that we didn’t see right which is now part of Jesse’s memory and becomes part of our memory after seeing this show. And it’s a pretty effective technique but it also at every moment that it happens raises the specter of how much better that show is and how much more integral and necessary that show was than this coda is. I think we’ll have Haskins review of this. It’s summed up as perfectly how I feel about a cultural product as anything hasn’t a longtime everything single thing she said was just right on and on and one adjective she used to describe it was. Sure why not. Right sort of. I have no objection to this existing but it doesn’t quite seem canonical you know although it’s strange to say that when Vince Gilligan wrote and directed this and Dave Porter did the music and almost every recognizable Breaking Bad character does at least a brief cameo. I mean it certainly is as is contiguous with that universe. But if there’s one thing I didn’t feel I needed after the Breaking Bad finale it was any more information. I actually thought that the way we left Jesse I remember spending that entire finale just praying that Jesse would live since it was obvious that you know Walt wasn’t going to make it and it was as you say going to be a bloodbath. Just please let Jesse live in the fact that he does at the end even though we have no idea what his future will be and he seems completely messed up the last time we see him in Breaking Bad it was perfectly satisfying and so spinning out what happens to him in the next few days which is what this post Quill does just seems kind of pointless it doesn’t really teach us that much new about the character. But it’s nice to revisit that universe.
S9: Yeah I mean one thing that came up less than I would have thought actually in the reviews of this movie are is any reference to a Better Call Saul. I mean to me Better Call Saul is just a miraculous miraculously good show. That should be more widely watched and be sparking more conversations in part because it explores with similar moral complexity. The flip side of the Walter White equation the Walter White arc is this thwarted fundamentally law abiding neighbor she chemistry teacher realizes that through a combination of smarts ruthlessness and breaking all the rules he can build an empire in Better Call Saul. We know that eventually our main character Jimmy McGill will become Saul the sort of lawyer for criminals that we know knew him as in Breaking Bad. And we see kind of the pathos of him trying to stay on the right side of the line trying to be good trying to resist his natural urges towards badness and slipperiness and lying and evil. And it’s just so good it’s so necessary it’s so interesting. It’s such a it takes all of the filmmaking skill that they apply towards Breaking Bad the creators of Breaking Bad and and puts it towards this equally urgent and fascinating moral quest.
S10: And this movie just seems so fanservice service in in comparison and you still get just gorgeous shots of the desert and really incredible compositions of urban streetscapes where a car is hanging out under an overpass just so and a light comes on and I mean the things they’re doing cinema geographically are just as lovely. But yeah I mean you kind of already knew that that’s what happened to Jesse on his way to safety at the end of the finale and it didn’t quite need to get said. So it just felt unusually Shaggy and indulgent for a group of creators who typically do stuff that’s like taut complicated and necessary and that was what was so weird about it.
S8: It’s also much morally simpler right. I mean the main concern that we have is in the in this two hour wrap up is sort of is Jesse going to get what’s coming to him. Will he will he be treated OK by the world and Breaking Bad was much more willing to ask well does he deserve to be treated OK by the world.
S1: Right. I mean the funny thing about the about Breaking Bad was as I said in the intro that arc is kind of as perfect as any five or six season. You know a coherent narrative arc as you know that any TV shows ever pulled off but we forget that along the way it was like it was a pretty shaggy show. There was a lot of super fluidity in it along the way. I don’t think it knew it maybe knew where it was going but it didn’t know how it was gonna stick its own landing until maybe in the second or third season it fit a lot more into its arc and its framework than maybe we’d remember. And so funnily enough you know I had exactly the same feelings about this coda as I did about this show. It gives a lot of it is really O.T. a lot of over-the-top you know preposterous twists super graphic cartoonish violence. Some of the suspense is just beautifully beautifully done. And then there just to my mind absolutely transcendent actor on actor moments including what you could argue him in there all the fans are being serviced over and over and over again in this. So there are tons of what might be money shots depending on what you loved about the show. But the money shot of money shots is just having Walter White seated at a diner with Jesse Pinkman pre bloodbath having a conversation and it just you know just to have Cranston inhabiting that part again and and the original premise the whole I mean to me the moment the show became you know you know its first gushed Walt was was for me watching Jesse Pinkman be unable to call his partner anything other than Mr. White. It was just this clever way of saying this kid is always gonna be the chemistry student to this team is always going to see Mr. White as the teacher and they knew exactly what they were doing when they resurrected Cranston Walter as Walter White in that scene because that’s exactly what that scene is about. I thought that was so sly so in control after all that buildup to neither underplay it or overplay it takes an astonishing level of confidence on the part of everyone involved in making that scene work.
S10: I will also just say I mean one of the great things about breaking mad and most of the best pick TV dramas is that they tend to have good jokes along with their drama.
S11: But the the funny there’s a moment in that encounter when Jesse becomes peeved by a way in which went away. Yes misremembered his year.
S12: That is just so good. Kinda worth it for the whole thing.
S1: Julia you took the words right out of my mouth is so I laughed so hard it is that is precious. It is worth digging through all kinds of goo in order to find it. So you know consider me one of the fans who was serviced. I do think there there’s one too many Amistad illusions you know to the American frontier and you know we heard it in the clip there is a wild west Quick Draw there’s a fireball there’s just a lot shoved into it but you know it is it was on it I’ve got come out exactly where everyone else but totally unnecessary totally kind of great.
S8: It’s almost like indulging your weakness right like it’s sort of a weakness to want to go back to a show that’s already completed its arc and as you say stuck the landing and then just sort of dwell in its world for two more hours. But that’s what this movie lets you do. I think I also just wanted to show a character who’s so great in the original show but doesn’t get that many arcs to himself who gets his own sort of incredibly funny and dark arc which is Todd the the Nazi. I don’t know how you even describe him the sort of dullard Nazi thug played by Jesse Clemmons so beautifully in the show and he returns not just for a quick cameo as Mike Sherman drought does and Walter White does and other characters but he gets a whole little subplot to himself involving him and Jesse and a very evil caper that he takes him on and just Jesse Clements is such an MVP of movies and TV and everything just think of all the stuff the great stuff he’s done just this year. Game night he was the funniest thing in that movie. Right. Which we all loved. He was he was just and you guys haven’t seen it yet but he has a wonderful small role in the Irishman the new Martin Scorsese a movie Jesse Clemons can just be funny. He can be menacing. He can do anything. He was the best thing about vice to that movie vice that we all disliked but he was great in it. And also I mean it would be remiss not to acknowledge that Robert Foster who just died last week the wonderful character actor who was probably best known to most viewers of our generation from Jackie Brown has a small but very pivotal role in this breaking bad sequel and is fantastic in it.
S1: Yeah I mean one since we have another bite at the Breaking Bad Apple. There’s one thing I’ve had on my mind for years about the show which is that you know when I was growing up movies still supplied people with these iconic moments and you know indelible lines that you repeated over and over again. And I was wondering where is that gone and it’s just not in the cinema anymore. It’s on streaming TV and a perfect example is you know I am the one who knocks is just you know a piece of the deathless popular culture going forward. And this is to me the one thing that the show nailed over and over and over again it’s it’s self consciously heightened climactic moments. You know Hank figuring out that Walter is Heisenberg is one of the mean you have set that up for years and years and years are you going to pull it off. It is one of the best actor on actor moments that I can think of in the history of putting the human image on film I mean it just was that good. And anyway so it was nice to have a little taste of that regardless of how much kind of you know. But I don’t know gratuitous bloat.
S8: It might have been surrounded by even if all this does is send people to better call Saul. I mean if you really want to have the experience that this movie is trying to give you which is you know reopening a Breaking Bad adjacent universe that’s as interesting and necessary and important feeling as Breaking Bad was. But but different from it then just watch. Better Call Saul. I think I agree with Julia. I think it’s my favorite show on TV right now and I cannot wait till he’s back.
S1: I’ve only watched the pilot I’ll binge the whole thing and we’ll talk about it.
S12: But Steve that’s outrageous. That’s that’s that’s criminal. I mean it’s not like I host a pop culture podcast.
S8: Why would I be watching Steven you were tasked with doing that catch up on Saul so that we can talk about it as soon as it re reopens deal. Okay.
S13: This is called El Camino. It’s written and directed I should say by the creator of Breaking Bad. Vince Gilligan it’s streaming on Netflix were kind of on an interesting fence. Curious to hear what you guys think. Go ahead and e-mail us. All right.
S4: Moving on all right.
S13: Before we go any further I bet we have some business Dana. What do you got Stephen.
S14: The business this week is simply to reiterate that we have a couple of live shows coming up. We will be in L.A. in Vancouver this November. That is November 13th in Los Angeles at the Barnstable Gallery Theater at Barnstable Art Park and on November 15th in Vancouver at the Granville Island stage. And you can now get tickets for both of these shows at Slate dot com slash live. We will also have some sort of to be announced cocktail mingling. Our probably associated with both these shows in Slate Plus today we have a friend of the podcast and special guest Al Phil Rees who’s a professor of English at U pen and head of the Kelly Writers House. He’s going to talk with us about Harold Bloom the literary critic and professor for many many decades at Yale University who is a steward of the canon a controversial figure just a gargantuan figure in literary criticism. So we’ll talk about Harold Bloom with Al fisheries for our Slate Plus segment. All right Steve what’s next.
S15: All right. Well gee oh the Great British Bake Off it goes by a slightly different name in the United States because Pillsbury would sue them if it didn’t it combined British understatement and a degree of Small World tenderness with super high pressure high stakes elimination contest vibes all the baking which is of course is so incredibly precise the slightest error in temperature ingredient and everything collapses anyway everyone loved the show but like a good pithy V8 requires a perfect balance of ingredients heat cooling attentiveness it’s undergone many changes along the way since PBS began airing it in the United States about five years ago in England and moved from the BBC to Channel 4 which is actually over there quite significant it meant it went from public to commercial TV along the way huge sums of money were at stake its original hosts were replaced and one of its judges as well. The show is now a global juggernaut and the challenges the baking challenges within it are increasingly baroque. Has it kept its unique charms. Let’s listen to a clip. So far no technical challenge Brit would like you to make six identical angel cake slices each made of three layers of genuine sponge the sponge layers must be sandwiched with a silky smooth Italian meringue buttercream your angel cake slices should be topped with icing and feathered whatever that may be feathers on cakes you’ve got an hour and three quarters on your marks get set big.
S16: Goals. I didn’t want to generate funds. I’m off we go. Anyway sponge love an angel cake all on the cheap one line to 50 people. This is a proper one.
S17: To make the angel cakes the bakers have all been given the same ingredients and proves complex 15 stage recipes. This is a bit as I say technical. For the day. There’s a lot of room for error.
S18: To Jarrah. Great choice. Angel cake slices for the first technical things bakers left to face.
S19: I’m feeling a little mean. It sounds simple enough but the point is it’s a genuine sponge and it’s really easy for that mixture to become flat if it over mix. It’s not just volume they’ll lose. Texture becomes rubbery. It has to be light and let’s have a taste.
S15: Julia let me start with you I have to confess like Better Call Saul I’d never watch the show I binged it over the last 72 hours and could not love it more I now completely understand why everyone was captivated by it like everyone else I fell in love with that wonderful combination of four people who effectively hosted the show the original judges Mary Berry Paul Hollywood who’s this incredible sort of middle aged Fox who like fixes you with his blue eyed stare like you’re in a pair of gun sights and then that the two women Perkins and guide Roy I might be mispronouncing that name they met at Cambridge in 91 and are kind of a comedy duo all of the balance seemed really perfect. I’m having trouble adjusting to the new group. What. What’s your history with this show.
S9: I love that you have both just discovered the show and already become an instant nostalgia just for its better purer story.
S20: That’s like so that’s what it is it’s a delivery system for instant nostalgia.
S11: I actually got hooked on the show in reverse and I am also a Johnny come lately to it.
S9: I only started watching it in August. I started watching season. I watched two of the most recent seasons with the most recent cast and then fell so hard for it I went back around to the original flavor cast so I had the opposite experience of most viewers of getting used to Prue Sandy and Noel and only to go back to discover the charms of Mary Mel and Sue. And honestly it seems fine like they both are good. It’s fine. I don’t I don’t.
S10: I think the thing that I actually find more jarring about the new productions is the increasingly elaborate cold opens which feel gratuitous and unnecessary and in the first few seasons they start the show with very low high jinks and now Sandy and Noel are kind of in costumes and it’s just like get me into that tent. I want to see some sponge. I want to see some proving draws. I want to hear the pronunciation of a strained Eastern European cake product. I want to watch incredible techniques. I mean the charms of the show are manifold.
S9: Obviously they have been sung by many singers before us but I think my two favorite things about it are just extraordinarily patient attention to actual process like this is a show that respects your interest in baking and is not sort of using baking as an avenue to to develop like personality conflicts. It is very attentive to the chemistry of baking the process of baking and it creates drama out of baking in a way that is masterful subtle interesting and precise and that you can get very hooked on and then the other thing I love about it is just the portrait of post empire Britain that it offers with just a agglomeration of different British and occasionally continental accents such as the the the sheer number of different ways to have a British accent that are on display in this show is its other great charm.
S8: Yeah. I can’t help but wonder what is it. I almost wish we had an English guest to talk about the show because we’re all experiencing it as Americans and to me a huge part of the charm is as Steve opened up this segment saying Anglophile Yeah. You know and just hearing yet what is a Welsh accent sound like and what is you know what is the nostalgic memory that you have of some. To us a strange British Desert from your childhood. That whole side of it must be very different if you’re English and I wonder if it feels like a fake nationalism or if it doesn’t feel nationalistic at all even the location where it unfolds is this strange combination of the sort of down Abbey style castle that you only ever see in the distance like a regal estate sort of thing and then this big white tent where all the baking and judging happen and once in a while they wander through the field in between do they ever go in the castle. Do they sleep. No. But that also feels so British. There’s like a castle in the distance other people are in the castle but you’re just in the fields of Berkshire where they never they never show where they you know during this period of apparently weeks that they’re having the cook offs in the tent. They never show where they stay. There’s not a real world aspect where you see them interacting in their quarters or anything but I always imagined them going off to the castle at night to sleep.
S9: Well that’s the other thing I love about the structure of it at least as I gleaned from context clues and maybe I’m wrong it seems like they go home between weeks that it’s sort of a it’s a it’s a contest show but you’re not actually locked in. You know paradise mansion for two months with no missives from outside. They talk about taking the train home. They talk about practising while they still have their normal jobs for the bakes each week and how they fit it in around their studies.
S10: And I don’t know there’s something that makes them feel more grounded and wherever they’re coming from in their home communities which makes the relationships that they forge with each other feel more real because it’s less like they’re in this hothouse performative summer camp where they’re trying to be the funny one or the sexy one and they just they just seem so grounded in their lives.
S8: Yeah you’re right that I didn’t know that they went home in between weeks but you’re right that it shows just the right amount of their home lives. I’m just remembering that the very Brady building show that we talked about a couple weeks ago and how how isolated the characters all seemed or the real people all seemed from there their real lives and how the thing that you would most that I would most want to learn from a Brady reunion is what are they all doing now. The show never told us and this show just gives you a little bit of a glimpse here here’s their family members here’s their job here’s the person studying for their degree or whatever it is and. And so you kind of like everyone. I mean I think that’s maybe my favorite thing about this show is that I can’t stand mean reality shows and the mean as the show gets is that you know the blue eyed Paul Hollywood will will say that you have a bit of a bit of a clogged sponge and you’re a joke. It’s also full of great adjectives like leggy stodgy stodgy wanted our Georgie crumb. No no. Heaven forbid. But yeah. Nobody nobody is opposed as the villain. And when somebody goes home it’s you know everybody sort of hugs them and their tears and it’s very sweet know.
S1: Yeah it’s. He’s funny. He’s quite a character. But all of it is almost held in reserve. It’s just that look and your your sense that he knows exactly what he’s what he’s saying so to me the tube obviously the two really dominant ingredients here are baking and Britishness taking them one at a time you know in baking the proof is in the pudding right. You can build the most elaborate carapace it’s still cake on the inside. It’s incredibly precise process and tiny errors magnify and you end up with something to dry too soggy undercooked overdone. I mean every little mark needs to be hit right or. And no matter how beautifully or cleverly you wrap it up you’re still going to have a failed cake and I like you know what I like about it is there’s just no way to sort of bullshit or spiral your way through it. And then the second thing is you’ve got this whole elimination show. Reality Show TV format which is incredibly stale and has always achieved ratings at least in the American context through an undertone and sometimes tone tone of nastiness and cutthroat. You know we’ll just sort of cutthroat nastiness it seems to be completely absent from this one. So you’ve got that format embedded in the remnant of British what that was where I kind of stopped and wanted to think about it a little bit more like social class umpire familial tenderness you know as they express themselves now in restraint deference understatement. And then just at that you know a friend of mine called the show touching a civilized and touching and it’s funny because there’s a ton of pressure. People get very upset when they think they’ve screwed up and are gonna get voted off the island as it were. And yet at the same time I do think that there that it’s it’s this weird way in which you know a totally pitiless naked meritocracy of baking and a competition reality show are somehow softened and made very human by free of that kind of humanity of civilization or something and it’s just you know it’s just perfect for the age of Trump and Brexit somehow.
S21: Here’s this specific factor in the show I think that adds to that sense of kind of civility and and humanity rather than you know the cutthroat world of Survivor or I don’t know even even Project Runway or another show that’s that’s based on a prize. Right. There’s there’s usually a prize and reality shows you you get a chunk of cash or you get some sort of business opportunity as in Project Runway. And on this show there really is nothing but the honor of being the best baker and that in itself is something that you know people aspire to. So so touchingly just the idea that that baking itself matters and you know being recognized for your talent matters is is something that’s unusual in the landscape of reality.
S9: One other thing I really love about it is the respect it has for age. So we haven’t explained the structure of it but there’s three challenges each week two of them they know in advance and can perfect prepare for and practice at home. And you get a sense of which people are the students who try things 20 times in which people are sort of trying to pull it together between their hectic lives I know which camp I would fall into and then the second one is really the marvel of the show the technical challenge where they are surprised with a very complicated thing to bake and very minimalist instructions like make sponge batter bake without temperatures without times without ingredients. And so they really have to demonstrate their expertise and knowledge.
S10: And one thing I love about the technical challenges is that often there are more experienced people in the room there’s older people in the room an age that you don’t often see on reality shows and they often just know a lot because they’ve logged more years in the kitchen you know the experience of baking and sort of knowing that’s what it should look like. That’s the right texture for a batter for this kind of thing.
S9: If you do it this way you better come out of the pan better it’s just I can’t think of other shows where experience is rewarded in the same way and it’s not always true.
S10: Sometimes there are these very young bakers who really have a ton of mastery and expertise but there’s just been a series of like Graham on ninjas on the show who ends and sometimes grandpas as well but just older people who really know their way around the kitchen cold and I love that too that it’s not always the sort of answer new bakers who take the cake was about to say by accident and now I’ve said it.
S14: That plan would be very in the spirit of this show which is full of extremely bad puns. Something about the age of the contestants that I noticed with this latest season that just dropped is that they’re getting younger and that is something that I don’t like. I don’t have a strong feeling of nostalgia for the old Mary Berry days because I always only watch this show sort of on and off. My daughter was obsessed with it and still is to some degree and so I’ve wandered in and out of many many showings of it but haven’t sat down to watch it all the way through really until we just talked about it. But I was going to say that I really do prefer it when there’s that range of demographic of ages they’re pretty good at you know having a range of ethnicities. I don’t know about the class background. I mean everybody is doing well enough that they can have baking is their hobby but you get a sort of sense of a cross-section of Britain usually in the contestants. But I do like it when they have a few from different generations they’re looking a little bit green this time around.
S22: All right I should have said also this is the tenth anniversary. It’s one of the reasons we’re talking about it now. Curious to hear from our listeners what your history with the show is and whether you’re a prude or a Mary or you know or what have you. But anyway check it out. Great British Bake Off. It’s on Netflix.
S4: Moving on.
S1: It has been only six years since House of Cards premiered on Netflix which is really just an incredible fact.
S5: It feels as though we’ve been in this era of peak TV era forever but now it’s really been a very brief window of time. And it was that same year that Amazon began throwing various contents spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. Of course we ended up with transparent bunch of other Amazon shows led to an explosion which has been called as I said peak TV. On the one hand you had a subscription model which allows for really huge artistic risk taking especially relative to the medium of television. On the other hand though it might be a kind of a bubble forming. There are so many shows dividing too much writing talent between them resulting in a lot of what I think we’ve experienced on this show is a lot of pseudo good TV almost good TV. And then on the consumer end you know cord cutting your cable provider only works if you’re streaming diet comes from a relatively small handful of providers you can effectively pay 10 bucks or slowed Netflix equivalent to be an Amazon Prime and you have a diet of TV shows. Of course we knew that was not going to last. And we’re inevitably we’re all going to end up tying the cord back together if you want to watch everything that’s good on TV. Julia you’re the editor I assume who has signed this really quite extensive and marvelous package in the L.A. Times about the streaming bubble and the fate of streaming TV what what made you do that and what do you conclude now that it’s in the can.
S9: One is that we’ve lived in the streaming era for six years I also was astounded by that fact it feels like it’s been our new normal forever. But the streaming part of peak TV was really a second phase after the Sopranos and The Madman’s and the breaking Bad’s kind of revamped various basic cable networks into ostensible competitors to HBO. But what’s happening in the next four weeks is that Apple and Disney two of the biggest and most well capitalized companies on the planet and both companies with significant strategic advantages are launching their own competitors to Netflix and Amazon Prime and then coming next spring will have competitors from Peacock which is an NBC aspirant in this realm. And from Warner media owned by AT&T which is the owner of HBO which I suppose I should say is where my husband works they’re going to launch HBO Max. So you know that the forces have been amassing for this moment for a while Netflix and Amazon were able to build big audiences and build subscriber bases in part because they licensed old content from the rest of these studios and content great creators. And as these places have realized oh man we need to be in the streaming game. They have slowly been climbing back you know in old shows like Friends and Seinfeld which used to be licensed out but now will be run on the streaming services owned by each corporation. And. It’s just going to change things. But in ways that are unclear it’s not quite clear who which of these services will be dominant. It’s seems unlikely that all of them will survive forever.
S11: I think there are probably a few favorites in the race and I think part of why we want to do the package is that if you follow the business of Hollywood this isn’t just a tale as old as at least a few here is and feels very obvious. But if you are a consumer of television and just a watcher of staff you’ve sort of heard the Ambien things you’ve seen the marketing you know that you’re watching stuff you’ve noticed trends and what you’re watching. But looking at the way those things intersect for the viewer at home is is part of what we wanted to get at one piece that we ran was just a sheer tally of how much it would cost to subscribe to every single subscribing service we could think of which was something like four hundred and fifty ad dollars a month. You know which is you know making Americans nostalgic for their cable providers is not a task that I think anyone thought anyone was up to like what’s worse than your cable provider and dealing with you know cable outages and cable guys and the weird appointments and the bills and the overpricing and you feel locked in. You don’t have any choices and it’s essentially monopolistic. But you know it was like kind of a neat idea that you just pay someone like a set fee every month and then all the stuff you might want to watch would be available through one device in one remote.
S10: So I think there’s kind of a funny moment of over subscription and feeling overwhelmed by the choice both in terms of what to purchase and then what to watch on those things you have purchased that we wanted to capture and depict and articulate for people doing that.
S15: There was a ton of great material in that package what leapt out at you.
S8: Good question I think. Well I mean I’m not sure which piece it was from Julie you can set me straight on this one fact that leapt out at me was was that among these providers of these new services. There’s a lot of talk about whether the bingeing model still works and that a lot of most in fact of these new services that are being launched Apple TV Disney etc. don’t plan to dump things in giant 10 15 episode packages but rather to ration them out in different ways either week by week according to the old model of appointment viewing TV or sometimes dangling a few episodes to tempt you at once and then getting into a week by week schedule. And that seemed really interesting to me because I myself am not a bender and have never identified with the bingeing model and I hadn’t quite seen that articulated before the way it was by whoever wrote on that on that factor.
S9: Yeah that was Meredith Blake and Yvonne Villareal two reporters on our TV team. So both Apple and Disney Apple TV plus and Disney plus have articulated that they will be launching shows week by week and they articulated reasoning there is essentially that you need everybody to be watching things at the same time to build buzz around the show and to build that kind of watercooler sensation. I think the example the reporter cited was succession which really did build over time as people discovered it and and spoke about it. And in a world where there was just Netflix doing a few seasons seasons a year and they dumped a whole bunch of something juicy and everybody wanted to watch it all in one weekend that worked. But as we have experience there is so much B plus TV out there there’s just so much that you could watch and some people are watching but there’s less agreed upon centrality to any one show. So it’s very easy for things to totally disappear in people’s consciousnesses. So I think the notion that even as these huge corporations lean into the new technologies they will dull things out bit by bit. I think that will also change our landscape a little bit in terms of what we’re watching and what we need to pay attention to.
S1: Yeah I mean the consumer at the end of the day kind of wants a monopsony monopsony or do ops and a you know or try obscenity as there’s the buyer. They don’t. In other words you know they kind of want Netflix HBO and Amazon to be reliable providers. No one wants to build you know build back up to one hundred dollar more so or two hundred dollar monthly bill in order to get this content. And you know in the time that we’ve been doing this show there have been two huge trends in American popular culture that are totally coincident with us doing this podcast. The first is the arrival of Marvel Studios with Iron Man and the all in that the major film studios have gone into the blockbuster model the Superhero Movie Star Wars you know monopolistic intellectual property has defined the wide release theatrical release movie business since roughly 2000 eight on the other side you’ve got the rise of you know super gourmet aesthetically risky TV on one kind of subscription model or another. Right. And to me it’s just the relationship between these economic realities and content is what’s so fascinating the reason why you have to go to a blockbuster model and theatrical release is you have huge upfront costs in order to make a film without knowing whether it will play with audiences. So you are constantly trying to minimize that risk which means every movie is a Harry Potter movie a Marvel movie or a Star Wars movie huge built in fan base massive opening event like opening weekend and you can make your revenues back whether or not the movie is good or bad and whether or not audiences like it when you’ve got people subscribing on a monthly basis 10 to 15 to 20 dollars and you’ve got 100 million of them or 50 million of them. How many of a million of them you have an ratable reliable revenue source that is not dependent on any one thing succeeding with the audience which ironically then allows you to actually really please an audience in a spontaneous surprising and interesting way. And it just will be so interesting to see where that where the next 10 years takes us. I mean a multiplicity of buyers competing with one another I don’t think is ultimately good for the consumer. It’ll be interesting to see how much of this content you can access on a cart basis I mean effectively if Netflix Amazon Prime and some kind of a targeted HBO subscription everything else I do a la carte very often through Amazon. And I’ve been able to watch everything and in a world in which I’m suddenly having to piece together what amounts to a book you know a cable subscription all over again for me as a consumer that’s terrible financially. I also wonder what its effect is going to be on the content.
S8: Yeah I mean I was speaking before more as it as a critic but as a consumer a lurking fear that haunted me as I read my way through this package about the future of streaming was you know who’s going to be gouging me next. I mean in particular I’m wary of Disney. And I remember that that when when the Lion King was about to come out the new lion king Disney very cleverly took the old lion king completely off every streaming platform and made it impossible to buy in any form except for just ordering an expensive DVD.
S21: And it just enraged me so much that Disney you know there’s this massive corporate gargantuan giant couldn’t just put a popular kid’s movie up for sale for a reasonable price for people to watch before they go and see the new one is just Disney. Disney will do anything they can to get money out of your pocket and into their pocket. So I think that’s one that I will hesitate to subscribe to unless it offers something really sensational.
S1: Yeah there’s gonna be all kinds of Julia all kinds of draconian hostage taking where you’re just not going to have access to something you really want unless you pay pay up for the whole subscription fee. But Julie I have a question for you. I’m very curious about this refining my early point earlier point emote. My problem with the multiplicity of deep pocketed buyers you would think that that would lead to you know a you know a bumper crop of wonderful product I think. Aren’t they going to be. I mean there’s only so much talent visionary talent in the world you know especially writing talent if all of a sudden everyone has deep pockets and you’re dividing it up among a multiplicity of deep pocketed buyers. Aren’t you going to find more you know 12 episode shows that should have been for a lot of. Is it going to bring everyone down to a B plus. And we’re no longer going to have these great irreplaceable iconic shows.
S9: Oh I don’t know I feel like that sort of and that’s like betting against the talent of the world in a way that feels more spiritually miserly to me or something like there is gonna be a ton of money for the next few years for creative people to do creative things and that is more fundamentally to the good and probably there’ll be a lot of mediocrity and some bad stuff. And hopefully a few extraordinary gems of Breaking Bad or fleabag. So it’s hard to be against that. I mean I think the notion that these corporations are spending is probably good but the fact that the they are seeking to possess all of their IP and be very close to the vest with it is is actually gonna be the thing that’s more limiting like there’s just gonna be this series of walled gardens. I mean so people start launching their shows week by week and then maybe you’ll hear about one but like what if it’s on Apple TV plus and you don’t subscribe to that yet. There will be kind of a purchasing decision inherent in every cultural conversation you might want to join. And I do think to your concern about dis naming Disney is widely considered the favorite here. It has marvel it has. Star Wars it has this huge archive of children’s programming which which none of the rest of the services are great at. Netflix has a bunch. Amazon actually has been pulling back from its animated children’s programming possibly in anticipation of the arrival of Disney into the marketplace. And because they are so well capitalized because they know they’re coming from established front runners and Netflix both Disney and Apple are launching with extremely low prices apples and before ninety nine a month. Disney I think six ninety nine and you know they’re essentially undercutting the places that have made a bunch of complicated things for grown ups and been a whole panoply of stuff and saying get the flavors you know the existing flavors. I think there is some cause for concern that streaming which has been a respite from the economics of the movie marketplace and allowed for much more creativity could get clamped as more people subscribe to Disney and Disney is like hey if you liked Beauty and the Beast and you liked the live action remake of Beauty and the Beast here’s our beauty and the Beast children’s animated show with the high jinks of the teacup and whatever. So yeah I’m I think I’m less concerned that talent will be spread too thin on the ground and more concerned that players with more kind of conservative aesthetic values have a lot of clout and heat coming in to this forthcoming battle.
S22: All right. Anyway the Julia congrats on the package it came together beautifully it’s on the L.A. Times I’m sure it’s available on the website yes Ya ha.
S4: All right. Well find it and check it out and tell us what you thought of it. All right. Moving on all right.
S1: Well now is the moment on our podcast when we endorsed Dan Steven.
S12: And I’m I’m not. I’m not done here. Dana go ahead. What do you got. Well I was waiting for one more iteration and that well didn’t come.
S21: OK. In the spirit of English Delia and British pastoral loveliness from our Great British Bake and show conversation I’m going to endorse the Guardian country diary which I think I’ve already tweeted about my love of The Guardian country diary. It’s just a feature in The Guardian. It’s the century old column which they occasionally run actually old versions of if you if you follow them on Twitter on natural history and country life. And it’s just a very short but always beautifully written column on some aspect of country life being observed by the writer whose wonderfully anonymous unlike Vreeland Klink and Borg who used to write a similar but terrible column for The Times. They don’t center themselves. I don’t know exactly who writes the country diary and I think it may be a variety of different people but it always is about just some wonderfully named Little Bird or plant in some sort of British. You know Glen somewhere and it just takes you out of the horrible world of Twitter where you’re sinking in despair about Brexit and Trump and politics and just takes you to a lovely place and to give you an idea of how great their headlines are. I mean it really is just like a refreshing bit of birdsong peeping onto your onto your Twitter. I’ll read you the last few headlines from the country diary. The last one was House Martin’s linger on despite signs of winter and before that they went back to 1919 and reran a century old column country diary called the impudent strut of the Jack doll which seems very family friendly and going by all the columns about birds. They are really into birds but there’s also you know mushrooms and flowers and various little beasties of the country. They are very very into birds though so actually a bird like you should love it. A few more just going back through their feed alone curlew song is met with silence. I mean come on that’s a headline richness can be found among the rot. That’s one about fungus in the forest floor honeysuckle is the last port in a storm for this hover fly a couple of more a silent predator disturbs huddling grape Clovers. Oh and finally a quiet morning gives way to noise and commotion. I mean I could go on and on with a delicate flutter the season has turned. They’re just beautiful and it’s not even about reading the column necessarily but I guarantee you if you subscribe to this you will adore their little headlines popping up to to refresh your your world.
S22: That was good Dana. Yes. I’ve gotten in a long time. Those the pure stuff. All right Julia what do you got.
S10: I am going to recommend a children’s comic book series. Maybe it’s not entirely a children’s comic book series but it’s a comic book series that my children really love. It is called Super Dinosaur by writer Robert Kirkman and the artist Jason Howard Kirkman is probably best known for creating the walking dead.
S11: He is I think considered one of the lions of the forum these days and Super Dinosaur is very charming because it reminds me of one of those kids TV shows where you’re just like these diabolical wizards that came up with something that’s crack for children’s brains like I’m thinking of the show stinky and dirty which is the show about the friendship between a dumb track and a garbage truck I think.
S10: And stinky and dirty both seem like garbage trucks. Anyway I can’t remember exactly but you know it’s like high concept for children. Also there’s a show called Dinosaur Train which combines the two favorite loves of extremely avid toddlers dinosaurs and trains and just puts the dinosaurs on a time travelling train. This comic book series has that quality of like what if your best friend were a dinosaur and he had a magic suit that cost him to fly but it’s just really well told and essentially has kind of a complicated almost soap operatic plot. It’s probably a plot worthy of the Marvel Universe which may incline you toward it or against it. But it seems to dole out that kind of storytelling with dramatic scenes and conflict and escapes in a manner that is amenable to my twin 6 year olds. And another thing I love about it. As someone who has read and enjoyed graphic novels but also is not totally intuitive with the form I sometimes find that the just sheer act of reading panels is a little disorienting to me. What do you suppose to read and what order what goes where it’s not always intuitive to me. And this is just incredibly well-designed. The art is really beautiful. You always feel like you know exactly where your attention is supposed to be on the spread. And I think it’s a really masterful set of drawings and a masterfully told comics so if you have young people in your life or a comic fan I recommend the four volumes of Super Dinosaur which will teach you all about the tribulations of the dinosaur men in our earth the quest for the heretofore unknown element dinosaur and also includes really great puns for the evil dinosaur men including triceratops and pain killer stories which if you’ve spent the last five years learning about the real names of ancient dinosaurs are fairly charming. So Super Dinosaur Robert Kirkman. Check it out.
S22: I love it. Okay. In addition to my endorsement I have a couple of quick bits of business. The first I completely forgot I’ve been totally remiss as anyone who listens to this show knows my all time most cherished dream is to have it downloaded in the North Norfolk Island in the middle of the South Pacific and we’ve taken one step in the direction of that Bradley wrote in from Sydney Australia to say that his partner Mark is in Norfolk Island or not only a Norfolk Islander but a direct descendant of the lead Bounty mutineers Fletcher Christian which so I wanted to say shout out to Bradley beg him to bring a downloadable downloading device with an internet connected downloading device with them next time he goes to Norfolk Island.
S1: Make my dream a reality but I also wanted to say that I called them the Caine mutineers it’s the bounty mutineers who ended up on Norfolk Island and then a second mistake I made ages ago to just niggling at me ever since as I said that when King Lear says nothing nothing nothing nothing it’s iambic it’s not it’s true okay. How did nobody right into to pedantic Glee correct me. I’m very disappointed in our listening audience and then this week’s endorsement. I told Julia I’d been doing the L.A. Times crossword puzzle which was quite a surprise to hers. So we don’t have a crossword puzzle. We syndicate it from the Chicago Tribune. I’ve been doing the Tribune crossword puzzle it’s my first extended experience repeated experience with Crusoe verbalizing I want to know whether I’m doing an easy puzzle or a hard puzzle. All I know is that that weekly I guess it’s their Sunday Tribune crossword puzzle takes me the whole week to complete which is probably pathetic but it’s just like just freaking love it.
S15: And then finally after years of meaning to do it I’ve been reading the one novel written by the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. It’s called the notebooks of Malta. Lourdes Brig. BRIGER And it’s just such expression this is a expressionistic weirdness so beautifully contemplative contemplative fully delivered and there’s just this riff on faces I have to read a little bit. I’ve never been properly properly aware of how many faces there are. There are many people but even more faces since everyone has several. There are people who wear a face for years and of course it wears away at 30. Cracks in the creases stretches like plugs you’ve worn whilst travelling. Those are thrifty simple people. They don’t change their face. They don’t even have it cleaned. It’s good enough they argue and who who can prove the contrary. But the question is because they have several faces. What did they do with the others. They saved them. The children will wear them but it sometimes happens that their dogs go out with them on. But why not a faces a face. Other people change their faces over uncannily quickly one after the other and wear them out and on and on and on it just gets really wild. I was terrified of seeing a face from the inside but I was even more afraid of the naked raw head with no face. It’s just it’s I don’t know what to group this with but maybe it reminds me a sort of a precursor of super early modern literature.
S1: People just trying to make sense it sort of comes in between Baudelaire and T.S. Eliot right. Like people are trying to make sense of the modern city and the you know sheer plenitude of people who you don’t know all in one place and what powers of language. You know how can you make language new in order to confront this novelty of experience it’s just an amazing thing to read anyway highly recommended.
S8: Steve when you said real his novel My ears perked up like wait real cool wrote a novel. But and I love that book and I know that book. I just never thought of it as a novel. I’m surprised to hear it presented that way and I wonder if it sort of marketed that way. The author that I associate it with and I think I even wrote a little bit about the notebooks of Malta lords Berger in my dissertation on Pessoa is Fernando Pessoa the Portuguese poet who is all about wandering through the city and you know kind of trying to gather all of those experiences into some structure of meaning and who also wrote famously under all of these different names right. And that’s how I always thought of Malta. Lourdes BRIGER as a sort of header in him of of Vilks himself that it’s more like a very lightly fictionalized diary than than a novel. But you’re right that it’s something that falls completely between genres and it’s a really beautiful book for young people as a lot of rock isn’t I don’t mean that at all condescendingly or that it’s too vanilla or something like that but just that it’s he’s he’s a writer who if you read him in your teens or 20s really forms your sensibility for decades afterwards.
S21: So I would say if you’re listening to this and you’re you know under 30 get on reading that right away I mean or over 30 of course but I just I associate that with a particular writing of youth that I adore.
S1: And then I don’t mean to pull rank on you but according to wikipedia it’s his only novel whiskey.
S20: All right. I spent her higher power. I know you have a doctorate in literature from Berkeley but go after yourself.
S5: All righty. Julia thank you.
S23: Thank you. Thanks Dana. Thanks. You’ll find links to some of the things we talked about today at our show page that Slate dot com slash culture fest.
S24: Email us please do it. We love your e-mails. They get better with every passing week. I’m not blowing smoke. You can e-mail us at culture fest at Slate dot com. We have a Twitter feed it’s at Slate. Fest. Our producer is Benjamin fresh and we have our new production assistant. Her name is Rachel Allen for Dana Stevens and Julia Turner. I’m Stephen Metcalf. Thank you so much for joining us. We will see you soon.
S25: Hello and welcome to the slots please segment of the Slate Culture gab fest today we are joined by Alan Hillary’s longtime friend of the program from the University of Pennsylvania to talk about the death of Harold Bloom. Probably the most prominent American critic a controversial figure and someone about whom we have many questions and thoughts. Steve you are with Al in Philadelphia.
S10: Why don’t you lead our line of questioning.
S3: I will do that. Al thank you so much for coming on. You’re welcome. So last minute. I’m very curious to know whether you dealt with Harold Bloom personally in your career.
S26: I saw him in action in person a couple times but mostly on live some Livia mostly through reading and being influenced ironically.
S3: It’s hard not to begin. Especially to listeners of ours who might not really know Bloom. It’s just how can you not use metaphors of magnitude right. I mean he’s just he’s just he’s sort of huge and he made himself huge writing tried to insert himself in between the lay reader and what he called the Western canon or what he tried to sort of form or reform as the Western canon. That’s quite a well-known figure. Why don’t we go backwards a little bit to the younger Harold Bloom because he was a revolutionary figure in a completely different way.
S26: Yeah I mean he he sort of figured out how to be a close reader without doing the new criticism. You know he was able to avoid that. So I think the big move Steve had to be when he took all those close reading strategies that he’d learned and an immense aptitude for memorizing literature as a young person and then whether he believed that this was the ultimate move or not he decided to mix its close reading with psychoanalytic ideas.
S3: So the idea of the anxiety of influence rises finally explained just very briefly explain what they cause the anxiety of influence is the first thing that really breaks them out of the academy and people outside of you know the small world of English literature might become familiar with Harold Bloom because it this like 1973 very slim book. It’s not you know it’s it’s a couple hundred pages if that but propounding a theory of literary literature as as a chain of anxious influence.
S26: So it’s not simply that the great writers influence us but that there’s this psychopathology of everyday life thing about when you sit down and you’re under the influence of Emerson or Shakespeare you really have to swerve from them. It’s not simply a positive engagement. So that idea had been around a long time. The idea of our positive influence constructive influence but the idea that you had to work to avoid it in a Freudian kind of way. All right. That was crazy so his. I think the metaphor he used or the one that we all taught ourselves I’m sure you did the same was you know Shakespeare is Jupiter and you’re some little satellite you have really under the influence and it’s very hard to escape there’s the perturbation I think is a term he used is too great. If you can sidle up as a moon like thing next to a Mars like writer you have a better chance of resisting the perturbation and creating your own.
S3: And in this theory on originality is a form of literary nonexistence right. The Nietzsche and Freudian struggle against this precursor figure is always to rest from this struggle your own selfhood which may require Patrick’s side.
S5: You know it’s Patrick Ryder suicide creatively. And so it’s this really deep psychic struggle to become.
S26: Yeah. Ironically when Bloom set about doing his thing on a writer let’s take while Steve’s as an example so you know anxiety of influence is 1973 his next big book. I may be wrong because he wrote so many is a book about Wallace Stevens of all people that poet. I think it’s about 1977 so when inaction. This is weird because it’s not like he said that Stevens resisted Whitman and Emerson he ended up reading Whitman and Emmerson in the Stevens right. So it kind of cuts both ways and I think it’s partly because he didn’t did he ultimately believe that we were doing an ethical struggle with every great writer. No he just really liked to write about the tension of it. And then he became the rescuer he became almost the psychoanalytic him he became almost the therapist.
S3: Getting you out of the problem belatedly and there’s the super counterintuitive move that you allude to which is that influence can work temporarily backwards in some sense that that that a fully strong poet makes us reread everything that came before him typically.
S15: And it’s a very gendered theory I think.
S26: But him or her rad AG on and struggle and all that male stuff.
S3: Yeah it’s fathers and sons and but but the son might become so strong that you reread the father and therefore the influences working counter chronologically.
S26: What’s interesting and I really want to ask you about this. Oh dear. Yeah. Is that those of us who encountered this especially coming of age as I was at the time we had to do our own resistance of the theory so that only proved bloom right. Right. Which is that like we struggle with this bloomin thing and we ignored it we ignored it as much as possible but of course it was in our ears and I just can’t get it out of your head. And so ironically we had to swerve around the blooming idea that writers have to swerve around their influences.
S3: I have I’m will bring Dana and Julia. We’ve been remiss. Your book. But but very quickly my theory about the anxiety of influence is that it does not exist in the struggle for writers to become creatively individual at least not exactly as Bloom elucidated. I do think it exists in the relationship between academic mentors and mentees between theses advisors and theses writers and a bloom was taking a parochial condition of graduate English professionalization and professional reproduction and projecting it upon the English canon. But that’s my own pet.
S26: Yeah but a better question to ask you and Dana and Julia have to get in on this because his because his his greatest effect I think was not ultimately still inside the academy but people who respect the academy who have been inside the academy but then went outside to produce works that are readable to produce criticism. Yeah is what all three of you people do right.
S15: He wanted to be a public figure so why don’t I throw it all right.
S26: Julia and just so here’s my but here’s my question before we turn it only is you know for you Steve. How do you write through your fealty to Joan Didion and Janet Malcolm. That is to say you can’t simply do it Janet Malcolm. Otherwise you’re not you haven’t you have your own styles that you’re wrestling with this is a bloomin problem.
S5: Yes it’s blooming and blooming and my sense which is that my thesis advisor was David Bromwich and I have struggled to get it the smell of garlic out of my kitchen.
S3: You know it’s sort of the metaphor that Larkin used for Yates. You know he just had Yates was in his style as a young poet like garlic got into a you know the garlic smells got into a kitchen and he just couldn’t eradicate it.
S5: And it was only when he finally read you have to he went to another strong father he went to Hardy and it was when he read Thomas Hardy and saw that English poetry didn’t have to be this inflated mysticism you know invoking the entire cut Cosmos but could be actually quite mundane and still poetic that he became full plaque. And so I often think what you’ve just got to go. You know I have to go get Joan Didion to go beat up David Bromwich in order to write anything like Stephen Metcalf.
S12: Maybe why I finished my book is quite a therapy session.
S11: So Dana and your you know PGD studies did Harold Bloom was Harold Bloom’s influence infiltrating comparative literature department of Berkeley during your time there.
S14: It will only negatively. I mean I’ve been waiting this whole time to respond with my vision of what Harold Bloom meant in the early 90s. And this is not at all personal vision I never attended a class with him or her to lecture by him or anything like that but by the early 90s he was seen at least where I was a grad student in literature at UC Berkeley as a figure of a defender of the canon and not just of the canon but of Kennedy. And the idea that there is you know a Western canon that must be taught in order to form young minds at universities of the traditional and to our mind at the time patriarchal version of what literary canon was.
S8: And as I remember what he was mainly known for in that kind of culture wars of the early 90s was that he really resisted vocally resisted the opening of that canon to include women writers writers of color. I mean it wasn’t that he was specifically attacking individual writers as I remember but you know he he essentially objected to the idea of objecting to the literary canon.
S26: And so that made him something of a nemesis in my graduate studies and rightly so he wasn’t an outright anti multicultural ist he was very overt about that.
S8: And I remember much later not much later but shortly after finishing my P H D when I was struggling along with various extremely low paying jobs and one of them was writing for Kirkus Reviews the you know publishing what would you call it newsletter The the publication that worried booksellers. Yeah trade publication. And so you would write these very short capsule reviews of new books and I reviewed some book of Harold Bloom’s that was about the canon and you know was essentially his his defense of the traditional Western literary canon. And I remember him really getting on my nerves by calling you know three to one. And I remember him in this book really getting on my nerves by calling representatives of you know new kinds of writing in the canon and different voices essentially you know women writers writers of color etc. cheerleaders. I remember he had this term you know I don’t want to read people who are cheerleaders for some individual identity or other. I still remember not to quote myself but I remember in my tiny capsule review saying something about how Harold Bloom was oblivious to his own gigantic humanist pompoms. You know that he was he was waving at all. And then to talk about the last iteration of Harold Bloom it has entered the news he was implicated in me too and all kinds of ways that I cannot remember exactly right now and I don’t think we’re extremely scandalous. But you know he was definitely a hand on your knee kind of professor to generations of young women at Yale and was not fondly remembered by them for that reason.
S26: The people I’ve spoken with who sat in the classroom say and I didn’t say something like this. He was ethereal and cerebral almost a head without a body at the end of the seminar table. But at the same time you felt that he was fill in the blank immensely bodily presence that was in the old style of male genius professors just in the space. And one can imagine how many ways that was intimidating and bad for the purposes of a real seminar discussion.
S3: I totally agree with that.
S9: Yeah I mean I think my encounter with him probably comes off having been you know a high school student at the time when when the Berkeley complex department was reviling his influence and being aware of these debates about Canada city having had a pretty traditional secondary education where I read great works of American English literature in order including many many many white men. And then you know Mary Shelley and you know a couple of women around the edges not so many writers of color. And and found I remember finding those arguments intellectually fascinating at the time but thinking of him as kind of Mr. Big Bad. No. The White men wrote the books because they had all the talent. Which just seemed so obviously dumb to me as a teen. And you know I think I’ve described this on the show then after that pretty traditional New England education going to Brown in the late 90s thinking I was going to be an English major and just finding myself so alienated and turned off by what quote unquote reading literature was at Brown at that time that I retreated to the stodgy craggy embrace of the history department because I actually fundamentally was a little bit more interested in treating texts as texts and reading books in a more classical way because that’s how I had been trained. Even if I wanted to read a wider array of authors and think about some of the historical forces that might have let some people write more books than others. So I found myself a little betwixt and between by the time I got to college but now he was just sort of an avatar of being unafraid to say now these are the great works let’s just look at them.
S26: I’m interested in how the three of you have dealt with the recent deaths of you know really important people it’s so hard when you’re in the obit phase everybody is trying to define certain categories. I think in the case and you have to do it you can’t wait a year before you write celebrate a life that’s ended that’s just ended. I get that I’m not I’m not criticizing that at all. I love listening to your first takes on this. In this case you know if you look at the New York Times obit they struggled because they wanted to say that Bloom was part of the high theory deconstruction this moment at Yale and for maybe five minutes he was part of that group. It was very brief but he was really not doing that at all. But it’s an easy way for us to think about it. He really wanted to escape that for reasons that are both very idiosyncratic and weird and kind of sometimes repulsive but also because he really wanted to reach outside the academy and get people to read books that he loved.
S3: Yes I think this is a huge key is he. So I took a seminar with him in the 1990s late phase Bloom fading into irrelevance topic Shakespeare he was conscious of his status and he would often talk about showbiz. Oddly enough he would admit that what he did was showbiz and he sort of looked like Zero Mostel he had this common said that he called himself Zero Mostel. Yeah I mean it’s all kind of uncanny resemblance. And I think there was a side to him that was aware of the degree of rhetorical inflation it took in order to get quote unquote general or ordinary readers interested in what interested him. And so the idea of taking it all together throwing it in one space and calling it something grand like the Western canon was just a way to get people to read Shakespeare and Milton and appreciate them in ways they otherwise wouldn’t do. We knew that in doing that he was dealing with the mass media the mass media and needed him to be something of a cartoon. He converted himself into that and a kind of kind of worked. The downside of that was and this was very true when I was there was the anxiety of influence had worked the opposite way for him.
S5: He’d become the papa. He’d become the patriarch and he had to students who he did not cultivate and Yale lost them and Yale had been a legendary English department for two generations and it did not stay one for a third generation because Steve because John Guillory and Stephen Greenblatt who were students of bloom in one way or another were driven away from that department and driven away in part because he could not accept the way they were using all of society as a kind of textual resource in order to understand you know sort of minimizing genius relative to other social factors under the influence of you know so-called new historicity and reading history as one would a text.
S3: Yeah. So Fukuda you know the influence of great move. Yeah fuko Grant Greenblatt and Borgia for for Guillory they took English studies in a different direction but Greenblatt became a kind of public figure almost in some ways the sequel to bloom capable of writing a bestseller.
S1: Guillory did really important work and they weren’t at Yale in part because he couldn’t take hearing another way of thinking about it.
S26: He went with the genius theory it’s almost as if he read his Freud except when Freud got to civilization in its tenth year. Exactly. You said Zero Mostel I could think of is Harold Bloom snapping and singing tradition. Totally appropriate right. Yeah I. This morning you know you e-mailed me come talk about Harold Bloom. So I went to look for my bloom and it wasn’t there. Why I had all my Wallace Stevens books and the bloom should be there. It turns out that I had relegated it to the base here and this says everything and this is what Dana and Juliet are talking about. You know at a certain point Blume was not going to speak to me. I’m really not it was really not interested but I had to deal with him because I was writing a book about well Stevens. So I put him in the basement but I have to say every time I write an essay about Stevens the word Bloom capitalized B is in there somewhere because you can’t get him out of your head partly because he was such a great close reader. And that’s ultimately what we’re about here.
S14: Yeah. And the basement is not the same as taking it to Goodwill right. Maybe it’s not as you say something you’re gonna get off the shelf and crack again in the near future but it’s there. Part of forming the base in the formation of your thinking totally right.
S26: The basement is a great metaphor for it. As it turns out.
S9: Oh thank you so much for coming in this was so interesting. You’re welcome. Any word on resonated through your work and thank you all Slate Plus members for listening and for supporting slate and its work. We’ll see you next week.