Culture Gabfest “I’ll Be Your Mirror” Edition

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S1: I’m Stephen Metcalf, and this is the Slate Culture gabfest, I’ll be your Mirror Edition, it’s Wednesday, October 20th, 2021. On today’s show, The Velvet Underground is a documentary on Apple Plus. It recounts in glorious detail the rise of the greatest art rock band of all time and the New York City avant garde milieu that gave it life and purpose. It’s from the filmmaker Todd Haynes. We’ll be joined for that segment by Slate’s own Carl Wilson and then the Netflix show Midnight Mass as a supernatural horror series. It’s also a yes, it’s true. Believe me or not, it is a theater. See, it’s a meditation on the presence of evil in a world supposedly created by a loving deity for that segment will be joined by Rebecca Onion. And finally, the comedian Dave Chappelle has made what he says is his final special for Netflix. We address his attempt to address the controversies surrounding his anti-trans humor. For that segment, we’ll be joined with Jesse David Fox. For now, though, we do have Dana Stevens for, I believe, the first segment in endorsements Dana.

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S4: Hey, Steve, good to be here.

S1: And we’re joined this week by Karen Hon Karen. Welcome back to the show.

S4: Thank you so much for having me. It’s always a delight.

S1: Yeah, it’s great to have you back. All right, let’s let’s do this. All right. Well, since roughly 1980, when I was an adolescent, up to now, I’ve held only two beliefs consistently the whole time. The first is that Ronald Reagan was evil, and the second was that the Velvet Underground is the greatest rock and roll band of all time. They, of course, they share that title. I know Savior emails, they share that title with at least three others. I would argue only three others, but that’s a discussion for another day. They were famously avant garde in their attitude and menacing in their sound. They sold virtually no records at the time during their run in the 60s as Andy Warhol Pet Project and the factories house band. But as the cliche goes, they launched 1000 other bands that we know and love. The records and songs are now iconic. Still, the story in the back story of the band what each of its members, but principally Lou Reed, a fucked up suburban kid from Long Island, and John Cale, an avant garde musician from Wales, brought to the project, as well as their in addition to their chief enabler, Warhol in their chief collaborator, arguably Nico. That story in BackStory is now given its proper due by filmmaker Todd Haynes in his documentary that goes by the name The Velvet Underground. It’s up on streaming on Apple. Why don’t we listen to a clip? Yeah.

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S5: Upstairs was a scene that developed people like Walter Cronkite and Jackie Kennedy, and a lot of the socialites showed up done because of Andy and because of his connections with the Central Park West art collectors. Incredible people came and dance narrative came. The whole New York City ballet company Dave.

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S1: All right, well, we’re joined by Carl Wilson, of course, the music critic for Slate Carl. Welcome back to the show.

S2: So glad to be here.

S1: Let me begin by congratulating you on you brought a lot of love to your view piece on slate. It’s terrific piece of writing. No surprise. Thank you. I love this documentary. It does a couple of things. I know the story of the band pretty well, as I’m sure you did, but it does a couple of things quite well. I thought and filled in where people might not otherwise understand fully the story. First of all, it is a in addition to an incisive portrait of a great iconic rock and roll band. It’s the back story. It’s the story of the milieu that gave them their sort of purpose and meaning in some sense, not just the Warhol milieu. That’s only a small part of it in a way and becomes a huge part of it. But it’s really a much deeper story about the avant garde and post-war New York City. A loft scene, an art scene, a performance art scene, and an art film scene with people like Jonas Mekas at the center of it. As a consequence of which there’s a ton of very interestingly shot archival footage of the band virtually from its inception. I learned a lot and I was surprised by that. I know that’s not phrased as a question, but Carl. I have to imagine the Velvets are kind of at the core of your canon, maybe. But did you learn things and did it hold your attention, or would you make of the documentary? And what do we know about the band now that we didn’t before?

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S2: Yeah, I mean, I wouldn’t say that I learned facts. Definitely. I am of that niche in music fandom, where the Velvet Underground was pretty formative to everything I looked for aesthetically after discovering them. So, so all of the information was there. And I’m also kind of an art nerd, so. So the experimental cinema scene that they talk about and the kind of minimalist experimental music scene that Carl was involved in, all of that stuff was familiar to me on one level. But I think that’s something that the movie does incredibly well, and I think it’s because of Haynes background. As a fiction filmmaker, this is his first documentary. It manages in a way that almost no rock documentary I’ve ever seen does to not second guess itself not to tell us the story as though the end of the story is a given. It actually tells it the way you would tell this in a novel, as though we don’t know where this is going. And so the ingredients very slowly come together. You see read emerging from Long Island and you see John Cale emerging from Wales and slowly finding each other through these different art scenes. And in the case of the Velvet Underground, that’s incredibly important because their reputation in some ways has grown to the point where it really eclipses them as a project and as human beings such that their influence really subsumes everything about the music and how really extraordinary and strange it is that this music happened at all. All it would take is like Leonard Bernstein, not to have given John Cale a fellowship to come to New York and study at Tanglewood in the Velvet Underground would never have happened. And there’s a million little accidents like this that we kind of get to experience in real time. And the great thing about it, compared to rock documentaries, usual thing is there’s pretty much no preaching and sermonizing and bloviating about the significance of the band. Mike Haynes lets us figure that out for ourselves and take it for granted. And the movie just cuts off at the point where Lou Reed leaves the band. There’s not like another half hour of Bono and Dave Grohl sitting around defecating about their importance, and that’s a really that’s a really important and refreshing approach. And then, as you were saying, for all of the artifacts of the time, the experimental cinema by Amicus and Jack Smith and Mayor Darren and Stan Breakage and Warhol Zone work all fills the screen all the time. It’s Carl is usually a split screen between some actual interviewee and all of this kind of cultural milieu and background sound coming from the music. And it’s all kind of a collage that really immerses you in a way that I think is just, I mean, I have only been able to see it on streaming and not in his cinema, unfortunately. But I can only imagine, yes, how amazing it would be to really see it in that environment.

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S1: Agree. And I’ll see the floor very quickly. But I do want to say something fast, which is that in place of Dave Grohl and Bono, you have Lamont Young and Delmore Schwartz just to pick out two huge influences on the band. Lamont Young, avant garde composer pioneering the use of micro tonal shifts in drone in order to achieve almost like a kind of spiritual breakthrough, which was hugely influential on Carl. And the way that works itself into the sound of the Velvet Underground is just so fucking fascinating. You’re like, I really get now where that influence came to, where that sound came from, and why it was there of the especially the first record. But then also like Delmore Schwartz, this extraordinary. Followed, who kind of ended up self squandering spectacularly nonetheless, was a really extraordinary writer across multiple formats. I mean, he was this in dreams begin responsibilities. Just incredibly beautiful set of short stories was a kind of mentor figure to a very painfully lost Lou Reed when Lou Reed and wash sort of washed up really at Syracuse University. Schwartz just happened to be there, and it gave Reed a sense of his own literary vocation. And really, that’s where those, you know, even by the standards of Dylan quite self-consciously literary lyrics about supposedly debased subjects you know, came from and it’s just it’s so much better to have all of that in the first half hour of the movie than to have the, you know, OK, Boomer bloviating in the last half hour of the movie. But anyway, guys, take it away.

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S4: I had a question. This is a little bit of a pivot, but I am going to assume that of the four people chatting right now, I am the least familiar with the Velvet Underground and one thought that I had Carl. As you said, one of the things that I really appreciate about the documentary is that doesn’t like bloviate. It doesn’t go on too long. And I think it’s also kind of separate from what we usually expect from documentaries at this point in that it kind of does the minimal amount of hand-holding in terms of explaining who these people are and explaining kind of more than the talking heads are saying. To that end, I feel like I still got the overall narrative that Todd Haynes was trying to spin about the inception of the Velvet Underground. But at the same time, I’m sort of wondering you guys as Velvet Underground fans, do you think that this movie is super accessible for people who aren’t familiar with their music or with the people in the band Karen?

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S3: That is a great question. I’m really glad that there’s someone on the panel who didn’t grow up listening to this music because then you can think of it as you know, a documentary in terms of information delivery and does it succeed at that? But I feel like we were all not yet putting our finger on what is so unique about this documentary, which which is the form that Todd Haynes brings to it. I don’t think that he intends to teach people about the Velvet Underground, necessarily in terms of, I think that you say this in your in your review Carl or somebody did in writing about it, of taking notes, right? It’s not like you would watch this and then you’d be able to pass a quiz on the history of art rock in the 1960s, and John Cale’s scholarship from Leonard Bernstein is a completely sensory experience that you Carl in your review Carl rapturous, which I think was the perfect adjective. That was exactly my response to this as less of a music person than a movie person. My first response on hearing about this was Todd Haynes made a documentary. You know, it almost didn’t matter what it was about. I wanted to see what he, as one of my favorite working filmmakers, would bring to the form of a non-fiction film. And I feel like what this movie does. There is so radical and inventive that I cannot wait to see it again. I’m definitely seeing it on the big screen. It’s just it’s a beautiful piece of cinema, and I wanted to talk, for example, specifically Carl about the way that that Haynes gets that effect. You were talking about that there aren’t bloviating Dave roles on screen, and that’s by placing this deliberate limitation on himself that he would only talk to people or listen to audio footage of people who were there at the time. Right. So the talking heads are probably yeah, Maureen Tucker, who is the drummer for the band and Mary Warren of who is a, you know, figure on the factory scene. Those people are still alive and they are talking heads who were interviewed in chairs in the classic way, but there’s really relatively little of that. Most of the voices we hear are the voices of, for example, Jonas Mekas, who died shortly before this movie was made or while it was being made, I suppose, since he’s interviewed. And John Cale recorded from the time Lou Reed recorded from the time. And then what he does visually while you’re hearing those voices is also unusual. This is something we’ve talked about many times when we talk about documentaries on the show, which is that the documentarians problem, especially when you’re talking about things that happened long enough in the past that a lot of the subjects are dead is what do you show while you’re listening to the music or listening to the voices, right? And often there’s this kind of visual vamping that’s really boring, right? Just the standard PBS. Let’s show a montage of news from the time or something like that. And Haynes never does that. He’s always doing something visually interesting and mysterious and layered with, as you say, Carl. These multiple portions split screens with different things going on in them. Some of it Andy Warhol films, some of it footage of The Velvet Underground, but some of it, you know, advertising from the time or what looks like home movies of street scenes of New York. And so it’s just this super kind of immersive and layered experience to watch this movie, and I cannot wait to watch it again. It’s definitely going my 10 best of the year.

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S2: Yeah, I mean, that’s one of the things that’s amazing about it. And the reason that there’s never been a really comprehensive view documentary before is that surprisingly, given that they had all these filmmakers around them, there’s actually very little surviving footage of the band performing. And what there is has terrible sound. And so Haynes uses what’s there for that, but finds this incredible solution of drawing visual material from the archive of the entire environment around them. And it’s funny because there are talking heads going on pretty much all the time. It is like an oral history of. The life of the band over the period that it’s covering, but this other thing is also going on all the time, so it’s almost like there’s four hours of movie packed into this two hours of. And the other thing I just wanted to say. Well, we’re talking about who the interviewees are, and some of them are really amazing. But it’s key, I think, to the way the story gets told here that John Carl is basically the point of view character. Along with mode, one of the two survivors of the peak period of the band who Lou Reed died about six years ago and Sterling Morrison died a long time ago. The band’s guitarist and Carl has always been. He gets his due as as kind of the co-leader of the band, but they’ve all kind of been overshadowed by Lou Reed over the decades, and I’m sure Haynes would have loved to be able to talk to Lou. But at the same time, it’s part of the way that it kind of shifts your whole perspective on the band that kills perspective comes to the forefront. And that and I think that’s as a contribution to music history, something that the documentary really contributes kind of subtly and under its breath.

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S1: I wholeheartedly agree. And Carl says, first of all, he’s a magnificently self-possessed late, middle aged man who’s a wonderful interviewee. I could have listened to him talk about anything for hours. At one point, he says, the thing about a band is if it works, it’s two plus two equals seven. So he gives you a sense of like where the seven came from, especially out of the creative friction between him and Lou Reed to shout out. I really want to make. Jonathan Richman, the chief songwriter and singer of the Modern Lovers, may be the first of the really great bands influenced by the Velvet Underground talks beautifully about they were a religion to a very young and very lost Jonathan Richman, the band he went and saw them. I think he estimates in the multiple dozens of times. I think the number is as high as 60 or 80.

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S2: He says 60 to 70 times.

S1: Yeah, incredible writing. And his descriptions are genuinely magnificent. As a man who fronted a band and a great band, in my estimation, and the other person I think is very important to point out is Amy Taliban. For all of the really horrible, narcissistic mythologizing around the factory scene about which I have much more equivocal feelings than I do about the Velvet Underground. I’m glad that someone when someone comes out and reinforces the truth of it, which is that it was highly misogynistic and it tended to chew up and spit out beautiful women. And that was very much a consequence of Warhols attitude towards women. And I thought both of those voices were. I was very grateful to have in the documentary

S3: another angle that Todd Haynes brings, and he brings out in a lot of different footage in different interviews is the kind of queer adjacent nature of the whole factory scene, right? I mean, there was a lot of sex going on both Homo and hetero within that scene. A lot of those people were hooking up and there was exploitation going on. But there was also kind of exploration in the music to sort of pushing a boundaries that had not been pushed before. And that’s not something it seems like it’s stressed a lot in histories of rock music in general. So I really welcomed, you know, Todd Haynes, one of the great queer filmmakers bringing that angle

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S2: as an extension of that Dana. I think there’s also something that we shouldn’t leave this session without mentioning, which is that I think there’s a yearning that runs through this film in recreating that time and the pioneering ness of what was going on from these artists. There’s a question I think Haynes is posing as a sort of radical filmmaker himself who has found his place in the mainstream about how do we find in the current culture that feeling of antagonism and willingness to break things. And danger that all of this kind of music and art was generated from at the time. And I think, you know, it’s not a nostalgic movie very much by design. It really tries to be present tense. But I think there’s a question inherent in it about where there is an outside to the current, all encompassing ness of of the media ecosystem and social media, and all of the things that keep us kind of from having a secret in the way that the Velvet Underground was kind of a secret and what that means to the culture. And I think that’s something Haynes really is kind of probing at in a subtle way in the quotes he chooses from his interviewees and all of these things. And I think I really left with that sense of sturdiness and wondering on that level,

S3: maybe that’s the answer to Karen’s question. In a way, if you walk into this completely having no idea who this band was, you would not walk out being able to say, Oh, they influenced this band in this band, and here’s why they’re important to hear all their albums. You’d want to go listen to them. You’re right, and you’d want to go read more about them. And that seems like the best thing a documentary can do.

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S1: I hope so. One thing I want to say quickly is that I couldn’t quite remember what album had, what tracklist. So I went back and look, just go, look at that first records track list and your jaw. It’s true of all of their records, really. I mean, but your jaw hits the floor. Every single one is, has its own integrity, is a masterpiece, and together it’s just one of the great albums of all time. There are so many to choose from, but Carl, I’m going to make you pick one. Velvet Song for us to go out on.

S2: I think partly because it gets so much of the sound and also because it has kind of the right logic. Note to go out on, I think maybe all tomorrow’s parties.

S1: Oh, perfect. Thanks, Carl Wilson. Please come back soon. Always a delight.

S2: Always glad to be here.

S1: All right, before we go any further, this is typically where we talk business Dana, what do we have?

S3: Thanks, Steve. The only business this week is to tell listeners about our bonus segment, our Slate Plus segment for the day, which is inspired by listener email. As a lot of our slate pluses have been lately, we’re really on a roll of getting great listener emails with ideas of things to talk about. Today’s very reliable question comes from a listener who wants to know about outgrowing art, basically. Art of our youth that is formative to us and important in some way, but that we don’t revisit either, because we’re slightly embarrassed by it now. It just doesn’t speak to us as much anymore. You know, we just sort of feel like we’ve assimilated its lessons and moved on. I know I have a lot to say about this, and I really am curious to hear what Stephen Karen have to say. So we will be talking about that at the end of the show. If you’re a Slate Plus member, if you’re not a Slate Plus member, of course, you can sign up as always at Slate.com slash culture plus when you sign up, which costs only $1 for your first month right now and all kinds of other benefits, including not ever having to hear me read an ad again. So if you’re interested in some of those perks, you can sign up as always at Slate.com slash culture plus again at Slate.com Culture Plus and thank you so much to those of you who are subscribers already. OK, Steve, back to the show.

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S1: All right. Well, Midnight Mass, it’s a new streamer on Netflix. It stars Zach Gilford as a young tech baron whose life is upended totally and totally deservedly by a drunk driving accident that kills a teenage girl. He does four years in prison and comes out a deeply subdued, withdrawn young man whose sense of what comes next is so attenuated he returns to his dinky hometown. I don’t think he has a lot of affection for it. It’s Crockett Island, which has a kind of coast of Maine vibe with weathered fishermen’s houses and even more weathered fishermen, a kind of doleful on island feeling of people living quite separate from the mainland and too long and too tightly with one another. A novelist once said there are only two stories a stranger comes to town and a man goes on a journey. The show kind of has both, right? There’s the return of the prodigal son, and that coincides with the arrival of a young and charismatic priest and then weird shit starts happening on the island. This is from Mike Flanagan Hughes, I think best known for his adaptations of Haunting of Hill House, The Shirley Jackson Classic and The Haunting of Bly Manor, which comes from Henry James. Let’s listen to a clip. All right, let me just set it up really quickly. In it, you’re going to hear Zach Gilford, the young man who’s returned to the island talking to the new priest at a little two person AA meeting that the priest has set up for him on island.

S2: We can tolerate it because we can say things like God works in mysterious ways like like, there’s a plan like something good is going to come out of it. Nothing good came out of my drinking. Nothing good came out of me killing that poor girl, nothing good came out of Joe Connolly’s drinking. Not a single good thing comes out of Liza never being able to walk again. Nothing good came out of a metric ton of crude oil filling up the bay. And the only thing the only fucking thing that lets people stand by watching all this suffering, doing nothing. Fucking nothing. Is the idea that suffering can be a gift from God? What a monstrous idea, father.

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S1: All right, well, we’re joined by Rebecca Onion’s staff writer for Slate, of course, and very old friend of the program. We all go way back, Rebecca. Welcome to the

S6: show. Thank you so much. I’m so glad to be here to talk about this show, which I watched a couple of weeks ago and I can’t stop thinking about.

S1: Oh my gosh. OK, well. Well, don’t let me get in your way with a perfectly worded question. Go.

S6: I mean, I think so. I wrote a post, firstly, about the sort of romance of the show, and I think I sort of am just like in love with that Gilford. Possibly a but I also want me to I don’t want to be too spoilery, but he’s only one part of the show. And just so much of the show is about a town that has really seen better days and people that have seen better days and how they react when the promise of something like a magic fix like comes around the corner for them and the sadness of the individual losses in the show. I think that’s what’s really stuck with me is how all these different people are facing down. You know, their community is fading. The ecology of the sea is like wrecked. A lot of them have lost the faith that they used to have and Catholic Church, a lot of people have moved away. Riley Flynn, whose is that for a character, his father has horrible back pain and like, can’t dance with his wife anymore. You know, it’s just all of these sort of like individual tragedies and a promise that comes around the bend for them that ends up being possibly toxic and how they react to that. So I think that’s what they’re really riveted me. What are you guys like about the show? If you do like it, maybe you don’t.

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S4: I think I had sort of the opposite compulsion from you guys, Rebecca and Steve, because for me, the most interesting part of the show was like the young, charismatic priest who arrives to take the place of their former very old and, according to the townspeople, somewhat out of mind, monsignor. That was the part that was most interesting to me. And also as much as I love Friday Night Lights, Sara said. As much as I love him, I thought that the part of the show that that half of the show rather was kind of weaker to me, just because I don’t know if either of you guys felt this. But Mike Flanagan propensity for monologues is so extreme, particularly in this show. Like every episode at some point grinds to a halt for a monologue that takes five minutes. And it got to the point where around in the third episode I watched this with my partner. We would turn to each other and go, Here we go again. Like, Here’s the monologue scene. Here it is. And I would say that not all of them really do that much in terms of expressing the characters in their life or propelling the story in any way. What did you guys think of that aspect of the show?

S1: Oh, definitely. The monologue and the voiceover are two of the biggest writer crutches. I think in Hollywood, you’ve got to find a more action oriented way of revealing character and moving the plot forward. So I didn’t love that aspect of it, but I didn’t see Friday Night Lights. It’s one of those things I’m going to watch when I really have a time to binge the whole thing. So I wasn’t familiar with them and didn’t know that that was what he was known for. I just loved him in this. This is the hardest and quickest 180 I think I’ve ever done on a show where by the end of the first episode, I was like, This is homework, right? Like, I’m not gonna know when I’m watching this to the end. This is way too. It’s got a kind of network. F-bombs aside, it has a network vibe. Somehow, to me, I thought, I’m not going to single them out because what I’m about to say is so negative. But I thought some of the secondary characters were literally played by high schoolers in makeup. It had such a school play vibe. I don’t know if this struck any of you, but I was like, There’s no way that’s a 62 year old man.

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S4: It serves a story purpose. Steve, how far did you end up watching?

S2: No, I got to the end of the second episode, but

S1: but you know, in my.

S6: Oh my gosh.

S1: In my defense, I desperately try to fit his Squid game, a piece out of the Atlantic monthly. And also, I would have watched more of it if I hadn’t liked it, because I can now say that enthusiastically. I do. I think what I’m this is sharing too much. But when I cut something supposedly down to size, I want to you at least most, if not all of it. We don’t just want to say quickly that what got me is I’m an on island guy. I like love islands like this and I love being on them and I love the vibe. But I think this one sort of captures that it’s a little got a little Hollywood hokum, but mixed into its variety. But I love the relationship between Zac Gilford character and the young pregnant woman who sort of stranded on the island, mostly because of their performance with each other. There’s a moment in the, I believe, first or early in the second episode, and I don’t know if you remember this where he says something about pregnant people, and then he corrects himself and says pregnant women, and she gives this little smile and says, Yeah, they’re usually women. I am 100 percent sure. Not really, but I’m going to say I’m 100 percent sure that was a flub, and he wanted to keep the scene moving. So he corrected himself and she made the adlib joke, which is terrific, and their rapport from that moment on as actors is so good. It’s like they’re sharing little private. Jokes with each other, and I just got that, carried me into it, the supernatural stuff I don’t care about very much, but you know, the non high school actors in bad makeup performances to me are totally gripping as well as the salty tang of the air.

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S6: I’m so curious which ones you mean?

S4: Yeah, I have two parts. Number one, Steve, if you were an island fan, I don’t know if you’ve seen the series the third day, but you should check that out. It’s all about a little island community at number two. The reason I asked about how much you’d seen is because there is a payoff to that kind of high school old acting slash makeup. There is a payoff.

S1: See, Daisy, I was wondering if there almost had to be, Oh shit.

S6: OK, you’re going to find out. Yeah. Also, I would argue that there is also going to be an episode where there is a two handed monologue between Riley and Aaron that I

S4: fully respect that you guys love them. But that episode drove me crazy.

S6: Tell me why it drives you crazy. And I’ll see if I could argue you down.

S4: OK, that’s fair. Well, it was the fact that it’s in two separate scenes where one of them does a monologue and then asks the question of the other person and the other person does a monologue. And then that happens twice. Throughout the episode, there’s two different scenes where there’s two monologues just back to back. Not great structurally. And also, I don’t know, I wasn’t as enamored of their rapport as you guys are. I think although I, I understand it, but when she’s like, What do you think happens after death? Like, what do you think dying is like? I was like, Get over it

S6: and maybe I’m making excuses, but I felt like that was so atmospheric to me of the way that their relationship was kind of like redeveloping so that again, no spoilers, but something terrible happens to her. And they’re spending basically, they’re spending a night where he is kind of like just being with her and the sort of the extended sort of musings that they go into about the nature of life after her death. Do you have like an anchor in the story, like a reason why they’re talking about it? And I don’t know. I could kind of just like, let myself go with it a little bit and feel like the mood of that, like, sort of like late night conversation and someone’s mother’s living room where it’s like, you know, yeah, that’s fair. Like just kind of a distillation of the relationship to like the talking of it. But I also maybe I just didn’t like a sap and I was shipping them really hard and I want to see them.

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S4: I to see them understand each other. Yeah, whenever there is a show where you’re like, I really wish these two characters would kiss whenever there’s a scene with them, it’s like, Yes, yes, yes. Yeah, yeah, you’re right. Yeah, exactly. Now’s the time to do it. But so that I’m not being too much of a downer, I will say I really think Hamish Linklater, who plays the young priest, is really, really good in this show. I think he is really the one actor where I wasn’t annoyed when he was doing a monologue just because he manages to carry it so well. And I also thought that the way that they handle the supernatural aspect in the show is really fun, which I guess is maybe not down to the show, but down to the source material, since this is based on a book. But the idea that if you weren’t necessarily familiar, like with the common monster tropes that we have, the idea that you would find something supernatural and think of it as like a sign from God is so intriguing.

S6: Mm hmm. Yeah, I love that idea. And I agree about Hamish Linklater. I don’t know if he’s been in anything else but that you know that we could compare it to you.

S4: But well, he was big as a theater actor for a while. I would say that the stuff that he’s done in movies and TV is maybe a little less high profile currently. But this is a huge role for him.

S1: It’s a tough job, the charismatic young priest. And you want him to be seductive but also a little creepy. And getting that balance right is tough and he’s I agree. He’s terrific. I have a question for the panel, which is, you know, there is an attempt at theology. I mean, certainly in the clip that we heard and I guess specifically theories, right? How do you account for the presence of evil in the whole show kicks off with an EMS worker attending to the drunk driver, the main character who turns out to be the main character of the show. And at that time, that character is deeply religious. He comes from this very tight knit, very Catholic community, and he begins to say, I believe the Lord’s Prayer. And at that moment, he’s informed he’s killed this teenage girl, and the EMS worker just says, Well, while you’re at it, why don’t you ask your God? Why is it always the douchebags who walk away without a scratch? You know, and it’s like, that’s the show, like the show is about that question is like, how do you account for that? If you are a person of faith, how do you account for the ubiquitous presence of evil in human history? Do you find that a convincing element of the show, or is it just a gesture that doesn’t pay out?

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S6: Well, I think it develops a little bit along through the episodes into something a little bit different, which also has to do with people’s relationship to death and oblivion. And I don’t think I’m just saying that because I really enjoy. The sort of like question of this run downtown and what was going to happen to it, but there’s explicit conversation sort of later on in the later episodes about, you know, what people will do to avoid death or like what people will do to get back. The earlier part of their lives that they thought was better than what they have and what that means about people’s faith. So what you just identified about the honesty is part of it, but also kind of like inner ways with how people become evil or how people sort of give in to their like clinging to life. And in that giving in what kinds of ethics and morals are they willing to give up?

S4: I think that is maybe the bigger point. Like, I think after a while, the show kind of loses, say, a little bit of the question of like, why do good things happen to bad people about things happen to good people, basically. But I mean, there is like one character in particular who’s like so like annoying and heinous while pretending to be very religious and devout where I’m like, Yeah, I know, I know. We’re like, literally like within an episode or two. I was like, I can’t wait until she fucking bites the dust, and then she just kept on being alive. But I mean, it’s that sort of thing that’s fun where it’s like, it’s especially explicit with her right, where it’s like she is a bad person, but believe she has more of God’s love, basically, which is an interesting character to have, even if she is, like, so blunt in your face in terms of how horrible she is.

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S6: Did you feel like her character wasn’t nuanced enough?

S4: That is a good question, because I don’t I never felt like I didn’t understand her or anything like that, and I think maybe I never thought of her as a bad character just because her motivations and self are so clearly defined and that actress is so impactful in that role.

S6: What did you think? She’s great. I both hated to see her on screen and also we wanted her to be in every scene. Yeah, you know, she was very cathartic for me. I guess, let’s put it that way. And I think in a show that has so many different characters that relate to religion like more intensely or more, just like intensely in different ways, she is sort of like an important archetype to have. She is just like an evil Christian lady, though.

S2: Yes, exactly. Yeah. All right.

S1: Well, the show is Midnight Mass is on Netflix. We all seem to kind of dig it, and Rebecca really digs it. So, yeah, check it out and let us know what you think of it. Rebecca, thanks for coming back on the show. It’s been so long. Let’s do it again soon. Love it. OK, for our last segment, we’re joined by Jesse David Fox. He is the host of The Good One podcast and a contributor, of course, the Vulture. Jesse, welcome to the show.

S2: Oh, thank you for having me.

S1: But Jesse, you’re also the host, the co-host, I should say, of something called the specials. Could you please talk about that?

S2: Sure. Yeah, it’s a patron where we we watch specials from history and review them and talk about them, talk about the context in which they were done. And you know, I deal with Katharine Bean, Aaron Park, who review specials for Vulture and we try to like, I love Katherine.

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S4: She’s the

S2: best. Yeah. And it’s just hard to figure out what it means to review specials as an art form that has not necessarily been reviewed like other mediums have.

S1: That’s very cool, and we have to have you on some time when there’s a peg to do it, to talk about some kind of a special, the history of specials and the back story specials because it’s like, you’re right, it’s this weird between the cracks categories that we’ve never.

S2: I’m happy to talk about Robert Klein’s and very important HBO debut. Brilliant.

S1: All right. But for now, we’re talking about Dave Chappelle and I’m I was like, woefully unfamiliar with his body of work before these sets of controversies. So if you would just sort of talk a little bit about his place in the history of stand up and what got us to this present?

S2: Sure. I’m trying to think of how to do it simply because it is like the narrative, but I will do my best. He started doing comedy as a teenager. He was sort of a virtuoso, and everyone in comedy thought he was really great. He had a special, I think, in 1999 that is seen as a classic. Then he did Chappelle’s Show on Comedy Central in 2002 to 2004 or something like that. And that was a really, really big deal. It was tremendously popular. It was the broke records for DVD sales. It is a comedic masterpiece in terms of both, you know how it’s using comedy to talk about race, but also structurally, it really pioneered a way of doing sketches that were filmed more like movies. And then the important thing is that in 2004, he left the show and pretty publicly Comedy Central offered him $50 million to do more seasons or something like that, and he sort of turned his back on his deal. And the sort of legend is he was doing a sketch where they were sort of parodying minstrel shows in some way. And someone on the crew, a white member of the crew, laughed. And it was a sort of a moment where Dave realized, Oh, maybe my jokes are not being interpreted the way that I want them to. So he left the spotlight. This was sort of done fairly publicly, but essentially he went away. He moved to Ohio, where I believe he is from. And he did shows intermittently, but he sort of was away. And then in 2014, he sort of returned in the public eye. He did a bunch of shows at Radio City Music Hall. It came back in 2017 with Netflix specials. And not only that, this sort of like the rumors that he got paid a lot of money to do a number of Netflix specials. And that was in 2017 with the specials, The Age of Spin and deep in the heart of Texas. And in those specials, which I reviewed for Vulture and wrote fairly positively about sort of both, and I talked about how in both you see why he’s seen as one of the greatest comedians that have ever lived. And I also mentioned, Hey, there’s like jokes. There’s jokes about the LGBTQ community that are sort of not up to par, but ultimately this is great. And that kind of was the discourse around those specials, which is like, This is great. He’s so good. But these things are less ideal. And it seems like from that moment, he only heard or largely heard the complaints and has been escalating. Lee, responding to those complaints with the next two specials were which were called Equanimity and the Bird Revelation. And then again, as he because he doubled down there and people do respond to that, then sort of was like, Hey, this is worse than there was before. So then he doubled down again with the special sticks and stones, which, as you can tell by the title, is very much about, Hey, these words should not offend you. They’re just words. So that’s 2019, and then this seems to be the new special seems to be him, then quadruple downing only on complaints. He’s like, I’m going to settle all of this. Yeah, and that’s what it’s about. And he said this his last special for an amount of time. Whatever that means, right?

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S1: I should say it’s called the closer. It’s up on Netflix now and just very quickly. This is really my first experience. Embarrassed to say my first experience of Chappelle is a stand up, and you see that even I will say this as someone who can’t compare him to his earlier work. You see the genius like, there is no doubt in my mind 30 seconds in, I was like, He is a up genius. He is one of the greats I like completely understand that now. It’s like probably like watching Jack Nicklaus at the age of 60 hit a five iron. You know, it’s like, yes, it’s not the 30 year old Jack, but you understand what you’re seeing at some level. But of course, if my math is correct, he’s at 72 times the level of prickly ness and defensiveness over LGBTQ material. And his relationship to that community now talk a little bit about that. You know how far the doubling of doubling down? There’s no walking it back, right? There’s a quite serious demand for Netflix to remove the closure. And of course, those the head of Netflix has refused in ways that strike some people as sort of hatefully tone deaf bring us up to speed.

S2: The framing of the special is that he’s essentially is going to talk only about the three subjects in which he made people the most macho. First, he talks about gay people and then he talks about women. And then he sort of uses the women to talk about trans people, which he then talks about for about 45 minutes or something of the special, which is a very long time. It’s like he did a one person show about why he feels the way he does. And somewhere in there, there’s certain points he is trying to make that he feels like he’s being misunderstood because he argues his point is not that he’s against these people, he’s just against white people. And he feels like these people in the LGBTQ community are taking advantage of the big white. And that’s part of the many problems of this is just sort of the idea of intersectionality sort of does not cross his mind like he tries to, but ultimately, when he talks about trans people, he just means white trans women like, that’s all it’s like just Caitlyn Jenner, and that’s all that he understands. So he talks about that. He makes some jokes about it. Then he sort of just without sort of a joke. Part of it just basically goes like, I am team turf. I believe women are these things like in a way that is not attempts to be funny, like truly just sort of like I’m explaining myself without jokes. It’s clear that ultimately, I believe in these things. He tries to be like, Look, the laws shouldn’t prevent them from being, but I don’t think they’re women. And then it’s sort of a longer story about this trans woman named Daphne. I believe her name is who is a person she had an interaction with in San Francisco, which he had brought up in his last special. And he sort of uses that to be like, be more like her, the LGBTQ community. They shouldn’t punch down on me as a person. It’s like that it sort of gets all knotted up, but it stems from just not only making jokes about it, but then being like pretty outright being like, This is what I believe. And essentially using a lot of the language I think is sort of undeniably harmful. I mean, like, you can have debates about what that harm looks like, but I do think it’s like definitely really hard to watch both artistically and it’s hard to stomach. And especially from person that a lot of people care about a lot and a lot of people like find him to be a tremendous influence on how they view the world. So it just sort of when you watch it, you vary between anger and frustration and just sort of a sadness of like, this is sort of where this person is at.

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S4: All I’m doing on this episode is pivoting, but for a slight pivot, you, Steve, you mentioned that like Sarandos, it was like, we’re not walking back the special at all. But part of the big kerfuffle about the special is that, like some trans employees of Netflix, ended up being suspended, so someone ended up being fired. And then people were bringing up the fact that, for instance, the very popular Netflix series 13 Reasons Why Guy edited or had like a warning added to it because people were arguing that the depiction of suicide could potentially be harmful. And it’s like, even at minimum, why wouldn’t you do that with this? Especially as I think the culture is sort of shifting like even with like old Disney movies on Disney Plus having a warning where it’s like, this is a portion of the time it’s culturally insensitive or having some kind of disclaimer about the material. I don’t know. I just see you can probably speak a little bit more to exactly what happened at Netflix or inside the company with the employees who got suspended, as well as I don’t know, what do you think is going to happen next because this definitely isn’t the cycle that has ended yet.

S2: Yeah. I mean, I believe as we’re speaking, they haven’t done their walkout. I mean, it’s interesting because I believe in one of the early George Carlin specials when he did the joke about the words not a lot of say in television, they had a disclaimer about like, Hey, a person is going to be cursing a lot. And so it’s not without precedent. There’s two things that are happening here. The first is Netflix. Ted Sarandos, et cetera does not want to be seen as not on the side of comedians and especially a lot of comedians they have. Like, you know, they have Joe Rogan specials, but also like a comedian like Chris Rock and or Kevin Hart who believe in the comedian’s right to say anything. They are also famous, so they don’t really sort of putting two to two and two together of, like you can say, whatever you want, but you don’t necessarily. There’s not like a right to get paid $20 million to have the things you say, be broadcast to people. Right. And so it’s like that relationship with Dave Chappelle is more valuable to Netflix is bottom line, they think, than doing what might be preferable to their own employees. And then there is also the fact that if you look at Ted Sarandos, his statements sort of like complete to me misunderstanding of like how comedy works or what comedy is or what comedy should be. The statement that I sort of remember, which is, like some of you, he’s writing to the employees or to some of you might find comedy mean spirited, but many of our audience likes it or not really understanding that one. It’s possible that some of the audience likes it. Because it’s mean-spirited, right, like he’s ignoring that comedy can have negative implications, and he funds my things that people don’t understand comedy when they’re reacting this way, where it’s the truth is, you know, there’s a thread by, I believe they’re an engineer at Netflix who did a thread which is like, We are not offended, we’re scared for our lives. And then it’s a list. It’s a very long list of like names of trans people of being like, this person wasn’t offended and then like the day they were murdered. And it’s an incredibly powerful list. And the point being like, these are real implications. And the frustrating part is like if anyone you understand that is Dave Chappelle. He was so offended by his own comedy, he quit the show. His own show, he understands that jokes could have negative implications, and as a result, he took a step back. And now for some reason, he’s like A. All jokes you can do whatever you want. And I’ve gone to fights periodically on Twitter because I talk about how bad the special is like, not about how harmful it is. I talk about like, it is sort of a failing of the art form of standup comedy when you talk about sensitive issues. You’re partly doing it because it raises the stakes of a joke. And as a result, you can have a bigger payoff because people are like, who you’re talking about a touchy subject. The problem is when you fall into a trap of that, where you become addicted to that sort of push pull, it makes you a very predictable comedian in which every joke has a very similar structure. And it’s all hinged on just how shocking the punch line is. And because he’s so good at comedy, it is particularly frustrating. You know, like I watch a lot of specials, a lot of comedy of people being offensive because they don’t know what they’re doing. So this is the special where you’re like, Oh, he knows exactly what he’s doing.

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S1: I mean, it’s funny. He says, Correct me if I’m wrong, but he seems to have kind of swayed themself in two defenses simultaneously. One is the kind of Lenny Bruce. Right? This is what we do. It’s the job description like, I have to find a boundary because I’m a danger comedian and I need the precipice. Or else this vertiginous sense of the sense of ultimate danger, electric danger that that speaking and misspeaking have to go together. And we live in it. Unlike Lenny Bruce, we don’t live in the 1950s. We didn’t. We weren’t raised in Ike’s America. The blue laws don’t inhibit us anymore. If anything, the opposite, there’s just no way to transgress in that way again. And this is the one way. So if you have that comedic DNA, you’re going to repeatedly go there on what I believe are completely false pretenses. This is not a defense of Dave Chappelle. More intriguingly

S2: to me is

S1: this idea that as a black man in America, you can’t possibly be punching down. There’s this attempt to say like, and it’s very explicit in this special in the clothes, or it’s like, No, no, no, no, we got the like. We got the biggest and most unique shaft that a country has ever given its own citizens. It isn’t even the right word. I will say one of the things that I responded to was not only his gift as a standup comedian, and I have no position on whether this thing should be taken off the air whatsoever. I am completely the wrong person to speak to that. But the second thing was he grew up a supremely intelligent black man in the United States of America, and the kind of psychic wound that delivers is not a competition, but is in some ways unique now, whether it’s deeper or worse or more of an excuse for the kinds of things you say. I have zero opinion on. I cannot speak to that, but I will say that he’s growing his intelligence with so much rage back at the viewer. And I think that he can’t. Modulate that to take in the suffering of others and the claim they might make on his speech and his supposed right to speech. And so I found it weirdly illuminating to watch, even though I had to stop it. There was just some things I was like, I can’t let Netflix’s algorithm register approval from me as smart. So that’s kind of where I came out.

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S2: The thing that I think you get at, which is, you know, he would defend himself for communities to defend him. They’re like, Well, he’s saying the things you can’t say, right? I was the Lenny Bruce sort of debate, which is like Lenny Bruce was saying the things that you were weren’t allowed to say in polite society, and you’re all out of state who is pushing the boundaries of free speech and allowing you to speak to an institution. The truth is, right now, no one is preventing a lot of people to talk about how much they hate trans people. There is more opportunity for transphobic people to have a platform. There’s just nothing stopping them. No one is preventing them. The only people that feel like people are preventing them from criticizing trans people are famous people. So all he really is defending is the right for famous people to say whatever they want and still be as famous as they are. And it’s why famous people really love him and really rally around him because they’re jealous, because they would like to also say whatever they want and stay famous. However, that is one not relatable and to it is just inherently a grotesque subversion of a form that was designed to when you’re like pushing boundaries of free speech to be going against power structures. And beyond that, it is so not interesting to watch a person be this defensive for this matter of minutes. It is just like not compelling art.

S4: The whole situation is so depressing, especially again because of what’s happening internally at Netflix, where it’s like, it’s not just this one man who is being transphobic, it’s this entire system that is enabling him sort of, as you say, just like because everyone wants to be in proximity with someone who is famous or who they think has like a cachet that will pay off for them when in reality, I think the 13 reasons why example is like such a clear contrast, where it’s like there is something that you can do, at least on a very surface level that I think is pretty low effort and for all people involved. And it’s also it also feels just so cynical now looking at like the Netflix brand accounts where they’re like, Oh, we’re so proud of like being allies and uplifting storytellers who normally don’t get to tell their stories and even like that tweet thread. From there, they have like a social channel that is specifically devoted to like queer stories and stuff like them tweeting out like, we’re really disappointed that has happened. And it’s like, you can’t say that while in this structure, or at least it’s coming from a branded account, it feels disingenuous somehow, and just everything about it is just really depressing.

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S2: Yeah, it felt like a company being like, I know we make the poison, but we also make the antidote to the poison. Yeah. You know, those accounts and I understand if you’re at that job, you want the ability to be like, not be like, I know where Netflix, but, you know, but it’s just something. Either way, Netflix is winning. Like the fact that we’re talking about it in the context of Netflix, Netflix, it’s like, hurray. Netflix is in the news.

S1: Oh, yeah, absolutely. All right. Well, sadly, I think we’re going to let that be the last word. But Jesse, please come back. This was

S2: great. It’s a pleasure. Any time you want, I’m around.

S1: Superb. Thanks a lot. All right, now is the moment in our podcast when we endorse Dana, what do you have?

S3: Stephen My endorsement this week is such low hanging fruit. If you know anything about the Warhol factory scene and some of the stories that are told in that wonderful Todd Haynes Velvet Underground documentary that we talked about earlier. It is essentially the book equivalent of that documentary. The documentary, as Carl pointed out, really uses oral history as its main structure. And the first time I ever learned anything about that whole world of, you know, Andy Warhol’s Factory, The Velvet Underground. The whole art scene that surrounded it was when I was a teenager reading an oral history, the first oral history ever read, I think, and one of the best oral histories I’ve read to this day, which is Edie by George Plimpton and Jean Stephen. They’re credited as the as the authors, but really, they’re the editors of this book because it’s there’s no interstitial material. It’s completely made up of testimony from people that were there on the scene of the factory. Obviously, in 1982, a lot more of those people were still around than now in 2021. So, you know, they just get interviews with every figure you could imagine from that time, people who were there on the scene observing it and whoever was doing the interviews, I assume it was Plimpton and Stephen just got such great stories out of these people. Everyone’s voice is so distinctive and beautifully captured on the page. So as you’re reading the story of Edie Sedgwick, who if you know anything about that scene, you know, is this model, actress, you know, socialite, social connector and really tragic, fascinating figure who was maybe not at the center, but but very integral to that to that factory scene. Her story is told as if it were this fascinating novel or film, even though everything that’s on the page is someone’s true life where it’s so I couldn’t recommend it more strongly. If you haven’t read it is total page turner Edie by George Plimpton and Jean Stein.

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S1: Oh, that’s so cool. Karen What about you? What do you have?

S4: I have a movie recommendations, so something that I was thinking about when I was watching Squid game recently is about how fun it is that it really kind of subverts the popular image that it has in Korean pop culture, especially if you’re interested in seeing one of the roles that he’s most famous for. I would highly recommend the movie called New World or Shinsegae and the original Korean title. It is a crime drama and features each day as a undercover cop who is dealing with the mob and how he is caught between his pretty ruthless boss, as well as the gangster that he’s serving, who ends up being kind of more of a friend than he thinks. It’s very good, and it was very popular in Korea as well. Star is just a murderer’s row of great Korean actors. I think this was the big thing that really made Hwang Jung-min who really famous and Timmins figures in as well famous from Old Boy. It’s just a great fun Korean crime drama, and I highly recommend it.

S1: That sounds amazing. Say the title one more time. New World and where is it available to you now?

S4: I don’t believe it is streaming for free any quote unquote for free anywhere, but I think it’s pretty easily reachable

S1: online ways to find it, I’m sure. All right. So I have a couple of a couple of endorsements. I’ll be really quick. The first is what’s not to love? The TV show Chestnut Man on Netflix is a Scandi crime drama. It’s dark, it’s taut, it’s really fun, takes place and fun. That’s not fun, but it’s really quite sumptuously done, and it takes place in Copenhagen. I found it completely gripping. I haven’t finished it yet, but I am surprised at how much it’s very chilling, kind of familiar from a genre standpoint. Premise gets well carried through on right. It doesn’t sort of set everything up and then really have no idea where to go. I think it’s terrific. I think this is a very good TV, if you like that kind of thing. And then very quickly, the very beginning of Midnight Mass, I think in the opening frames of it, there’s a Song playing that I wasn’t familiar with, but it’s apparently, I think, a pretty classic Neil Diamond cut called and the grass won’t pay no mind. I love the Neil Diamond version. It strikes me as definitive. Elvis did it as well, but the interest there, I don’t think, is the final product because it was sort of syrupy and overproduced compared to the diamond version. So but they’re on YouTube. I completely by accident, by just putting the song title in the in the search function of YouTube discovered that there’s this whole genre of YouTube videos taking you from. It’s just purely the audio, the raw audio of rehearsal to the master tape of Elvis songs. And this is one of them, and he’s an wonderful voice. I mean, I, of course, understand that Elvis Presley could sing, but I just don’t principally think of him as I think of him as a phenomenon larger than any identifiable facet of music. Somehow, I’d like just a figure figure beyond actual singing or songwriting or appearing in movies or anything that he specifically did. But his singing voice is really lovely, and you hear that from the very first rehearsal tape. What an extraordinary vocalist he is. And it’s before they’ve overproduced it, so it’s actually a wonderful introduction of the Song, but I also recommend the Song Man Neil Diamond version. It’s called and the grass won’t pay no mind. You probably already know it was new to me. Karen It’s always really cool to have you on the show. It’s very fun and it had better happen again soon. Young Lady,

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S4: I actually have a quick question Why is it called the chestnut Man?

S1: Oh well, you’ll have to watch it and find out. But it’s a chestnut man is apparently something that gets made in little kids. Make them in Scandinavia, maybe just Denmark. I’m mature, but they’re little kind of men. They’re like gingerbread men, but they’re made out of little chestnuts and they’re deployed in a very sinister way in this. And it’s good. I mean, if you like that kind of show, right, the drenched in darkness and Scandinavian dusk, right? Like it’s it’s like just drenched in Scandinavian dusk and atmospherics, but it’s quite I think it’s quite well done. Dana, as always, a total pleasure.

S3: Good to be with you guys.

S1: You’ll find links to some of the things we talked about at our show page that Slate.com’s last Culturefest and you can email us at Culturefest at Slate.com. We do love to hear from you. We’ve been getting extraordinary emails really lately. I mean, in part because of all of our many fuck ups and miscues. But the level of engagement is extraordinary, gives us some sense of the community of people. Listen to the show, so I do encourage those. We do try to respond to them eventually. The introductory music to the shows by the remarkable film composer Nik Patel, our production assistant, is Nadira Goff. Our producer is Jessamine Molly for Karen, Haynes and Dana Stevens, and the various cast of people who joined us today. I’m Stephen Metcalf. Thank you so much for joining us. We will see you soon.

S7: I. Please put down your head. I see you.

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S3: Hello, and welcome to this large plus segment of the slate culture gabfest, we are doing a listener question again this week. We seem to have had a raft of good listener questions because I think that that’s been our our topic and slate plus for the last few weeks, we got a listener question that I think all three of us will probably have something to say about, and I’m very curious to hear what you’ll have to say. Karen Do you want to read part of the listener email?

S4: Yeah, of course. So here is the question that we got that we are answering this week. I’m wondering if there are books or films that were important to you when you were younger that now you have trouble connecting with. Related to that is another question I often feel like I no longer relate to any books or films with the same intensity that I did 25 years ago. Do you also feel that way? Is it altogether a bad thing, or is it also a good thing, a sign of a capacity for distance or of a more thoughtful, less emotional attachment? So I’ll throw to Steve, what do you think? Is there anything that you loved as a child that you no longer really feel that strongly about? What are your reactions to media like in general now that you are no longer a child?

S1: The first thing I’d say is, do we mean child or do we mean adolescent? So taking those one at a time, I think when I was a kid, I was a, let’s say, child old enough to make my own choices about media consumption by roughly 1970, two or three years or so, like early and stayed a child until, let’s say, I don’t know. I don’t know. I mean, I have one childhood end, I guess, with adolescents. I don’t know when I was 13 14. So the late 70s, early 80s, I shifted into adolescence or whatever. So in childhood I lived in a broadcasting as opposed to narrowcasting world. I beat this horse repeatedly, but it’s been a huge change in my life. You were fed things and you kind of had to sift through them. Discerning Lee, in order to find, for example, as KTVI, which nobody in the world had heard of, it was a Canadian import. Nobody was watching. But if you knew you could watch it at 1:00 in the morning on W.R. in New York City and discover a genius named Harold Ramos, another genius named Eugene Levy. John Candy. I mean, they were all doing incredible comedy with things like that. You know, you grab them like icebergs in a way at the time. And then the early Saturday Night Live. And I just I bet it’s selectively very funny, but you can never relive the context in which just the sensibility alone was so unlike anything else. And you had no internet, you had no cable TV, even you had three networks and public TV and things had to slip through the cracks and they didn’t have to be perfect. In fact, the standard didn’t even have to be high at all, but it just spoke to you the way the nightly news didn’t or sitcoms or whatever. And sometimes when you look back on it, you’re like, We now we live 50 years later, we live in a world where you can find something perfectly tailored to your own sensibility. The highly sophisticated, liberal, cosmopolitan global elite finds exactly what it wants when it wants on demand or something. These things, they now have this like kind of hokey, rickety charm to them, but it’s just Ned can’t be the same as their adolescence. What I find interesting about the question vis-a-vis adolescence is things cut really deep. When you’re an adolescent, there’s a reason why that’s when you fall in love with the Velvet Underground, right? To the extent that you did or the boss or whatever, you know, whatever it is, you fall in love with. And what’s interesting to me about that is how over time it either stays embedded in you at that level and just never, ever fully goes away, if at all. And to experience it again is to have something as close as you’re going to get to that feeling of almost painful depth of incision into your selfhood or whatever, or you’re just embarrassed as fuck, right? You’re just like, Holy shit, like, why did I think? And there were things that I listen to and there’s hardly, you know, merits going into specifics, as some of them were so obscure. But some of the bands I listened to, some of the music I listen to, it’s just I look back and I’m like, No, but then there are some things like watching, as I said, the Velvet Underground documentary. I mean that music to me in 1977 1978 through now, right? It’s it’s just so unreal inputs, simply me or a part of me or part of my world and worldview or something. So Dana, what do you think?

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S3: Steve, I do have to say that I love that you dropped it. You wouldn’t know the bands I like. They’re too obscure. I didn’t really

S2: know it was like there, too.

S1: Like, I’ll give you one. OK, so there was this guy I guarantee you. None of you have heard of him. His name was Tony.

S4: Your response to Dana teasing you for this is but no, really, though you have doubling down.

S2: Yeah.

S1: Yeah. No, no, no. It’s just that like, it’s not cool. It’s not that they were cool, but kind of the opposite. They were just so weird and like, unaccountable. So a big one is during my high school years, I was obsessed with this guy who went by the name Tonio K, right, which I think comes from fuck discomfort. It’s not Kafka.

S3: Thomas Morris from

S1: Thomas and Thomas Man, of course, right? And that was a pseudonym, and he made these Gabfest like kind of punk albums. They were so fucking angry and they were just like a Bible to me. And they’re so bad, right? They just speak to privileged white boy anger in this way that I’m ashamed to say I was so vulnerable to when I was 14, 15, 16 years old. And it’s just garp. It’s like garbage. It’s right. It’s like a melodic, self-important, morally self-important garbage. And it’s like, Oh, thank God, I was also listening to the you, right? There’s some evidence I wasn’t a complete, sniveling little asshole,

S3: but it’s important, right? I mean, it just seems like shedding a snake skin or something. It’s important to have those things that you can’t revisit as well. It’s great to start loving beautiful art when you’re in your teens, but if that’s all you did, you would never develop any critical sensibility or curiosity or just sense of exploration and fun. So it seems like there has to be. Your first album should be embarrassing, right? The first thing that you went and spent your money on in a store should be something that you’re afraid to confess and politely,

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S1: Oh, let’s hear it, then

S3: I don’t know what mine was. I mean, because I so much when it came to music, I was just like, now, not a huge pop music consumer as a high schooler. And so it mainly came to me from friends and from my older brother and things like that. I think maybe the first album I ever paid money for was by Vangelis, and it wasn’t even the The Chariots of Fire soundtrack. It was like a Vangelis record of songs, which I love. That’s a good one. But no, the ones. The answers that occurred to me when the listener wrote this question were all were mainly movies and books. And I started to think about what those things had in common, the kind of art that I was really attracted to that I’ve now maybe not completely. Repudiated, but I don’t feel the need to revisit it, and I think a lot of it is characterized by the same quality, which is, you know, the quality that I’m sure youthful art consumers love in art, which is intensity. And the more something was just fucked up and just rocked your world and was something you’d never seen before. You know, I mean, a little bit of a punk sensibility, I guess, but not in music. And a lot of my early taste, I think, was influenced by that. It didn’t have to be a punk intensity. Mind you, it could be like a lyrical intensity, right? Something incredibly romantic or but. Let’s see what is what’s an example of one that’s not embarrassing, but I feel no need to revisit. I mean, maybe like the writing of Annie Dillard, who’s this incredible nature writer who only writes that all the way turned up to 11 Mike incredible intensity. She has a lot of writing tics that I now see that I didn’t see then, but she’s this kind of mystic who, you know, goes out in nature and just, you know, writes 20 pages about looking at an insect on a log or something. I don’t know if either of you read any Annie Dillard, but she strikes me.

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S2: I’m sure she

S1: was at Wesleyan as as the writing professor.

S3: Oh wow. I’m sure she’s a great writer.

S1: Higher undergraduate,

S3: right? I would have loved to study writing with her, my lord, and I’m not at all sort of saying like, Oh, the trash. That is Annie Dillard. Now, I just think that revisiting that would make me realize that what I loved and it was the idea of being that person who was so transported, you know, of course, it’s her prose that communicates that idea, but it was a romantic infatuation with her in movies. I mean, I see movies that I still might like, but that I might regard now as a little bit campy or genre movies or trash. But Abel Ferrara does it sort of really intense Catholicism and tormented ness of Harvey Keitel’s hero in Bad Lieutenant Abel Ferrara movie? Or here’s a cheesier version that role on Gervais movie The Mission, which I still listen to the soundtrack of because the more Koné soundtrack is unbelievable, but the movie itself is kind of like also kind of Catholic breast beating hokum. But it was really moving to me. You know, I think I was really drawn to the imagery of Catholicism, although I was not at all religious and not brought up in that tradition just because it was all about passion and rending your heart open and stuff like that. And that is no longer my primary criteria for loving a work of art. And I think although I still many of my favorite movies still might fall into that category in some ways, you know, melodrama is, I mean, I still love that high intensity stuff. Yeah, as I got older, I think I started to appreciate in writing, you know, in UN working as much as maximalism in art

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S1: captain and to Neil

S4: the record. Oh good one. Love did not keep them together.

S3: Karen, you got to give us yours.

S4: That’s fair. I think the thing that stuck out to me about this question is not necessarily that I’m like, Oh, what was I thinking when I was younger? But its listeners questioned the end of it that you’re saying, like, Are we just are we less often moved because we’re more cynical? Or is it because we’re just more better equipped to process right now? And I think I tend to lean more towards the less cynical take of that, like I think a lot of the things that, you know, like when you’re a kid, you fixate on one movie and then you watch it for two weeks and you make your parents lives miserable while doing that. But you have no idea because you’re like, I love this movie. I only want to watch this and then revisiting those kinds of things like The Lion King or The Little Mermaid. I think, especially for my generation. When you go back, a lot of the reckoning has been like, is some of this material problematic now? But even beyond that, I feel like my appreciation for them has grown. Like, even if I think as works of art, they’re not maybe as hyper as I thought when I was younger. Like I remember, like in The Lion King, the Song like, be prepared. I’m suddenly more appreciative of the baseline and the different things that Elton John is doing in that music. And then even like books like The Great Gatsby were in high school. I think especially when you’re younger, you’re inclined to romanticize the relationship between Gatsby and Daisy, even though, like in class, they’ll be like, This is not a healthy relationship, it’s not good. But growing up, you realize that more and also like connecting maybe more with characters like Tom Buchanan, not in the sense that you become more abusive as you’re older, but understanding where all these characters are coming from. You’re just better equipped to talk about the artwork. Yeah, that’s what I think. That’s my answer to those two questions.

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S1: I think that is so true and so astute, and that is a great example of a book that really one is inclined to reread Great Gatsby as much as probably any novel in the American canon. I mean, not that one should. That’s not a normative statement, but I just think probably empirically it does happen that one encounters it a lot as life goes on, and it’s a different book every time. I mean, it’s this swoony lyrical drug at a certain age. Then I found it completely unconvincing, Papp later. But you’re so right about Tom Buchanan. Write a character that the first time you read it, you might kind of miss me when I went missing. But you wouldn’t understand what Fitzgerald is insistently trying to tell you about a certain class of people and their belief systems. Mainly, he’s a eugenicist, right? He’s a spoiled rich kid eugenicist. And Fitzgerald’s observed this close up. No doubt you feel strongly. It’s based on at least one, maybe multiple composite people that he knew at Princeton as an undergrad and various other places, whatever. But it’s like, that’s a very powerful presence in that book, right? And it’s important for Fitzgerald to tell you that his hateful and show you exactly why. I don’t know. It’s funny. Then there are other I mean, it’s just I’ve read it probably three or four times at different times in my life, and I can never settle my opinion. Similarly, I was the sucker Dana who had the entire existential rug pulled out from under him land at the age of 16. Rather belatedly, I finally read Catcher in the Rye and realized I was actually, I thought I was a living. Reading Human Original, and in fact, I was a butterfly pin to the, you know, Cork board of J.D. Salinger’s capacity for rapier judgment, like I’m a fucking cliche, right? Like every everything about me is a fucking absolutely received cliché already, but I loved the book. Also like it spoke to me. And as you get older, you realize that you challenger doesn’t like Holden Caulfield very much. This is a very troubled book about a young man who bears no relationship to the inner existence of J.D. Salinger, right? And it’s like over time you begin to realize like you can’t the totem that you carried around, maybe is a very young, very callow Man is like, really has a very in some ways, a deeply loving but also deeply jaundiced view of this person in this very troubled person and very spoiled person. Right. So the other big one is Billy Joel. I loved Billy Joel Mike. I got I went away once I had a really close friend, we dug music. You know, Billy Joel was overwhelmingly associated with the breakthrough of the stranger. To this day, I regard is like a masterpiece pop rock album. Right? And but that was a huge album that went really big. I was in sixth or seventh grade, loved it. So over the summer, I went and bought all his other records. I got street life, serenade her. And what are the other ones called? I can’t even remember turnstiles, right? Which are these just awful mawkish there, Billy Joel almost at his worst piano man ride like Captain Jack, arguably the worst Song ever committed to vinyl or whatever I loved. I couldn’t get enough of Billy, and I came back from the summer away and I was like, I had all these Billy Joel records. I reunited with my best friend and he had gotten into the Rolling Stones, and I just was like, I never recovered. Really?

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S2: Oh, no,

S1: I had to become an awful rock snob after that.

S6: That’s tragic.

S3: Steve, you stuck around long enough that the the word Steve, you stuck around long enough that the pendulum swung back around on Billy Joel, and he’s now completely cool again. And nobody can out cool you with their Rolling Stones bullshit because there’s a Billy Joel license going on, baby.

S1: And also what’s more naff than Mick Jagger? Write The Nastiest Human Being Who Ever Lived. Dana Vienna waits for you.

S3: All right, Steve, because you answered this question so fulsomely and lavishly, and I have to say really interestingly, we are now. I don’t know. Maybe almost twice as long as we usually go for his late segment, but I’m going to thank the listener who wrote us that great question. We didn’t really even get to Park to which maybe we’ll talk about in the future, which is which is as you get older, do you love and appreciate art less? I mean, I would say no, but that’s because I make my living doing this stuff, right? So I think that’s a great question to discuss later. At any rate, thank you so much to the listener who wrote in. You can always email us at Culturefest at Slate.com. If you have ideas for future slate plus segments for Karen, Man and Stephen Metcalf, I’m Dana Stevens. Thanks so much for subscribing. We’ll talk to you next week.