S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership. I’m Stephen Metcalf, and this is the Slate Culture Gabfest heads are going to Roll Edition. It’s Wednesday, August 4th, two thousand and twenty one on today’s show, The Green Knight. It sounds like a Marvel movie, but it’s IPE derives from the 14th century, this new and very trippy take on the ancient, chivalric epic stars Dev Patel as a night, maybe a night. He doesn’t exactly love the term, but he’s in search of dot, dot, dot, questionmark, questionmark himself. I think Dana will tell us. And then Billie Eilish has a new record Happier than ever. It’s a downbeat take on celebrity love, public shaming cancel culture. It’s great in my estimation, and we will discuss it with Slate’s own Carl Wilson. And finally, the Black Widow was meant to be a blockbuster, but also a kind of a men’s Scarlett Johansson would star in and carry a Marvel movie. Disney would make a ton of money. Fanboys and feminists rejoice. So why escargot now suing Disney? We discussed the latest chapter in the streaming wars with legal historian Peter Labuza. Joining me today is IFOP Isaac Butler. Hi, Isaac. What’s up?
S2: Hi, Stephen. First of all, great to be here. And second of all, I have no idea what is in it. You tell me
S1: it’s an inner circle friend of the program.
S2: Oh, nice, great, great. That’s awesome. That’s awesome. I look forward to being a hierophant friend of the program in the future,
S1: and that’s very happy. Hierophant is an extremely happy word. I said, wait a
S3: minute, I consider myself a vocabulary nerd, but I have no idea what Hierophant is. So I’m presuming some listeners don’t either. What does that mean?
S1: It’s like when you you’re a sycophant and then you get a promotion.
S2: It oh, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry. I was trying to look up the technical definition here,
S1: using words, you
S2: know, don’t know what it is. I know. I just want to I don’t want I’m going to get it exactly right. A person who brings religious congregants into the presence of that which is deemed holy,
S1: so perfectly apt choice of words. I should also say you are co-host of the working podcast from Slate. But Isaac, also you I should say you’ve got a forthcoming book about method acting called The Method. We play a little game here. Also, what’s your subtitle?
S2: I’m very proud of this subtitle because I actually wrote it myself. And it is How the Twentieth Century learned to act.
S1: I love it. Oh, my gosh. And what’s your public
S2: first week of February, February 1st is what it says. I’m going to assume that’s correct.
S1: OK, we will discuss on this show without fail. And of course, Dana Stevens is the film critic for Slate. You’ve got a book and it has a subtitle and we talked about it last week.
S3: Yeah. There were a couple of listeners who thought somehow that I felt blindsided by you having mentioning the book and that you sort of stepped on my my big reveal or something. And I just want to clarify that I did not feel that way at all. I didn’t know that you were going to mention it, but I was flattered and and glad to talk about it. My subtitle actually overlaps a bit with Isaac. So my book is about Buster Keaton. The title is Cameraman, and the subtitle is Buster Keaton The Dawn of Cinema and the Invention of the Twentieth Century. So it sounds like me and Isaac are both going to be in conversation about the same the same years in history at some point next year.
S2: Yeah, I’m excited to talk both between our books and in person about it.
S1: All right. Well, I’m excited for both of these books and cannot wait to talk about each of them. Let’s, uh, let’s dig in. The medieval epics or Gawain in The Green Knight has enchanted and mystified readers for centuries. It’s an Arthurian legend and a turn on the quest narrative. The basic plot is as follows. A mysterious Green Knight appears on Arthur’s round table on Christmas Day and issues a challenge. Any night may strike him freely. If in a year he the Green Knight is allowed to return the blue and kind. Arthur’s nephew, Gawain bowheads, the Green Beast, who promptly retrieves his head, decapitates himself and says, See you in a year, buddy. That’s basically what the story is. The story of that year of time elapsing and Gawain fleeing from and finally accepting his own fate. Here, Gawain is played by Dev Patel and all his callowness and lust. He moves his way through a blasted in a. heroic world, somewhat reminiscent of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. But the movie is very different movie as we’ll discuss. It comes from David Lowery, who wrote, directed, edited and produce a quadruple threat. Let’s listen to a clip. But before we do Dana, why don’t you why don’t you set it up?
S3: Yeah, I think all you need to know here is this is before the quest that Gawain sets out on to to get his just due from the Green Knight. And he’s talking to King Arthur, who’s played by Sean Harris and who’s played in this movie as a very aged and somewhat weakened King Arthur. Not at all. Sort of the the all powerful boy king that we’re used to seeing in Arthurian legend.
S4: Not just a game. Perhaps. But that is not complete. You truly believe he is sitting in a chapel, counting the hours, whittling away the waiting for me to come? I do not know if. You will tell me you must seek him out and have deathwish or I do not know of any man who has not marched out to greet death before his time. Why hold me to this slide? Is it wrong to want greatness for you? I fear I’m not meant for greatness.
S1: All right, well, Dana, let’s start with you, this movie is is, you know, certainly anyone going in expecting a summer style blockbuster wide release, you know, action bonanza is going to be completely befuddled. But it’s surprising a little bit the degree to which plot action, linear plot action, traditional characterization, casting are missing from this this movie.
S3: Yeah, it’s a really, really original approach to some material that I think is is so familiar that it’s really hard at this point to approach it in a way that isn’t either a sword or sandals action epic or some attempt to have a historically accurate recreation of medieval life. This movie is none of that. I should say that. I think it’s wonderful. It’s one of my favorite movies I’ve seen all year. I should also say that I come to it with the background of someone who majored in medieval studies in college. So it was a long time back now. But this movie, I think people should know going in. And I really hope that they if it’s safe in their area to do so, will try to see it on the big screen. But this movie is this visually luscious, often for long stretches, nearly silent, right? Very dialogue free, although it’s got a lot of spooky scoring, sort of contemplative exploration of the interior of Gawain, the character that Dev Patel plays. So what it really ends up being is something that is both medieval, I think, in its kind of visual approach and its respect for the legends of that time and very modern in the sense that it is all about masculinity and a young man struggling with what it is to become a man. I think you mentioned at the beginning that that he was a knight or you weren’t sure if he was a knight. I think that in the in the original poem, he is, in fact, a knight. But here he is made someone who is awaiting knighthood. Right. Which is an important part of the maturation of this character and the fact that it’s a it’s a movie in some ways about coming to maturity. I went in with pretty high expectations because I’m fascinated by David Lowery have not left everything he’s done, but really, really loved a ghost story. This strange and also very contemplative horror movie he made a few years ago and thought that he was an interesting choice for this material. And one thing that you have to say about it, he’s made it entirely his own. This in no way kind of feels like he’s checking off the box of I’ve got to make my sword fighting swashbuckling action movie. It feels completely personal and an individual. And I really recommend it very strongly.
S2: Yeah, I, um, I really am looking forward to seeing it again. I recently listened to an audio book of the poem, which I hadn’t read in, I don’t know, 15 years or so. And it was so fresh in my mind that that a lot of my viewing experience was kind of tracking the divergences from the source material, which are legion. You know, he really does does make it his own. And so, you know, constantly thinking about the poem kind of at times pulled me out of it. And I think it is better if you can, like, really just immerse yourself in this experience, which, you know, has a stately pace. It has a picaresque structure. It’s it’s filled with these kind of big images. It’s not a lot of dialogue. It’s really something you’re supposed to kind of immerse yourself in and enter in and sit in and live with while it’s happening around you.
S1: I need to hear more Izak about what you felt like sitting in and living within the confines of this movie.
S2: Yeah. So, you know, in the original poem, most of Gowans Journey to the Green Chapel is handwaving the poet kind of says, oh, and Gawain had this series of adventures that are all too complicated and exciting and it would just take me too long to talk about them. So I’m just going to skip to him coming to this house and then he goes to the house. Right. Where is this movie? A lot of it is of the journey. And then actually how the castle is done in the film is very different from how it’s done in in the poem and is sort of more about the the film’s themes of ambition and the inevitability of death and what is the difference between greatness and goodness, which is I think those are sort of the things the film is is circling around, whereas the a lot of the poem is about Christmas and the guest host relationship and these kind of antiquated ideas and customs that that feel very foreign to our own. And what’s exciting to me about the poem, what’s exciting to me about anything that that is that old reading, something that is that old is encountering the kind of subjectivity and ideas and concerns of an earlier time and seeing how they do and do not intersect with our own. And I don’t think that’s what the what the film is doing. The film is instead circling around these more contemporary themes and ideas. A friend of mine called it a a horny pagan. Reimagining of a Christmas story, which I thought was a funny but somewhat accurate way to look at it, and so I thought that was really that was really fascinating. I will say the person I saw it with found the movie incredibly boring. And I think for her it was instead of dreamlike, kind of like sitting there while someone tells you about their dreams for two and a half hours.
S1: I am afraid I’m not a person. I found this movie insufferably boring and and and I’m sorry. I also sort of pretentious. I mean, I it the movie is an attempt to make a contemporary film with the medieval mind. But I’m saddled with a modern mind. Right. Like I it’s not that I desperately need an action filled plot or a, you know, linear story or the culmination in some sort of recognizable self realization of the protagonist that echoes in my own experience. But the total absence of these things are near total absence of these things. I just got a little sick of trying to start. On the one hand, you know, marvel at the strangeness of the medieval sensibility while also marveling at David Lowery mastery of the language of cinema. I mean, it it was it finally alienating to me, frankly. I mean, I understand that some of it is quite there’s sort of a beautiful, deeply moody gloom to it. There is the total courage of the filmmakers convictions. There are wonderful performances. I think Dev Patel is is mesmerizing as Gawain. Here’s where I got trapped a little bit. And maybe the fault is mine, but I’m being seduced into thinking along with a medieval mind, which is so I mean, the courage and the singularity of the movie is the degree to which the medieval mind is totally resistant to modern modes of like expecting and interpreting narrative. Aren’t I supposed to be disappointed and kind of alienated by the film?
S3: I don’t think that that is what this movie is attempting to do is, is alienate the viewer. I think that what it’s attempting to do is slow down the viewer and and force you to live in these somewhat mystical spaces with Gawain, especially in this long middle section, which, as Isaac said, barely occurs in the poem, which brushes through his journey and a few lines. It really becomes almost a Terrence Malick sort of feeling in the middle of the movie, right. Where he’s he’s wandering through these very luminous forests. He’s alone almost all the time. He encounters these strange beings that are never really explained. And there’s a sense in several different places without wanting to spoil what’s real and what’s not, that we honestly don’t know whether we’re experiencing a subjective reality that Gowans experiencing on this fantastical journey. Right. Or or even maybe we’re experiencing a legend that has spun up around it later on. And there’s a moment without giving away too much during the during the journey where you think that Gawain may have died and everything that comes after that I suppose could be interpreted as either his fantasy at the moment of death or legends that have sprung up around him because he did, in fact, not make it through the journey and the fact that the movie is willing to exist and to suspend the viewer and that sort of swirling psychological space where you’re not sure what’s real and what’s imagined and what’s embroidered legend later on is is something that’s really intellectually challenging and kind of dizzying, but to me was not alienating at all. I walked out of this movie with that great feeling that you seldom get where you are. Not exactly sure what the meaning of the ending is, but your brain is kind of afire trying to figure it out, you know, as opposed to a movie that just is is vague and ambiguous and leaves you annoyed that it didn’t that it didn’t make its choices more clearly.
S2: I feel like in some ways I wanted it to go more in that dreamlike direction. To me, the moment where the film actually falls down, the moment when it’s at its weakest, it’s when it has this long, discursive speech about the symbolic meaning of the color green delivered in a very slow push into Alicia Vikander as she as she talks about the meaning of the color green. And about halfway through that speech, I actually just kind of stopped listening to it because I was like, you are already doing what this speech is doing is already done in your movie. Visually, you don’t actually need to do this. And this writing is not as good as the sort of visuals that you have constructed to try to convey this meaning to us.
S3: Hmm, I have to say that something about this movie I love is that if you have the patience to sit through it, I think that it is generative of conversations afterwards. I think it’s the kind of movie that you could argue about, you know, does that speech belong in there? You could argue about what is the ending encounter with the Green Knight mean? You could argue about whether it is a medieval or a modern sort of take on a knighthood and masculinity and something that it does that far too few movies do. I think that are these sort of Joseph Campbell Lillian influenced Quest narratives is ask really deep questions about whether these values that Gawain is is fighting and maybe sacrificing his life for, you know, about chivalry, about valor, about honor and manliness are really worthwhile. And in that sense, I think it is sort of ineluctably modern. Not that those questions don’t come up in the 14th century poem. The 14th century poem is quite remarkable. I think you’ll agree, Isaac, for how it ends on this note of ambiguity. And essentially the final message, if the poem is sort of don’t mess up like Gawain did, you know, the message is not he is a great hero to emulate, but more like let’s all remember his failures and struggles so that we don’t have to replicate them in our own lives. And I would just encourage people if they do make it through this movie, it doesn’t have to be before or after in any order. But if you are interested in the subject matter, go back and revisit the original anonymously authored poem from the 14th century. It’s shorter than you would think. It’s available in various audiobook versions and probably and as a PDF online, all different translations. And it’s quite beautiful and strange and extremely readable and has also just been so influential throughout Western history that once you read it, you’re going to see little bits of Gawain popping up in many, many things out there. Hmm.
S1: All right. Well, the movie is The Green Knight, starring Patel from David Lowery. Check it out. You guys seem to be intrigued by it. I thought it was arthouse kitsch, but send us emails. I’d be curious to know what everyone else thought. All right. Moving on. All right, now is the moment in our podcast we typically talk business Dana what do we have?
S3: Yeah, a couple of things for business. First of all, we just wanted to thank all the listeners who have sent in submissions for the summer playlist. We’ve got that compiled. As we mentioned last week, we have now put a cap on submissions because we’re past a full 24 hour sleepless day and night period of nothing but listening to some restruck submissions. So it’s going to take us long enough to whittle those down that I think we can’t accept anymore. But please, if you sent them in the last few days and they don’t make it onto this year’s list, save them for next year, we’re just as happy to hear them. There’s no need for them to be timely in any fashion. And and we’re going to do it again next year. So thank everyone for your submissions for that. But I think we are done now for 2021. Our only other item of business this week is to let you know that the Slate plus segment will once again be answering a listener question. A listener named Peter wrote to us and said, hi. I’m not sure if this has ever been covered before, but after Dana is mentioned on a previous episode of Wishing She was a paleontologist. I think that was during my endorsement of the scientific article about the giant prehistoric rhino that I was so excited about. I was wondering what other careers the Gabfest who sometimes wish they might have taken on and what their ideal relationship with culture might be if it weren’t such a huge part of their lives. That’s a great question, and that’s one of those that sends you down a sore Gawain style secondary track of imagining what your life might have been. So thanks for that question, Peter, and we will answer it later in the show during our exclusive Slate plus segment. A reminder, as always, that if you are a member of Slate plus and there’s a future question you’d like us to discuss on one of our bonus segments, you can email us at culturist at Slate Dotcom. We have a running list of those and we often consult them when we decide about Slate plus for the week. If you’re not a member, of course, you can sign up at Slate dotcom slash culture plus where it costs a dollar for your first month. And for that dollar you get ad free podcasts, bonus content, like the segment I just described, and unlimited access to all of the great writing on Slate Dotcom. So please do us a favor and support the work we do by signing up at Slate Dotcom Culture. Plus once again, that slate dotcom culture plus.
S1: Like the Green Knight, the Billie Eilish story is something of a fantasy epic, both archetypal and improbable somehow. It features a young girl who makes an album when she’s 17 years old in her bedroom in the house she grew up in with her older brother, Phineas, both of whom were home schooled and raised by artsy music parents. And then, boom, all of a sudden, it’s it’s genuinely great, important pop record. It makes her into a global superstar. What must it be like to have that total shift in fortune, perspective, scale? I mean, everything from the bedroom to the globe. Right. Happened to you at you because of you. In spite of Billie, Eilish returns with her sophomore record asserting herself as the world’s greatest expert on what that’s like and on Billie Eilish to say it’s ironically titled is an understatement. Happier than ever is a dark record, in my estimation, a very dark record. It’s also catchy, funky, slinky, jazzy, torchy. It’s great. I love this record. To help us pin it down, we’re joined by Carl Wilson Slate’s music critic, Carl. Welcome back to the show.
S5: Hi, everybody.
S1: Uh, why don’t you start by picking a track for us to listen to?
S5: Yeah, I would say that the this is one of the cases where the album I’m very consciously knows what it’s doing with where it starts. So the opening song, Getting Older really sets the scene.
S4: Things I want to enjoy.
S6: Just keep me employed now.
S4: Things I’m looking for.
S6: So a little bit up.
S4: It’s only. Amy. Said, we care so much, he told Gon.
S1: Given all the Carl that line things I once enjoyed, just keep me employed now, I mean, she’s 19 years old, 19, she’s a teenager, and she’s already this jaded by fame, I guess. Kind of extraordinary, right?
S5: I mean, you know, you do have to think this is really been a sort of five years story for her now because that her first breakthrough with the song Shenise happened in 2016. So, you know, she was 14 when this all kind of got going. This album to me is a vast shift from the tone of the first album in ways that are both kind of wise and grounded and precocious for years, as always. But also also there is a lack of a lessening of joy on this album that makes you wonder how deep that disillusionment with the creative process goes. You know, one of the things that really distinguished Eilish when she emerged was this kind of fantastical sense lyrically and in the in the production that she and her brother Finian’s do, that kind of broke through all of the kind of conventional things that had been going on in pop at the time. In my review, I said, you know, that she kind of was side by side with little Noisettes on that level in twenty nineteen, where there was this sense of this kind of new GenZE sensibility that seemed like it might threaten to go off in a kind of really leftfield direction. And as much as I think this album is really accomplished, I also feel like it’s kind of chastened and by necessity returns to a kind of much more conventional set of topics, especially for a second album dealing with the consequences of fame. And it’s also kind of a breakup album and it’s overall and and speaks to those things really intimately and vulnerably, but also in ways that are much more like the rest of the field of pop. And in some ways, I find it kind of a hinge point where I wonder where she goes from here and and whether this is. What kind of stage this is in our development?
S2: Hmm, you know, one one thing you mention in your review is that there is a sort of trap in the album you make right after you get famous. That is about the experience of being famous. Right. That’s been the kiss of death to plenty of recording artists. When their second albums do that, you know, what is that trap? And are there places you find her deftly avoiding it or in other places where she falls into it? Or it seems like there’s this like it’s almost like a pit right in front of her. She has to walk around in order to do the album.
S5: Yeah, I mean, I think I think the thing that she avoids is. It’s not an album about. You know, the grind of touring and hotel rooms and being, you know, town to town, up and down the dial, like it’s not it’s not that kind of Rockin rock and roll cliche in that way. And I think the other thing that she does that that lends the album weight is, is she finds a way to universalize these experiences so that for her there’s a centerpiece spoken word piece of the middle of the album that’s about body image and about social media and and dealing with the kind of scrutiny in the world in that way. And I think for young women of her age, the way that just being on Instagram is dealing with fame on a certain level is a is a parallel that she makes a lot on this album. And so I think there’s there are things to identify with that aren’t just for me. When am I going to do with all this money and attention? It really transcends that
S4: and make assumptions about people based on their size. We decide who they are. We decide what they’re like. If I want more, if I let.
S3: Who decides what that makes me? What that means. I mean, I wanted to address Billie as a as a phenomenon maybe, and as a kind of a figure for girlhood and young womanhood, maybe more than this album. But she’s been such a big figure in my house since Oceana is I mean, since she was just an Internet phenomenon with no album at all. And in part, I’m sure that’s because I have a daughter who’s how much, four years younger than her, who is also an aspiring performer and write songs and was extremely identified. I wouldn’t say Billie Eilish is her favorite artist. That’s probably Lady Gaga, but she is more identified with Billie because, you know, it’s this is this girl making music out of her bedroom that I think any kid who’s on the Internet can sort of easily identify with that figure. And I know that for us, for example, when that copy of Vogue arrived, you know, she just recently posed for this Vogue cover. That is a complete image overhaul for her. Right, going from wearing her boogie board shorts with her green dyed roots and just her very anti glamour look that she she had for all those first few years of fame to being this bombshell with bleach blonde hair and wearing a Gucci bustier and just looking incredibly womanly. And Movistar like on the cover of Vogue. And it was a real splash in our household. It was both sort of, wow, Billie looks incredible. And she’s really grown up. And also, I know on my part and maybe even on my daughters, too, a little bit of fear for her, you know, just a sense that she’s launching herself now into that world of being a glamorous cover girl. And what is that going to mean for her? The album is obviously grappling to some degree with that stuff. But if you think about the documentary about her, which came out, I think Carl in twenty nineteen, the world’s a little blurry. The kind of concert that followed her on
S5: that actually just came out at the beginning of this year.
S3: OK, but it was filmed in twenty nineteen I assume, because it’s a pre pandemic situation. She’s, she’s touring the world but that’s that documentary is really worth watching. I mean I have my critiques of it which I won’t get into here, but it is a really powerful portrait of her and her brother and her family and sort of the art making world that they come from and how strange it is for that to become. This is international touring phenomenon. And the impression I got of her as a person from that documentary is that, you know, she’s she’s really a brilliant, thoughtful young woman. But she didn’t seem especially mature in her ability to deal with things like Internet fame. And that is not at all a criticism of her. It’s me speaking from the point of view of a mom. Basically, I feel like a mom when I watch her in the world and I fear for her vulnerability. You know, it was her brother who was sort of saying, don’t read the comments, don’t look at what they’re saying about you. And it seems that both her on stage persona and the person that you saw backstage was very concerned with that stuff and was very aware of her image and kind of insecure about it. And so I guess I have this very protective feeling towards her in the future of her career, not unlike what I felt toward Taylor Swift when she was younger and just starting out, you know, or even in a way, Lena Dunham, who wasn’t as young but, you know, just talented young women who get very famous and powerful before they’re necessarily emotionally and intellectually mature enough for that fame. Just seems like it’s a thing that our culture is is very big on right now and in a way, a little bit vampiric about. And it just worries me that that moment when the young woman becomes comes out of her butterfly cocoon and appears on the cover of Vogue and then everybody comments on it and and there’s a backlash. And it all seems very violent to happen to someone who’s so young and so fragile and talented. So I guess I guess what I’m sort of saying here is be careful, Billie, you know, just just protect yourself as well as you get.
S5: Yeah. Dana. I mean, I really share a lot of those feelings and definitely had them around the documentary. And, you know, it’s fascinating, you know, things like the Vogue cover, we’re clearly and she’s talked about it a lot and attempt to escape from kind of one identity cage that she finds herself put in over the first couple of years where she got praised as being a role model for being nonsexual and held up, you know, as kind of a paragon in her nonconformity in various ways. And then she felt like, oh, well, now this is now you’re praising me for not showing my body in a way that shames other young women for showing their bodies and would shame me if I ever choose to show my body. And so I want to take action in that. And all of that is interesting strategy, but it also leads to her making exactly the transition that so many teen pop stars do in their sort of second album phase, where it’s like now I am coming out about my about being a sexual person and, you know, and stopping being a nonthreatening teen star. And that’s in its own way, a kind of cliché that people go through. And so it’s, again, the sort of double edged thing I feel about the face she’s in right now, where at the same time she’s being very thoughtful about what she’s doing. And on the other hand, where is she going in this kind of journey of being a pop star? And will she be able to hold on to the things that. So distinctive and kind of kind of, you know, Frank and unafraid in her initial impression on the world.
S1: And can I just jump in and say, Carl I think she made and she and her brother made a terrific album. I mean, I think with all the pressure in the world and all the eyes of the world on you, they got together and they made something that built on the first record that they made sonically. It sounds like Billie, Eilish, but it sounds like Billie Eilish growing up and going in a new, somewhat new direction or evolving as an artist. And I find it I find it haunting. I think the songwriting, the production values, the singing, they all come together for me right away. I instantly, instantly wanted to play this record over and over and over again. I wanted to buy a really expensive car and drive around Los Angeles at night listening to this record over and over and over again. Do you agree? Like, it’s just kind of it’s kind of a remarkable album.
S5: I think there’s a lot that’s really, really beautiful about it. And I think her voice sounds incredible on it. And she definitely reaches places that she wasn’t reaching on that level before. And there’s yeah, there’s interesting reaches into kind of a jazzy or almost kind of showtunes level that that was in the background, but not as much on the first album. So musically, I think there’s a lot going on. There’s a beautiful passage at the beginning of the song Goldwing where it kind of goes into this kind of neoclassical gate, which kind of zone, which I would never have predicted. He.
S4: Scarlett. The use of his. So.
S6: She to. I asked.
S5: So, yeah, I think there’s a lot to admire about it, and similarly, lyrically, you know, there’s there’s lot of self-possession and an intimacy about it. At the same time, I think over the course of the album, all of those virtues flatten out a little bit because because there isn’t there isn’t quite the dynamic range. And so I think that there’s something, again, a little restrained through most of this album. Not at every moment. There’s the great climax of the song Happier than ever, ever, for example, where she, for the first time ever, kind of kind of starts just screaming. But I do think, you know, some people have responded to this album by calling it a little dull, and I think it does threaten to be that here and there. It’s so aware of what moves it’s making that I think it can tend to get a little claustrophobic. So I’m I’m with you on one level. But but I do. I’m torn as well, you know, and it’s still very new. I feel like Dana that I haven’t had quite enough time to live with it, to be sure exactly how I feel about it in the long term.
S3: Yeah, I will say that I think it’s a little padded, which is something I think you say in your review Carl or I know some some critics did, that it doesn’t quite have enough strong tracks to to feel like it holds together the way that first album did. That was really just one banger after another. I mean, I don’t think there’s any song in this album that’s going to bore its way into my brain the way when the party’s over has, which is a song that I just constantly, constantly get in my head from her from her first album and like. Here at.
S2: So, yeah, you know, I mean, for me, I had quite a journey with this album when when I first started listening to it, I was like, this is boring. This is incredibly boring and tired musically. And I just I’m not interested in this. You could put it in the back of a hair salon, like while you’re getting your hair cut. I don’t I don’t understand. And because we were going to talk about it, I started listening to it more and more and more and more and more. And what I realized was that it’s really an album that lives in its details for me. And once I was just sitting there with my headphones on, not a speaker, just my headphones on, the only thing I was doing was paying attention to it. It really opened up to me. To me, it’s all about like when is her breath included on that opening track and when isn’t it? What are all the little teeny things she’s doing with her voice? Because she is really an incredible singer from moment to moment. When are they bringing out the distortion? So it sounds like kind of late period low. And when are they restraining it? So it sounds like a torch song, you know, and once that started happening, like, I can’t even tell you which songs I’m that into. I was just like living from detail to detail and really admiring it in in that way. So I have come to quite like the album, but in a different way from how I normally listen to or like the albums I listen to in like.
S1: I mean, this is a classic example of a record that shouldn’t have been 16 cuts long.
S4: Oh, yeah, yeah.
S1: You know, you pick the best 12, you pick the best nine. Right. And it’s an album with coherence and a degree of you know, it’s got a murmuring quality throughout. But, you know, it has its own internal drive at 9:00 cuts at 16. It’s repetitive and and open to that criticism.
S5: Yeah. You know, I mean, I, I deal with I deal with this all the time as a critic, because you’re coming to something where you recognize that you’re not the core audience for a record and that, you know, a Billie Eilish fan Dana starters age, you know, probably doesn’t have any complaints about there being too many songs to listen to. And we might, you know.
S1: All right. Well, Carl Wilson is the music critic for Slate. Carl, thanks for coming back on the show. That was great.
S5: Always a pleasure. Thank you.
S1: OK, on this show, we are perennially fascinated by the relationship between an old Hollywood business model of wide release blockbusters and the new streaming business model. There’s a new chapter in what promises to be an ongoing story being written right now. Scarlett Johansson contract for the Marvel movie Black Widow featured bonuses based on theatrical release box office totals, i.e., she got paid based on how much money the movie made in theaters. Then Disney, which brought out the movie, according to Scarlett Johansson and her lawyers, at least undercut that box office by putting it on streaming early. The, I guess in the jargon, closed the theatrical window more quickly than anticipated. We are now joined by Peter Labuza. Welcome to the show.
S7: Thank you so much. First-Time Caller. long-Time Listener.
S1: Oh, awesome. It’s so great to have you. You are a legal historian. You specialize in entertainment law and the history of entertainment law. The relationship between studio and talent and the contract making there into the subject is directly in your wheelhouse. Walk us through what’s happening here. Give us the basics.
S7: Right. So Scarlett Johansson, obviously A-list actress, star of both independent films and of course, has been part of the quote unquote, Marvel Cinematic Universe for almost a decade now since she first appeared in Iron Man two and the after finishing Avengers End game where spoiler alert her character was killed, Disney wanted to do one last stand alone movie with her and she wanted a agreement like every other Marvel film which had which was a giant theatrical exclusive release in theaters worldwide. So this deal was set up in about 2019, just at the same time that Disney was beginning to launch Disney plus cut to March twenty twenty. The pandemic happens, the films delayed from May twenty twenty, all the way to, you know, its release only now about a month ago. And one of the things that Disney did was that they pushed to have the film come out on Disney. Plus at the same time that it was coming out on in theaters, Disney plus is their streaming service. So Johansson lawsuit is essentially about the push to have it released on Disney plus at the same time, and the sort of way that both the theater owners have also sort of argued that this has driven a lot of people away from going to the movies, going to theaters, because they can watch it online. The studios like Warner Media, when they did Wonder Woman in nineteen eighty four on HBO, Max. Right. They had to pay up front ten million dollars to go Galkayo and ten million dollars to director Patty Jenkins. And then Warner Media did other deals with the films that they’ve released over this year. Disney is the one who’s kind of dragged their feet over this last year to not do that for its talent. And now there’s rumors that other stars like Emma Stone and Cruella and possibly Emily Blunt from Jungle Cruise, which was released last weekend and also did well on Disney plus and not so well in theaters, are looking into similar lawsuits that might, you know, really challenge the way that streaming profits and this general pie is being distributed among between studio’s talent and other labor groups.
S2: You know, it’s interesting you bring that up, because historically, it seems to me that I guess you could say two of the thorns in the studio side are the movie theaters after the Paramount decision where they have to sell off their movie theaters. And then those are those are owned by another entity and talent and especially unions. And it seems to me like if you’re in either of those two groups, one of the worries, one of the fears about streaming is that it allows the studios to kind of do end runs around both unions and theater owners. So how other than lawsuits, how is that conflict playing out besides in the courts?
S7: Yeah, I know that superimportant Isaac. So most of the three major unions that would be the Directors Guild of America Screenwriters Guild and the Screen Actors Guild all made agreements in twenty twenty with the studios. But there’s been kind of this fight for more of the pie as it goes along and those will be renegotiated in twenty, twenty two. But there’s been just this constant worry. I don’t know if this was covered, but the Writers Guild had this whole mass firing of all their talent agents in twenty nineteen and that was finally settled in twenty twenty. Not related necessarily stream profits, but partially related to other packaged deals. But I think one of the things that’s happening that is getting your point is what I’ve been calling the tech effect of Hollywood, which is that Hollywood studios are being much more run like their Silicon Valley counter. So your Facebook or your Amazons, in terms of how this pie is being built and the streaming pie is ultimately a smaller pie than whatever the large theatrical one is, so the studios are fighting more to keep it under wraps. And I think really one of the things that I’ve been advocating for is until we have a true digital box office, something that kind of replicates the Sun Trades, Hollywood Reporter variety box office, it’ll be really hard for talent to find any way to justify opening up that pie to other people.
S3: Yeah, I’ve wondered about that. As we get deeper into the streaming era and we keep on hearing over and over again. Oh, well, streaming services don’t release their data. That’s just how they are, right? I mean, it just seems like at some point there needs to be a legal challenge or some sort of ethical challenge for them to release their data. Right. Because otherwise, it’s really hard to decide things like, you know, contracts or what’s a what’s a fair amount of residuals for a given performer to get. And I just wonder if there’s a pressure from within the industry for that that data to not be so kept under wraps anymore.
S7: I mean, I’ll say so Scarlett Johansson talent agent whose name I’m going to forget at this moment, I apologize. Also negotiate the recent deal with Netflix for the knives out, sequel’s knives out to you and knives at three that are moving from Lionsgate to Netflix. And I believe that one has a strong talent participation agreement created upfront into the deal. So if the film does well, Brian Johnson gets a nice big check from Netflix potentially. So there’s already pushes. And I think the one of the things is both agents and lawyers are looking and advocating for this push. And I think at one point, just because this competition is so fierce between these top companies, Netflix, Paramount with their new one, Disney, of course, and all the other ones they’re doing, someone’s going to have to open up the books because it’s going to be the only way to get talent. And talent is going to flood that way. And I think as that that might finally push. It might you know, I think I’ve certainly advocated for other ways in terms of antitrust issues. That would be something akin to the paramount decision, right, where you split the streaming companies away from production, which seems to be part of the problem here, that it’s all getting consolidated in a way, but. Right. It gets so complicated so fast and every piece is moving so fast that I think that’s why this lawsuit is kind of this culmination of all these anxieties that have been happening the last few years in terms of what streaming represents to the future of Hollywood in both film and television.
S1: Oh, absolutely. Peter, you said something in there that I want to pick out, which is the paramount decision some of our listeners might not know. Was the antitrust decision levied against by the Justice Department against a Hollywood writer? Was a consent decree, correct. That got them to basically agree to divest themselves of the studios, to divest themselves of the theater chains that they owned? Right. So just separating out production and distribution, the the interest interesting consequence of that was you were seriously able to control risk by having vertically vertically integrated the business. In that way, you were able to have huge production budgets and you knew if you didn’t have a necessarily great movie on your hands after you’d spent a ton of money on it, you could force it down the throats of of the theaters. You could push it through the supply chain and make some money on it. You could package all kinds of films. So, you know, if, you know, a theater showed one, it would have to show this other one. And, you know, if you can control risk on the business end of it, you can take risks on the creative end. And so one consequence of the consent decree, the paramount decision was Hollywood became risk averse and went through a period of sustained stillness. The streaming model is interesting because by once again having some degree of consolidation between production and distribution on a subscription model, it’s not only that you can force something at the other end, it’s that you’ve got totally predictable, huge revenues, therefore massive, virtually unlimited production budgets. You can allow creative people to take massive risks. Is the worry. Would you have a worry that if there was vertical disintegration on that paramount model, the golden age of television and streaming might be imperiled? And by the way, just to put a timeframe on it, that decision was from nineteen forty eight.
S7: You know, that’s a really important question, Stephen. And I’ll say I’m a huge classical Hollywood fan and I love the, you know, the B movies of the Westerns and crime movies that they kind of just, you know, threw together on shoestring budgets because they would be guaranteed making money. And, you know, one of the things you talk about is right after the Paramount decrease, the studios became risk averse, but the independence became so gung ho about trying to create things and all especially the other important. Legal decision that people have kind of compared to the Scarlett Johansson lawsuit is that a half of Warner Brothers case, this case that freed talent from the studio contracts that they had been. And I think what happened for those independent producers and actors, writers and directors, is that they understood the risk that every film that they made was could be the thing that make or break their career. And so I think, you know, we look at the 50s and obviously like we can look at the bloat of a Ten Commandments or a Ben-Hur or some of the musicals of some of those are really, really great. But then we also think about the films made by I think of IDA Latinos, Independent Films, or the Roger Corman B movies and eventually write the new Hollywood of the 60s and 70s that really was driven by studios making these negotiated deals with talent that had power to kind of push them and give them a just amount of budget. So when I think about what the future of streaming might be, one of the things is I feel that the comparison between the B movies of the 30s and what Netflix kind of throws onto their streamer seems to be a little different in quality. And that’s just my own personal opinion. I know people can feel differently, but I also feel that we’re in such a different place now for talent and the risk that they’re feeling that they’re already creatively energized to make interesting things and ready to do it. And they’re coming to the ideas as opposed to the studios proposing them. So I think, you know, what’s being lost is they feel like they’re putting in all this effort and talent into a set of studios that no longer necessarily feel, you know, that they’re certainly willing to take their ideas and give them the money to make them, but not necessarily share in the, you know, the profits and the fruit of the labor at the end of the day.
S1: Peter, this was a great segment. And this is such a I mean, this is an ongoing subject. It’s your area of expertise. I hope you’ll come back on the show repeatedly. Would love to. Peter Labuza teaches at San Jose State University. He writes about the history of Hollywood dealmaking. And he he will be back soon. All right, now is the moment in our podcast when we endorsed Dana, what do you have?
S3: All right, Stephen since we were talking about a fancy word that I didn’t know Hierophant at the top of the podcast. And because you gave that great endorsement last week, that was all about Socrates and the Socratic method, I have to endorse a word this week. I’m just going to endorse a single word and the etymology of that word. Do either of you know the word mystic? Maybe you’d like to know anything about the context of that word.
S2: No, I’m intrigued. Sock it to us, Dana.
S3: All right. Socrates, it to you. OK, so my came along and I can’t remember the context of what I was reading about something philosophical and and was a word I had never heard. So I immediately looked it up. And the etymology of it is just so fascinating and so moving and taught me not only about this word, but a little bit about Socrates and philosophy that I didn’t know. So I’m going to read the entire definition of music that I came across. Unfortunately, I don’t have the source in front of me right now, but I promise it was something it was something valid. It wasn’t sort of, you know, word bucket dotcom. I think it was Merriam Webster. It says music comes from Medicus, the Greek word for of midwifery. In one of Plato’s dialogues, Socrates applies my Utica’s to his method of bringing forth new ideas by reasoning and dialogue. He thought the technique analogous to those a midwife uses in delivering a baby. And here’s the killer in parentheses, Socrates. His mother was a midwife. A teacher who uses Mayardit. Methods can be thought of as an intellectual midwife who assists students in bringing forth ideas and conceptions previously latent in their minds. So, I mean, just as a as a concept about teaching, this is so profound. Right. The idea that what teaching is is is akin to midwifery and that you are bringing something forth that’s already within your interlocutor. And I think, Steve, that was a lot of what you were talking about last time, right. That that the Socratic method is more than just saying you’re wrong, you’re wrong, you’re wrong over and over again, that there’s a generosity to it and a sense that you’re bringing forth something that that’s already there in the other person. But even just the historic note that Socrates is the son of a midwife I thought was absolutely incredible. And I immediately wanted someone like Hilary Mantel to write historical novel. Right. A closely researched historical novel about Socrates, his mother being a midwife. And you know how it was that she brought her son up to become this this great philosopher. So I love my Utech. I love its etymology, and that’s my endorsement for the week.
S1: Oh, that’s marvelous. I love that Dana Isaac would have.
S2: So because we talked about Gawain in The Green Knight this week, I want to heartily endorse Arthurian legend as a thing that people can just sort of go out and experience. The stories themselves are fun. The poetry is not inaccessible, in part because it’s been translated. You know, the stuff is great. Summer is a perfect time for it and a lot of it’s on audio books. So I’m going to recommend to the Sur Gawain in The Green Knight, as translated by Simon Armitage. That’s narrated by Bill Wallis. There’s an audio book of it. You can get it wherever you buy your whatever app you buy your audio books from. It’s an amazing performance, a wonderful translation. He also reads the introduction and the translator’s note. So you get an enormous amount of context and it has it in both English and the original. So, you know, just to give an example of what it’s like, here’s a little bit of Bill Wallis narrating the poem in contemporary English
S4: Eilish the siege and the. To try and assist with the city of smoky of cinders and ash tray to contrive such betrayal, was tried for his treachery to us.
S2: And here’s a little clip of the poem in middle English
S4: season, the sage and the assault was seized. That truly Ebola treatment and brings to run this task is to take the Thomas of treason that was tried for his treachery to Nasser.
S2: Anyway, it’s a great treat, the whole thing. Even if you wanted to listen to the poem in both forms, the whole thing is like five hours long. So I highly recommend taking the time to do it. The other one, of course, the very famous Arthurian legend is The Death of Arthur by Thomas Malory. And there is a version of it that I actually just started yesterday that I’m enjoying so far, narrated by Philip Madoc. That’s made Ossy that you can also get on audiobook they make. They were meant to be told his stories to people. So it sort of gives you this feeling that you’re sitting by the fireplace and someone is spinning this ancient yarn for you. It’s a really wonderful, fun, summertime, joyous experience like that. I highly recommend, uh.
S1: All right. Well, last week we talked about this this kind of subgenre of non. Fiction books about Hollywood disasters, one of the great ones is Final Cut by Stephen Bock, who greenlit the movie Heaven’s Gate and wrote really, I think, the definitive insider’s take on 1970s Hollywood. Just a brilliant book, but there are others. There’s Devil’s Candy, the podcast that is based on, you know, the account of the disaster that was Bonfire of the Vanities. And then there’s the studio by John Gregory Dana sort of forgotten about, which is about the making of Dr. Doolittle, principally about how the studios went all in on Dr. Doolittle and a couple of other big budget musicals and sank themselves more or less in the late 60s. But I forgot one. That’s really a fine. It’s just a tremendously good, well done nonfiction book in its own right. It’s by Lillian Ross, who for 50 years was one of the great writers of The New Yorker. And she did a book called Picture that New York Review of Books, Books, Classics has has a great addition of. And it’s about John Huston, the great film director attempting to make Red Badge of Courage, a sort of passion project of Houston’s forever. And he finally gets to do it. And it’s a fly on the wall account by an exquisitely gifted, like rapier sharp New Yorker writer, you know, from the golden era of that magazine, just observing how Hollywood mediocrity pecks away at the vision of the great director. And it’s just a terrific book. And then very quickly, I, I, I, I endorse this advisedly. But there’s a show on Netflix. It’s a South Korean TV show, one of the most successful TV shows they’ve ever made. It’s called Crash Landing on You. And it’s kind of great. It’s about a tribal heiress who, thanks to some windsurfing fluke, ends up in the DMZ and then finally in North Korea, where she’s trapped and trying to get out and, you know, is taken in by a kind of mid-level soldier. And the two of them embark on a kind of romance. And it’s just it’s sort of silly. And its sensibility is, I think, very South Korean. It’s got a kind of unfamiliarity in in tone and pace and and attitude that you that you become fluent in after a while. And then it’s it’s very fun. I kind of love this show. I’m curious whether any of our listeners have watched it. I’m not quite done with it. But after kind of needing to get over an initial hump, I’m I’m more than there and quite, quite enjoy it anyway. Isaac, as always, a total pleasure. Thank you.
S2: Thank you for having me.
S1: Stephen and Dana. That was great. Thanks so much
S3: Ajoy as ever.
S1: You’ll find links to some of the things we talked about today at our show page, that Slate dot com culture fest, and you can email us a culture post at Slate dot com. I would love I’d love to hear feedback on Green Night crash landing on you, on Highroad Phantasm and music, you know, dialectical practices. Anything you heard in this episode. We’d love to hear feedback from you, so please do that. Our intro music is by the glorious Nick Brittelle of the film composer, our producers, camera crews. Our production assistant is Grace Woodruff for Isaac Cutler and Dana Stevens, thank you so much for joining us this week.
S6: And we’ll see you soon. Hello and welcome
S3: to the Slate plus segment of the Slate Culture Gabfest. Today, we have a listener sourced question that I think will be really fun to talk about. It has to do with alternate careers and what we might have liked to do if we had not ended up being these I don’t know what you call us knowledge workers that we are, you know, working in various fields of criticism, writing, podcasting, etc.. I guess I’ll start with myself for a change just because it was something I said on the show that was an inspiration for this reader, Peter, to write in. It was the week that I endorsed the Scientific American article on the incredibly giant rhino that was that is the largest land mammal ever to have walked the earth. I was flabbergasted by this story and and by the size of the vertebra that was shown that was about three feet wide, a single vertebra of this animal. And it just got my my brain thinking about the deep past and paleontology and how interested I’ve always been in, you know, anything about the sort of deep past of the Earth and particularly life on Earth. And so this reader wanted to know what I wanted to be a paleontologist. Were I not turning out to be a word person, film critic like I did. I think that might have been one of my other dream careers. I think certainly something having to do with research is what really appeals to me. I was training to be an academic for many years, as was Steve, I believe. And and I feel like that was not the right path for me. I don’t think that my dream career that I should have been doing is to be a college professor. I feel like in a way, I respect that career and venerate the great teachers. I’ve had too deeply to want to put my fairly mediocre teaching skills alongside them. But I did love the research part of being a grad student and being a professor. So maybe if there was some job that I could imagine that involved, you know, this is, of course, a fantasy of what any job is, but that involved, you know, brushing little minuscule bits of dust off of some sort of ancient fossil while cataloguing it for some museum. The idea in general that you are preserving extremely obscure human knowledge that without you would disappear forever is is very romantic to me. I mean, maybe that’s part of my fascination with the monastic period in the Middle Ages that we were talking about with the Gawain movie is just the idea that there is that there was this period and we could be entering into another one right now where huge swathes of human culture would have disappeared if not for a few people that were guarding them off in dusty places. And in fact, the book that the that the Gawain Gon persistence, along with three other poems by the same anonymous poet who has basically been decided by philologists, that it’s the same guy almost disappeared. There is one bound volume of it that somehow made it through the Middle Ages was in library fires belonged to different people for centuries, could easily have just become one of the many, many books that was lost for all posterity. But but now it has survived. And look at us. We’re watching a movie based on it in the twenty first century and arguing about whether it’s a good movie or not. So that’s a very big answer. But yes, to be some sort of dusty guardian of otherwise lost culture is probably my fantasy career if I had not been a writer of some sort. Isaac, what about you?
S2: Well well, first I want to say it’s actually that’s actually how we have the Greek tragedies that have survived as well, is because of monks copying them because they thought they would be. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And so so I hope should there be like a nuclear apocalypse and we end up in like a Canticle for Lebowitz type situation that Dana you will be you’ll be able to have that job and keep our culture going.
S3: But the things they’ll be preserving are going to be things like Billie Eilish is Vogue photo shoot.
S2: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. You know, I had struggled with this question a little bit because I have always you know, the dream has always been to have something that had to do with creating and discussing art. And I get to live that, you know, and so I have different variations on that dream of the ones that I’m not doing. Like I’m not in a band, you know what I mean? I know I gave up on being an actor, you know, et cetera and so forth. But I get to talk to you all and I get to write and I get to, you know, live and then researched this stuff that I love. And so I’m very content about that. But I did remember that when I got super into cooking in my 20s, which I still am into, but I reached this point. My 20s was like, I am going to learn how to become a really, you know, good cook. And I think I did a pretty good job of that. I had this idea that that if nothing else worked out, I would go become a butcher. I know that sounds maybe quite bizarre, but we have multiple really wonderful butcher shops in my neighborhood that have existed for literally generations. And I just always loved going in there and talking to the guys about, you know, what cut of meat and and how to properly cook it and all that stuff. And I just thought at least the customer facing end of that, I would be really good at it. I would be really good at being like, this is the thing you want. This is how you make it. You know, what advice can I give you? What questions do you have? And it would be a way of using what I learned as a bookseller in a in a somewhat different form. So I’m going to go with a butcher.
S1: Oh, yeah,
S3: phrase popped into my mind as you were describing that Isaac was Isaac Butler, the demon butcher of Smith
S2: Street. Yeah, yeah, exactly, exactly. I’m actually carving up the indie film Celebrities of my Neighborhood to feed the hoi polloi.
S3: Beware, Hope Davis. No.
S2: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.
S3: What about you?
S1: Um, I’m going to go with realtor.
S5: For real,
S1: yeah, I would have loved to have been a realtor. I love real estate. I’m such an avid consumer of lives that I haven’t led or probably won’t lead. And it just brings me back to real estate listings over and over and over again. I love the language of them. They’re so preposterous. You know, this like. Ridiculous attempt at sounding fancy that just backfires, but in its ways, just like deliciously self parroting and it just was mine, you know? You know, I fled grad school and sometimes I wish I had run harder and farther in a way, you know, because all I ended up doing was was, you know, repeating what the largest downsides were of being in graduate school, which is just sort of always having homework, you know, always having a homework assignment you haven’t completed and, you know, a big paper to write effectively. I just did it in a freelance non-academic setting and. It just would have been great to have had I mean, I don’t want to it’s not that it’s mindless, it’s just that it’s not. Dealing with these large heaving abstractions in order to prove your intellectual self-importance or whatever, I don’t know what it is or whatever it is we do in these kinds of writers, but it’s it’s sometimes I just find that works so, so exhausting. And at the end of the day, like. It’s grandiosity turns out to be completely vaporous or something that it’d just be great to, like, show people a classic six down on, you know, Third Avenue and walk them through the kitchen. And I don’t know, I just or a shepherd or like, just give me something that doesn’t involve intellectual labor of the kind that we’re committed to.
S2: Do you are you the kind of person who reads the weekend real estate sections of the times? You know, you sit there just for pleasure on the weekend and crack that open and read it?
S1: I used to be when I got a hard copy of the Sunday Times. I think now it’s much more incidental if if there is something on the splash page and it’s seductive, I’ll click through on it. But, you know, and just to sort of be like a little less, I’m I’m not being tongue in cheek. But but but, you know, I mean, it would be very hard work. There’s that incredible opening set piece of the Richard Ford novel Independence Day, where, you know, this is back in the 80s and Ford completely nailed this one. He sort of understood that real estate somehow in a new way was going to be kind of existentially self defining for people going forward in ways that they found grotesque. Right. Like the unaffordable as the whole novel begins with the sheer unaffordability to this couple. You know, he’s the sports writer from the novel. The sportswriter has become a realtor at the beginning of the sequel Independence Day, and he’s showing this couple of house in New Jersey for like four hundred grand. Right. Which now, you know, for a middle to upper middle class couple is sort of a pittance. But back then was unthinkable, like approaching half a million dollars for a perfectly ordinary, you know, split-Level in northern New Jersey. And effectively as a realtor, what you’re constantly doing is reminding people what social class they actually belong to. Right. Vis a vis their own aspirations and ambitions. So I retracted I would never want to be a realtor. I mean, talk about midwifing. You’re basically midwifing, you know, grotesque, the grotesque realities of social class for people over and over and over again and, you know, in between occasionally slipping people into their dreams. But anyway.
S3: I mean, I was going to say, Steve, when you mentioned realtor, for one thing, it would be very fun to be shown a house by you, and I’m sure that you would have great enthusiasm for the history and details of that house and be an interesting person to look at it with. But you’re also selling, you know, and you’re selling, especially in this market right now, to incredibly wealthy people that are outbidding each other for these properties that aren’t worth it. And I was just thinking of a dear friend of mine who does work in real estate in the Bay Area, of all places right now. And his is just, you know, an incredibly soulful, you know, smart, well-read, just a very sensitive person and who is really made miserable by her job. She just finds it incredibly alienating to have all these dotcom billionaires come in in the place that she’s lived her whole adult life, just watched them turn it into sort of a rich person’s playground. It just at this moment in history, I feel like being in real estate would be a very soul killing prospect. So I’m glad you’re not doing that.
S1: Fair enough.
S3: I have one more quick round, because this listener also asked, what do you think your relationship to culture would be if you were doing this non cultural job? In my case, I guess I would still be doing a job that had to do with culture. But I’m just I’m just wondering, you know, what sort of consumer of culture you might be. And all I can say is that whatever I was doing for a job, I’m sure that I would always be a movie person who saw as many movies as I could and read about them and thought about them as deeply as I could, whether it was professional or not. Isaac, what about you?
S2: Yeah, it’s hard to imagine a version of myself that isn’t like trying to read all the time and doesn’t care about Shakespeare or whatever, you know what I mean? Like, I just I just feel like those things are so fundamental to me, to who I am that, you know, I would I would seek that that stuff out. Obviously, I would probably have less time to devote to reading and seeing movies and doing things like that. But I would I would hope that that they would remain an important part of my life.
S3: And Steve, what about you?
S1: I think I probably read a lot more fiction. Right. I’ve sort of buried myself in non-fiction, you know, in part to research the book that I’m writing in order to just conceive of the world as an integrated totality and then try to explain it to others. And I just think if I were working a day job at night, I would want to read literary fiction. And I’m amazed when I step back and look at how little of that I engage with now.
S3: All right, well, I actually learned a lot about both of you and your ambitions, and I’m really glad that we have that discussion. So thank you, Peter, for writing in with that suggestion for a Slate plus segment. If anybody else out there wants to tell us what to talk about in Slate. Plus, next time you can write us at Culture Fest at Slate Dotcom. Thank you so much to all of you for being subscriber’s and helping support our work. And we’ll talk to you next week.