“New Weird America” Edition

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S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership. I’m Stephen Metcalf, and this is the Slate Culture Gabfest, the new Weird America edition. It’s Wednesday, October 20th, 2020. On today’s show, for the purposes of this introduction, I will call it the new Borat movie or Borat to its out. The Sacha Baron Cohen alter ego prank fest is both more scabrous and more tender somehow, I think, than its predecessor. It contains also that scene with America’s mayor, Rudy Giuliani. We will discuss all of the above. And then the anthology of American Folk Music, which came out in the 1950s, I will argue, remade our world. I really believe that’s a plausible interpretation of that record recordset. We’ll get into how and why that happened. There is a new sequel collection out just now of the besides from those original 78, but without a subset of very racist songs. We will discuss this intersection of Americana with old timey racism. And finally, it’s connecting us. It’s alienating us. It’s energizing us. It’s sapping us and catching us out. Yes. Zoom, zoom. We are going to talk about Zoom. I wonder, Jody, if there’s some kind of mildly salacious click Baity Peg for that segment. I can’t think of one off the top of my head.

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S2: Yeah, I don’t know. We’ll have to Google that.

S3: Yeah, I think so. We’re joined by Jody Rosen, who is a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine. Hey, Jody. Hey, you.

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S1: There are no fap levels left.

S4: It’s like you have met L. Ron Hubbard himself, having gone through all of the Scientology courses or Zanón or whatever the God of that religion is. But I can’t even fap you anymore. You’re beyond you’re beyond it. You’ve Tranz valued all those values. You are just the essence of what we’ve been doing for these 15 years.

S5: Well, thank you. I’ve always wanted to be a fap in all respects. You should you should see what I’m wearing now if I I’m not going to put my Zune camera on, but trust me, I’m looking pretty darn the issue right now in my in my sixteen year old son’s bedroom where I’m doing this, I’m doing this recording.

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S1: And of course, we’re joined by Dana Stevens, the film critic for Slate. Dotcom, you exist beyond good and evil to Dana.

S6: I’ll take that in the ambiguous spirit that it was meant.

S1: Shall we dig in, guys? We ready to go?

S7: Yeah.

S1: All right, I will hereby say the entire title Barat subsequent movie film delivery of prodigious bribe to American regime for make benefit once glorious nation of Kazakhstan. We will just say from here on in, I think Borat or Borat to the title is one of the funniest things about this movie. I completely agree. It is a very funny title. Anyway, Borat, as you all probably know, is the Kazakhstan or Kazakh journalist. He’s a clueless buffoon out to discover America. Beneath this persona, of course, is the very sly Sacha Baron Cohen, the English comedian and prankster who knows exactly what he is up to. Unlike perhaps Borat, he’s finding the weird intersection of American hospitality, naiveté, free enterprise politics and our racism and misogyny. In this film, Borat brings his 15 year old daughter, played by the 24 year old actress Maria Baykal, over to the United States to gift her yes to Mike Pence, the vice president. Her name is to star in the film. Along the way, Borat and Tutera encounter all manner of guileless American rubes from plastic surgeons to Kuhnen conspiracists. And, yes, most infamously now Rudy Giuliani. It is a weirdly tender, almost almost want to say a weirdly tender pastiche of mockumentary and feature film, a kind of parable about a father and daughter buried in Cringely skit humor. But anyway, let’s listen to a clip.

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S8: OK, I help you with I prepare my daughter for market and I am looking for a suitable cage for her. OK, a cage. This is a prototype for nine hundred bucks. Not not a hell of a lot. I think this one too expensive. Look at them all of this. One of them, all of them want to see what the daughters are. Happy you got them. You have many other girls are going to live in here with me. How many girls you normally put in the cage this size? One. But I hear Donald Trump. He cage Mexicans. Yes. Yes, I’m fine.

S1: Oh, my Lord. Dana, this was always such an equivocal brew, right? I mean, it was so funny, spiteful, weird, revealing. It’s only more intense to have to watch a movie like this in 2020. What did you what did you make of it?

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S9: This is future, Dana, popping back into the podcast to say that present, Dana, the one that you’re about to hear answering may have a couple of zoom glitches again this week. There are just moments that I lost my power here and had to be recorded on the much worse quality zoom recording. So if you do hear me sounding fuzzy like I’m far away, don’t despair. I’ll be back in my normal clear setting shortly after that.

S6: I have so many things to say and conflicting feelings about this movie. I’m really glad that we’re talking about it because I didn’t get a chance to write about it. I actually turned down the chance to write about it because of other deadlines and conflicts. My thought at first on knowing that a fourteen years later sequel had been made, you know, to this this the first Borat movie that was such a sensation in the Bush years was sort of like, where does Borat fit into our culture now? What more do I really have to say about this character, even though I may admire. Sacha Baron Cohen’s, I mean, just pure, as you say, virtuosity as a prankster and kind of his incredibly iron clad, cringe proof ability to stir up trouble in public while remaining completely embarrassment proof, I didn’t necessarily feel the need to revisit this character or this way of of uncovering stuff in the American psyche that we now know is there. Right. I mean, it’s a very different era than 2006 when the first Borat movie came out. And I’m not sure that I think that this movie is terribly funny. I watched it in a sort of horrified state of disbelief while, as I say, at the same time being amazed that Sacha Baron Cohen and now Maria Colaba, the actress that he found, the 24 year old actress who plays his daughter, were able to infiltrate the spaces that they do, which we’ll talk about and get the footage that they did it sort of at once, a this stunning kind of piece of political performance art and something that seems almost unnecessary now that that America’s underbelly has exposed itself at the same time. I think that the the backlash that it’s caused and the conversations that are now happening in the social media sphere between Sacha Baron Cohen and the various politicians that he exposes, including he’s now feuding with of Twitter, have been in a way as valuable and as funny as anything that happens on screen in the movie.

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S1: Jodie, I’ll turn to you. You have the desperate task of following that. You know, this was a revelation 15 years ago. Now it’s all too obvious. It’s not the underbelly, as Dana says. It’s the front, back and sideways of America, or at least white America and also official America, presidential America, the White House, America can’t possibly be that. We have the same reaction to this document that we had to the original one, you know, back in the Bush era. So I’m just so curious, what what was it like for you to watch it?

S10: That was exactly my reaction to it. I you know, I love Sacha Baron Cohen. He’s a he’s a total virtuoso. I’m actually one of those people who tended to like his aleg persona and the interviews with, you know, those kind of early skits and interviews he did with powerful people. That to me, that was his most hard hitting, trenchant, like, you know, getting Pat Buchanan to talk about the BLT is that Saddam Hussein had used on the Kurds, that sort of thing. But that is not WMD. You know, he was all that stuff was so fresh and really hit hard. And and I found my reaction to this movie was, yeah, I found it amusing. I kind of like being in his company despite all the uncomfortable cringing moments. He’s he’s very funny. And, you know, just as a physical comedian, he’s amazing. All that stuff is is so impressive. But, you know, oddly, I found the mess, the extent that there was like a political message here, I found incredibly muddled and maybe even a little retrograde or not. You know, this is this movie is a lot about the relationship of Borat and his daughter. It’s supposed to be Baron Cohen obviously wants it to be a feminist movie. I actually found a lot of the set pieces and stunts to be misogynist.

S6: I have a question about that. What you said, Jodie, when you talk about there being these moments of misogyny, I mean, obviously, as in the cage clip that we heard, that is an intended target of satire. But how do you see that being manifest in the movie itself, outside of it being a commentary on it or kind of absurd display of it?

S10: Well, there’s a scene where Borat and his daughter attend like a father daughter, debutante ball or dance in which the father is the daughter’s escort. And they maybe the the daughters are 16 and some sort of coming out or whatever. And it’s obviously a very retrograde patriarchal ritual. And maybe that’s kind of the point. Again, I don’t know what he was getting at in sort of it felt like old news here, but Borat and his daughter perform a dance in which have the kind of like gross out humor punch line is that the the daughter is has her period. She’s menstruating and they’re doing a lot of lifting of the skirt so that you see, like, her bloodstained thighs and underwear and the crowd of attendees at this dance, at this debutante event are naturally we’re super weirded out and grossed out. I don’t know what he was getting at with that. I mean, honestly, the joke to me there was ha, isn’t it weird and gross that women bleed once a month? I mean, I just I don’t know what your your reaction was that I don’t beyond.

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S6: That’s a good answer. I mean, that that’s simultaneously was one of the few things that I laughed out loud at. But but at the same time sort of thought, what’s the point? I think I was laughing out loud. More at. There are incredible hutzpah in performing that dance and just it was complete fearlessness as a performer, but you’re right that there was nothing to be satirized there, right? I mean, there may have been reprehensible politics, gender and otherwise in that room where the cotillion was taking place. But, you know, showing a bunch of people being grossed out by celebrities, period blood during a fertility dance doesn’t really offer any commentary on on those politics. Right.

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S1: I guess I’d like to turn maybe to two. I think Dana really central set pieces in the movie, the one we’ve already alluded to. He goes to live with these two Kuhnen dudes. And what’s unsettling about it is they’re in their way. They’re sort of charming, right? Their relationship to one another is totally ambiguous. I mean, presumably it’s asexual, but they live like a married couple as far as we can see. And they’ve created in their own weird man cave with sort of, I would argue, a beautiful domestic tableau. Like, it just feels like a little oasis of civilized calm among. Dude borrows a couple of real American like, you know, farm, you know, hunting and, you know, rod and gun club, you know, American guys. But they’re also they appear to have accepted hook, line and sinker the whole kuhnen narrative. I mean, they with totally straight faces, they say that that before Hillary Clinton drinks the blood of a young child, the adrenaline response of the child is provoked so that the blood contains, you know, those whatever they would be hormones within it. I mean, it’s just pure to fully believe this. One of the questions we’re going to be confronting is, I mean, I hate to put it this strongly and yet, sadly, I think I have to it’s like, how do you do not Saffire country, right? What didn’t we do in the aftermath of the civil war that the Germans did do in the aftermath of World War Two that gave us these differential outcomes, at least, you know, as it appears now, I mean, what do you do when a large proportion of a culture believes in conspiracy theories goes goes in whole hog for ethno nationalism? You know, these seem to me very good examples of good natured you know, I don’t want to insult them. I mean, they don’t even seem like simpletons to me. They just seem somehow they’ve been led to believe these things. And figuring that out without demonizing them may be a critical part of what happens once. Please, God, you know, these jackass monsters who are running our country are gone. So I thought that was quite important to see in some respect. The other one, which I really want to ask both of you about, is this set piece in the synagogue where, you know, Sacha Baron Cohen dresses up as Borat, but also in this like outrageously like I mean, anti-Semitic, beyond anti-Semitic caricature costume with like an incredibly long nose. And he’s got a little marionette, which is labeled the media. Right. And he walks into the synagogue and has a counter with these two Jewish grandmother types, one of whom at least one of whom is a Holocaust survivor. And that’s a kind of a remarkable scene as well, and points maybe towards some fucking glimmer of rescuable humanity. But anyway, Dana, maybe you take the first and Jodi talk about the second.

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S11: Yeah, I have some thoughts that are possibly unrelated, but that bothered me during that. That’s a sequence, pretty long sequence of the movie where he’s living with the Kuhnen dudes. So the concept of that sequence is that it’s the pandemic has hit while Borat is traveling through America with his daughter, which I think that it did probably begin during the course of the shooting of this movie, because it only becomes an issue in the second part. And Borat needs a place to hide or a safe place to to quarantine himself. And so he introduces himself to these two Kuhnen guys living in their, you know, cozy nest of of delusion together and spends a while living with them, talking with them about their their crazy theories. But there’s an obvious hole there as far as the way that this was made. Right. I mean, there are sort of three possible modes of filming during a Borat documentary. There’s the completely fictional stuff where it’s just he and his daughter together. And those are essentially scripted scenes in a fiction movie that are going to be inserted into this this sort of semi documentary. Right. Then there’s the pure infiltration scenes like the Giuliani one and other ones in which he, you know, unwittingly interviews someone who thinks that he actually is a Kazakh journalist. But then there’s these things in between, like the time that he spends with the Kuhnen guys, where obviously there had to be a cameraman, maybe several, several cameramen and lights. There had to be a whole film crew following around this guy. So they’re not going to believe the Kunonga is that this is a simply a stranded Kazakh journalist who needs a home. So there’s some amalgam of documentary and fiction going on in those scenes that’s never acknowledged. And if you don’t acknowledge that, then you’re not truthfully having an interaction with those guys. Right. And so there’s a there’s a question of will, are they actors or are they reality TV show types who are not actors but sort of want to perform their craziness for him for some reason? You know, there’s not really a sense that he’s uncovering some hidden world there. It’s more like there’s some combination of staging and truth that’s that’s telling us a shape story that Sacha Baron Cohen wants to tell. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I mean, part of what’s clever about this movie is the way that it uses editing to create this this document that seems like a documentary yet couldn’t possibly be. But that made me to some degree question what we were learning about the Kuhnen fellows in that part of the movie and suspects that maybe they were more standing for a conspiracy theory than they are actual exemplars of a conspiracy theory.

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S1: Joe, do you want to just talk about the synagogue scene a little bit?

S5: Yeah, I mean, the synagogue scene was definitely like in its way a tour de force, like the like, as you said, to get up that Baron Cohen is in this insane long Pinocchio nose and like, you know, huge fingernails. It’s like he’s like like the worst sturmer caricature come to life. The frame here is that he is this is a moment in like the third act or whatever the movie where Borat is despairing and just wants to end it all. So he goes to a synagogue to wait for a mass shooting so that he can watch, OK. I thought that was a good joke. But anyway, yeah, he shows up in this. I mean, what the scene is, what it is, you know, he runs into these two lovely old Jewish ladies, including one who is a Holocaust survivor who I guess later died at some point this past year that I noticed at the end of the film, at the end of the credits that the film is dedicated to her. So. The thing that I took from that scene is just like, you know, it reminded me of how Jewish and a shtick this is, I think it’s noteworthy that when Borat speaks, quote unquote, Kossak, he’s actually speaking.

S10: There’s a lot of pidgin Hebrew thrown in there. So I think that’s kind of a big sidelong wink at maybe the Jews in the audience. But again, you know, I think Cohen is really obsessed with anti-Semitism, with this kind of ancient animus and its persistence in our world. And the Jewish stuff always really works for me. And that may just be because of my own personal interests and obsessions. But I think that there’s there’s like real depth to what he’s up to in that respect. Even if, you know, the 2020 politics of this movie don’t exactly work for me.

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S1: Right. And we should say, Jodie, that that’s the one prank in which the quote unquote, you know, Mark is revealed as the ultimate humanist. Right? I mean, she embraces him. There’s an enormous amount reserve of human suffering that’s been transmuted into human warmth and warmth and acceptance and that person.

S11: And for me, she redeemed the whole movie to to get back to my question about who’s filming and who knows what, I read that some of the behind the scenes of that scene is that, you know, when he first came in, in that get up, the two women were surprised and had no idea who he was or what was going on. But at some point that we don’t see, they turned off the cameras and explained to them what was going on. So so that, you know, that moment when she embraces him, I believe, is probably after she’s been told that he’s a comedian who’s spoofing. Yeah, yeah.

S1: Um, we have never gone, I think so overlong on a segment as we have this morning. It’ll be, you know, elegantly edited down to a 15 minute conversation by our whiz kid producer. But the truth is, we found we needed to talk about this for at least 45, close to 50 minutes. So what we’ve done is we’ve we’re going to excise the Giuliani portion of the conversation and make it our plus segment. Anyway, it’s the new Borat movie. You can find it streaming. We would love to hear what you think about all the many weird post-modern aspects of this of this project. So email us at Slate. OK, moving on. All right, before we go any further, we typically talk business around now. Dana, what do we have?

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S11: Yes, Steve, our only business today is to talk about the sludge segment for our show today in Slate. Plus because our conversation about Borat was so interesting, bubbling over with ideas and arguments and, you know, just current events to tie in. We are going to use some of the excess of that for our slate. Plus, for example, we never got to the big money shot scene of the movie, which is the Rudolph Giuliani encounter that everybody was talking about before the movie’s release in our regular discussion. So we’re going to use some of that overflow about Borat in Plus today. And if there is anything you would like us to talk about in the future on Slate. Plus, please write in and let us know at culturist at Slate Dotcom. We’re always looking for topics that are a little bit different, sometimes more personal or more casual or just, you know, more goofy than we would talk about on the main part of the show. So, again, send us those ideas at culturist at Slate Dotcom. If you are not a slate plus member, of course, you can always sign up. Right now there is a free two week trial of the membership program. You go to Slate dotcom slash culture plus to get ad free podcasts exclusive, plus only content and much more. Once again, that is slate dotcom culture plus. And if you’re already a member, we really appreciate your listenership. Thanks.

S3: The anthology of American Folk Music came out in 1952, it was a remarkable act of preservation and collage by one singular human being. Harry Smith was an artist and experimental filmmaker. And the word that keeps coming back to me is a kind of shaman. I mean, he ended up very associated with the Naropa Institute for Buddhism out in Colorado. Anyway, Smith understood that a whole heritage was being destroyed, funnily enough, by the war effort in the 1940s, because the material out of which old 78 records were made was, I believe, shellac, and it was war material. And so Americans were just turning in these old 78 and they were getting melted down and used in the war effort. And he saw this is just a Hecke tome, right. This was going to wipe away a collective, you know, repository of great American folk music, recorded mostly in the 20s and early 30s. And so he went out to try to preserve it, to acquire as many of these old 78 as possible. And then he came out with this anthology of roughly Jody, I think, 84 songs. Something like that. Yeah. Eighty something, eighty something songs. The anthology of American folk music we can get into. This was also, in its way, an overtly political act. He was injecting this music back into the American soul, but without categorizing it by race. When they had originally come out, they came out on labels that were either hillbilly labels or blues labels or race records, as they were called.

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S1: Smith very pointedly wanted this to be considered a single American folk music. Essentially, the entire folk scene of Greenwich Village and across the country was a consequence of Smith’s curatorial work and the publication of these songs that gave rise to Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan meets John Lennon. John Lennon suddenly takes the Beatles in an entirely new direction because of his encounter with Bob Dylan. All of a sudden, popular music is exactly what we know to be today. I do not think it is hard, Jody Rosen, to trace everything we think of as popular music to this box set by Harry Smith. Am I crazy?

S10: No, I think there’s a lot of truth in it. I mean, there’s there’s definitely, you know, there’s other traditions. But I would say that that there’s other traditions with different roots. But I would say that, you know, this this document, this this pretty quirky collection of songs, which really reflects the tastes of its curator, wound up being fairly representative of a cross-section of what came to be called, you know, American roots music, blues, gospel testimonials, traditional ballads with roots in, you know, England and Scotland, which became, you know, Appalachian ballads, what we might call bluegrass music. All of these styles are represented in this, you know, anthology of these 80 some odd 78 records.

S1: So the reason we’re talking about it today is that those were all asides, presumably. So as one journalist has said, how would the anthology sound if you flipped each record on it to its other side? Essentially, this is the B side equivalent of the original 1952 release. It’s put out by dust to digital a record label. You can get it streaming effectively, though. There is a Spotify playlist that’s kind of derived from it, but you have to get it on CD anyway. Why don’t you pick out a tune for us to listen to?

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S10: Yeah, why don’t we start by listening to, like a very kind of barebones recording here? It has no instruments on it. It’s an a cappella gospel recording of a song called The Royal Telephone, great song by an artist called Reverend Sister Mary Nelson.

S12: Yeah. All right. You can feel it coming my way. You can’t. And I think I got a drug that you can’t figure out how to help when you call up heaven.

S10: There’s such a variety of material on this new box set. So maybe let’s let’s hear a little a little snippet of another one. Here’s a here’s a song called The Cowboys Lament by an artist named Ken Maynard.

S13: I see by your outfit that you are a cowboy. Words Georgie dances. I’ve only stand by, stand beside me and hear my sad story for shot in my breast. And I know I must die.

S1: I’ll be all right. Well, Jody, one occasion for this is the is the dust to digital release of these. Besides, the second occasion, sadly, is that some of the material they decided initially thought they were going to include then had second thoughts and decided not to because some of that material is just so overtly. Racist, that they did not in good conscience feel like they could include it on the release, talk a little bit about that.

S5: Yeah, these songs are social documents. So, you know, they really are, you know, folk songs. So they record the voice, the ideas, the feelings of, as it were, the folk of the people of the country. And that includes, you know, unvarnished, unfiltered racism in a lot of cases. What’s interesting about this current compilation is that, as you say, the Atlanta based couple, Lanson and April Leadbitter, who are the owners of the digital label, realized sometime late in the process of putting together this compilation that there were three songs on this record that were kind of hair raising, only racist, which included the N-word, repeatedly sung in their lyrics. So they decided at the last minute, like after the point where a bunch of the box sets had already been, you know, I think a few thousand of the boxes had been pressed up that they wanted to get rid of those songs. And there’s been several articles in the press and a good deal of back and forth about about the questions raised by this, whether it was the right thing to do or how to handle the problematic, racist, hateful material in America’s musical heritage. So maybe it’s maybe to be good to listen to a part, a portion of one of the songs that that Ledbetter’s chose not to include by the artist, Uncle Dave Macon. It’s called I’m the Child to Fight. We’re not going to hear the part that’s got the the super racist lyrics that you that use the N-word.

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S14: I went down to Memphis, did not go to any kind of good. Not, you know, we got. I’m good. I’m good.

S9: Yeah. And if you listen to the entire lyrics of that, I’m the child to fight song. I mean, it really is. And it’s very catchy twang, you know, hummable. So to affable way is this absolute affirmation of the patriarchy. I mean, it kicks off with this, you know, putting of a woman in her place by gagging her with your thumb, essentially. And then, you know, we move on to the part. We’re not going to listen to where the N-word flows free and fast. And it just really struck me that, you know, in its kind of roots music, folksy way from, you know, almost 100 years ago, that ends up expressing some of the same exact patriarchal boundary, placing, you know, that we’re we’re dealing with right now in our you know, in our public politics and our public discourse. And so that, I guess, raises the question, does that make these songs important to listen to? I mean, it was really fascinating to listen to and read about the profiles of this this couple that runs the dust to digital label and their decision in this very eleventh hour decision to pull a bunch of CDs that had already been pressed and were waiting to be shipped from China in order to get rid of these three songs that they thought had content that was just so objectionable that they didn’t you know, they don’t want to expunge it from the record, but they don’t want to curate it onto their particular anthology. But I honestly feel like an argument could be made both ways. I don’t think any of the three of us right here now are going to make the argument to leave these songs in. But I think that a reasonable argument could be made to either leave the songs in or not to leave them in. You know, I mean, it it’s this question again of how do you archive history and, you know, how do you leave out things that are painful, hurtful and maybe needlessly so and that you don’t want to have as part of your you know, as the the woman running the label observed, you know, you have this one at your dinner party. It doesn’t matter if there’s some sort of warning label or some sort of explanatory essay in the liner notes. People are just going to hear the N-word floating through the airwaves. Right. Or this, you know, stuff about choking your wife, et cetera. And yet I also understand in this came up when we talked about deja vu Griffith’s birth of a nation once on her show, you know, I understand the importance of having these things available to people, you know, because they’re historically important and and it’s not something that should be hushed up and not known about, you know. And so there’s a question of how to contextualize it. It’s just really, really sticky. I think that they made the right move, the couple that runs dust to digital for what they are trying to do. But I think that an equally strong argument could be made that, you know, leaving those songs in gives you a sense of literally the besides. Right. I mean, the underbelly of the music that we’ve all been formed by. Right.

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S1: I mean, is it is there a reason to think that I’m first of all, I completely agree that these could not have been left on this collection. Right. And I think we all also completely agree that they’re historically significant and in the right context, they can and ought to be listened to, but only on the right.

S9: We’re saying as well that they’re freely available on Spotify, on YouTube. If you want to hear the material that’s objectionable that was left off, it’s not being censored in any way. It’s just not being included in this particular collection.

S1: Right. And what I what I would delicately ask Jodi is that, you know, you listen to you know, you listen to certain hip hop songs and like a person unfamiliar with hip hop as a designer, it might be like, does this person really believe all of these? You know, and no, obviously, there’s a there’s there’s you you don’t in some naive way take the person singing or rapping to believe in some, you know, direct one to one way. What’s being put into this work of art? Is there a similar persona, inhabitation going on in some of these old timey songs like do we impute a naiveté to these artists that therefore makes them sort of culpable for these words when in fact they’re inhabiting a character by saying, yeah, right.

S7: That’s and I think that’s well put. And and I think the answer is, yes, we do. There’s definitely an element of, you know, we hear these songs performed in these styles, maybe even in with with with a particular ambience of these old recordings. And we think we’re hearing, you know, not just we think we imagine we’re hearing a field recording as opposed to like a record that’s made in a recording studio which was released commercially, which all these were. And we imagine we’re hearing a kind of like unmediated expression of the speaker’s life as opposed to someone, you know, giving a performance, inhabiting a character, playing a role. I think that, you know, the question you ask about hip hop is it’s a complicated one. And I think, like, you know, the the place I would go to about this is like we’ve just begun to have these conversations. I mean, these are on the one hand, these are conversations that have gone on for decades and decades in discussions of popular music. On the other hand, given the reckoning, the particular nature of the recording we’re having over race and the treatment of women now in the third decade of the 21st century, like we’ve only begun to really reckon with our musical heritage and how we want to how we want to deal with it, because it is music is completely saturated with these insanely complicated issues about race appropriation, of course, who owns what music. So, yeah, I mean, it’s kind of like an enormously complicated question. One thing I would say about the about the controversy, to the extent that it exists over the move made by dust to digital here.

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S5: And I think that and there is some controversy because they themselves got a lot of blowback from people who said, you know, this is cancer culture, you’re suppressing this stuff. Why are you being so PC, blah, blah, blah? I mean, I think it’s just echo what you guys said about it’s kind of all about time and place and the type of presentation that’s given. I have like a personal experience of this because I happen to have curated some years ago a a anthology of very old songs myself. You know, this is my little two bit version of Harry Smith is that I am a collector or at that point was a collector of what I called you Face Music. The anthology that was released on a little label was called Dufus. This is like the Jewish equivalent of blackface minstrelsy. These were songs that were recorded at even some of them in the late 19th century of recorded wax cylinder recordings on that on that compilation, that date to the, you know, late 80s, 90s. And most of the recordings happened where, you know, the latest recording on that record, I think is from 1923. Most of them are from the period before the First World War. And they these were songs that were performed on the vaudeville stage by people who dressed up a little bit like Sacha Baron Cohen in what I call Dufus, who put on, like, you know, stereotypical Jewish garb and saying. Songs in English with like a mock Yiddish accent and these songs were the lyrics are deeply anti-Semitic songs. The thing that got me really interested in this tradition is that it was largely a Jewish enterprise. The performers and the songwriters and the audiences who love this material were.

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S7: Themselves, Jews, so it’s sort of a weird variation on minstrelsy, because this was these were kind of anti-Semitic songs. Comic novelty songs, I should add, for Jews, they were performing a particular serving a particular function for those audiences at a time that they were assimilating, acculturating in front of kind of wanting to kind of distance themselves from the old world view and establish their American bona fides. That’s the argument that I made in the liner notes to that compilation. And so that’s an example of like, OK, I put out this record with all these fuckin racist anti-Semitic songs, but it was heavily contextualized, right? Anyone who bought that record, the record was called Jew Face and who bought that record knew what they were getting. They were getting like something that was like really kind of like just dealing head on with its history. The Dusa digital compilation is different than that. So I totally understand why they would not want to put songs with all kinds of racial language on on there because, yeah, it’s quite shocking. And when it’s not properly contextualized, it’s really, you know, it’s a problem.

S1: All right. Well, let’s go out uncontroversially and with something that we love. Dana, why don’t you pick a song from the new episode anthology?

S9: All right. Well, maybe I will pick a song since we were talking about, you know, earlier we were talking about misogyny and the way that women are sometimes just, you know, the victims of murders and murder ballads in these songs or, you know, somebody that you choke to establish your patriarchal power over them. I think women do a lot more here than that. As we heard in the telephone song, The Royal Telephone, they also sing and play guitar really beautifully. And so I thought maybe we would go with a Carter family song. Worth noting also that Rosanne Cash, who’s been a guest on our show in the past and of course, who is, you know, a part of the tradition of the Carter family through her father’s marriage to June. Carter has written about this album and, you know, talked about both some of the the uncomfortable things that that make it hard to listen to and also the extent to which this music is all part of our heritage and it’s just really deep in our cultural DNA. So maybe we could listen to a really joyous gospel song from the Carter family that’s called God Gave No Other Rainbow Song.

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S15: God gave no other than don’t you think it would not be God? But I know a lot of the body, not me or my.

S3: All right, well, I think we can all probably agree the one thing that will accompany us into the non pandemic future, may it arrive soon, please, is zoom the video conferencing technology that we’re using right now to record this show. Its legacy is already very mixed indeed. On the one hand, yes, you speak to people far away that you may have drifted away from, but at other moments, it feels as though your soul force is being sucked.

S1: Into your laptop and off into the void. Dana, I think we should talk about that odd paradox of Zoom, that it both brings people together and it seems to alienate us as well at the same time. But first, let’s just get something kind of out of the way. We’re not that interested in talking about Jeffrey Toobin, but I don’t think we can get away without mentioning it. Thoughts on that particular episode?

S11: I mean, yeah, that was the episode that I guess is the peg that we’re hanging this Zoome conversation on. But so far, it’s not careful.

S8: Dana, careful.

S11: Oh, man. I walked right into that one. But it’s been so discussed by many places, including the Slate political gabfest, really interestingly last week. And, you know, it’s enough in our past now that I think we can let Jeffrey’s shame just remain where it was. But it did sort of open this question, you know, aside from was it appropriate what he was doing? No. Does he deserve to be suspended for it? Probably. You know, other questions having to do with that specific moment of embarrassment for The New Yorker.

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S9: It does sort of bring up the question, what is a zoom call, whether it’s a work, some call, a vandalism call, what sort of social space are you in when you’re looking at this Brady Bunch grid on your computer and, you know, maybe you see your face, maybe you don’t. Maybe you’re hearing other people. You know, you can sort of choose different configurations for your screen, but ultimately you are having some sort of 2D and audio experience of a whole bunch of people trying to either have a social conversation or a work conversation or work out some kind of problem or create a podcast. And it’s just a very strange space to exist in. It’s like we’ve all had a dimension ironed out of our lives, you know, and and now we’re existing in this this flat space and trying to figure out what it means to relate within it. So I guess this is just a chance for us to open up, you know, both our own feelings and reactions to Zoom and also, if possible, to sort of move toward a theory of zoom and how how it’s changed our relationships.

S4: It does raise that interesting question not to linger on the tube in at all, but but where are you when you’re both in Space X and in digital space at the same time? And if we’re going to bring much more working at home with us into the non pandemic future, we’re going to be in this ambiguous space maybe for a huge portion of our own existence going forward. We’re no longer going to be going into an office as a default necessarily.

S5: Yeah, I mean, you know, I don’t I don’t know that I have a fully formed theory of Zoome. I have a I have a bunch of I have a bunch of experiences of Zoome. You know, one of my best experiences of Zoome incidentally was a zoom call, like a buzy zoom call that I had with you two guys. Remember this like a few months ago and another friend of ours. And that was like, that was very nice and I was pretty early in the pandemic and everybody was very still in that sort of freaked out thing. And people were like, oh yeah, let’s get together and have drinks on Zoome. I don’t do too much of that these days. But but that was very nice. And in that respect, it was like I, I embrace the technology when we’re in, as you know, kind of the best tool we have available to us in this atomized situation where you can actually not only speak to your friends loved ones, but also, you know, see some some 2D version of them flickering on a screen. I have had, you know, a fair number of Zoome calls for my work. But, you know, I think relative to some others, it hasn’t been a huge thing for me. The people I live with, my wife and my kids have to use it all the time. My wife, among other things, is a college professor. So she’s had to teach classes on Zoome, you know, Synchronoss learning with her leading classes. And many of her students are across the world, like across the globe, like in Asia and places like that. And I know that that presents a lot of difficulties for everyone. And then I’ve just, you know, seen the way, you know, my children both go to New York City public schools, have a high school kid in elementary school, kid, and it’s a fucking nightmare that they have to be doing some portion. The kids in my high school kid all of their schooling on this screen. And and I think it’s you know, it really it’s not just the pandemic itself that takes a toll. It takes a psychological toll on these kids. These students children are children. But I think it’s that it’s the actual interface itself. It really is a very on the one hand, it’s like it’s a tool that works pretty well for what it is. But I. I think it’s it’s it’s it is I guess alienating is the best word for it. It’s just it’s just it’s a very poor substitute for interacting with your interacting with your peers, for trying to interact with the teacher to learn something, to do all the things that make that make life great.

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S1: Yes, exactly. And Dana, it just occurred to me for the first time, I mean, typically when you socialize with a friend, right. Just thinking in terms of it as a substitute for face to face social interactions, you know, you’re doing something. You’re having you’re having sharing a meal. You’re having a drink. You’re going for a walk. You’re looking at art. You’re on and on and on. This setup is much more like a police interrogation. You’re just sort of across from each other. I mean, if you were to think of a real world analog to a meeting, you’d be just face to face across from one another at a table.

S4: And it just I find it I, I like it to the extent that I get to see people I wouldn’t otherwise see during the pandemic. And therefore it’s a lifeline. And I hate it in that I find that kind of blank 2D face to face style, you know, it’s totally, totally unnatural. And I just it just doesn’t bring affection or language to the surface of my being.

S9: Right. I mean, a huge part of it is there’s you know, there’s the spatial flatness that we’re talking about, but there’s also the impossibility of movement or creating subspecies. Right. I mean, if you’ve tried to do anything like a zoom party at any point, this is a separate thing from work and school. And, you know, we can talk about those. But, you know, when the four of us met for four drinks with our friend, that’s a very small group of people. It’s perfectly possible to have a conversation among four people where you’re all talking about the same topic, moving from one topic to another together. But as soon as you start trying to get seven or eight people, I mean, think about if you had a dinner with seven or eight people, right. They would soon be breaking up into subgroups and there’d be like some people catching up on family stuff in one corner and then a political argument happening in another part of the table and people looking at the menu and talking about food. It would sort of be it would get atomized into a bunch of smaller discussions, which is part of what socializing is all about. And then you break up and they people move into different configurations. None of that can happen when you’re in this flat meeting where everything you say is interrupting someone. I mean, that’s really the worst thing about something, I think is that especially if you can’t see the other person and I know I like to have my camera off, usually I have it off right now, as do you, Steve and Jody, too. You can’t tell when you’re interrupting and you can’t sort of tell when the other person is done talking. And it really is just not at all a normal social interaction.

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S1: And, you know, funnily enough, the most extensive, successful experience that I personally have had to assume have been the two memorials that I have attended. And zoom it in some funny way, the medium has a kind of, you know, like a a shiver really works on zoom in a weird way. You know, people can sit in silence. There’s no pressure to talk. And at the moment that you feel moved to say, this was my experience of this person, people pipe up and the two that I’ve been to were really, really powerful experiences and something about the. You know, the combination of the ability to say nothing, to wait until you moved to speak, and then when you speak to be slightly formal, I would think, or at least very measured, very considered in your words, came together really well on Zoome. And it was it was the right. Under the circumstances, the right way to say goodbye to these two people.

S9: Now, see, that makes me really sad because the one memorial service that I’ve been invited to since this all started wouldn’t let me in. No, you know, I went to the meeting no the supposed right time and got some sort of screen about the hostess waiting to authorize you or something. I didn’t know who the host was, the person that was throwing this thing. I don’t think I had their direct address. So I was frantically messaging other people who are supposed to be the memorial saying, can you tell the host to let me in? But also feeling like I don’t want to interrupt a memorial with my own drama about not being able to get on. And I just didn’t attend. And then you sent an apology later and said, I’m sorry that I couldn’t go. And it’ll always stick with me that, you know, this person who I hadn’t seen in years but who used to be my roommate years ago, you know, had her memorial and I never attended. I mean, I think there’s lots and lots of moments like that where there’s just some kind of technological glitch. And as a result, you know, an important social bonding experience that could have mattered to many people just never takes place.

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S1: Hmm. All right. Well, this is a classic segment to have listeners respond to. So email us talk to us about Zoome. You’ve had, you know, just an absolute multitude of experiences on it and some expectations of whether it will accompany you, the post covered life. Let’s hear from you on that one. All right. Moving on. All right, now is the moment in our podcast and we endorsed Jodi, what do you have?

S2: OK, I’m going to endorse a couple of things, as is my want when I come on here. The first one is like the like probably the best piece of journalism I’ve read in the year 2020. It’s it’s a long piece, I guess a long read, as it were, by a writer named Tom Lamonte, which was published in September in The Guardian. It’s an article called The Butcher’s Shop that lasted 300 years, give or take. And it tells the story of a 90 year old man named Frank Fisher, who’s a third generation butcher in a in a tiny shop in the town of Drawn Field in in Derbyshire. And it’s about his decision to to close the shop for good to hang it up. This is just a fantastic. Elegant, super soulful story, which profiles this is very ordinary but dignified man, it’s just really a beautiful portrait of a person coming to the end of a working life and a life that’s been completely devoted to work. But the piece is also more than that. It’s really a story about like the disappearance of the traditional English high street, that the small shops that, you know, were rendered obsolete, put out of business by really by the arrival of chain stores or in the case of this butcher shop, by chain supermarkets. So, you know, it’s it’s a story about the destruction of local culture by global capitalism. There’s a lot of we we’ve read a lot of stories like that. But this is really a special one time Lemont. It’s just an amazing writer at the level of the sentence. And he’s great on the overall architecture, like the structure of the piece. It’s just like it’s one of these articles that you’re like, wow, you know, journalism really can be a work of art when it’s in the hands of a master. So that’s that’s one.

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S1: And before we go any further, let’s please say that it’s courtesy of the long read at Guardian, who are listeners to this, the editors or listeners and fans of our show. So shout out to them. They just do great work there.

S2: No kidding. OK, that’s cool. Yeah. In fact, I think that they have, you know, a podcast or like, you know, essentially like a that there’s an audio version of that article or of every guardian long. So you could you could listen to it if you didn’t feel like actually read it. And I’m just very quickly do another one, which I guess this is an Anglophile endorsement because it’s another it’s another British thing. I don’t watch much TV besides sports. I watch a lot of sports on TV, but basically I’ve kind of missed all of peak TV or most of it. But I got really into this show called Top Boy. Do you guys know this show? OK, this this is this is an amazing series that was revived in 2013 by Netflix. OK, I guess a kind of a glib way to describe the show where it’s often been described is it’s a kind of London version of The Wire. It’s set in East London on, you know, the housing estates and streets. And it’s about essentially drug gangs or street drug dealers and their families and the people in their lives in east London. It was created by this a guy named Ronan Bennett, who’s a northern Irishman. But it’s very much a show set in and about black London. And there’s an incredible cast and just great actors. It’s a very gritty show. It’s also kind of a great genre piece, like it’s a very suspenseful kind of crime show, but it’s really a show about race and class and inequality. So the way to watch this is you can watch the two earlier, slightly grittier seasons, the 2011 season, the 2013 season that’s on Netflix under the title Top Boy Summer House, which is the name of one of the housing estates. And then the show that’s just called Top Boy is a 10 episode, third season, which is the more recent season. It’s maybe slightly slicker, less gritty. I think it’s even better. But yeah. So there’s there’s the recent 2013 season and there’s two earlier seasons of Top Boy. But really check it out. It’s like it’s like my favorite show I’ve seen in years and years and years. Oh, cool.

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S11: Dana, Stephen, my endorsement once again this week is going to be Trami, so get ready for some.

S9: So the kind of music that I actually listen to when I’m not doing the show. This is one of my favorite streaming radio stations. Actually, this was inspired, this endorsement by our discussion about Harry Smith and Dusty Digital and, you know, this American roots music that that we were having so much fun listening to. So if you really want to dig even deeper than that or broader than that and start listening to world roots music, there is an incredible streaming channel on France music, the French radio station that’s called Okura. Oh, Kiore. It’s their it’s their world music, I guess. World historical music streaming channel. So, for example, right now, I just tuned in with the sound off to see what they’re playing and they’re playing something, Jodi, that I think you are probably a fan of some Jordi Savall, a track from an album called Auriel Tuxedoed. That’s a Syrian music, I think, from, you know, the Middle Ages, maybe Renaissance period conducted by the great Barcelona and director Jordi Sevele. But it’s not always European music. It might be that the next thing that comes up on this streaming station is, you know, something out of Africa or something out of Asia. And it’s really, really well curated in the way that French radio tends to be. There’s not really a lot of deejaying in between. Unfortunately, once in a while you’ll get a little bit of an introduction. But unfortunately, it doesn’t quite have the kind of, you know, the guidance from song to song that you might want. But it is a. Great way to explore world music and historical music, but if you want to go a little bit deeper and you want to hear somebody actually talking about the music for this one, you need to understand French. But for us, music also has a podcast, a related podcast to this Okura station that’s called Okura, Kewdale du Monde. And it’s a once a week podcast that concentrates on different musics from around the world. So, for example, their last episode that aired was about an Iranian, a Sufi musician who just died at the age of 80, who is apparently this huge figure in Iran. And his loss was a big cultural deal there. So they kind of go through his career and interview people about him and play a bunch of his music. And again, it isn’t French. So if you want to get the the verbal part of it, you have to know some French. But even if you don’t understand what the DJ is saying, you’re going to get a lot out of the music. So that’s my endorsement. Oceguera If you Google France Music and Oceguera, you’ll find both of those two things, the podcast and the streaming channel. And they’re both great listening.

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S1: Hmm. All right. So I’m just going to refine a point that I made in the body of the program that I think many people are going to object to. All I mean is that Dylan, absent the folk scene, would never have been Dylan, the folks. He never would have been the folk scene without Harry Smith and the Beatles never would have been the Beatles of Lennon, hadn’t smoked pot with Bob Dylan and decided all of a sudden that he had to take the band in a serious direction. And what that meant is laying down the template for all of popular music since which was you make an album that’s a cohesive thematically and an orderly, cohesive entity, not just a bunch of singles and some throwaways, you know, you use you know, your lyrics are serious attempts at imagistic poetry on and on and on. I mean, you know, one evidence of the, you know, direction in which Lennon and the Beatles took the Dylan influence can be found on YouTube. I think I’ve endorsed these before. I don’t care. I’m endorsing them again. If you just put into the YouTube search link Beatles rehearsals, you come up with, you know, all of these recording sessions where the tapes just running and they’re working shit out. And you realize, I mean, this is the most unoriginal thing. It is like endorsing the blue sky. But I mean, you you realize what magpie’s they were, how many influences that absorbed how they were metabolising everything from, you know, popular music to English music, all the diddies to comedy, to sketch comedy, to, you know, just kind of everything and then spitting it out as Beatle songs. But the one that I really love is immediately in the aftermath of meeting Dylan Scott. It’s the thing for yourself, vocal Obata overdub session. And they’re just so fucking hilarious. And the very reason they were signed by George Martin, which was for their sense of humor, is so abundantly on display. And they’re working out this vocal harmony. And what’s so hilarious is that there’s such there’s so musical and they’re so untrained at the same time. And they’re working out actually quite a complex harmony and they’re just fucking around with it and fucking around. And they’re like schoolboys in a classroom. And Martin is the school master and and they’re fucking around. And then all of a sudden they just get it. And it’s the Beatles. And you realize they were one of the more extraordinary harmony bands that ever was. You know, anyway, it’s very, very fun to listen to and highly, highly recommended. If you want to go down the Beatles rabbit hole, which I do about once every three years, takes me about a month to crawl back out and I’m only two weeks into it. So anyway, Jody, thanks so much for coming back on the show, as always. Just a complete delight.

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S7: Thanks, guys.

S1: And Dana, you know, I take you for granted, so whatever.

S10: Sorry. Too bad.

S12: So sad data, as always.

S16: A total pleasure.

S9: Pleasure to be here. The crumpled paper towel you tossed to the floor. Steve.

S5: There we go. Steve, tell everybody to vote.

S16: Oh, my God. Yes. Julie, please do your duty not only to the country and to democracy and to liberal democracy, but to the fucking enlightenment. And please, please, please go vote. I’m going to go out on a limb and say, if you’re listening to this program, you’re highly likely to vote in one particular way. I believe every single one of you is not going to be lazy about this over the age of 18 is not going to be lazy about this use. Please just go do it. Go vote. Let’s end this joke. All right. You’ll find links to some of the things we talked about today at our show page that slate dotcom culture. First, please email us. We really do love it at Culture Fest, at Slate Dotcom. Interact with us on Twitter. We have a Twitter feed at Slate called First Our Producers, Cameron Drus, our production assistant is Rachel Allen. And I should say we had continued research help from Whitney Tessy. For Jody Rosen and Dana Stevens, I’m Steve Inskeep. Thank you so much for joining us. We will see you soon.

S9: Hello and welcome to this blue segment of the Slate Culture Gabfest, as promised, we are going to devote today’s slightly segment to the overflow of our discussion of subsequent Borat movie film. I don’t know the whole title anymore. Steve, you have to give it to me. That of Borat, too, and his adventures in particular with Rudy Giuliani, which is sort of, you know, the thing that everybody’s talking about with this movie, but that because we had so much else to say, we didn’t get to the very end of our discussion. So hopefully you are behind the slate. Plus curtain with us now and you get to hear the unfolding of our Giuliani thoughts.

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S4: Obviously, Dana, the huge topical click bait that’s making this the most watched, you know, streaming thing in the world right now, is the whole movie really, you know, moves towards this combination of Giuliani, Rudy Giuliani, adviser to Trump, you know, ex mayor of New York and all around. Magnificent shithead is is the is the dupe the final dupe of the movie? What do you make of that whole sequence in the scene and everything? That’s the, you know, kerfuffle around it?

S11: I mean, that was the one scene that I went in knowing everything about, because that was sort of no way, no matter how much you were trying to avoid spoilers, you know, if you were online in the middle of last week when the couple days before this movie opened, you knew everything about that scene. And I actually think it was one of those, as I say, one of those kind of exciting moments where, you know, something cultural and something political just absolutely crash up against each other. And, you know, you have to think about them together. But seeing the Giuliani sequence in the context of the movie with everything that we’ve just talked about, all these moments where you’re not quite sure what the ethical relationship to the camera and the subjects is or how much editing and shaping is going on really changed my feeling about it. I think having just seen the social media furor about it and the clips out of context, I had thought, wow, they really caught Giuliani, you know, just utterly in his utterly compromising and seedy situation in the context of the movie. And this is not in any way to stand up for America’s mayor. But it did seem that and I think Sacha Baron Cohen would concede this, that there was editing and manipulation to make things look maybe slightly worse than they actually were. There is no question that, you know, we should be worried about the fact that the president’s personal lawyer is accepting meetings with, you know, random young Kazakh or fake Kazakh women in hotel rooms and, you know, possibly having these semi sexual encounters with them. But I also think that it is possible that that footage was edited in such a way as to make it look more compromising and and more disgusting than it actually was. And I wonder what you guys think about that. And also if that was the case, you know, do we care or do we care whether, you know, Rudy Giuliani’s, you know, integrity is preserved, given how little of it he brought to the situation in the first place? I mean, there are a few things that I thought going into the movie, knowing no context that did not turn out to be true. For example, I don’t think that Giuliani is ever told that the character Tooter, who’s interviewing him, is 15. Granted that the actress is older, she’s 24, but the character is supposed to be 15. But I don’t think that Giuliani knows that. I think he knows that she is a young woman, but not necessarily that she’s under age. I also think that the the secret camera footage of him that we’ve seen everywhere of him lying back on the bed does seem almost to be consistent with his tucking in his shirt, possibly like as to whether he is actually kind of going for it in that scene or not. I don’t think that I can speak to it one way or another. But I can say that it seems like a massive national security risk that he would even ever get himself into that situation in the first place. And as Sacha Baron Cohen has said in some interviews subsequently, I think he said this on Good Morning America with Maria because a on the show that, you know, if he’s if he’s doing this with some random young journalist who claims to be from some Kazakh outfit that he’s never heard of, what else is he doing in hotel rooms with female journalists or with any journalists or with, you know, any foreign actor whatsoever?

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S17: I mean, in terms of Giuliani’s culpability specifically about, you know, Borat’s, quote unquote, underage daughter, I think it’s crucial what you said, that we don’t see him having been told that she’s 15 years old. And the fact is she’s not 15 years old. OK, she is in her 20s and she looks it. So in that respect, it seems I don’t again, I also do not want to defend Rudy Giuliani, a person who I voted against, I think, in three elections. And I think he’s. A terrible scumbag, but I don’t necessarily think he was exposed as a scumbag in this sequence. He seemed like an idiot.

S10: And a reasonably courtly idiot, I think it’s I mean, this is an uncomfortable conversation to have, and I hesitate a little to mention this, but, you know, we see her flirting with him quite a lot. She’s the initiator of the flirting. So not to suggest that he was entrapped or whatever, but he is very mildly shown to be flirting back with someone who’s fairly aggressively flirting with him. So that, to me, feels it feels kind of phony to be like we got you. And also, here’s the thing about Rudy Giuliani, OK? He is he’s not just like the easiest mark in the Trump world. He’s like the easiest mark in the known world. OK, he’s like a guy who’s always fucking butt dialing out his bank account. Right. So it’s like to me, it’s like South America could not like he couldn’t get he probably tried to get Jared Kushner, you know, and he tried to get Mike Pence right.

S11: I mean, the initial idea, the plot is that he’s giving his daughter away as kind of a bride price, you know, to to Mike Pence. But since that infiltration didn’t work, as you say, Giuliani was the next step down and much, much easier to get.

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S17: I mean, Giuliani will, like, take the thing he’s doing. Giuliani will take a meeting with anybody. He’s he’s constantly shown to be texting, you know, on Twitter. Journalists will text him, especially young women.

S10: Yeah. Yeah. Young women and young men, though, because because a student journalist from I guess he was impersonating a young man, a student journalist from Indiana University or something in the wake of this, the revelation that this scene had been filmed before the release of the Borat movie Taxi, Giuliani pretended to be Ivanka Trump and then asked him some questions like, is this true? And Giuliani was like, Oh, hi, Ivanka. Yeah, it’s kind of true. I have no doubt about it.

S17: And then that student journalist, you know, immediately, like every journalist does, tweeted out the screenshots but of this text exchange. But the point being like, I don’t know, I’d like to again, this was a scene which just did not. I felt like he didn’t get a lot, you know what I mean? And so the the here I mean I mean, Sacha Baron Cohen did not get a lot from Giuliani, you know? I mean, Giuliani gets up there and he says the virus is a hoax. You know what I mean? Talking about the pandemic that the coronavirus, of course, OK, like that is actually is turns out to be a a plot point of some importance that Giuliani said that the virus itself turns out to be a pretty important plot point. No spoilers, but, you know, I I don’t know. This wasn’t to me some tour de force. Gotcha. And but I and I feel like they’ve been trying to to to kind of sell it as such in the media. And that, to me, again, feels just like. And I know. Not buying.

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S1: Yeah. I mean, my feeling is if you have to watch the sequence three times, once in slow motion to really try to figure out whether he’s talking in his shirt or grabbing his junk, you know, you do you don’t really have the money shot. And I you know, it’s it’s it’s just. And I suspect it’s not innocent, but I can’t really tell and if I can’t really tell. And of course, they interrupted instantly. I mean, in part maybe, you know, in part I mean, the way Baron Cohen has talked about that subsequently is just the safety of, you know, he was in a hidden compartment in the room. He was not going to let anything happen to this young actress. She has said she was so grateful that he was right there, always felt safe. I mean, I think that they were wary of where it might go and therefore what how that would make him look right. Using this woman as bait and allowing her to, you know, whatever, be effectively abused or assaulted by Giuliani in some respect. And but, you know, it’s I think, you know, I can only repeat what you’ve said. I mean, the important thing I would want to know was, was was he under the misapprehension that she was 15? If he were, they would have put that in the film. I have to imagine. I mean, I just can’t believe that that’s the case and therefore that defangs that a lot. And then secondly, Jodie, I have to say that you’re right. I mean, there’s a way in which she is establishing the boundary. By, you know, pulling out alcohol and repeatedly touching him during the course of the interview, she is showing him that the boundary is not set within those of an ordinary interview. And she’s showing that unmistakably and that is in the film. And so you don’t even have the gotcha of him kind of propositioning or moving that boundary himself right away.

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S5: And what’s more, she like, OK, so what’s clear is that they’re doing the interview in a hotel suite, the interview they’re sitting for, the interview presumably with lights and a film crew in a kind of, I guess, like living room type area of the suite. She invites him into the bedroom. She says, let’s go into my bedroom, which they had rigged with hidden cameras.

S11: Right. While he’s carrying a glass of scotch. I mean, you don’t have to you don’t have to believe that he sexually assaulted her or her or intended to have sex with her or anything like that to find him. Just an utter unethical sleazebag in this interview. But I mean, the funniest thing of all is that that’s not even the sleaziest thing Rudy Giuliani did that week. Right. I mean, a few days earlier was the day that he showed up with this supposed laptop from the, you know, repair man and that whole insane Hunter Biden story. I mean, that’s sort of where we’ve gotten to right now in American politics is that like Rudy Giuliani said, he was, you know, publicly exposed, as you know, possibly masturbating around a young female journalist in a hotel room. And that was the second sleaziest thing we heard about him that week.

S5: And, you know, Sacha Baron Cohen doesn’t really have anything to say about those sleazier things. Not that he would have known this this this scene was filmed presumably months before any of the Biden Verismo stuff.

S7: But, you know, there’s other ways to expose Rudy Giuliani or some other. Figure in Trump’s orbit that are maybe more profound than what they tried to do here.

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S11: If you think about 2006 and how that first Borat movie landed, I mean, whether you loved the movie or not, it was like nothing else that anyone had seen. Right. I mean, it was the kind of thing where people in the theater were almost, you know, gasping and shrieking in sort of surprise and delight at the things that he was able to do and daring enough to do and and, you know, managed to trick people enough to do. And whether it’s because we’re familiar with that shtick or whether because we’re just in a different era, I don’t think that this movie, even though it did have that supposed bombshell of the Giuliani scene, ever elicited the same kind of, you know, just just group gasps.

S1: Yeah. And Dana, how much of that do you think might be down to having to watch it alone at home?

S11: Yeah, I was just going to say after I said group gas, I mean, we can’t have group gasping anywhere right now. So so maybe that does make a difference. Who knows? I mean, the pandemic changes everything so much, right? I mean, it means in a way that we’re able to discuss this on social media and pass it around all day in a way that we might not have done had we been having normal lives or going out to movie theaters and jobs and so forth. But it also means we can’t have that collective experience. I still think it wouldn’t have landed the same way, though, for those reasons that I was talking about. Top, we’re just not in the Bush era anymore. Where at this moment when, you know, if you want to talk about corruption in the public sphere, just, you know, open any newspaper and it’s right there on the surface. Yeah, exactly. All right. There’s even more to say, but I think we’ll close it there. Thank you so much to all of you who are Slate plus subscribers. We really appreciate your listenership and your support. It helps keep the magazine going. Jody Rosen and Stephen Metcalf. I’m Dana Stevens and we’ll talk to you next week.