S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership.
S2: I’m Stephen Metcalf and this is the Slate Culture Gabfest, mad as hell, Ed. It’s Wednesday, August 19th, 2020. On today’s show, we react to the sweet and really quite euphoric YouTube sensation known as reaction videos, a couple of young guys who have never listen to rock and roll. Here are some of its iconic anthems for the first time, and they react to them. And then the Great Influenza by John Barry was just to point to opposite, not to read and discuss tells the story of the misnamed Spanish flu of 1918, which killed between 50 and 100 million people, also tells the story of the medical science that arose in its wake. And finally, it was Julius picked this week for the now, I think, completely misnamed comfort movie that’s become the discomfort movie, really.
S3: And she she she went dark. She went really dark. She picked the Dracula 1970s classic network, Julia, actually darker than any of Dana’s picks about Los Angeles.
S4: And we getting murdered in the Mediterranean or getting murdered by a tornado right there.
S3: It’s one thing to slit one person’s throat here, there. It’s another thing to take a whole society over the cliff like a bunch of lemmings. Anyway, we’ll get to it. Joining me today is Julia Turner, who is the deputy managing editor of the L.A. Times. Hey, Julia.
S5: Hello. Hello.
S3: And of course, Dana Stevens is the film critic of Slate Dotcom. Dana, hey. Hey. Uh, let’s dig right in. Tim and Fred Williams are twenty one year old ish twins from Gary, Indiana. They’ve made a series of endearingly amateur YouTube videos of them listening to songs for the first time. They went viral recently with a clip of them listening to In the Air Tonight by Phil Collins 1981. Song is notable for its spooky atmospherics. Almost sounds like a horror movie soundtrack. At first, this kind of aching vocal and then of course, about two thirds of the way into the song out of nowhere, there’s a thrilling drum break played by Phil Collins himself, who it’s forgotten was a virtuosic is a virtuosic drummer. The video of these two kids listening to the song for the first time blew up and even made Phil Collins relevant again. It trended on Twitter and got a bunch of downloads. Anyway, let’s listen to a clip.
S6: The reason why some. The yeah, good show that pays to Rose. You need.
S7: I’ll sleep with. Do you feel like I’m sleeping on my way home and I was I got to deal with this tomorrow. So how are you doing? Angola. You guys haven’t seen any the women. Hey, never seen my drama. Beat three minutes in a song. Thank you, dear. But that’s funny that as good as this just doesn’t need any more devastating. It is true. I never did my job as great anyway as wake them up.
S3: Julia, let me let me start with you. This is it’s so infectious, so many people have written about it, so many people are responding to it. There’s a simple joy here that defies the mood of the times and seems to have broken through people’s covid fog of depression. What what do you make of all this?
S5: Well, as with all YouTube personalities, it has to do with how charming the person is or isn’t. Right. And these twins are really good at being on YouTube. You know, they have this shtick, this channel where they listen to old songs or songs they haven’t heard before. Ostensibly for the first time, we should stipulate that there is some debate about whether they are really hearing the song for the first time. And I will confess that although the first few times I watched the video of them listening to in the air tonight, I wasn’t in the air. Truth are convinced that they were pretending to be guileless. Now that I have watched many, many more of their videos having fallen down the rabbit hole of their charms. Uh, I’ve swung back around to belief and faith that they are actually hearing songs for the first time. Um, I think there’s a few reasons why these twins have become so popular. Number one, there is a lot of looking at old stuff in media because journalists are old and then they like to write about the things they liked when they were young. I mean, not not to a one, but, you know, nostalgia as an animating force in Internet journalism. Oh, it’s the anniversary of this. Oh, it’s an oral history of clueless. Oh, let’s look back on when we all remember blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And then it is also, I think, really rare in music media to not to have music appreciation, not be clouded by connoisseurship, knowledge and snobbery. And sorry to my music expert friends and listeners, but like, it’s just music is the coolest medium, right? It’s the most ineffable. It’s the it’s the one that has the most swagger and glamour to it. It’s the least explicable. And as a result, just the kind of expertise and snobbery that surrounds it can be really off-putting. And so having people just be like, Yeah, Piece of My Heart by Janis Joplin, that’s a great song. And have them. And to see that the songs that were great decades ago are not just great through the lens of nostalgia, but are actually just glorious in in the abstraction of their, of their musical rhythms. And perfection is so fun. Like it’s just really rare for music to be timeless and snobbery less. And to me, that’s what’s so charming about these videos. And I know so many people who have not just watched the Phil Collins one, but like a stayed up all night, you know, falling down a deep rabbit hole. I know someone who bought, like, the merch that they’re now selling of like twins. Like, it’s just feels very sweet at a moment when lots of things don’t.
S1: What do you say, Dana? Sweet.
S8: Oh, so overwhelmingly sweet. I mean, I think what I like the most about these guys is how much they want to like every song they hear. I haven’t gone down a deep enough rabbit hole yet to find a song that they’re really negative about. I mean, there’s some that take a while, you know, they’re waiting for the beep to drop as they do on the Phil Collins song, obviously, until more than halfway through the song. But that ends up being what they admire about the song, right? They’re both saying, like, I can’t believe it. I never heard a beat drop so late in a song. And they’re kind of wowed by it. My favorite, I think, that I’ve heard them listen to is Dolly Parton singing Jolene, which is just absolutely adorable. They love the song. Of course, Jolene is a song that grabs you from the very beginning. It begins with its chorus. You don’t have to wait at all for the hook to drop in. But I love that they relate as well to the lyrical content. Right. Even though it’s it’s, you know, this love triangle and it’s a song sung by a woman to another woman and not something that you would necessarily think that, you know, to 21 year old twin boys would relate to. You know, they’re not only grooving along with Jolene, but they’re really feeling the love triangle drama of the song. And it’s incredibly sweet and sincere.
S9: And I can easily understand how you could easily take my man. But you don’t know what it means to me.
S7: Jolene, I love the storytelling behind a tone with the passion. I would say, oh, well, hey, you got you got I got a little story, the songs, too. That’s one of my favorite songs that is about as about. Oh yeah.
S1: I mean there is I Tullio I completely agree with you. There’s something about introducing a place, a person the song, a movie to a friend. Right. To a who doesn’t know it and then you get to see it for the first time through their eyes. And there’s nothing has ever captured that experience in media like these videos. And that that freshening power to it is is just so great. It’s so. This I have to believe they haven’t heard these songs before. I need to going to take that leap of faith. I will say also that took so I watched about four or five of these. My favorites were dreman and of course, the in the air tonight one, which is just amazing. But the crazy thing about both of the songs is how completely they defy the basic expected structure of a pop or rock song, which I hadn’t fully noticed before. So Dream On. The Aerosmith anthem keeps up the foreplay of the song, seemingly interminably like it, like withholds the orgasmic climax.
S8: So the falsetto, you mean where the falsetto, the falsetto.
S1: But even to a degree the it doesn’t really do a verse, chorus, verse, chorus. It’s I think it does at least two or three verses before you get a chorus and then he’s, he’s down an octave on the chorus and it’s like nope, we’re not there yet. People, you know, it’s just anyway I’m not going to work very blue here, but he just takes you to the edge, you know, over and over again and you think, oh, that’s got to be the climax.
S2: And then there’s more. There’s more. There’s more just insanely well done.
S10: A team of.
S2: OK, see, the sheer dramatics of it are incredible and the fact that, you know, that’s coming and the and the kid doesn’t is just great, right? It just suddenly you realize, oh, that’s what made this song so fucking powerful.
S1: And then, of course, the thing about in the air tonight is that it just drops the beat, as the kid says, three minutes in and both songs are just brilliant, withholding their own climactic powers, which is just cool. Like you hadn’t thought about that. And I think that that’s the virtue of these videos, that familiarity is the downside of popular acclaim that infects, you know, kind of everything. Right from Hey Jude to Guanaco. You just can’t experience them anymore. They’re they’re covered over in our overfamiliarity. And to find a way to wipe them clean again is just is remarkable. And advisedly, I would say that rock and roll has been kind of covered over, I think. In good conscience, it’s it’s it’s become something we inherit with the degree of racial and generational guilt, because, first of all, rock and roll was completely thieved by young white boys from black culture. And secondly, generationally, you know, it hip hop came along and to a degree, Poppen completely wiped it away. It became old person’s music in a sense. And it’s like got an OK Blumer vibe to it. And there’s just this kind of cool mirror inversion going on because mass white audiences figured out that hip hop had arrived when Aerosmith. Teamed up with Run DMC and rerecorded Walk This Way and you’ve got this just wonderful inversion where these two young black kids who clearly have grown up in a hip hop world for whom this music is its old person music, it’s totally unfamiliar. It’s paradigmatic to something completely other. It’s just not there. It was never there. Aural wallpaper. And for them to remind old boomers like me of how fresh this music once was, how unexpected this music once was, is just the great turn of the screw.
S5: I think it’s also possible that they are a much bigger hit with old people than they are with their contemporaries. Like, I’m not sure that these videos would be as fun to watch if you didn’t know that that drum felt was coming right there. If you didn’t, you weren’t familiar with the way that dreman accelerates. And in that teasing way, it’s like the opposite of a horror movie, right? Like you, you know, something they don’t know is about to happen, but it’s a good thing usually and. This sales of In the air tonight spiked massively, they were up like a thousand percent or something after the week that that video went viral, but streams did not, which is a suggestion that it’s old people who are like, I do like that song.
S4: I got to listen to that again. But I don’t know how to use Spotify, so I’m going to buy it on iTunes because that’s how I still listen to music. Whereas everyone young who doesn’t buy music was like, I’m not watching these videos. They’re not interesting to me. Like, if you didn’t know the song, would it be fun to watch them bop along to it? Like, not very. And they’re also their videos have a lot of views. They do not have like a lot of views for YouTube particularly.
S5: And so I feel like this is a funny, funny bit of like youth culture aimed at boomers, like they’ve found an old audience and they’re going viral to an old audience or something. And it’s a it’s a weird inversion of how things usually go.
S1: Oh, man. It only hurts because it’s true.
S8: Dana, would you keep us from ending on a down note that makes us all feel like we’re hobbling on canes because we like these guys? I just wanted to point to something else that I think makes these videos so powerful and why I think maybe that the dream Aerosmith reaction is fun as it is, wasn’t one of my favorites, which is that only one of the twins was on it. And Julia, as a mom of twins, maybe you can speak to this, but something about the fact that they’re brothers, they’re identical, or if they’re if they’re fraternal twins, they look a hell of a lot alike. And, you know, so we know that they have the same, you know, nature and nurture upbringing, something about this like Petri dish idea of these two identical kids listening to music together and experiencing it together, I think adds to the to the sweetness of this videos and kind of the purity of their responses because they have a communication with each other that is so natural that they don’t really need to say anything smart about the music. Just kind of watching them vibe together is a is in itself kind of joy inducing.
S5: Yeah, I, I, I think another way I would read that is like we are many of us who have the luck of being able to be stuck at home are just like in that family dynamic. Right. Like we’re all kind of stuck in our own family dynamics and enjoying them and sick of them and whatever. But, you know, the joys of finding a way to entertain yourself with the people you’re locked inside with is is another factor. So seeing seeing people who figured out how to do that in such a sweet and beautiful way and then to connect with people all over the world as a result is is charming at this moment, too.
S3: All right. Well, we’ll post a link on our show page to these reaction videos. Let’s hear you react to them. You hit us up on Twitter or send us an email. OK, moving on. All right, well, before we go any further, we usually talk about business now in our program. Dana, what do you have?
S11: Thanks, Steve. Today in Slate plus our segment will be about council culture, something that’s been in the news a lot recently and that we’ve talked about in a lot of contexts. But recently, The New York Times Daily News podcast, The Daily did a two part series about it that we thought brought some new angles that we wanted to get into here. So we are going to talk about Michael Barbaras approach to covering cancel culture and talk about what worked and what didn’t about those two episodes of his show. To hear segments like that and to get every podcast, you can, of course, sign up for Slate. Plus our membership program. As we’ve said in previous episodes, the pandemic has caused a bit of a budget crunch at Slate, which is why the culture gabfest has been reduced to a biweekly schedule. So if you want to help support Slate at a time when we could really use it and help us get back to podcasting once weekly, you can sign up for Slate plus membership at Slate Dotcom Culture. Plus, when you do that, you’ll get ad free podcasts, exclusive, plus only content and many other benefits. Again, you can sign up at Slate Dotcom Slash Culture Plus and as always, your support is so appreciated. I do have one piece of business to add before we get back to the show, and that is my quarantine comfort movie pick for the next time we talk. We have been doing these for every show since quarantine started at first because there were no movies opening to talk about and we kind of wanted to use that movie spot on the show to fill ourselves in on our old loves and get to know each others. And it’s been a total pleasure to do that. But I think that we’re going to take this feature monthly going forward because there are starting to be some interesting movies released digitally now. And we don’t know when or if theaters will be open again. So for next time, my quarantine comfort movie Pich in honor of its just deceased great star. And narrator Linda, I want to do Days of Heaven, the 1978 Terrence Malick masterpiece. In my opinion, this just a gorgeous lyrical movie that I watch whenever I need to be reminded. The great art exists in the world and the great art is certainly one thing that is of comfort in these times. So if you want to do your homework for next time, watch Terence Malik’s Days of Heaven. It should be available in many streaming platforms. I would watch it in the highest fidelity you possibly can because it’s kind of one that just aches to be seen on a big screen. Yeah. Days of Heaven from 1978. So I can’t wait to talk about that with you guys.
S3: The great influenza, the Spanish flu, probably did not originate in Spain, eventually killed between 50 and 100 million people. It’s the deadliest event in raw numbers in human history, not as a proportion of the global population that still belongs to medieval plague, but in total numbers, disease or otherwise, it killed more human beings than anything. It killed nearly 700000 Americans. It was so deadly relative to our population at the time that the country’s life expectancy dropped by 10 years, it’s estimated. Given how obviously relevant to our predicament all of this is, we read the definitive popular account of the flu, the Great Influenza, by John and Barry. It came out in 2004. The selling point of this quite remarkable book is a nonfiction narrative is is really twofold. It’s both a presentation of the sheer nearly unimaginable magnitude of the disease and the death making capacities. I mean, how it originated and spread around the globe. But it’s also about a turning point in the history of medicine, both in the world and in the United States.
S8: Steve, before we dig into the conversation, too, we should note that Barry has become kind of the prophet of our present pandemic.
S5: He’s now written several op eds for The New York Times, the latest of which arrived today and and professed that there would be no help for the economy until we get the virus under control and concluded, unusually for The New York Times, as far as I’ve been reading this op ed with the words God Help US was also interviewed by David Remnick. I mean, I think he’s just a Bill Gates talked about having reread his book and having read it years ago. And I think it having influenced his desire to spend his Microsoft fortune on fighting communicable diseases and about having reread at the beginning of the pandemic. So he’s he is he’s become a go to know your pandemic expert. And that’s part of what drove us back to the original source.
S3: And let me just quickly quote from the introduction to the book for the influenza pandemic that erupted in 1918 was the first great collision between nature and modern science. It was the first great collision between a natural force and a society that included individuals who refused either to submit to that force or to simply call upon divine intervention to save themselves from it. Individuals who instead were determined to confront this force directly with the developing technology and with their minds. Let me Julia, let me start with you. There’s a way in which this book is quite encouraging, because among the many shocking things about this book and in addition to the, you know, lethality and globality of this disease is how undeveloped medicine really was in 1918. And so the good news, of course, we were a century on and we know so much more. And yet it’s also dismaying how little we’ve as a society have learned. What did you make of reading this book?
S5: This book is at once incredibly horrifying and very comforting. I’m curious if you guys found it that way, but I just for the first couple months of the pandemic, I didn’t want to read anymore about this. And then I found myself desperate to understand what it had been like, almost with a similar instinct to the one that animated the original season of slow burn of like, wait, what was it like the last time the president was completely untrustworthy? I mean, the thing that struck me is how many echoes there are echoes in what kind of communication is made, echoes and whether there are enough resources mobilized at the right time echoes in whether we trust medicine and where medicine is at. Another thing I really enjoyed about this book is, is how good it is at explaining medicine. I mean, it sort of offers a history of modern medicine just as much as using medical knowledge to offer history of the pandemic. But I’m curious what you guys took from it.
S8: Yeah, I mean, reading this book during this time is a particularly interesting project because it’s such a it’s just a big mountain of a book to grapple with, like it is really trying to do a lot to give you an idea of how much it’s trying to do. Its medical history begins with hypocrisies in Greek times. Right. Which I know that at least one review of the book when it first came out sort of, you know, mocked this idea that they go back to Hypocritic and Gailen and all of these early physicians and kind of the beginning of medical science in order to get to 1918. It certainly gives you that feeling when you open the book like, oh, boy, at the dawn of time, a better way to go here. And it is 500 pages long, but it’s sort of bouncing between, I would say, two big stories. Right. One is the story of the scientists, the various teams of scientists, American scientists for the most part in this book, who were trying to figure out, you know, isolate what caused the pandemic.
S11: Nobody knew it was a virus at the time. And in fact, it was not really definitively discovered to be a virus until way after the pandemic was over in the 30s, I think. And, you know, sort of trying to figure out public health measures to stop it, et cetera. And then, on the other hand, more of a cultural history of how the virus affected communities. You know, for example, there’s a whole chapter on Philadelphia, which I remember people talking about this a lot at the beginning of of this our current pandemic, that Philadelphia was a city that did a very poor job, did almost nothing in the way of public health measures, and in fact, had a big parade. Their traditional Mummers Parade, you know, with all of the the usual crowds and as a result had suffered the virus very badly. So they’ll be sort of spot concentrations on things like that. Military encampments. How did the virus spread there? You know, Philadelphia, other towns? I think that what John Barry does really well is tell those cultural stories. I love the chapters about the encampments and about Philadelphia and about, you know, just sort of sort of even testimonials from sites. Some of them, I think, may have been very old people that he interviewed who remembered the virus and others were contemporary accounts. But those accounts of what it was like to be in a town that was, you know, essentially just black crepe hanging on every door.
S8: I mean, there’s this incredible eerie details in those stories, the stuff about the scientists, I don’t know about you guys, but somewhere around page 200 of this 500 page book, I stopped paying attention to the proper names of new scientists because I just I couldn’t take it anymore. And it just seemed like every time one of those new science chapters began, there would be 20 new names to learn. And I don’t think that John Barry did the greatest job of deciding who belonged in there, who we need to know about and why. For example, almost all these scientists, understandably, in 1918 were men. Right. But somewhere around page 300, these two scientists appear who are women. And and I was fascinated, like, what’s their history? You know, how unusual was it for a woman to rise to that point in science? Where did they go to medical school? You know, even things about their family lives. Like, I would have loved to know more about these women scientists. And he didn’t seem to quite realize like that’s where the interest lay. And I think maybe at times John Barry, who was obviously an incredible historian and researcher, lost sight a little bit about how to guide the reader through this vast thicket of names. But that’s somewhat of a quibble, because once I did start ignoring the names and just thinking I’m going to pay attention to the science and not who discovered what at what institute, I still learned a lot from those sections.
S1: Yeah, I mean, it’s it’s it’s interesting. It’s the book is set up so dramatically, but is inevitably anticlimactic in a way because. The story that you’re led to believe you might be reading is there was this horrible pandemic, its corpse making powers were totally unprecedented.
S3: It coincided with a world war that allowed it to because what a world war did is that it aggregates tons of people all in one place. It crowds them together, you know, in these cantonments in order to train them and on and on and on. So, of course, you know, taking them from disparate places from all over the country. It’s a dream scenario if you’re a virus and then it scatters them across the globe. And and and then there’s this cadre of really quite cutting edge and revolutionary and in many ways unprecedented scientists who are going to try to understand the disease. But what doesn’t happen in the course of the book is, you know, the scientists, through their patient labors, figure out what the diseases come up with the vaccine and cure it. In fact, what happens is the disease peters out. It’s some form of either mutates and becomes weak or maybe some degree of herd immunity. Whatever happens, it essentially just disappears. The heroic medical interventions of these researchers is not what stops the virus. And so you have this inherently anti anticlimactic story in a way. Nonetheless, it’s extremely vivid. I mean, you get the sense of the sheer. Scale of the thing is unimaginable, I mean, just the omnipresence of corpses piled like cordwood, I mean a multiple times there’s the description of there is no place to put them. There is no proper way to bury them. Coffins of long since run out makeshift coffins have run out. We literally have to stack bodies like their cordwood. To me, the most revelatory thing about the book by far is it’s less a back story of our pandemic than it is the foushee of that kind of person and the Jacksonian forces in the country that undermine him and experts like him. And that conflict was to me, quite central in the book that there’s just a distrust. There has been historically in this country a distrust of credentialling and expertise and a reluctance to empower the state. That’s not true of Europe. So Europe was way ahead of us in medical science, well into the early, you know, well into the 20th century, and also how belatedly developed microbiology and virology and epidemiology were. They were they were, in some respects, relative to where they are now, nonexistent. When the 1918 pandemic hit, you know, the miasma theory of disease was still prevalent, you know, weirdly prevalent in the in the 1920s. And as you say, viruses were so ill understood. There was this predisposition to believe a very heavy bias, to believe that it was that the flu had been caused by a bacillus, by bacteria. And and so they were just barking up all these wrong trees. And there’s just the sentence, you know, leapt out at me, which was, as Barry writes, society would have to gather itself to meet this test or collapse. One of the things is society has to do is it has to give credence to experts when it’s faced with something like this and there’s just some grain of the American character against which this impulse cuts that that that in order first to say to someone like Foushee or to Welch or to any of the equivalents in this book about the, you know, 1920s, you have to give over some of your. Some kind of weird part of your own American self respect has to be handed over to these adults and the reluctance to do that and how many people are killed then and how many people it’s probably going to kill. Now, to me, that’s the echo that really stayed with me.
S5: The thing that I really admired about this, and I think that’s part of its ambition. And I agree it’s not the like sprightliness Reid ever, but the combination between tracking that failure to trust the experts while also tracking the uncertainty of those experts and the psychology of those experts I really liked and the fact that I think, you know, there’s a lot of gearing up to offer the medical context to then help you understand really the story of three teams of scientists trying to find something useful and they’re differing approaches. And I think, you know, right now in labs around the globe, this work is humming along, trying to find both vaccines and treatments for the coronavirus and for covid and just getting a sense that it is, you know, science is not inevitable and it’s not a machine. It’s a bunch of people with motivations and skills and frailty that are our best defense and sort of thinking about what science, what the work of science is and what the psychology of that work is at a moment when it is that the thing humming along that could save us all to me was really interesting. Once I once I got oriented about who everybody was.
S1: Right. And also, you know, I mean, just you have to get your head around the fact that well into the 20th century, quantum physics was more advanced than medical science. Right. That this book really drives that home, that the sheer number of of of variables at work in biology is so massive compared to like the atom, like the atom has its I mean, I’m not saying atomic physics is easy in some sense, but there’s a reason why, you know, it leapt out ahead in the 20th century of medical science. And in a way, medical science was almost an oxymoron up until this influenza pandemic, which Barry does a great job of demonstrating, you know, to the point where people could believe that in the history of mankind, medicine had netnet done more harm than good. I mean, these quotes from respectable medical experts saying if we just didn’t treat any like we’re we’re bloodletting people, we’re killing people by blood, letting them. That’s the state of medicine in 1910 circa 1910, that if we just left them alone, the outcomes would probably be better. And so he’s really telling this huge story of a huge paradigm shift by which we get the infrastructure which is now fighting this pandemic. And that’s that’s that’s kind of a remarkable story.
S11: If there’s one fact that will stick with me from this book and which I think has incredible relevance to the to everything we’re living through now, it’s that the name Spanish Flu was attached to the disease because Spain was the only country that that published truthful information about it. Right. I mean, if you had asked me before reading this, why was the flu called the Spanish flu, I might have said either, oh, because it already originated in Spain or because there was a racist assumption, you know, China flu that that originated in Spain. But the actual reason is that Spain, almost alone among major Western countries at the time, did not have any restrictions on its press. And so they actually published the truth about this horrible plague that was sweeping through their country and as a result got the reputation as the place that the pandemic had originated. So that’s just got me thinking about misinformation and disinformation and how powerful role that’s playing in America’s response right now. Because, I mean, as much as Barry touches in this book upon the tendency of the press to euphemize right, he talks a lot about how the American press would downplay what was going on and say, oh, just stay healthy and clean and chew your food many times. And, you know, sort of these old fashioned 19th century ideas about health and you’ll be fine. But there wasn’t active disinformation about hoaxes and, you know, injecting bleach and so forth being spread by the president. I mean, it’s almost surprising how small a role the federal government plays in the disinformation that we we read about in this book. So if you factor that into the the already kind of deadly circumstances that he paints in this book, it just it becomes almost imagine unimaginable how much worse it could become.
S3: OK, well, the book is called The Great Influenza The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John M. Barry. Check it out. It’s a great book and talk to us about it on email. All right. Moving on. The Movie Network came out in 1976, this was nearing the tail end of a golden age of morally serious Hollywood movies that were also great commercial successes, the movie won four Academy Awards, including Oscars for Paddy Chayefsky, who wrote the script, and for Faye Dunaway and Peter Finch for Acting, tells the story of Howard Beale, a network news anchor who has a mental or emotional breakdown on air. But before he can be fired and sent out to pasture, his crackup begins to generate ratings, big ratings. And so the network cynically keeps him on air, where he becomes a kind of oracular midwife to a widely felt public alienation. In the movie’s most iconic moment, Peter Finch. As Bill urges his viewers to walk to their windows, throw them open and shout, I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore, which en masse they do.
S12: I’m mad as hell. I’m not going to take it anymore.
S1: Aaron Sorkin was obviously hugely influenced by this film here of West Wing and Social Network fame and once said, quote, No predictor of the future. Not even Orwell has ever been as right as Chayefsky was when he wrote Network. The movie was written by Chayefsky. It was directed by Sidney Lumet. It also stars Robert Duvall and William Holden. Let’s listen to a clip.
S13: Did you see the overnights on the network news? It has an eight in New York, a nine in L.A. and a 27 share in both cities. Last night, Howard Beale went on the air and yelled bullshit for two minutes. And I can tell you right now, The Tonight Show will get a 30 share. At least I think we’ve lucked into something.
S14: Oh, for God’s sakes, Diane, are you suggesting we put that lunatic back on the air yelling bullshit?
S13: Yes, I think we should put Beale back on the air tonight and keep him on. Did you see the news this morning? Did you see the times we got press coverage on this you couldn’t buy for a million dollars? Frank, that dumb show jumped five rating points in one night. Tonight’s show has got to be at least 15. We just increased our audience by 20 or 30 million people in one night. You’re not going to get something like this dumped in your lap for the rest of your days. You can’t just piss it away. Howard Beale went up there last night and said what every American feels that he’s tired of all the bullshit he’s articulating the popular rage.
S14: I want that show, Frank. I can turn that show into the biggest smash on television. What do you mean? You want that show? It’s a new show. It’s not your Dipak.
S12: I see Howard Beale as a latter day prophet, a magnificent messianic figure inveighing against the hypocrisies of our times.
S13: A strip sat on a roll on Monday through Friday that I tell you, Frank, could just go through the roof. And I’m talking about a six dollar cost per thousand show. I’m talking about one hundred one hundred thirty thousand dollar minister.
S12: You want to figure out the revenues of a strip show that sells for one hundred thousand bucks a minute? One show like that could put this whole network right out of the hold up.
S13: Frank, it’s being handed to us on a plate. Let’s not blow it.
S1: So, Julia, this movie was your pick, but remarkable film. It’s an artifact of a really astonishing moment in both American movies and American history. The country in the mid 70s had zero self-confidence, had completely lost its identity in its way. But our movies were brimming with confidence, with creative and moral and social confidence. This film turned 40 a few years ago. A lot of people watched it and wrote about it. The consensus was it was clunky, perhaps very clunky as a polemic, but somehow perfectly grimly prescient. How did how did it come out in the mix when you watched it?
S5: I mean, I saw one essay that called it clunky. And I think that author is a dipshit.
S4: I don’t think it’s clunky at all who say thank you.
S1: I don’t think it’s look it’s like look at all smooth as silk.
S5: I mean, it is strident and it is satire whose power lies in the extremity of its vision and the degree to which it pushes its assumptions, as evidenced by the film’s conclusion in which, you know, spoiler warning, if you haven’t yet seen network, maybe watch it before you hear me say this, but in which the Craven Network executives who’ve been talking about all the things they’ll do for ratings very calmly and with an unflappable manner, decide they have to kill Howard Beale in order to save the network and do so. It’s not. Subtle, but it’s fantastic, it’s sensational, there’s not like a single scene in this movie that isn’t hilarious, uh, pertinent and great looking, actually. I mean, it’s it’s also just like a beautifully costumed and designed film. And I mean, there’s definitely some histrionics in it, but I, I maybe I just can’t see past them. I don’t know. Dana, you’re the you’re the film critic. Am I am I wrong?
S8: I mean, I’m I’m fascinated by your devotion to this movie. I absolutely loved receiving it. And the first hour of it is brilliant. But I understand the clunky criticism. I feel like about this movie a little bit like I do maybe about a movie like Blade Runner or something where I feel like I absolutely understand it’s iconic city and wouldn’t want to change anything about it. But I also see all of its flaws and think that there are moments when it kind of loses it and falls apart. Like the first hour of this movie is so sharp and it’s satire and so specific in its characterization that when the second half kicks in and things start to happen, like, as you noted, the conspiracy on the networks part to kill the Peter Finch character, Howard Beale, you know, the mad prophet of the airways or the the affair that happens between the William Holden character and the Faye Dunaway character beautifully acted, but it feels contrived like those two are being put together so that two different ideologies can clash. Right. And in particular, some of the scenes where they argue or their their breakup scene near the end. And again, I guess that’s a spoiler. But, you know, it’s an old movie of those scenes. Feel to me like Paddy Chayefsky writing just flat, just flatly writing down a bunch of ideas and banging them against each other like GI Joe dolls. You know, that isn’t necessarily in the context of its time, right. In 1976, as directed by Sidney Lumet, who was at the time, you know, the guy who had just made Dog Day afternoon and you know, who is in Serpico and who was very much the guy who tore things from the headlines and turned them into movies. It’s kind of great to see those ideas in conflict. And and I’m willing to forgive all those things in the context of the movie. But I think some of its dramatic force disappears in that second half when it becomes such a movie, a conflict of ideas.
S15: Yeah, that’s exactly my my diagnosis of the movie too. I, I hadn’t seen it in 30 years and I loved, loved watching that. I’m so grateful to reacquaint myself with it. It’s how I remember movies. These are the movies I grew up with. What struck me though is how little the movie is about people. I didn’t remember that about the movie and how much it’s about Faye Dunaway. I mean, she’s really the locus of the movie’s fascination. And in a way, it’s moral rage as as Holden says, the first Holden, the William Holden character is a, you know, greatest generation, you know, holdover who pioneered TV when it was both serious in its news division and its entertainment division. And he’s both fascinated and horrified by Dunaway, who’s a completely new generation. And as he says of her, she’s the television generation. She learned life from Bugs Bunny. And in addition to fucking her endlessly moralizers, her her shallowness in ways that I began to find extremely uncomfortable. Julia, I would be surprised if this didn’t tripwire your feminism a little bit. He describes her as a psychopath, a woman of psychopathic ambition and lack of feeling. And it’s also inexcusable that she bears the burden of his philandering. He constantly guilts her about his cheating on his wife, and he’s trying to turn his failings into a generational story that indicts her, not him. And she’s turned into the avatar of this new ethic of unreality that television supposedly brings with it in ways that the gender dynamic heightens in ways that verge on misogyny a little. Am I totally wrong?
S4: I have.
S5: I’ve, for various reasons, have watched this movie like four times in the last five years. And every time I watch it, I see something new it in it. And I think, you know, part of why I like it so much is it’s the movie about the ascendancy of a new medium and the moral questions that surround it. Right. Which is to me has echoes of the conversation that we’ve been having for the last two decades about the rise of the Internet as a force for communicating information. Right. And entertainment. Part of what I love about the movie and what makes it seem not like, uh, you know, guy who thinks TV sex hectoring me in an unpleasant fashion, which I think the bad version of this movie could potentially be centers on Dunaway’s performance as Diana Kristiansen and the way it’s written. She’s smart, she’s compelling. She’s the devil. She’s just but the most beguiling and usually most persuasive person in. The picture, and that’s what’s so terrifying, and I think that to me, the film has some self-awareness, that the Max Schumacher character is kind of a self-justifying, you know, outmoded, out, out, outmaneuvered corporate in the corporate sense guy. Right. Like in the first 20 minutes of the movie, we hear him saying telling the same crusty anecdote two times. Right. We know we know he’s he’s on the on the downward slope and she is just in command every time she’s in a room for most of the movie and including the very hilarious I mean, I guess I just see their romance as as as hilarious rather than sincere. Like, she’s never not talking about ratings, whether they’re making out or having a romantic dinner, like it’s supposed to be funny.
S14: I think she’s offering three for two and a half to perfection, five James Bond movies. I think there’s still room for three, four, five.
S5: But part of what I like about her performance and why I think it doesn’t quite trigger my feminist tripwires is that. My particular breed of feminism is the breed that suggests that women deserve an equal opportunity to do stuff and some of them will be great and some of them will be monsters. And, you know, there’s a there’s a breed of feminism, which I really detest, which is like put the women in charge. Women are better with their communitarian instincts and their maternal blah, blah. And they’re like, no, women also suck. Many women also suck. Like, everybody has an equal opportunity to be a horrifying, amoral monster. And I don’t feel that this movie suggests that Dunaway’s cravenness or ruthlessness is attached to her gender. It feels to me like it’s very specifically about her personality. And yet we happen to see her personality in the form of this gender. And I don’t know, I feel that very deeply that although she’s the monster, this is not a sexist movie and maybe that’s wrong. But I think that’s part of why I like it so much. And it’s just enjoyable to watch her be a terrifying presence. I mean, we can listen to a clip of her dressing down her employees, which is the scene that I love. And she’s not wrong in it.
S14: I don’t want to play football with the people. But when I took over this department, it had the worst programming record in television history. This network has one show in the top 20. This network is an industry joke and we better start putting together one winner for next September. I want a show developed based on the activities of a terrorist group, Josef Stalin and his merry band of Bolsheviks.
S12: I want ideas from you people.
S14: That is what you’re paid for. And by the way, the next time I send an audience research report around, you’d all better read it or I’ll start fucking a lot of you. Exactly.
S8: I mean, I just have to as as you’re trying to picture those scenes, I just have to also note that her wardrobe, Julia, is incredible. I kept thinking of you throughout and how great you look in all of her various byas cut camil gowns. And, you know, just everything that she wears is in these great Mudie 70s colors, and it just sets her sets her apart is this incredible fashion icon. She’s sort of she sort of harks back, in fact, to somebody from maybe a noir movie of the 1940s. There’s no wardrobe in the history of cinema that I covered more than once. Wardrobe in this movie. You have now that I feel like that, which I should note that the costume designer is named the only V Auldridge and she just picks the greatest, greatest outfits for for Faye Dunaway. I mean, since we’re talking about sexism, though, I just I have to slip in the the one real incidence of race in this movie, which I think is way more questionable than the way Faye Dunaway is shown, which is this sort of black radical character who’s supposed to be something like I mean, maybe she’s supposed to be something like an Angela Davis, but a very media savvy Angela Davis, who Faye Dunaway essentially destroys by offering her a network show, the one she described in that last clip, that sort of, you know, terrorist of the week. And this woman goes from being a committed revolutionary to being just a ratings hound exactly like Faye Dunaway. And there’s just a lot of very broad and fairly racist comedy in the scenes where Dunaway and other executives meet with her and her group of radicals, you know, to to plan a show together.
S5: Yeah, the movie does not the I would contest the gender critique of the movie, but but the there’s those scenes are definitely racist. And I don’t I’m not sure I agree that that Faye Dunaway corrupts the Laureen Hobbs character in their first meeting. Lorraine Hobbs is just as much in command, I think, as as Jane Christensen is. And it’s the meeting of two knowing savvy female leaders that that makes their partnership such a kind of interesting premise for the show. But but some of the subsequent scenes about, you know, negotiating the terms of their deal are don’t play well in twenty twenty for sure.
S8: Yeah. I guess it’s more that they bring out the worst in each other. I mean, I’m actually parroting William Holden’s character when I say that she’s the one who who destroys Laureen Hobbs. So, you know, maybe I’m editorializing too much, but there is, I guess, a sense that both of them are these. Yeah. I mean, there could be a reading that it’s sexist. I guess they’re both these extremely ambitious women whose ambition leads them to do highly unethical things. But they’re not the only people in the movie doing such things.
S1: I just want to. Say what I admire most about the movie other than maybe the performances is, is what what happens in the aftermath of this movie to make it so pression is the election of Reagan, which is a president who knew how to manipulate all of these forces to exactly the kinds of ends that this movie is warning us about and against. And then from Reagan flows, a culture that disappears into the TV up through Fox News and reality television. I mean, it’s it. It is. It’s. So aware of what the medium is going to become in the hands of certain politicians and certain sub demagogic cynics like Roger Ailes, who would, you know, essentially turn news and entertainment into spectacle, you know, obviously from the Julia from the vantage point of 2020, like the John M. Barry book, it’s just horrifyingly prescient and on point.
S5: Right. And when Reagan became president, nobody could imagine anything. Well, not I don’t speak universally for Americans of 1980, but the the notion that this entertainer was going to lead the free world, what a debasement. And then compared to where we are with the current president, he seems, you know, positively statesmanlike. And obviously part of that’s the job he had for eight years. But it’s really hard to watch this movie in this era and not think about Trump and not think about Fox News. Right. And not think about the the dangers of, you know, giving the audience only what it wants in an endless feedback loop.
S8: Yeah. Interestingly, this movie doesn’t show that much of how Howard Beale’s propaganda affects the outside world. We see people sticking their head out the window in the famous I’m mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. I mean, we see the members of the studio audience going crazy for, you know, all the bells and whistles that the that the nightly news takes on. But we don’t really see the larger societal effect of of Howard Beale’s rhetoric. We more see how it affects, you know, the network itself. And the machinations inside the newsroom is almost like what we’re living right now would be another network, another version of the movie where you see what happens to the people who stick their heads outside the window later on.
S3: All right, well, the movie network, I watched it on Amazon streaming, it’s easy to find, it’s pretty remarkable to watch in 2020 and maybe check it out. OK, moving on. All right, now is the moment in our podcast when we endorsed Dana. What do you have?
S8: My endorsement this week is basically going to be a correction from my last endorsement. I’m very embarrassed about this, but I should never have tried to remember a recipe off the top of my head. Remember when I endorsed my drink, this lime tree, Bauer, my prison? Yes. And and along with it, I just sort of rattled off, oh, it’s so easy to make lime cordial. You just do this. And then I proceeded to say something that was wrong. And, you know, and my friend Michael Jaconi, who is the bartender who taught me the recipe and had me on his little Instagram drink making sure to make the drink, wrote me a very nice text saying, oh, thank you so much for talking about my show and the drink. And you said the wrong recipe. So I’m not going to say it again because I will get it wrong again.
S11: But I am going to say that we will link on our show page to the lime cordial recipe. And essentially I got the idea right, which is two to one. But all you do is you cook down the lime juice until it’s half the size that it was. And I will send instructions to do that to our producer so we can post it to our show page in the hopes that people will end their summer making this lime tree bower my prison and reading the Coleridge poem that goes along with it.
S3: All righty, Julia, what do you have?
S5: I finally had time this summer to dig into a book I had been anticipating for years. Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld. Kristin Feld has been one of my favorite novelists since she wrote Prep, which was her smash debut. And as someone who attended a New England prep school, though not as a boarding student, felt that the acuity of its vision and its insight about tense social dynamics was just ravishingly good. Since then, Sittenfeld has adopted this slightly interesting tack in her novels, which tend to have some gimmick around them. One was written from the perspective of a Laura Bush type character called American Wife. One was sort of a retelling of Pride and Prejudice, not necessarily a book that needs retelling, although that was an enjoyable read. And now she’s written a book called Rodham, which imagines the life of Hillary Rodham Clinton if she had not married Bill Clinton. So she remains Hillary Rodham. She goes on to have an academic and political career. She encounters Bill Clinton not as her husband and various fascinating ways and about two thirds of the way through it. It’s such a good read if you’re looking to sort of escape the world, but not fully escape the world and drop into an alternate reality. And or if you’ve ever loved a Curtis Sittenfeld book, definitely pick up random. I think it’s one of her best in a while. And it’s it’s, uh, it’s very interesting to read, you know, as the Democratic convention unfolds and as the campaign begins to heat up even further. Hmm.
S3: Awesome. OK, my endorsement this week is an essay in the New York Review of Books on their daily Internet feed. It’s called Dickens in Brooklyn by Jay Neugebauer. And I’m probably mispronouncing his name, but we’ll post a link to it. It’s just amazing essay, kind of about how growing up in a tiny apartment many decades ago in Brooklyn. Well, let me read a little bit from it. He said, Throughout my childhood, the complete works of Charles Dickens resided behind a glass enclosed side panel of a mahogany breakfront in the living room of our 730 square foot Brooklyn apartment. He goes on to say, Before I entered kindergarten and before my only sibling, Robert, was born, my mother sat me down in our living room one afternoon for what she said was going to be a special occasion. She unlocked a side panel of the breakfront, took down great expectations and taught me how to open it in a way that would not break its binding or crack at spined. She asked me to read the book’s opening paragraph aloud to her, which I did surprised to discover that the main character in a quote unquote great novel had a name as simple as Pip and told the reader so in a sentence I carried with me ever since. So I called myself Pip and came to be called Pip. After that, just the two of us in a moment, more peaceful than most I would ever experience with her. And like a movie star, my mother adored being the center of attention, a place she commanded wherever she went by her exceptional beauty and flair for the dramatic. She read and acted out several pages of the novel. This is this short essay is remarkable for being an excruciating retelling of what it’s like to have a beautiful, charismatic, commanding and mentally ill parent who both makes and destroys you and how they both bonded over Dickens. But he also escaped into Dickens and then his own fiction writing. It’s just one of the best short memoir, Fresh. Pieces about the making and unmaking of a self that I’ve read in a long time, this is beautiful. It’s beautifully done. I highly, highly, highly recommend it. So just once again, it’s called Dickens in Brooklyn. It’s on the New York Review of Books daily. And it’s by a novelist named Jay Neuborne.
S2: Dana, thank you so much. Thank you, Steve. Thanks, Julia. Thank you. You’ll find links to some of the things we talked about today at our show page, that slate dotcom culture first. You can e-mail us at Culture Butterflied Dotcom. We do love it. You can interact with us on Twitter. We have a feed. It’s at Slate, Colthurst, our producers Camera and Drewes. Our production assistant is Rachel Allen. For Dana Stevens and Julia Turner, I’m Stephen Metcalf. Thank you so much for joining us. We will see you soon.
S4: Hello and welcome to this large segment of the Slate Culture Gabfest, thank you so much for listening and for your support for Slate. Today, we are discussing a very special double episode of the New York Times daily podcast in which Michael Barbaro and New York Times reporter Jonah Bramich tackle canceled culture.
S8: And we wanted to talk about this episode set in part because the episode set itself prompted a little flurry of response on Twitter that canceled culture watchers might have decided to turn cancel culture in which Twitter commentators said, why on earth would they be talking about this when the Postal Service is being shut down in the election is being stolen.
S5: And but so there were some fledgling Kinsel ish responses to the counterculture episode itself, which made us curious to listen and discuss. Dana, what did you make of these episodes?
S8: I mean, I would have said before listening to these episodes that I didn’t want to do a segment on council culture again, because we’ve talked about so many related things on this show. But I will say that because the dailies, such a popular podcast, it’s really pretty influential. I think a lot of people who are not even big podcast listeners probably listen to The Daily. And because Michael Barbro framed the question a bit differently than, you know, some of the other commentators in recent weeks, that this this pair of episodes is worth discussing. And so then now the question is, how does he frame it differently? I mean, I guess in the case of these two, especially in part two of this two part series, what he does differently is that he kind of does almost a tick tock of cancellation where he tries to frame specific cases and look into exactly how a certain statement, you know, was made in one context proliferated into other contexts through social media, was, at least in his reading, misunderstood or flattened in those contexts, and thus became, you know, the engine for someone’s cancellation.
S11: And I would say that in general, it seems that he and Jonah Brown, which as well, are trying to frame cancellation culture in a in a more objective way than a lot of people who talk about it are. Right. I mean, the very words cancel culture seem like they now belong to one ideological side or another. You know, that to use those words, you’re already judging someone for canceling someone else. And their attempt to bring this kind of New York Times in objectivity to the question inflamed a lot of people, because what they seem to be saying, especially in in relationship to some figures like J.K. Rowling, for example, is, you know, let’s calm down here. Let’s not immediately put this person in this bucket of bad people, you know, because they transgressed online in this or that particular way and that earn them a lot of pushback. They also offer a kind of genealogy or what’s the word, etymology, I guess, of the phrase cancel culture, tracing it all the way back to, you know, Kanye West debates from 2018 and make you see that, you know, this what’s been cooking around this notion of cancellation has a different genealogy than you might expect it to have. In particular, that it started out, at least according to these two reporters, as a joke on black Twitter, and that it was something that, you know, was circulating in circles on black social media as a kind of joke, that you’re canceled, this is canceled, that is canceled, and that the seriousness with which it’s now landed as a as a moral judgment is is not something that was that was present at the beginning.
S3: Yeah, I was I was I was gripped by both episodes. I mean, in part because Cancel Culture is one of the few subjects that my friends pulled a totally. Span the entire range of opinions on I have friends who are close to the drafting of the Harper’s letter and I have other friends who believe canceled culture is a total Chimaira, right. Just it’s just non-existent. And what I liked is in the first episode, they address that, that that effectively it’s a semantically empty term that gets filled by whoever happens to be wielding it for whatever purpose that it encompasses. So many disparate instances that its usage really only reflects on the attitude of the user, not on an objective fact of the world. And. John Abramovitch, who seems to be the soul of, you know. Probity comes out effectively saying he’s never going to use it again. And it’s just it’s just too empty. And the thing that I’d like to really zero in on, Julia, is if your game is the second episode where, you know, drilling down on a very specific instance in which Twitter became a circular firing squad and everybody involved, it was a pile on of conservative media, conscientious liberal media, a ringleader who wanted to get someone cancelled. It just turned into a circular firing squad in which everyone wanted to cancel everyone else. And I think both Jonah Bramlage and the person that he’s interviewing about the situation ended up kind of where I’m at, which is that there’s something about this medium that leads to a kind of libidinal heard energy that turns in the name or cause of justice on an individual in ways that are extremely ad hominem or ad hominem and ill considered in a way. And, uh, I was very sympathetic to that. Julia, what do you think?
S5: I agree that that episode was illuminating and probably helped clarify what I’ll cancel. Culture hubbub is for not super online listeners of the Daily. I also am sympathetic to the people who are frustrated by this pair of episodes because they do something that actually you’ve just done in your description, Steve, that I think is still contested by some, which is. Annoying to cancel culture as a thing that is real and really exists, like I think that the people who really push back on objections to cancel culture in in some part are largely still pushing back on the idea that this is that that’s a useful phrase to describe a useful phenomenon. And I think the second episode is helpful in that it does show that there is a dynamic that is being described in the various letters and counter letters and tweets and op eds and whatever, you know, the degree to which a bunch of strangers can all object to the behavior of someone and in some cases target them personally, reach out to their employer. Like there’s just a fluidity of communication that allows for that in ways that we’ve discussed before. And it does demonstrate that well. But there’s a bit of a way in which the. Pair of episodes gives a kind of objective New York Times gloss, too, and what was canceled? What was this and that in ways that I don’t think are completely precise or as precise or as objective as as portrayed in the two episodes. So in particular, in the first episode, there’s a leap made from canceling being kind of a wry, joking term on black Twitter to Kanye West fretting about being canceled. But that episode largely, you know, then there’s sort of a suggestion that when President Obama spoke about cancer culture in November of 2019, that that was what brought it up to the present. But actually canceling was widely discussed after me, too. I mean, there’s a there’s pieces from 2017 talking about how Louis C.K. has been canceled. There’s, you know, as reporters began to target more and more powerful men who had Einsteinian problems of various kinds, you know, the running discussion was whether they would be canceled for their transgressions. So it’s a word that has meaning that didn’t feel fully precisely captured. And then I think that the pair of episodes seems to stipulate that cancer culture is a thing that exists and then sets out to describe it. And I feel like it’s that rhetorical move that triggered the critical responses from people who objected to The New York Times spending its time and attention in this way without the precision that they would have liked. But then, of course, they end up, you know, contributing to the idea that there is a censorious impulse on Twitter of like, don’t even put this out there. How what why would the Times be doing this instead of that? So it’s another circular firing squad in a way, right?
S8: I mean, they keep both reporters complain about the flattening effects of social media, which is certainly something to be criticized in and out of Cancer Council culture. Right. I mean, Twitter is a bad place to have arguments and it does flatten the nuance out of things. But I think you could argue that that flattening is happening in this pair of podcasts as well. On the place that I particularly see it is in the turn at the end of the first of the two episodes toward J.K. Rowling and her involvement with the Harper’s letter and her, you know, trans phobic tweets over a period of years. I mean, it really there’s there’s a very strong argument that J.K. Rowling has some sort of strange obsession with trans people. Right? I mean, it’s not just something that has come up, incidentally, once in a while on her Twitter, it sort of seems to be a war that she’s been waging for a while. And this is reading from a transcript from the daily episode, The First One. But this is how Jonah Bramlage characterizes J.K. Rowling’s involvement with the Harper’s letter. He says so J.K. Rowling, of course, is known for writing the Harry Potter books, but she also tweets a lot, and particularly in the last several years, J.K. Rowling has tweeted a lot of things that people find to be trans phobic. And so this summer, she wrote an open letter, a long, open letter about her views on trans people, her own mental health, her own experiences. And in that letter, she said that she expected that people would meet it with outrage and vitriol and it would become the kind of firestorm that we’re seeing and all these other situations. And she was right. I mean, she was right. And then they go on to give some examples of the pushback against J.K. Rowling’s open letter or her participation in the Harper’s letter, et cetera. And I think a big part of the response that I read online to these daily episodes was people saying, well, wait a second, let’s not put the fact that J.K. Rowling knew that she would get in trouble for saying these things in a letter. Right. Let’s let’s not let that get her off the hook for having said these things and said them repeatedly in a public place, knowing exactly that they would get that response. So she’s, in a way, gets sort of a check, a check mark in her column because she anticipates the fact that she would be cancelled.
S11: And I feel like the actual hatred, like the real hatred and vitriol that have been associated with her, her public social media persona get flattened out into this same general category as, you know. Why are all these other people being canceled?
S5: They do note they do note that it is different for someone with her wealth and power to come in for criticism than for some. You know, I think the other example they talk about in that episode as Amy Cooper, the woman who claimed she was being threatened by the murderer in Central Park, and they note that that birder, uh, Chris Cooper, felt uncomfortable with the amount of personal consequence that this woman had faced for what was a very unpleasant and racist interaction, but maybe not the sum total of the woman’s existence. So they do they do note that J.K. Rowling has more power than Amy Cooper, the woman in Central Park. But, yeah, no, it’s it’s podcast’s are not as flat as tweets, but they can also there’s only so much information density you can put into audio as well. All right. Well, it’s an interesting pair of episodes. And you guys have helped me clarify some of my. Discomfort with it and also some of what was strong about it, so thank you both and thank you all sleepless listeners for supporting Slate and its journalism. We’ll see you soon.