Slate’s Culture Gabfest on Pitch Perfect, Seth MacFarlane, and Online Education

Slate's weekly roundtable.
Oct. 10 2012 12:13 PM

The Culture Gabfest: You Big MOOC Edition

Slate's podcast about the movie Pitch Perfect, the comedy writer Seth MacFarlane, and higher education online.


Listen to Culture Gabfest No. 212 with Al Filreis, Stephen Metcalf, Dana Stevens, and Julia Turner by clicking the arrow on the audio player below:

And join the lively conversation on the Culturefest Facebook page here:

Culturefest is on the radio! “Gabfest Radio” combines Slate’s Culture and Political Gabfests in one show—listen on Saturdays at 7 a.m. and Sundays at 6 p.m. on WNYC’s AM 820.

On this week’s Culturefest, our critics discuss the movie Pitch Perfect, wondering whether its wit and charm elevate it above the status of just another performance competition movie. The Gabfesters then discuss comedy kingpin Seth MacFarlane and ponder what it is about the world’s highest-paid television writer that makes his star continue to rise. Finally, they discuss massive open online courses (MOOCs) with Al Filreis, the UPenn English professor and online education pioneer who is currently teaching a modern poetry class to more than 30,000 students through Coursera.

Here are some links to the things we discussed this week:

New York film critic David Edelstein on Pitch Perfect for “Vulture.”
Pitch Perfect
director Jason Moore who also directed Avenue Q on Broadway.
Kay Cannon
, Pitch Perfect screenwriter also known for writing 30 Rock and New Girl.
Rebel Wilson
, Anna Kendrick, and Anna Camp, Pitch Perfect co-stars.
Up in the Air
, the 2009 movie co-starring Anna Kendrick.
Another movie in the performance competition canon, Bring It On.
The dance drama movie Center Stage.
Yale’s storied a cappella singing group The Whiffenpoofs.
Swedish pop group Ace of Base’s 1993 hit single “I Saw the Sign.”
The reason a cappella singing is having its moment, the TV series Glee.
Seth MacFarlane’s creations Family Guy, American Dad, Ted and his 2011 album of American standards, Music Is Better Than Words.
’s David Haglund on Seth MacFarlane as Oscar host.
Seth MacFarlane’s other TV-hosting experience, including Saturday Night Live and the Comedy Central Roast of Donald Trump.
Animated TV comedies The Simpsons and South Park.
Monty Python’s Flying Circus
, the BBC comedy series that ushered in the golden age of TV comedy.
The Book of Mormon,
the Broadway musical by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of South Park.
Massive online open courses, or MOOCs.

For NPR, Guy Raz’s report featuring Culturefest guest Al Filreis on online education and Coursera.
Al Filreis’ free online course, Modern and Contemporary American Poetry.
Columbia University’s online learning project Fathom, which closed in 2003.
The New York Times’ story about major research universities offering online courses through Coursera.
The concept of the “flipped classroom” of online education.


Dana’s pick: The Hairpin’s recurring feature “Scandals of Classic Hollywood,” in which Whitman College professor Anne Helen Peterson details the gossip of old Hollywood including posts on the likes of Lana Turner and Johnny Stompanato, Gary Cooper, Gloria Swanson, Fatty Arbuckle, and Dorothy Dandridge.

Julia’s pick: The fine art of cereal mixing, or putting cereal from two different boxes into one bowl. She recommends Cheerios on the bottom and Raisin Bran on top (to account for their varying buoyancies and encourage mixing). The concoction resulting is more than the sum of its parts.

Stephen’s pick: Steve tripled down on the music of crumbling empire and class prerogative by the bands of the Bristol, England, record label Sarah Records. He endorses the 1995 Sarah Records compilation album There and Back Again Lane.

Outro: “Psychic TV” by The Orchids

You can email us at

This podcast was produced by Chris Wade and Dan Pashman. Our intern is Sally Tamarkin.

Follow us on the new Culturefest Twitter feed. And please like the Culture Gabfest on Facebook.


Al Filreis is the Kelly professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, faculty director of the Kelly Writers House, and director of the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing at the University of Pennsylvania.

Stephen Metcalf is Slate's critic at large. He is working on a book about the 1980s.

Dana Stevens is Slate's movie critic.

Julia Turner is the editor in chief of Slate and a regular on Slate's Culture Gabfest podcast.



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