Slate's Culture Blog

Dec. 19 2014 9:33 AM

Of Course Stephen Colbert, the Character, Didn’t Die. We’re Going to Need Him.

In retrospect, the idea that the real Stephen Colbert would kill off his creation, “Stephen Colbert,” so that he could have a clean start when he takes over for David Letterman on CBS next year, was a kind of lunacy. Over the nine years of The Colbert Report, Colbert (the real one) has proven himself a performer with impeccable instincts and timing and a keen sense of the cultural temperature. Over that same time, Stephen Colbert, the character, has been the over-confident idiot savant that, so often, America needs. Colbert, the man, is too wise to kill off Colbert, the character, when that character still has so much to say, hilariously, about the world we inhabit.

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Dec. 19 2014 12:44 AM

The Heartbreaking Story That Might Explain the Song Stephen Colbert Chose to End His Show

After almost a decade on the air, Stephen Colbert brought The Colbert Report to a close Thursday night. For the final show, he brought back many familiar segments, including “The Wørd” and an abbreviated edition of “Cheating Death with Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, D.F.A” in which Colbert finally managed to overcome death.

But the closing credits contained something different. Rather than the usual outro music, the show played “Holland, 1945” by the band Neutral Milk Hotel. Why that song? As Maureen Dowd noted in an article about Colbert in the New York Times in April, Colbert “had 10 older siblings” as a child, but his family was struck by tragedy. “[H]is father and the two brothers closest to him in age died in a plane crash when he was 10.

Colbert told Dowd he loved the “strange, sad poetry” of “Holland, 1945,” and he sent her the lyrics, which contain these words:

But now we must pick up every piece
Of the life we used to love
Just to keep ourselves
At least enough to carry on
And here's where your mother sleeps
And here is the room where your brothers were born
Indentions in the sheets
Where their bodies once moved but don’t move anymore.

Dec. 18 2014 11:43 PM

Watch The Interview, as Re-Enacted by Pencil Figures

By now, you’re probably well aware that Sony canceled the planned theatrical release of The Interview, the Seth Rogen-James Franco comedy about an assassination plot to kill North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, due to hacker threats. Unfortunately, there are no announced plans to release the film online, which means that only a very small group of people has had the chance to see it in theaters.

Because some of us here at Slate were lucky enough to see it before the towering fist of censorship came down, we’ve recreated The Interview from memory, so you can at least have an idea of what you’re missing. Enjoy. 

Dec. 18 2014 6:30 PM

Woody Allen May Be Working on a New Movie About a Professor Seducing a Student

Oh no. Here is a page that exists on IMDb, one that suggests that Woody Allen’s next movie is in the works for 2015. (The film critic Tasha Robinson pointed us to it on Twitter.) The untitled project lists Allen as both writer and director (though not star) and its tally of actors includes Emma Stone, Joaquin Phoenix, Jamie Blackley, and Parker Posey. The troubling part is the plot description: “On a small town college campus, a philosophy professor in existential crisis gives his life new purpose when he enters into a relationship with his student.” (An email and phone call to Allen’s publicist received no response.)

Not exactly new ground for Allen, whose 1979 drama Manhattan had the middle-aged auteur’s alter ego dating a teenager played by Mariel Hemingway. (The on-set make-out session with Allen was reportedly the 16-year-old actress’s first kiss.) And the new movie’s neurotic philosopher sounds like the latest in a long line of Allen stand-ins, from Alvy Singer in Annie Hall to Gabe Roth, another professor who dallies with a 21-year-old student as his marriage disintegrates. That film, Husbands and Wives, premiered as Allen was ending his relationship with Mia Farrow and kindling a new one with Farrow’s 22-year-old adoptive daughter, Soon-Yi Previn.

In the context of Dylan Farrow’s insistent claims, most recently in an essay in the New York Times, that Allen molested her when she was seven, this suggestion that Allen is defiantly returning to the topic of older men seducing or being seduced by much younger women feels stunning. (Allen has continued to deny the charges.) Maybe he places tremendous weight on his artistic prerogative, despite all the sensitivities involved. Maybe he just doesn’t think the sexual abuse allegations against him are a big deal. But the cultural climate has changed. In fiction as in life, we’re less likely to give lusty, nebbishy nervous wrecks a pass on their inappropriate infatuations—even if they feel really bad about them afterward.

Despite all the attention to Farrow’s claims against Allen, his movie Magic in the Moonlight came and went without much hand-wringing. Perhaps that gave him the confidence to continue to assert, perversely, that certain sexual relationships—between a professor and a student, say, or an adult and a high schooler—are richly ambiguous subjects for art rather than blindingly simple. I hope he changes his mind.

Dec. 18 2014 6:25 PM

Serial Wasn’t a Satisfying Story. It Was a Master Class in Investigative Journalism.

Journalism school is expensive and of dubious utility. A degree from a top program can (maybe) help you get an entry-level job somewhere, but you’ll learn faster in a stint as a cops and courts reporter, digging up documents, talking to sources, and getting chewed out by your editor when you get a fact wrong. That calculus changes, though, if you don’t have an editor—if someone just props you up in front of a desk and expects you to knock out 10 blog posts, take a break for five minutes to eat a granola bar, and then knock out 10 more before you head home (where you will knock out 10 more blog posts). What do you do, then, if you think J-school’s a waste and you’re not getting any on-the-job mentoring?

You could do a whole lot worse than listening to the 12 episodes of Serial. It’s free, it’s entertaining, and it’s the best tutorial you’ll find on what it takes to be a reporter.

Dec. 18 2014 4:30 PM

Now You Can Legally Drink Cuban Rum—but Should You?

Guy walks into a bar and says, “Isn’t there a bottle of Havana Club here?” Bartender purports not to know what the guy is talking about. Goes and gets the owner. Owner says, “How dare you come into my establishment asking for contraband!” Owner retreats to a personal storeroom, returns with bottles of three of the seven rums currently produced by Cuba’s foremost distillery.

This is last night, Wednesday night—a night after a day when the U.S. re-established diplomatic relations with Cuba and lifted a trade embargo: “Licensed American travelers will be able to import … up to $100 in tobacco and alcohol”. This is the time to make tasting notes on the official rum of Castro’s Cuba.

Havana Club Añejo 3 Años This is a white rum smoother than Bacardi’s. But then so are some mildew removers. (N.B. A few years back, Bacardi—a company exiled from Cuba during the revolution—won a legal battle to use the Havana Club trademark in the U.S., and Bacardi’s fake Havana Club white rum is even unsmoother than its marquee product.)

Dec. 18 2014 3:16 PM

Now Team America: World Police Is Getting Pulled From Theaters, Too

After Sony decided on Wednesday to cancel the Dec. 25 release of The Interview following a spate of cyber attacks and threats, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema announced that it would show 2004’s Team America: World Police in its place. It now appears that Paramount Pictures has halted not only that plan, but any plans to screen Team America nationwide.

Dec. 18 2014 2:29 PM

Was There an Ending? We Discuss the Final Episode of Serial.

The final episode of the first season of Serial aired Thursday, and, as always, we got together just after listening to discuss the latest installment of the multipart investigative series from This American Life. This week, David Haglund and Katy Waldman were joined once again by Mike Pesca to talk about whether Serial was a meditation on the nature of truth, where the Innocence Project might go from here, and what kind of story would work well for Season 2.

Dec. 18 2014 1:53 PM

The Sony Hack Might Have Killed a Certain Kind of Satire

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

As they say on the Internet, quoting an Anchorman: Well, that escalated quickly. The Sony hack story, in just a few weeks, went from a bemusing diversion—at least for those of us whose personal info wasn’t spilled all over the Internet—about what Sony employees think about Adam Sandler movies to an unprecedented corporate fiasco to an Alamo-like last stand to protect Freedom of Expression, in which the Alamo got torched to the ground and American freedom is now dead (1776–2014, RIP). Yesterday Sony decided to disappear The Interview—not apologize for it, not delay it, not bury it on VOD, but actually more or less pretend that it never happened and doesn’t exist and what is this Interview of which you speak?

Naturally, the notion that anonymous hackers can force a major corporation not only to recall but essentially recant a movie is, to put it mildly, unnerving. As to the threat of actual violence in actual theaters, cybersecurity expert Peter Singer put it this way to Vice: “The ability to steal gossipy emails from a not-so-great protected computer network is not the same thing as being able to carry out physical, 9/11-style attacks in 18,000 locations simultaneously.” He also inconveniently reminds us that words like hacking invoke an outsize, irrational fear; after all, he says, “Someone killed 12 people and shot another 70 people at the opening night” of The Dark Knight Rises, and “they kept that movie in the theaters.”

Dec. 18 2014 1:25 PM

How Will Colbert Open His Final Episode?

Stephen Colbert introduced what would become perhaps his signature concept, “truthiness,” in the very first episode of The Colbert Report. The Colbert character’s pursuit of “the truth,” or his satirical version of it, was front and center in those early days of the show. Each episode opened with a joke in which the host pledged to give his fans the unadulterated truth, the Colbert way. That first ever episode, for instance, began with him declaring: “Open wide, baby bird, because mama's got a big, fat nightcrawler of Truth.”