Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog

Dec. 12 2017 4:29 PM

Jada Pinkett Smith Goes Off on the Golden Globes for Failing to Nominate Tiffany Haddish

The Golden Globe nominations were announced on Monday, and among the biggest head-scratchers from the list was the absence of movies and performances like The Big Sick and Tiffany Haddish’s standout role in Girls’ Trip, and nominations for directing for Jordan Peele (Get Out) and Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird). Perhaps(?) coincidentally, those critically acclaimed crowd-pleasers all prominently involved women and/or people of color, as many have noted. After vaguely expressing her own disappointment yesterday, Jada Pinkett Smith, one of Haddish’s co-stars, revisited the subject in more depth on Twitter today.

Dec. 12 2017 4:05 PM

This Faux-Swedish Pop Song About Penises Was the Best Part of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s Midseason Finale

What did we do to deserve Donna Lynne Champlin? She’s a Broadway-caliber performer, an unbelievable singer, and, as Paula on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the ideal ride-or-die best friend. Paula has long outgrown her role on the show as Rebecca’s sidekick—last season saw her decide to have an abortion, start law school, and fix her crumbling marriage—but she’s still the most reliable person in Rebecca’s life, which this season has meant helping Rebecca through her breakdown and the first steps of her recovery. Now that it’s underway, though, the show has found more time to devote to Paula’s own arc.

Paula returned to her hometown of Buffalo on this week’s episode to take care of her father (Eddie Pepitone), a man we’ve only heard about through terrible anecdotes. (“You’re a breeder, not a leader,” was one of his mantras for his daughter when she was growing up.) Sure enough, Paula hasn’t been home more than five minutes before he starts to insult her and make racist remarks, so she escapes to the supermarket to get more supplies. There, Paula sees her high school sweetheart, and we get a fun recreation of the scene from Season 1 where Rebecca runs into her beloved Josh at the supermarket: There’s a puff of smoke as this stranger opens the freezer door, a curious employee with an afro looks on, and Paula uses Rebecca’s preferred phrase to describe the encounter, “like glitter is exploding inside me.”

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Paula’s “Josh Chan” is even named Jeff Channington, with the result that the episode, “Getting Over Jeff,” has the distinction of being the first Crazy Ex-Girlfriend episode ever without Josh’s name in the title. After all that build up, when Paula bursts into song at the sight of this long-lost crush, you’d expect something romantic, right? Well …

It’s an ABBA parody about penises! Or at least, one very special penis in particular. The “Mamma Mia” imitator, “First Penis I Saw,” is so marvelous and unexpected that it’s hard to know where to start doling out the praise. Kathryn Burns’ jaunty choreography is a gift. Props to the props department for making it look like every cereal box and bottle of laundry detergent in the entire store says “Jeff!” (And of course, for the very suggestive vegetables, complete with the sign that says “Suggestive Vegetables” overhead.) The writers, of course, deserve hearty congratulations, too—it’s almost as though they were sitting around the table trying to see who could come up with the most surprising penis rhyme: seen his, mean is, cleanest, greenest, keenness, ingenious.

And Donna Lynne Champlin. Oh, Donna Lynne Champlin. “First Penis I Saw” is one of the best songs of the season, but it’s also one of the best the actress has ever delivered on the show, right up there with “After Everything I’ve Done for You (That You Didn’t Ask For)” and “Maybe This Dream.” Every single one of her facial expressions is just waiting to be gif-ed.

After the giddy highs of hearing someone say penis so many times in a row on network television, the episode’s other song, “My Friend’s Dad,” is a comedown. While Paula is off having her own adventures, Rebecca, who has tagged along on this excursion, gets to know Paula’s father better and finds she’s unbothered by his drunkenness, bigotry, or general grossness, because, hey, he’s not her dad. This leads to a Shirley Temple-style tap number:

This song is a bit of a bummer! It doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know about Rebecca or Bob, and I don’t think the relationship being described here, “girl and girl’s friend’s elderly, racist father,” is universal enough to warrant a musical number otherwise. I guess we’re supposed to be shocked by the combination of the wholesome genre and grossness of the subject matter, but Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has already done that this season much more successfully, with “Maybe She’s Not Such a Heinous Bitch After All.” All in all, not a strong note to go out on for the midseason finale.

Oh, well. At least we’ll always have the penis song.

Best Song of the Week: “First Penis I Saw” blows “My Friend’s Dad” out of the water.

See also:

Dec. 12 2017 12:44 PM

This Mashup of Monsters University and Call Me By Your Name May Forever Change How You Watch Both Movies

The critically acclaimed Call Me By Your Name is hardly the first movie to explore the relationship between two men who understand the value of higher education. Mikey Heller, the writer behind We Bare Bears, has combined clips from another such movie, Disney-Pixar’s Monsters University, with the audio from Call Me By Your Name’s trailer to produce a mashup that is at once ridiculous and oddly compelling.

Heller has managed to pick out the perfect Monsters University moments, whether it’s the flash of a statue, a glimpse of some unconventional dance moves, or a shot of Sully raising an eyebrow, to mirror Oliver and Elio’s own growing bond. Heller also includes some of the real-life raves for Call Me by Your Name to really sell the trailer’s authenticity, but it’s the one that he added, supposedly from Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson, that says it best: “These clips are from Monsters University.”

Dec. 12 2017 11:13 AM

New York City’s Late-Night Hosts Were Not Impressed by the Subway Bomber

On Monday, a 27-year-old man tried to blow up a pipe bomb at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, but really he only succeeded in inconveniencing a lot of people, since he was the only one to sustain serious injuries. Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah, both of whom tape their shows in New York, were not impressed with this attempt to bring chaos down on the city’s transit system, which is already pretty chaotic.

“Nice try,” said Colbert on The Late Show on Monday night, addressing the bomber directly:

New York commuters don’t even flinch when the subway break dancers kick two inches away from their face. They have to battle rats for the seat—which, for the record, you should only give up if the rat is pregnant. Come on. Come on. You tried to sow chaos and confusion in the Port Authority bus station? That is the normal state of affairs at the Port Authority bus station. There’s a pretty good chance your little explosion may have scoured some of the grime off the wall—thanks.
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Colbert also got in a joke about New Yorkers’ priorities. “Now you’re going to jail for a long, long, long time, and all New Yorkers want to know is—does that mean your apartment is free? And is it rent-controlled?”

Trevor Noah also got in on the fun, telling the bomber, “you might be the best terrorist in your little-ass town, but this is New York City, beyotch.” The screw-up was so embarrassing, he suggested, that ISIS would do better to claim credit for a masturbator on the F train.

Dec. 12 2017 8:33 AM

A Fact-checked Guide to I, Tonya

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

The upcoming biopic I, Tonya is a darkly comedic rendering of the life of figure skater Tonya Harding—from her early days at the ice rink in Portland, Oregon’s Lloyd Center mall to the Nancy Kerrigan incident and her subsequent flameout at the Lillehammer Olympic Games in 1994. Breaking form with typical Hollywood biographies, I, Tonya is packaged as a kind of documentary, with contradictory confessional interviews by Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) and Harding (Margot Robbie) driving the story forward. The format gives the movie a true-to-life feel while trafficking in events that feel too absurd to be real. So what in I, Tonya, is accurate, and what can be chalked up to artistic license? For your convenience, Vulture has assembled a fact-checked guide to most significant moments in I, Tonya, a movie that manages to be as sensational as it is faithful to historical events.

Was Harding really forced to pee on the ice because her mom refused to give her bathroom breaks?
According to a woman who took lessons at the same rink as Harding during that time, Tonya’s mother, LaVona Golden, did shout at her daughter, “I paid for you to practice, so you’re going to stay on the ice and practice.” In a Chicago Tribune article from 1994, this policy did mean that Harding was sometimes was forced to urinate on the ice, according to people who knew her then.

Dec. 12 2017 7:33 AM

What the “Plums” Meme Has to Say About How Poetry Can Work on the Internet

Last week saw a surge of tweets that mash up William Carlos Williams’ 1934 poem “This Is Just to Say” with ’90s (and a few early ’00s) pop songs. Here is Williams’ poem: “I have eaten/ the plums/ that were in/ the icebox/ and which/ you were probably/ saving/ for breakfast/ Forgive me/ they were delicious/ so sweet/ and so cold.”

And here is what Twitter has done to it.

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Unbelievably, this is not the first time Twitter has had its way with Williams’ poem. But why cold plums again? And why now? Character restrictions have something to do with it. At 149 characters, including spaces and line breaks, Williams’ poem in its entirety didn’t fit within the old character limit. 140 characters gave us another, even shorter modernist meme: Hemingway’s baby shoes. The new 280-character limit makes room for Williams’ poem with space left over for Lou Bega.

While Twitter poetry has been a thing for several years, short poems in English have a long history. Given Twitter’s robust literary communities, it’s surprising that we don’t see more short poems going viral. Perhaps cold plums is just another weird Twitter non sequitur, the chance meeting of workday boredom and a desire to put that English degree to use. Whatever the reason for its existence, I want to claim that the memeing of “This Is Just to Say” presents us with an opportunity to think about poetry on the internet, one that doesn’t simply think of character limits as an Oulipo-like constraint.

Modernist poetry often gets identified with long, intimidating works like T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” Ezra Pound’s Cantos, and Williams’ own Paterson, which took him at least 12 years to complete. But there is a parallel tradition of very short poems by modernists, some of them written by the same poets. Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro” (1913) is the ur-example of short modernist verse. Here it is in its entirety:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Pound’s short poems were inspired by the austere, concise imagery he claimed to find in ancient Chinese and Japanese poetry. Though his equally concise imperative for modern literature—“Make it new”—stressed innovation, he seemed to think of newness as a novel approach to whatever was historically available, from Eastern poetic traditions to medieval Provençal troubadour verse to classical Greece and Rome.

While, as the scholar Zhaoming Qian has shown, Williams’ work was also influenced by readings of Chinese literature, he stressed his poetry’s American origins. Paterson is his homage to the town where he lived and worked as well as the source of one of his most famous adages: “No ideas but in things.” His day job as a family doctor afforded him the opportunity to absorb the texture of local life, and he recorded it in the short fiction collected in The Doctor Stories. “This Is Just to Say” emerges from an even more specific locale, Williams’ house, as it appears that it may have been a note to his wife Florence. It’s also possible that Florence wrote a reply and that Williams appropriated that response as a poem in its own right. “The only universal,” he wrote, “is the local, as savages, artists and — to a lesser extent — peasants know,” and what’s more universal and local than rooting around in the fridge and eating something your partner was saving for later?  

The poem’s brevity isn’t the only thing that makes it memeable. In some sense, Twitter is the perfect environment for Williams’ poem. Twitter is a kind of place, a “Twitterverse,” with different provinces and states, “academic Twitter,” “media Twitter,” “national security Twitter,” and so on. While anyone can visit these places, it takes a while to pick up the dialect and speak without an accent. When you’re a digital native, it can seem like everything is local. In affectionately vandalizing Williams’ poem, cold plums tweets translate it into the local dialect. They normalize it.

This is all in keeping with another modernist tradition. In his essay “The Metaphysical Poets,” Eliot wrote that the poet’s mind “is constantly amalgamating disparate experiences.” Ordinary men experience the world as “chaotic, irregular, and fragmentary,” with no way to unify the reading of philosophy and falling in love, “the noise of the typewriter or the smell of cooking,” into a single, coherent experience. “In the mind of the poet,” on the other hand, “these experiences are always forming new wholes.” Williams was often quite critical of Eliot, so we can imagine that he might take some satisfaction in seeing Eliot’s elitism shown up by ordinary people forming new wholes out of whatever raw material—pop, poetry, evil puppets—comes their way.

Probably not, though. It seems unlikely that he would have approved of his spare, unadorned lines being embellished with the likes of Smash Mouth. For all of its ordinariness, “This Is Just to Say” is a poem, locked into its form in a particular way for a particular purpose. The poem concentrates our attention on ordinary language until it no longer sounds ordinary. Its line breaks turn a routine act of husbandly insensitivity into a drama of desire and transgression. Like dog owners who transform typical canine mischief into a parody of ritual humiliation, the cold plums meme amplifies this banality until it’s bizarre. Pop music does much the same thing, amplifying and appealing to supposedly universal experiences, like falling in love and mamboing.

Poets and English teachers sometimes lament that poetry isn’t popular. What they seem to mean is that not a lot of people buy books of poetry or read poems at all outside of the classroom. But the cold plums meme suggests that “poetry in the age of Twitter” may not mean 280 character poems. In an essay on poetry and pop music, Michael Robbins writes that, “A pop song is a popular song, one that some ideal ‘everybody’ knows or could know. Its form lends itself to communal participation.” In that sense, the cold plums meme is poetry going pop. Not in the sense that you’ll hear it on the radio. You’ll hear it in the street, but only if you live on the internet, and only if you sing along.

Dec. 12 2017 5:05 AM

Jimmy Kimmel Once Again Points Out That Obviously Evil Things Are Evil

Jimmy Kimmel returned to his show after a week’s absence on Monday night, and he brought his adorable son Billy with him. His son’s heart condition was the impetus for Kimmel’s abrupt plunge into the national conversation about health care this spring, and his follow-up segmentsdetailing exactly what was so vile about Republican plans for health care did a lot to help kill the disastrous Graham-Cassidy bill. Kimmel was gone last week because Billy was having heart surgery again—he’s fine, as his appearance on the show makes clear—but once more, his son’s fragile health has gotten the late night host concerned about the health of children who aren’t fortunate enough to have a television star for a father.

Kimmel’s empathy and compassion are, of course, completely alien to the modern Republican party, which has failed to fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in favor of working on their big, dumb tax cut. So the host walks his audience through exactly what congress is doing (letting kids, including kids with life-threatening conditions, lose access to health care) and why they’re doing it (to make rich people richer.) It’s a moving segment, not least because his love of his son is visible in every frame. Then he moved on to Roy Moore:

Dec. 12 2017 3:52 AM

The 2017 Black List Gives a Glimpse of Hollywood Yet-to-Come

The 2017 Black List was released Monday, and once again, Franklin Leonard’s annual poll of studio executives offers a handy snapshot of the kinds of scripts that are currently driving conversations in Hollywood, as well as a potential preview of films to come. Executives were asked to contribute “up to ten favorite scripts that were written in, or are somehow uniquely associated with, 2017, and [that] will not have begun principal photography during this calendar year,” and more than 275 executives participated. Seventy-six scripts were mentioned by six or more participants, the minimum level of buzz needed to make the list. So what does this year’s list tell us about Hollywood in 2017?

For starters, it’s a lot different than 2016! Last year’s Black List was filled with biopics and true Hollywood stories, both common themes of Black Lists past, including two scripts about George Harrison and two about Steven King. For some reason, stories about famous male artists are a little less popular this year, and the thought of a Donald Trump biopic making the list, as Tom Cartier’s The Builder did in 2016, seems completely unthinkable. So what’s taken their place? Nazis and female assassins, naturally. There are no fewer than nine screenplays about Nazis of various sorts, and either four or five about female assassins, depending on your definition of assassins. (One script, Darby Keeley’s Liberation, hit the exacta: it’s about Nancy Wake, a woman who killed Nazis.) There are also three scripts about abortion rights, including two movies about Chicago’s Jane Collective. It’s not entirely clear why Hollywood is suddenly fascinated by stories about women killing people, ideally Nazis, while securing their reproductive rights—no, wait, on second thought, it’s pretty obvious why that’s happening. It was also a big year for female screenwriters: this year’s list has 25 scripts written by at least one woman, the most in the Black List’s 13-year history. Finally, for reasons that do not seem to be related to the Mess We’re In, there were a bunch of screenplays about unlikely friendships and forced partnerships, although sadly, none of them involved a cop with an orangutan for a partner. Here are some of the list’s highlights, sorted by genre, along with their descriptions, taken verbatim from the Black List. As always, please remember that even great movies sound terrible when reduced to a logline.

Dec. 11 2017 12:44 PM

The New Yorker’s “Cat Person” Story Is Great. Too Bad the Internet Turned It Into a Piping-Hot Thinkpiece.

The last time I can remember a short story in the New Yorker being as enthusiastically talked-about as Kristen Roupenian’s “Cat Person” was when Annie Proulx’s “Brokeback Mountain” was published by the magazine in 1997. That autumn it seemed that every literary gathering had to reserve at least 15 minutes to rhapsodizing over the story. At present, “Cat Person” has been dominating my feeds to a degree that a New Yorker story never has before, and of course because this is the age of social media, countless people have also found countless sententious reasons to dislike it.

Both “Brokeback Mountain” and “Cat Person” are about coupling, but unlike Proulx’s story, Roupenian’s is utterly unromantic. Proulx wrote about how two people who love and desire each other deeply can end up separated, while Roupenian—a relative unknown—describes how two people who don’t know or seemingly even really like each other can end up in bed. It describes a truly miserable sexual encounter from the point of view of a young woman, Margot, who realizes late in the game that she would rather not be participating at all. After she finally summons the nerve to reject Robert—or rather, when a friend does it for her via text—the story ends on a poisonously bitter note.

Dec. 11 2017 11:45 AM

Celebrity Chef and Host of The Chew Mario Batali Has Been Accused of Groping by Four Women

Politics, film, journalism, comedy, the arts, and now, food. No high-profile industry is immune from the scourge of powerful sexual harassers, it seems.

Today’s alleged perp: Mario Batali, celebrated TV chef and head of restaurant empire Batali & Bastianich, whom at least four women have accused of sexual misconduct spanning decades. On Monday, Eater revealed the stories of four women, three of whom worked for Batali, who say the restaurant titan touched them inappropriately and without their consent.

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The women’s stories are depressingly similar, and all revolve around some form of groping. One former employee says the chef would often grab her from behind, holding her tightly against his body, while another says he once made her straddle him. Batali did not confine his harassment to the workplace: Another former colleague, who had ceased working for Batali at the time, says he groped her breasts at a party, while the woman who has never worked for Batali was also groped by the “creepy” restauranteur she had just met after her wine spilled on her chest.

If there’s one thing that can be said for Batali, it’s that he may have offered the least despicable apology yet, following a range of high-profile apologies that have ranged from dismissive to deranged. In a statement to Eater, Batali said that the allegations matched up with his behavior and apologized for the hurt he had caused. (Note: had caused, not might have caused, Dustin Hoffman.)

I apologize to the people I have mistreated and hurt. Although the identities of most of the individuals mentioned in these stories have not been revealed to me, much of the behavior described does, in fact, match up with ways I have acted. That behavior was wrong and there are no excuses. I take full responsibility and am deeply sorry for any pain, humiliation or discomfort I have caused to my peers, employees, customers, friends and family.
I have work to do to try to regain the trust of those I have hurt and disappointed. For this reason, I am going to step away from day-to-day operations of my businesses. We built these restaurants so that our guests could have fun and indulge, but I took that too far in my own behavior. I won’t make that mistake again. I want any place I am associated with to feel comfortable and safe for the people who work or dine there.
I know my actions have disappointed many people. The successes I have enjoyed are owned by everyone on my team. The failures are mine alone. To the people who have been at my side during this time — my family, my partners, my employees, my friends, my fans — I am grateful for your support and hopeful that I can regain your respect and trust. I will spend the next period of time trying to do that.

Batali will be stepping away from the day-to-day operations of his businesses, as well as his role as co-host of ABC’s The Chew, for an unspecified period of time. Eater is also reporting that the Food Network is canceling the release of six new episodes of Molto Mario, the show that made Batali famous in the late ’90s. “Food Network takes matters like this very seriously and we are putting relaunch plans for Molto Mario on hold,” said a representative from the network.

Update, Dec. 11, 2017, at 12:30 p.m.: The article has been updated to reflect the Food Network’s decision regarding Molto Mario.

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