Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog

May 21 2017 6:37 AM

In Season Finale, SNL Suggests Trump Presidency Could End Over the Summer

After the crazy week in Washington there was no shortage of material for Saturday Night Live’s final episode of the season to take one final dig at Donald Trump and his administration. But instead of taking the bait, the show took a different tack in what looked very much like a swan song for a presidency that is increasingly engulfed in scandal.

Alec Baldwin as Trump sat at the piano on the main stage and began performing Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. One by one he was joined by other cast members and their memorable impressions of administration members that helped make what many have described as a turnaround season for the show. All the big names were there: Kate McKinnon’s Kellyanne Conway, Beck Bennett’s Mike Pence, Cecily Strong’s Melania Trump, Aidy Bryant’s Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Alex Moffatt’s Eric Trump, Mikey Day’s Donald Trump Jr., and, the Grim Reaper (aka Steve Bannon) all joined in on the singing. Even Scarlett Johansson made a guest appearance as Ivanka Trump. The only one missing from the wistful party was Melissa McCarthy’s Sean Spicer.

If the bit had a familiar ring, it’s because the first episode of SNL after the presidential election also began with the Cohen song. But on that Nov. 12 episode, it was McKinnon’s Hillary Clinton who was at the piano in an uncharacteristically serious opener. (Cohen had died a week earlier.) That performance ended with McKinnon’s Clinton singing: “I’m not giving up, and neither should you. And live from New York, it’s Saturday night.”

In yesterday’s episode the end had a dramatically different ring to it. “I’m not giving up, because I didn’t do anything wrong,” Baldwin as Trump said after the song ended. “But I can’t speak for these people.”

May 19 2017 5:28 PM

A Judge Officially Decides Who Will Inherit Prince’s Estate, Reportedly Valued at $200 Million

More than a year after Prince’s death, the artist’s six siblings and presumed heirs have been officially recognized as the ones to inherit his massive estate. On Friday, Judge Kevin Eide of Carver Country formally declared Prince’s sister, Tyka Nelson, and half-siblings Sharon Nelson, Norrine Nelson, John R. Nelson, Omarr Baker, and Alfred Jackson to be Prince’s heirs, after ruling that the artist did not have a formal will at the time of his death in April 2016. According to the Associated Press, more than 45 people had come forward claiming to be potential heirs since that time; Eide ruled that the artist’s siblings will still not be able to collect until some of those claimants’ appeals are resolved. Prince’s estate is estimated to be around $200 million, before taxes.

This is not the only Prince-related legal battle Eide is deciding at the moment: Variety reports that Universal Music Group and Comerica Bank, which manages Prince’s estate, have begun the process of nullifying the deal the two parties announced in February, a $31 million agreement that was supposed to give Universal global rights to Prince’s music recorded since 1996, as well as his vaults at Paisley Park, which potentially contain hundreds if not thousands of unreleased recordings. But the deal also created possible conflicts with Warners Bros.’ related to some of Prince’s albums released 1979 to 1995 in the U.S. (not including Purple Rain or three other soundtrack albums). In a motion, Universal insisted on dissolving the deal entirely on the grounds that it resulted from “material misrepresentations" about what it would gain the rights to, a decision that Comerica Bank approved in its own motion filed on Thursday.

The motion will be presented to Eide on May 31.

May 19 2017 3:15 PM

Rick Wilson Says People Are Afraid of Trump Going “Rips--- Bonkers” on Them. What Does That Mean?

This post originally appeared on Strong Language, a sweary blog about swearing.

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Ah, the joys of live television. MSNBC unexpectedly aired a fine example of unexpurgated profanity when political strategist Rick Wilson appeared on The Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell Thursday night. O’Donnell asked Wilson about Republican members of Congress who are optimistically whispering about the possibility of Vice President Mike Pence assuming the presidency. Wilson said:

Well, a lot of those guys right now, you know, are in that category where they’re still supporting Trump publicly because they feel like they have to. They’re afraid of the mean tweet. They’re afraid of Donald Trump going crazy, you know, ripshit bonkers on them.

MSNBC couldn’t have been too happy with Wilson’s colorful characterization, but ripshit bonkers is a perfect turn of phrase to describe Trump-style enraged craziness. And I was especially pleased to hear Wilson use ripshit, since I had been introduced to this wonderful word just a few days ago. It came up in a conversation with American Heritage Dictionaries executive editor Steve Kleinedler, who was amazed I had never heard it before. So of course, in accordance with the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, I’ve quickly encountered ripshit again—on national television, no less.

After talking about ripshit with Steve, I started wondering about its origins and usage. In Green’s Dictionary of Slang, Jonathon Green glosses rip-shit as “afraid” or “angry,” though “angry” seems to be the more common meaning. Wiktionary defines it as “enraged or otherwise highly emotional,” and provides citations back to 1984, in Ken Hartnett’s novel A Saving Grace:

You know, Tommy, there really isn’t much to worry about. It’s a matter of a few days. Then the heat’s off. The only thing we have to worry about is that Connie will get so ripshit he’ll queer the deal.

GDoS has a 1985 citation from another novel, The Nurses by Richard Frede, which supports the “afraid” meaning:

I get scared. For both of you. I get fucking ripshit […] I get so scared.

It’s possible that Boston was an early locus of ripshit, since both of these novels take place there. But as far as I can tell from its scattered usage, the word isn’t currently a regionalism.

And how might ripshit have been formed, morphologically speaking? GDoS suggests it originates in the phrase rip shit out of, defined as “to assault physically.” A related phrase, rip shit up, means “to have a party, to act energetically, to make a disturbance,” as in Snoop Dogg’s guest rap in Dr. Dre’s 1993 song “Deeez Nuuuts”: “Cause Dr. Drizzay’s about to rizzip shit up.” (That’s rip shit up with Snoop’s patented -iz- infixation.)

Fellow StrongLanger Kory Stamper (who was also surprised that I’d never heard of ripshit) suggests that rip-roaring, meaning “noisily excited or exciting,” might be an influence. If you get rip-roaring drunk (or, more simply, ripped), that might lead to a ripshit condition of heightened or angry emotions.

I’d posit that rip (the) shit out of contributed more significantly to the formation of ripshit. (I acknowledge this is pure speculation, since the word wasn’t previously part of my idiolect, though it totally is now.) Rip the shit out of fits the construction “VERB the TABOO TERM out of (something),” which I’ve discussed here in the past: See my posts on “I’m going to have to science the shit out of this” and “I agreed the fuck out of it.” (There’s also scare/bore the shit out of, which, as Brendan O’Kane noted recently on Language Log, has generated the “fecal intensifiers” scared/bored shitless. I’ll return to that in another post.)

Regardless of its exact origin, ripshit has joined other “crazy” terms like apeshit and batshit. For more on apeshit, see Kory Stamper’s post, “Add -shit and stir: The intensifying affixal -shit.” (Batshit is discussed in the comments.) Kory also mentions dipshit, which is just one letter off from ripshit—though its meaning, “a stupid or incompetent person,” isn’t that close.

To return to Rick Wilson’s usage, ripshit bonkers nicely intensifies bonkers to indicate that Trump can easily get super-crazy in a heightened or enraged fashion. It’s similar to the use of batshit as an intensifier: The Oxford English Dictionary dates batshit crazy to 1993 (from Toronto Life: “His mug is emblazoned with the words: full-blown bat shit crazy”). The way things are going, I think we need as many words for intensified craziness as we can possibly get, so I’m glad to add this to my lexicon.

Update, May 19: The redoubtable word researcher Hugo van Kemenade turned up an early example of ripshit used as an intensifier (“ripshit furious”), in Beth Powning‘s short story “Benny,” published in the Summer 1976 issue of The Tamarack Review:

I couldn’t understand it, but it was like Benny alternated between humbling himself and pleading, and then getting really ripshit furious and yelling with the red under his eyes glaring.

(Powning is from Putnam, Connecticut, and moved to New Brunswick, Canada.)

And Rick Wilson responds on Twitter.

For further evidence of the Boston connection, Lindsay Gonzales notes the lyrics from the Pixies song “Is She Weird?” from their 1990 album Bossanova:

Your heart is ripshit
Your mouth is everywhere
I’m lyin’ in it

And thanks to Colleen Newvine Tebeau, I discovered that George Carlin included “the ripshit” in a list of different types of farts in a routine on his 1974 album Toledo Window Box.

May 19 2017 11:55 AM

Nicole Kidman and Elle Fanning Are Hard-Partying Aliens in First How to Talk to Girls at Parties Footage

Fear not, punk sci-fi fans: John Cameron Mitchell’s upcoming How to Talk to Girls at Parties, based on Neil Gaiman’s award-winning short story, is shaping up to be an appropriately wild, raunchy adaptation. Three teasers released via the film’s Facebook page provide short but tantalizing glimpses of Elle Fanning, Nicole Kidman, and more as hard-partying visitors in the suburbs of London, who are revealed to be less foreign than interplanetary. Among other things, the newly-released footage features that same electric, disorienting, campy energy that Mitchell brought to his directorial debut, Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

How to Talk to Girls at Parties is set to premiere at Cannes, where, you may have heard, Nicole Kidman is stealing scenes left and right. But this might be the most outrageously satisfying role of them all. Sure, she’s in new Sofia Coppola and Yorgos Lanthimos movies, but if you want to see Kidman as punked-up extraterrestrial mentor Queen Boudica, well, this is the place. Seriously, between this and Top of the Lake: China Girl, she should be getting awards consideration for hair versatility alone.

May 19 2017 11:05 AM

Harry Styles and James Corden Proclaim Their Endless Love on a Very Romantic Carpool Karaoke

A lot has changed since Harry Styles was last on Carpool Karaoke. In 2015, the British pop star spent the segment crammed into the middle seat in the back of the car, sandwiched by his One Direction bandmates. But on Thursday, Styles, fresh off his first solo album, rode shotgun in a bit of symbolism that wasn’t lost on Late Late Show host James Corden: As Styles admired his improved access to the air conditioning and radio, Corden noted, “I don’t know if you’re speaking on a different level, if you’re saying I’ve got more control over the buttons, and the buttons are something deeper.”

The entire Carpool Karaoke segment was the inevitable cap to a full week of Styles hanging out with Corden as the Late Late Show’s guest to promote his debut solo album, the self-titled Harry Styles. Naturally, as they drove, Corden and Styles gave songs like “Sign of the Times” and “Sweet Creature,” a whirl, but there were also some surprises, including Outkast’s “Hey Ya,” which Styles called his karaoke go-to.

Since Styles is set to make his acting debut in the upcoming Christopher Nolan war film Dunkirk, Corden also put him through his paces, demanding that he cry on demand as well as acting out a few scenes from Notting Hill and Titanic—a perfectly appropriate way to follow up their passionate performance of “Endless Love.”

If you’re feeling nostalgic, you can check out Styles’ 2015 appearance on Carpool Karaoke here:

May 19 2017 10:51 AM

Trevor Noah Would Like to Remind You That the Rest of the World Is a Mess, Too

For those who hoped Trevor Noah would bring an international sensibility to late night in the vein of John Oliver’s, the Trump administration’s predilection for dominating the headlines has all but ensured that the new Daily Show host stays on the unfortunate topic that is our ongoing constitutional crisis. But while the latest string of bombshell breaking-news stories remained his primary focus on Thursday night, Noah took some time to redirect his attention beyond our borders and provide a sobering, if mildly comforting, reminder: The rest of the world is a mess, too.

Yes, Brazil is in the midst of a wide-ranging bribery scandal that runs to the top of its political food chain. News broke that the king of the Netherlands was working a side-job as an airline pilot. And in events that literally hit too close to home, Turkish President Erdogan’s security detail launched a “brutal attack” on protestors outside of the Turkish Embassy in Washington, D.C. “I guess this is the world we live in now,” Noah theorized after recapping such bizarre events. “World leaders have a second job, the king of Holland is a pilot, the Queen drives for Uber possibly—and Donald Trump is a Taskrabbit for Putin.” Indeed, it wasn’t before too long that Noah was back on the Trump beat, covering the story that had broken the night before—old news, in other words, given the rate of the last few news cycles.

May 19 2017 8:32 AM

Why the Female Villains on The Handmaid’s Tale Are So Terrifying

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

Close your eyes and imagine rows of racially diverse young women clad in blood-red robes and stark white bonnets, spread out upon a lush green field. Their movements are carefully tracked by guards armed with machine guns, heads bowed in respectful devotion as they await what soon becomes clear will be an execution. This is Gilead, the totalitarian dystopia built on the ruins of what was once the United States by a far-right Christian force in the wake of terrorist attacks. In the Hulu series, an adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s seminal feminist novel, The Handmaid’s Tale presents a world with a strict caste system, where each of its members are color-coded to denote their station. Lead character Offred (an excellent Elisabeth Moss), a Handmaid brutalized into forced surrogacy for the men in power, known as Commanders, is the anchor who situates us in this strange new world. But it’s Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd)—an “Aunt” whose role it is to keep Handmaids subservient—who crystallizes one of the show’s most trenchant observations: the ways women, particularly white women, are complicit in patriarchal structures in order to hold onto what little power they’re afforded.

May 19 2017 8:02 AM

While Amazon and Netflix Are Producing Ambitious Movies for TV, HBO Is Still Stuck Making TV Movies

Steven Soderbergh did not intend for Behind the Candelabra, his Liberace biopic starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon, to wind up on HBO. The director described its bumpy journey to the network upon its premiere, explaining that his initial pitch—requesting a mere $5 million to shoot a script by Richard LaGravenese, with those marquee names already attached—was met with uniform rejection by Hollywood studios. He told the Wrap that “[everybody] said it was too gay,” and in a more in-depth interview with Mother Jones, he argued that the “economics” of the theatrical market rendered such a path impossible. Movie studios’ loss turned out to be HBO’s gain: Behind the Candelabra earned universal acclaim among TV and film critics alike, won 11 Emmy Awards, and hit a near-decade viewership record.

Given HBO’s resources, the success of Behind the Candelabra should not be the anomaly that it is. For decades, the pay-cabler’s model for TV movies has been frustratingly static: It takes rich historical material and spins it into movies that, no matter the talent of the people involved, usually come up short on ambition and middling in execution. It’s the very opposite of the cutting-edge brand HBO has cultivated for itself in series and documentaries. For every Candelabra there’s a Phil Spector and a Mary and Martha—movies that aired in the same season as Candelabra, respectively starred Al Pacino and Hilary Swank, and faded from relevance the moment their credits rolled. For every Bessie, Dee Rees’ uneven but galvanizing biopic starring Queen Latifah, there’s a Confirmation and an All the Way, both of which squandered the dramatic potential of ever-timely political crises.

HBO movies are reliably mediocre. There are no fascinating failures in the HBO Movies canon—OK, maybe Project Greenlight laugher The Leisure Class—only missed opportunities, deflating treatments of engrossing subjects. Save the rare exception, they are “TV Movies” in the purest, most derided sense of the word—dutiful, steady, boring—and that formula has remained unchanged in the 30-plus years the network has been at it. The ripped-from-the-headlines aesthetic of many, from the 2008 election pic Game Change to the financial crisis thriller Too Big to Fail, tends to result in big performances, hammy dialogue, and near-invisible direction. They move fast and are driven by social issues, and yet they don’t come alive; they plod.

May 19 2017 7:33 AM

Michael Fassbender’s Gay Kiss With Himself in Alien: Covenant: An Appreciation

This post contains spoilers for Alien: Covenant.

In Alien: Covenant, Ridley Scott pulls a sneak attack. Prometheus, his first Alien film since the 1979 original, was a comically ambitious origin story of both the franchise’s monsters and of humanity itself. To open Covenant, his new follow-up, Scott presents a dreamy conversation about existence accompanied  by an android on piano—before promptly reverting to the series’ genre DNA, which bleeds from the victims in buckets.

Yet that isn’t the sneak attack. Old fans may initially find Alien: Covenant to be a return to the series' elemental horror roots, but it isn’t long before it’s clear that Scott and his team of writers are up to … something else. Something that involves Michael Fassbender seducing Michael Fassbender with a flute lesson. Something that includes deep serpentine stares, existential cooing, and the line “I'll do the fingering.” Something that begins as WTF subtext but, to my great delight, quickly reveals itself as all-out text. By the time Fassbender plants a kiss on his own doppelganger, Alien: Covenant has taken a hard turn from uncanny valley to a twincest fever dream, or a parable of toxic self-regard, or something. What is clear is that Fassbender gets gayer than any actor I can remember in a major blockbuster, and he does it with himself.

May 18 2017 3:32 PM

The Alternate Ending of Get Out Is Much More Plausible and Way More Depressing

Part of what makes Get Out work so well as a “social thriller” is that, for all of its keen horror movie references and devices, it still feels so real. The subtle racism Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) endures when meeting his white girlfriend’s family and their friends for the first time, the experimentation performed upon the bodies of black people—these moments were ripped directly from real-life experiences and headlines from the past. (Even the twist, in which the brains of the white characters are transplanted into the bodies of black characters doesn’t seem so far off from where science is currently heading.) The one part that feels a bit less plausible—but is still both cathartic and subversive—is the ending, in which Chris’ best friend (and proud Transportation Security Administration security guard) Rod arrives at the scene just in time to scoop him up and away from all of the racist craziness Rose Armitage and her family have inflicted upon him. In real life, the flashing blue and red lights would have likely been that of the local police, and Chris—crouched over a dying white woman and with an unmistakable trail of dead bodies from the rest of her wealthy family to boot—would’ve either been a goner, or at the very least, a lifer, without question.

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