Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog

Sept. 20 2017 6:55 AM

Clinton and Colbert Consume Chardonnay, Chat Collusion

Hillary Clinton came by Stephen Colbert’s show on Tuesday night to talk about her book What Happened, and did her best to explain what, exactly, happened. It doesn’t sound like she had a great time writing the book: Although the thought of getting paid to remember a world where Trump wasn’tpresident sounds like a pretty good deal, the math is a little different when people are blaming you because Trump is president, as she explained to Colbert:

It wasn’t easy. It was painful. It was horrible, reliving it. And, you know, being as candid, open as I could be about the mistakes I made, and talking about those. But also trying to come to grips, as I write in the book, about everything from sexism and misogyny to voter suppression to the unusual behavior of the former Director of the FBI, and the Russians. And the Russians.

Russia dominated the rest of the interview, in which Clinton described herself as a “Paula Revere” figure, trying to warn the country about Putin’s electoral meddling. Colbert also asked about Putin’s reported personal animus toward Clinton, which she attributed mostly to her work as Secretary of State, but also allowed that sexism might be involved. Fans of Clinton’s painfully awkward to adopt cool lingo—“Pokémon go to the polls” is the canonical example—will get a kick out of her first example of Putin’s sexism:

Well, he demonstrated, as I write in the book, you know, there’s an expression—we certainly know it in New York—called “manspreading?”

After a commercial break, Clinton talked more about the Russian investigation and ruled out any question of contesting the election results, because there’s no constitutional mechanism to do so:

Sept. 20 2017 3:48 AM

Jimmy Kimmel: Senator Bill Cassidy “Lied Right to My Face”

The continuing radicalization of Jimmy Kimmel proceeded apace on Tuesday night, as the former Man Show host used his Jimmy Kimmel Live! monologue to call Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy a liar. Kimmel’s realization that Republicans might not be entirely sincere when they say they want to improve American health care is the conclusion of a story arc that began with the birth of his son William Kimmel in April. William was born with a congenital heart defect, and after a close encounter with the exorbitant costs of his treatment, Kimmel gave a moving speech about the experience, boiling the health care debate down to a simple moral statement:

If your baby is going to die, and it doesn’t have to, it shouldn’t matter how much money you make.

None of the Republican health care proposals have done anything to alleviate this problem, because they were never designed to. But Kimmel, at least that first night, seemed to be working from the assumption that Republicans were operating in good faith, blaming “partisan squabbles” instead of an organized campaign on the part of the Republican party to keep health care a for-profit business that goes back decades. Slate’s Isaac Chotiner called Kimmel’s approach misguided at the time, but today it’s looking more like he was playing a long game.

Kimmel’s paean to bipartisanship—and the way his monologue went viral—made Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy feel comfortable enough that he started throwing Kimmel’s name around, saying he would only support legislation that passed the “Jimmy Kimmel test.” Seemingly confident that Kimmel was an ally, Cassidy then agreed to go on Jimmy Kimmel Live! to talk about it. Kimmel treated him to a hostile, skeptical interview, ending by telling Cassidy he hoped the senator would keep his word about improving the health care system.

But Senator Cassidy never had any intention of improving anything, as the nightmarish Graham-Cassidy bill makes very, very clear. So Tuesday night, Kimmel dropped the hammer, telling his audience that Senator Cassidy “just lied right to my face,” running down a meticulously constructed list of specific ways the bill fails, plastering the phone number for the Capitol switchboard on-screen (202-224-3121) and encouraging his audience to call their representatives. Yes: in 2017, Jimmy Kimmel is doing monologues about health care policy, wrapped around an accusation that a Republican senator is a liar, and urging his audience to take political action. He’s just as surprised about that as you are:

I never imagined I would get involved in something like this, this is not my area of expertise. My area of expertise is eating pizza, and that’s really about it. But we can’t let them do this to our children, our senior citizens, and our veterans, or to any of us.

Whether or not it’s his area of expertise, Kimmel’s concise explanation of the way Republicans are leveraging boredom to accomplish evil things is flawless:

Health care is complicated. It’s boring. I don’t want to talk about it. The details are confusing. And that’s what these guys are relying on. They’re counting on you to be so overwhelmed with all the information, you just trust them to take care of you. But they’re not taking care of you, they’re taking care of the people who give them money, like insurance companies. And we’re all just looking at our Instagram accounts and liking things while they’re voting on whether people can afford to keep their children alive or not. Most of the congresspeople who vote on this bill probably won’t even read it. And they want us to do the same thing. They want us to treat it like an iTunes service agreement. And this guy, Bill Cassidy, just lied right to my face.

It would be nice to live in a world where comedians could get back to making fun of Matt Damon, but if they have to spend their time pleading for our government not to take health care away from its own citizens—and for now, at least, it seems they do—it’s good to know Jimmy Kimmel is willing to call a lie a lie. Here are Kimmel’s complete comments:

Sept. 19 2017 6:06 PM

SNL Writer Nick Kocher’s Emmys Tuxedo Story Is a Dramatic Tale of Mistaken Identity and Rivalry

Saturday Night Live writer and Jon Snow lookalike Nick Kocher had a small garment bag mixup ahead of this year’s Emmy Awards, as he explained on Instagram in “a story in 10 acts.” Kocher probably just meant that he was posting 10 separate photos to tell the story, but upon closer examination, the tale actually holds up pretty well when examined using Freytag’s pyramid. Here it is in classical five-act form.

Exposition:

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Nick Kocher, a writer for the popular variety television series Saturday Night Live, travels to Los Angeles for the Emmy Awards. He brings a garment bag containing his tuxedo.

Rising Action:

Kocher discovers he took the wrong garment bag from the airport. He calls the airline and uses social media to search for the correct owner of the tuxedo. A friend offers to lend him a suit, but it is too large for him.

Climax:

Kocher is contacted by the correct owner of the tuxedo, a turning point for our protagonist.

screen_shot_20170919_at_5.34.58_pm

Nick Kocher via Instagram

Falling Action:

Kocher and his garment bag doppelganger meet and exchange tuxedos. In a moment of final suspense, the correct owner of the tuxedo turns out to be Matt Lappin, who works as a supervising producer on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, making him Kocher’s rival.

Dénouement:

Kocher wears the correct tuxedo to the Emmy Awards and poses amicably with Lappin. Both programs lose Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series to Last Week Tonight With John Oliver.

We did it!

A post shared by Nick Kocher (@nickkocher) on

And curtain.

Sept. 19 2017 5:13 PM

The Honest Trailer for Wonder Woman Says She’s the Hero DC Needs, Even If It Doesn’t Deserve Her

As the argument as to whether Wonder Woman is a feminist film wages bafflingly on, the movie’s Honest Trailer is here to remind us of the importance and rarity of what it depicts.

After all, studios never thought a groundbreaking, record-breaking female-led superhero movie was possible. Until, that is, Patty Jenkin came along and asked one simple question: “What if a female-led superhero movie wasn’t absolute garbage from beginning to end?” If only someone had thought of this sooner!

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A movie must be pretty darn flawless to gain the near-universal respect of critics and audiences alike, just as a woman has to be faultless to gain the respect of some men—something the trailer is upfront about. If, like Diana, you’re strong, speak hundreds of languages, and are a literal god, perhaps then “men might begrudgingly half-tolerate your presence.”

Of course, Wonder Woman isn’t totally perfect. She does have her kryptonite, the trailer concedes, as every superhero does—hers is “not knowing jack about anything.” The video lines up the deluge of questions Diana asks throughout the film, showing her isolation-caused ignorance on the subjects of war, marriage, secretaries, watches, sleep, and holding hands.

Nor is the film perfect. To show a fearless and powerful women saving the men around her is groundbreaking, “but not so groundbreaking that they didn’t put one of the bankable Hollywood Chrises in it.” (That would be Chris Pine.) But, the voiceover realizes midway through, he’s actually playing the damsel in distress: “Hey, they gave him the role women always have to play against the male superheroes, didn’t they? I see what you did there!”

The trailer also picks out some of the film’s non-Chris-related problems: Its cultural stereotypes, its historical inaccuracy, and, last but not least, its cartoonish villains. While Gadot and Pine are complex characters, the bad guys seem to be “villains pulled from a different, much campier movie.”

“Does it end with a lightning-hands mustache-man yelling video game level dialogue?” Yes, yes it does.

There’s also space for a few jabs at the DC Extended Universe, which has pulled off a major success by not doing any of the things it is usually known for. Wonder Woman is “the hero the DCEU doesn’t deserve—but sure as hell needs right now!”

Sept. 19 2017 3:19 PM

Darren Aronofsky Needs to Stop Explaining What Mother! Is About

Love Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! or hate it, and you will have plenty of company either way, it’s a movie worth thinking and talking about. At The Film Stage, Brian Roan rails against the attempts to decode its meaning as a pernicious outgrowth of “explainer culture,” in which art is approached as a puzzle to be solved rather than a mystery to be pondered, but one of the things that’s exhilarating about the movie is the multitude of plausible but apparently incompatible interpretations it’s spawned. Is it an ecological allegory, with Javier Bardem as an absent-minded god and Jennifer Lawrence as a frazzled Mother Earth? A horror movie about egocentric male artists and the women who thanklessly support them? Or are Bardem and Lawrence playing two halves of the creative psyche, he the public-facing glory hound, she the tender of fragile ideas? Maybe it’s about gaslighting, or the trauma of unwanted houseguests, or what a shitty partner Aronofsky was to Rachel Weisz. Or the Bible? (Definitely the Bible.)

Mother! is evocative enough to sustain all these explanations and more. But there is one person who needs to stop explaining what Mother! is about, and that person is its writer-director, Darren Aronofsky.

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In the buildup to Mother!’s release, Aronofsky kept mum about the movie’s subject, and Paramount’s marketing followed suit. (The “F” grade the film received from the audience-rating service CinemaScore is a good gauge of how little theatrical audiences knew what they were in for.) But since its premiere, he has scarcely been able to keep his mouth shut. Aronofsky has been vague about minor details like why the title’s “M” is lowercase or what the yellow tincture is that Lawrence keeps pouring into her water glass, but he’s talked at length, if not always consistently, about the film as a parable of climate change and impending environmental catastrophe—an issue that frequently engages Aronofsky in his time between films. As the New York Times summarizes it:

“Mother!” is about Mother Earth (Ms. Lawrence) and God (Mr. Bardem), whose poetic hit has the weight of the Old Testament: hence all the visitors clamoring for a piece of Him, as his character is called. The house represents our planet. (Walking the wooden floorboards in bare feet is what finally got the part to click, Ms. Lawrence said.) The movie is about climate change, and humanity’s role in environmental destruction.

Mother’s plot draws heavily on the Bible: Ed Harris’ character, identified in the credits as Man, shows up alone, then manifests a wound where his rib might once have been; he’s followed by Michelle Pfeiffer’s Woman, and then by their two sons, one of whom kills the other. But there’s no Biblical analogue for Lawrence’s character, and Aronofsky, who is not religiously observant, has played down the Biblical parallel as more of a structural gimmick than an end in itself. That goes too for what seem to be its unavoidably autobiographical elements, which Bardem’s poet neglects his wife while catering to the adulation of his fans, whom he can’t bear to turn away even as his long-suffering wife begs for a little piece and quiet. “The fame stuff is purely a side effect,” he told IndieWire’s Anne Thompson. “When I was writing I wasn’t seeking comment about that, it was about the allegorical sense of worship.”

Humans being fallible creatures, artists’ explanations of the work they intended to make are often more intriguing than the work itself. But one hallmark of great art is that it’s about more than its creators intended, or at least that it allows people other than the artist(s) to find their own meaning in it. To his credit, Aronofsky isn’t shutting down alternate interpretations of his movie, but he also can’t resist providing his own: He’s like a magician so pleased with his own trick he can’t wait to show you how it’s done.

Besides indulging the intentional fallacy, Aronofsky’s willingness to provide a decoder ring for his own movie robs its of its richness, and tying it to a single overriding theme exposes, or even creates, flaws in its overall schema. If Bardem is God and Lawrence is Gaia, then what are we to make of God’s vanity, his lust for adulation and his willingness to ignore his greatest creation’s cries for help? (What are the Judeo-Christian God and a pagan personification even doing in the same story?) Doesn’t it undermine the movie’s environmental message to suggest that our present earth is only the latest in an apparently infinite cycle of creation and destruction? Even more than the holes in its plot, the narrow parsing of Mother! as an ecological fable doesn’t account for its off-the-wall style, its free mixture of horrific and comic tones, or the bravura complexity of Lawrence’s performance. (According to Aronofsky, fully 66 of its 115 minutes are a close-up of her face.) Aronofsky’s description of Mother! is a lot duller than the movie he actually made.

Aronofsky’s explanations don’t detract from Mother! the way, say, Richard Kelly’s did from Donnie Darko, when it became clear that some of the movie’s most prized qualities were there by accident, and his attempts to improve it with a director’s cut only made it worse. But it’s a lesser movie when it’s tied to a single reading, or even a principal one. In some ways, it’s a movie about the process of making meaning itself, of trying to form a coherent thought amid the nonstop din of life and the omnipresent howl of death. Darren Aronofsky had his say when he made Mother! Now it’s our turn.

Correction, July 19: This article originally referred to Darren Aronofsky as Rachel Weisz’s ex-husband. The two never married.

Sept. 19 2017 2:09 PM

Taylor Swift Is Being Sued for Plagiarizing the Lyrics to “Shake It Off”

Is it possible to lay musical claim to the concept of resigning oneself to the fact that haters are going to hate and players are going to play?

Songwriters seem to think so. Taylor Swift is again being sued for plagiarizing the lyrics to “Shake It Off,” her 2014 hit about haters and players. TMZ is reporting that Sean Hall and Nathan Butler, the songwriters behind 3LW’s “Playas Gon’ Play,” are seeking 20 percent of the royalties from Swift’s song.

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They claim Swift’s catchy chorus, “’Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play/ And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate” are sufficiently similar to their 2001 lyrics, “Playas, they gonna play/ And haters, they gonna hate.”

The lyrics diverge from here, however, with Swift more concerned with fakers and heartbreakers, who are going to fake and break, while 3LW are resigned to the fact that ballers and shot callers will continue to ball and call, respectively.

Swift was previously sued by an artist named Jesse Braham, who contended that Swift must have been inspired by his straight-to-Youtube song, “Haters Gone Hate.” A hilarious judge did not see fit to award Braham his $42 million.

In a statement to TMZ, a representative for Swift said that "This is a ridiculous claim and nothing more than a money grab.”

Compare the pair for yourself:

Sept. 19 2017 12:57 PM

Trevor Noah Says Steve Mnuchin Has the Most Important Quality for a Trump Official: Knowing Nothing About Politics

Who is Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin anyway? Other than the man who oversees the treasury of the largest economy in the world, that is.

In Monday night’s Profiles in Tremendousness, Trevor Noah profiles “mildly satisfied LensCrafters customer” Steve Mnuchin. Noah begins by looking at the utterly bonkers story of how the former Goldman Sachs partner and movie producer became Trump’s campaign finance chairman and, ultimately, Treasury Secretary of the United States of America: He was invited over for a party and a lonely Trump got clingy. It’s no surprise that they hit it off. As Noah points out, this is “a man who got into politics the same way Trump did—by knowing nothing about politics.”

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You might remember multimillionaire Mnuchin as the man who tried to get you to pay for his honeymoon, at a cost to the American taxpayer of several hundred thousand dollars. But Noah seems more interested in the fact that Mike Pence, husband to Mother, performed his wedding. “By the power vested in me, I now pronounce you husband and mother,” Noah quipped, imagining the ceremony.

But no profile (in tremendousness) of Steve Mnuchin would be complete without acknowledgement of his equally out-of-touch new wife, Louise Linton. You would think the jokes about her vapid and rude Instagram behavior last month had been done to death, but you would be wrong. The Daily Show’s resident mean girl translator Michelle Wolf does an exceptional job channeling Linton’s infamous comments: “Have you given more to the economy than me and my husband? Uh uh!”

All this adds up a deeply concerning picture of a Treasury Secretary who is opportunistic, out of touch, and completely devoid of principles. Any lingering doubts that former Democratic donor Mnuchin might have some concern for everyday Americans? Noah has one word for you: LOL.

Sept. 19 2017 12:09 PM

James Corden Addresses That Sean Spicer Kiss in Late Late Show Monologue

Not everyone was amused by former press secretary Sean Spicer’s appearance at the Emmy Awards or the warm reception he received at the afterparty, with critics complaining that embracing Spicer was hypocritical coming from an industry that, on the whole, has been vocal about condemning the Trump administration. In the case of James Corden, “embracing Spicer” meant quite literally embracing him, and a photo of the Late Late Show host kissing Spicer on the cheek quickly went viral, turning him into a symbol of the controversy.

Corden addressed the kiss in his Late Late Show monologue on Monday night, jokingly pretending he hadn’t really been involved in the incident in the first place, Spicer-style. (CBS has not posted the monologue on YouTube, but you can watch it on their website.) “I think people are forgetting that this man lied to the American people and should not be embraced,” Corden said of the fomer White House Press Secretary, and when the now-infamous photo then flashed onscreen, he added, “I know you think that is a picture of me kissing Sean Spicer, but in the spirit of Sean Spicer: No, it isn’t.”

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The jokes kept coming. “Anyone ever have that feeling when you get a little drunk and you wake up the next morning and you think, ‘Oh God, who did I kiss last night?’ It’s a bit like that,” said Corden. “To be fair, everyone was kissing ass last night at the Emmys. I just happened to kiss the biggest one there.”

Corden did finally get around to acknowledging that by cozying up to Spicer, he had disappointed a lot of people. “In truth, I’m disappointed by [the photo] as well,” he told the audience. “I have been reading a lot of harsh comments on Twitter today, and I hear you loud and clear. Truly, I do.” But he then undermined his message by continuing to joke about it, saying that he now regrets taping a segment of Carpool Karaoke with Steve Bannon and showing photos of himself kissing other, non-Spicer celebrities—as if it was the kiss, rather than the principle, that was the issue. “Basically what I’m saying is, I need to learn how to shake hands,” he concluded.

The incident between Corden and Spicer is comparable to when Jimmy Fallon mussed Donald Trump's hair on The Tonight Show at a time when Trump was running a campaign steeped in bigotry and dishonesty—and Corden’s backpedaling is similar to the way Stephen Colbert invited Spicer onto the Emmys stage for a good-natured ribbing, then zinged him with a Wizard of Lies joke in the next segment. It's worth noting that Corden defended Fallon over that moment, calling the outrage “really unfair.” His decision to address his own “hair-mussing” incident on the air suggests that Corden recognizes that getting chummy with Spicer, a man who repeatedly lied for and defended the Trump administration, was a mistake—or at the very least, that being seen on camera doing so was bad publicity. But while his monologue was funny, it was not an apology, and it will probably do little to stem the backlash.

Sept. 19 2017 7:57 AM

Let’s Talk About That Scene in Mother!

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

This article contains spoilers for Mother!

No one said watching Mother! was going to be easy. Indeed, writer-director Darren Aronofsky recently told Vulture that he wanted audiences to be “prepped that it’s a very intense ride,” that it’s “a cruise missile shooting into a wall,” and even that “most people, after they see the film, they don’t even wanna look at me.” That said, for the first two-thirds of the picture, it’s hard to see why he might have made such claims, as the viewer is mostly just watching a domestic drama about a strained couple (Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem) and some rude visitors (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer). But as the third act commences, events spin out of control, gunshots ring out, people are killed, Lawrence gets verbally and physically abused, and extreme discomfort sets in for a viewer.

Sept. 19 2017 5:55 AM

How Well Do You Know the Voices of Kermit?

Beloved Muppet mainstay Kermit the Frog has outlasted a number of performers. When Muppets creator and voice of Kermit Jim Henson died unexpectedly in 1990, his family selected fellow muppeteer Steve Whitmire to take over the role. In July, Muppets fan site Tough Pigs revealed that Steve Whitmire would be replaced by Matt Vogel, following an ugly dispute with Disney executives.

While each of these actor changes has been newsworthy events (the first tragic, the second scandalous), each subsequent performer has tried to stay true to Henson’s original performance, making the Kermits difficult to distinguish.

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Can you tell the difference?

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