Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog

June 27 2016 11:30 AM

John Oliver Turned the Brexit Disaster Into a Warning About Trump: “There Are No F--king Do-Overs”

John Oliver spent most of Sunday’s episode of Last Week Tonight covering the Russian Olympic doping scandal—but not before seizing the opportunity to deliver a rueful “I told you so” to regretful Brexit voters. Just a week ago, Oliver had delivered a persuasive case for why the United Kingdom should vote to remain in the European Union (while still indulging the British impulse to insult Europe as much as possible). His countrymen didn’t listen, so Oliver dedicated the opening of his show to ripping the British leadership who caused this disaster, including Leave campaigners Nigel Farage (“leader of UKIP and three-time cover model for Punchable Face magazine”) and former London mayor Boris Johnson (“a shaved orangutan with Owen Wilson’s hair”).

Likely feeling a bit like Cassandra, Oliver delivered another warning, this time to voters on the other side of the pond, cautioning them not to underestimate Donald Trump, who made a fool of himself while discussing Brexit in Scotland:

June 27 2016 11:09 AM

House Slate: Revenge Turns the Ladies of Westeros Into Stonehearted Killers

Revenge is a dish best served in pie form. But, as delicious as Frey pies are, House Slate hosts Marc Faletti and Amanda Marcotte worry that the drive for vengeance is turning the women of Westeros into stone-hearted killers.

Jon Snow is crowned King of the North, but little does he know, he was born King of all Westeros. But whether Daenerys wants to fight him or marry him for the crown, the real question is: How are all these kings and queens going to hold onto power when everything, including their own families, is falling apart?

June 27 2016 9:45 AM

This Week’s Worst Person in Westeros: Cersei Lannister, Obviously

After each episode in Game of Thrones Season 6, we’ll be answering a crucial question: Who is currently the worst person in Westeros?  This week, technology and culture writer Jacob Brogan is joined by Slate Group general manager Ava Lubell.

Brogan: Hi, Ava! Thanks for joining me to talk about “The Winds of Winter,” a season that is, we’re told, finally here, just as this uneven season of television ends. This was a supersized episode, and for once the show mostly used that time well. Of everything our characters did, though, I think all the wine sipping will stick with me most, especially that perfect shot of Cersei tipping back a glass as she looked out on the ruins of King’s landing. I’m not sure about you, but I had a tumbler of vinho verde in hand while I was watching. It may not be the perfect Game of Thrones beverage (that would be these three cocktails), but it got the job done.

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One character who could probably use a whole bottle of booze? Sansa Stark, who explained to her cousin-brother Jon why she hadn’t previously told him that she had the Knights of the Vale on speed dial during the Battle of the Bastards last week. Was it too little too late? Was her omission a sign of budding villainy?

Lubell: Sansa certainly had little more to offer by way of explanation than a vague apology and an allusion to (quite understandable) trust issues. More importantly, though, I felt a bit disappointed that Sansa was ceding her claim to her brother. Yes, it’s noble (I suppose), but I want to see what else she can do with that steely will.

In any case, if we’re going to talk villainy, Sansa’s sinister smile from last week was wholly supplanted by Cersei’s more psychopathic grin. I’d like to believe that Sansa is smart and playing the long game, but Cersei seems to have actually gotten everything she’s ever wanted.

Brogan: All other things being equal, the image of Queen Cersei on the throne is a striking one. It pairs powerfully with that brief glimpse we get of the women of Dorne inviting the bereaved Lady Olenna to join their cause. It’s likewise linked to that shot of Daenerys, guiding her fleet to Westeros. Jon’s rise to kingship over the North shows us that we may not yet be done with the patriarchy, but we’re getting a little closer the glorious misandrist utopia that this season suggested in its first episode.

Of course, I’m still not sure that any of these people should be ruling Westeros—or anything else for that matter. Look at Daenerys’ triumphant moment of statecraft this episode, the act that inspires Tyrion to tell her that she’s “playing the great game”: She breaks up with her super-hot boyfriend. Was it the right thing to do? Maybe. Does it prove that she should be queen? Probably not. But are we nevertheless deeply disappointed with her for kicking him out of her entourage?

Lubell: We are very disappointed. Breaking up with Daario may be the worst decision Dany has ever made and casts her judgment into serious doubt. He’s a stud. But also, if she were truly prepared to rule, wouldn’t she realize the value of being surrounded by advisors she knows she can rely on? It’s easy to accumulate hangers on now that the dragons are grown and she has an awesome armada. Daario has been with her from the early stages.

Jon’s made a lot of similar missteps in building his circle of advisors. Last week, he was adamant that he needed Melisandre by his side. How can he not be wracked with guilt when he owes his life to a woman who burned a child at the stake?

Brogan: Was he right to send Melisandre off so quickly, though? You’ve provided Slate with legal counsel: Did she get a fair trial? And, perhaps more importantly, will Jon be able to survive without her aid?

Lubell: Fair trials are hard to come by in Westeros these days: Try to plan one and you might get blown up.

Jon really distinguished himself from (his uncle, it’s official!!!) Ned. Banishment is not the Stark way. He hanged Olly, of all people, and he survived by the grace of someone who would murder an innocent in the name of naked ambition, yet he can’t pull the trigger?

If he’s on the hunt for punishment techniques, may I point him in direction of waterboarding with wine, Cersei’s preferred method of torture?

Brogan: That may have been the ultimate Cersei moment: As she’s leading in to the real torture, she tells the Shame Nun that she does things because they “feel good,” no matter how unpleasant or grotesque others find them. And that’s what she does for us too, giving us a taste of her own perverse pleasures: She murders recent worst person in Westeros the High Sparrow, and that's great, but we still hate her, because she also slaughters the lovely Margaery—and a lot of other people as well!—at the same time. In that regard, she’s very much an avatar of the show’s general contempt for its audience, the way it makes us complicit in the ickiness of its world by inviting us to delight in it.

That said, I’d still love to see Cersei do something unspeakable to Littlefinger. How gross was he to Sansa in that Godswood scene?

Lubell: Ugh. Shut it down. As the houses of the north stood up in support of Jon, I was filled with dread about his next move. He was honest and naked in his ambition and Sansa turned him away.  I hope she has a plan here.

Of all the Starks, Arya seems best suited to dispatching him. Arya’s violence feels righteous and empowering. She doesn’t grandstand. You killed my family and I am killing you. Her message is undisguised: She wants vengeance.

Brogan: Arya may not grandstand, but she still has a taste for the theatrical. Walder Frey certainly got what he deserved, but his death was also almost comically overcomplicated. Did she learn how to cook just so that she could get that brief moment of grotesque stagecraft? How long was she wandering around the castle, chopping up Freys and baking them into pie?

Still, it’s good to have Arya back in the thick of it. My new fantasy is that she’ll somehow team up with Lady Lyanna Mormont, who steals every scene she shows up in—and who long since absconded with all of our hearts.

Lubell: I’m not sure that even Dany’s dragons could not take down Lady Mormont. She has won the Internet, why not the game of thrones?

Brogan: At the rate this show's killing off royalty, she might have a shot. But if the proverbial game's the thing where we’re headed, I suppose we have to come back around to Cersei, the woman who’s actually sitting on the iron throne as the season ends. We know that this wasn’t quite her plan all along, of course: She’s said that she’d do anything to protect her son, and the sight of Tommen’s shattered body clearly destroys her. But she’s made the most of a monstrous situation.

Lubell: To say nothing of the shoulder details on that gown… fit for the Queen and the King of Pop.

I’m not sure that anything can break Cersei, not even Jamie’s terrified face lingering in the background. The prophecy of the death of her three children, the thing she has feared most, has been fulfilled and there’s nothing to restrain or ground her. Has she descended into madness? Here we have a blond, born of incest (Tywin and Joanna Lannister were first cousins), deploying wildfire in the city. Sound familiar?

Brogan: When you put it like that, she does bear some disquieting similarities to Aerys Targaryen, the mad king. Tyrion even sets aside a few moments to talk up Aerys’ monstrous qualities when he’s giving Dany a pep talk. If Cersei is spiraling into insanity, though, it’s still a tragic sort of delirium. Lady Olenna claims that the new queen has “stolen the future from me” by killing off Margaery and Loras. In this episode, however, Cersei destroys her own connection to her familial past and future alike. Her ancestors were buried beneath the sept, and they’re gone now—along with the last of her children. Jaime is all she has left, and he may not remain by her side much longer.

Is it possible that Cersei is too sad to be worthy of our hate?

Lubell: No. She blew up thousands of people and then drank some pinot. She’s the worst.

Brogan: It was a nice dress though.

Lubell: I’ll give her that.

June 27 2016 8:03 AM

How Giant, Exactly, Are All the Pop Culture Giants? In One Chart.

This Friday marks the release of The BFG, Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s story about a lovable hero whose initials stand for “the Big Friendly Giant.” But just how B is this FG? To compare him with the other iconic giants of pop culture, we created the chart above.

A note on methodology: We limited our giants to humanoids or figures who are explicitly identified as giants, which means no giant apes, giant lizards, or the like. Also: We selected only one giant per movie, TV show, or book, and no half-giants. (Hagrid fans should please refrain from sending us their angry owls.) Finally, where heights were not explicitly defined, we strived to use the best estimates available—though height sometimes varies even from scene to scene.

June 27 2016 5:56 AM

Watch Actor and Activist Jesse Williams’ Fiery Speech at the BET Awards

Between all the performances, the BET Awards also found time to fit in one of the most remarkable acceptance speeches since Sacheen Littlefeather. Actor and activist Jesse Williams was this year’s recipient of the BET Humanitarian Award, joining the ranks of past honorees including Myrlie Evers-Williams, Harry Belafonte, and Muhammad Ali. Williams, who plays Dr. Jackson Avery on Grey’s Anatomy, rose to national prominence after traveling to Ferguson, Missouri, to participate in protests after the shooting of Michael Brown. BET also cited his service on the boards of the Advancement Project and Sankofa.org, as well as his work as an executive producer of documentary art installation/website Question Bridge: Black Males.

Williams, who’s known to be refreshingly blunt, pulled no punches on stage. After thanking his parents and wife, he gave a barnburner of a speech about systemic racism and oppression, ranging from police brutality to capitalism to cultural appropriation, with a little aside about the promises of the hereafter that would have made Joe Hill proud. It's worth watching in full, but here are some of the highlights:

June 27 2016 1:55 AM

In Its Immensely Satisfying Season Finale, Game of Thrones Became the Show It Has Always Tried Not to Be

Game of Thrones, like many of the great dramas of the past two decades, has gotten its power and punch from using its audiences’ expectations against them. In its first three seasons, the series murdered Ned and then Robb Stark, the kind of noble alpha warriors one expects to be the long-term heroes of a medieval saga, to say nothing of a prestige drama.* In killing them, Game of Thrones, like the books it is based on, was declaring itself. History doesn't hew to the demands of storytelling. It doesn't protect its heroes. Neither would the show.

Having taught viewers that anyone could die, the show came for another narrative fantasy: that revenge feels good. Despite having primed the audience for the death of the tyrannical, vicious Joffrey over many episodes, his end was not cathartic but pathetic, grotesque, a teenager drowning in his own lungs, calling for his mother. (This season, his death was reinterpreted as tragedy by a theatrical troupe roving Braavos.) Even the sadistic Ramsay Bolton’s death last week did not have quite the triumphant tenor one might have expected, if one, like me, had spent multiple episodes razzing Ramsay every time he appeared on screen with “die already!!” Instead, Ramsay’s death came following a battle in which he exacted far too great a toll on the Stark forces, only to be defeated at the last minute thanks to some of Sansa’s ethically suspect strategizing. Sansa’s decision to feed Ramsay to the very dogs to which he had recently fed his infant brother was another reminder of Thrones’ original lesson: Heroes fall one way or another.

June 27 2016 12:29 AM

Janelle Monáe Was the Perfect Person to Perform Some of Prince’s Biggest Pop Hits

Most of the tributes to Prince since his untimely death have focused on his slower songs, using them to create a moment of shared grief. But that was only a small part of Prince’s music: Most of it was upbeat, exuberant pop. And no one is more exuberant than Janelle Monáe. So she was the perfect person to run through some of his biggest hits at the BET Awards, turning in bubbly, on-point performances of “Delirious,” “Kiss,” “Pop Life,” and “I Would Die 4 U.”

Medleys are always a hard sell, and the transitions between songs have little to recommend them here, but Monáe nails all four songs (and three costume changes). “Delirious” is the standout performance—Monáe speeds it up, replaces Prince’s synth horns with the real thing, and sings it like it’s Motown—but the staccato punch she gives the chorus in “I Would Die 4 U” is the most exciting. Not only does it sell the joyful choreography, it shows what she’s learned from Prince and what she’s made entirely her own.

June 26 2016 11:36 PM

Watch Stevie Wonder, Tori Kelly, and Jennifer Hudson Salute Prince at the BET Awards

Following Stevie Wonder onstage seems like the kind of offer you should always, always, always refuse, but at Sunday night’s BET Awards, Jennifer Hudson said yes and somehow came out looking great. First Stevie Wonder performed Prince’s duet “Take Me with U,” from Purple Rain, with Tori Kelly handling Apollonia Kotero’s part. There was nothing in the world wrong with Stevie Wonder or Tori Kelly’s performances, but then Hudson came out and absolutely slayed “Purple Rain.”

Hudson performed a slightly shortened version of Prince’s classic, skipping the second verse to roll straight into “Honey, I know times are changing,” with a spine-tingling growl. The problem with compressing a song that’s a slow build into something faster is the danger of peaking too early and leaving the singer with nowhere left to go. But Hudson pulls it off by using the guitar solo to back off, making room for a second crescendo of vocal runs over the audience singalong that closes the song. By the end, it’s hard to remember the show started with Stevie Wonder: There’s nothing but Hudson—and Prince.

June 26 2016 9:40 PM

Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar Kicked Off the BET Awards With a Killer Version of “Freedom”

The 2016 BET Awards opened with a spectacular performance of “Freedom,” the 10th track on Lemonade, by Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar.* In an extraordinary piece of showmanship, the stage was converted to a shallow pool, which allowed for incredible, splash-heavy choreography. The flying water, yellow and red lights, and pyrotechnics were a spectacle worthy of an Olympic opening ceremony even before Kendrick Lamar rose from beneath the stage.

Usually when the staging is this elaborate the music suffers, but both Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar were at the top of their games. Beyoncé in particular was note-perfect and seemed to actually be having fun with the song, despite all the carefully executed chaos around her. This is the rare case of a performer as hyped as Beyoncé actually exceeding sky-high expectations. Just watch it, it’s absurd.

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*Correction, June 26, 2016: This article originally misstated that “Freedom” is the last track on Lemonade. It is the 10th track.

June 25 2016 10:51 PM

Fashion Photographer Bill Cunningham Has Died

Fashion photographer Bill Cunningham died Saturday at the age of 87, the New York Times reported. Cunningham, who was named a Living Landmark by the New York Landmarks Conservancy in 2009, was known for his bicycle, his blue French work jacket, and his ubiquitous presence photographing fashion around New York, from street clothes to couture.

Born in 1929, he began his career as a milliner, selling custom hats under the label “William J.” A collection of 23 examples of his work, ranging from a relatively modest cloche hat to a hat festooned with crystals dangling like anglerfish lures, sold at auction in 2012 for $20,000. After serving in the Korean War, he started writing a fashion column for Women’s Wear Daily on the side. In a typical example from 1962, under the lowercase headline “arrogant coats,” Cunningham took on offerings from Givenchy and Balenciaga, which, he wrote, “are just about to dump the wearers and go off by themselves. … [T]hese coats give me the feeling they would bite like a snake if I got too near.” He maintained his sense of humor about fashion for the rest of his life: One highlight of his “On The Street” photo column for the New York Times was 2009’s “The Water Dance,” in which Cunningham positively cackles over photographs of well-dressed New Yorkers and tourists ruining their shoes in the slush-filled gutters of Fifth Avenue.

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Cunningham abandoned hat-making when women abandoned hats in the 1960s. Though he didn’t begin taking photographs professionally until 1967, by the early 1970s he was working regularly for the New York Times, after stints with the Daily News and the Chicago Tribune. Despite numerous offers to join the staff of the Times, he remained freelance until he was hit by a truck in 1994 and needed health insurance. In 2010 filmmaker Richard Press made a documentary about him, Bill Cunningham New York, which chronicled his career and eccentricities. Throughout his life, Bill Cunningham retained a carefully cultivated distance from his subjects, refusing so much as a glass of water at the galas he photographed and turning down an offer to curate a retrospective of his photographs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He valued his independence above all, telling an interviewer, “Money’s the cheapest thing. Liberty and freedom is the most expensive.”

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