Today is LGM fund drive day! I am choosing to celebrate by, um, recommending stuff on other websites? No, wait, this actually makes sense: if you donate to LGM, they pay me, and then I can buy things which I will then write about on the site! It all comes back to you in the end! Anyway, here are a bunch of cool, pop culture-related things I’ve been enjoying. Remember, without your valuable donation dollars, you might have to hear about these things elsewhere!
First up, I’ve already mentioned Tansy Gardam’s podcast Going Rogue on my 2023 Hugo ballot. If you haven’t listened to it yet, and have any interest at all in the backstage shenanigans of the ill-fated debacle that was the Disney Star Wars movies, I urge you to seek it out. Gardam is smart and knowledgeable about both Star Wars and how the Hollywood sausage gets made. The first season, as the name suggests, discusses Rogue One, and the second season, released earlier this year, discusses Solo.
What I actually want to recommend, however, is the third and ongoing season of Going Rogue, subtitled Striking Out, which discusses the 2007-2008 WGA strike. Gardam approaches the strike in a way similar to her work on the two previous seasons, picking a single movie or TV series in each episode to discuss how the strike affected it, and how its production process highlighted issues that were at the heart of the strike. Obviously, this is an incredibly well-timed topic–one assumes that someone as knowledgeable about Hollywood as Gardam could tell where the wind was blowing when she chose it. Although the topic of Striking Out is the last strike rather than the current one, it does a great job of explaining the lay of the land and the important figures in the dispute in a way that will help make sense of what’s going on right now. And, as becomes increasingly clear as the podcast proceeds, many of the issues that were at the heart of the 2007-2008 strike are still relevant to the current one. Plus, how many other podcasts have a MeToo foghorn that sounds after certain people’s names to let you know that they have subsequently been revealed as creeps and sex pests?
Second, I imagine many of you have already seen Maureen Ryan’s Vanity Fair article (excerpted from her upcoming book Burn It Down: Power, Complicity, and a Call for Change in Hollywood) about the toxic work environment on the set and in the production offices of the 2000s’ biggest TV hit, Lost, but if you haven’t, it’s very much worth your time. This is very much in the “shocking, but not surprising” realm–I don’t think it will floor anyone to learn that on a hit TV show in the 2000s, the prevailing attitude in the writers’ room was that white guys making racist or misogynistic jokes was the height of comedy, or that actor Harrold Perrineau was pretty frustrated by the attitude the show’s writers and producers took towards his character, Michael.
When Perrineau’s character exited the core Lost narrative for good, he gave an interview to a reporter who he said quoted him fairly and accurately about various topics. “She asked me something, and I said—I don’t remember exactly the quote, but I’m gonna give you a roundabout version of it. I said, ‘You know, for me, as a Black person, the idea that Walt winds up living with his grandmother and not living with his father, that feels like one of those clichés—Black kids who have been raised by their grandparents because neither of their parents are around for them. I would’ve liked to have seen something a little better happen, but that’s not the way it went down.’ ”
In that 2008 interview, the reporter asked if Perrineau was disappointed that Michael and Walt didn’t reconnect before his character left the show. Perrineau replied, “Listen, if I’m being really candid, there are all these questions about how they respond to Black people on the show. Sayid gets to meet Nadia again, and Desmond and Penny hook up again, but a little Black boy and his father hooking up, that wasn’t interesting? Instead, Walt just winds up being another fatherless child. It plays into a really big, weird stereotype and, being a Black person myself, that wasn’t so interesting.”
When that interview came out, it set off a furor among some Lost fans, but the consternation behind the scenes was worse. Perrineau said he was accused by some of playing “the race card.” No one wants to be defined by one aspect of their identity, but neither do people want to feel forced to suppress who they are so that others never feel any discomfort. Perrineau was thrown because, once again, there were no good options on the table for him. “Time out—I get to talk about being Black, you know? ’Cause I am Black. You can ignore it. But I get to talk about it. The response from ABC was like, ‘Oh, we always loved Harold, but he may be just angry that he left the show,’ ” he recalled. “I’m not angry that I left the show. Like, that’s what I think as a fan.”
For weeks, Perrineau went round and round with ABC, which wanted to issue a retraction of some kind. “Me mentioning the color of my skin—that just sent everybody off the rails. We came up with something, but it took weeks, because I was like, ‘I didn’t say anything wrong. And she didn’t report anything wrong. Nobody did anything wrong.’ But societally—people so loved the show. They couldn’t hear one thing against it.”
Still, as Ryan says in her conclusions, we need to tell these stories because it’s the only way things are conceivably going to get better. There’s also a connection here to Striking Out, because one impact of the AMPTP’s union-busting demands in the current strike will be to increase the power of superstar writer-producers while turning less experiences writers (who are more likely to be women and POC) into powerless day-workers, which will only make it easier for toxic, racist, and misogynistic Hollywood workplaces to flourish.
Third and lastly, I know that there are lots of other fans of the magnificent, philosophical RPG Disco Elysium among this site’s commenters. I imagine that you’ve all, like me, been dismayed by the news that the game’s developers, Estonian-based studio ZA/UM, have pushed out the original creative team, while proceeding with the game’s sequel without the input of the people who created it and its world. Now, YouTube channel People Make Games have released an in-depth, 2.5-hour-long investigation into what happened at ZA/UM, and what the state of the Disco Elysium universe currently is. I haven’t watched the video yet (I suspect I’ll end up listening to it instead), but friends who have say it’s a corker.
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