Alyssa Rosenberg On Cinema And Kid Books
The culture writer and I chat about mass entertainment.
Alyssa writes about mass culture, parenting, and gender for the Washington Post’s “Opinions” section. Previously she was the culture editor at ThinkProgress, the TV columnist at Women and Hollywood, a columnist for the XX Factor at Slate, and a correspondent for The Atlantic. Check out her crowd-sourced collection of 99 children’s books, which we discuss on the pod.
You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above (or on the right side of the player, click “Listen On” to add the Dishcast feed to your favorite podcast app). For two clips of our convo — on whether social justice should be a centerpiece of children’s books, and how to get kids hooked on books again — pop over to our YouTube page.
Other topics: Dr. Seuss, Watership Down, The Famous Five, the Narnia books, Tolkien, Charlotte’s Web, Animal Farm, the complexities of Cate Blanchett’s Tár, the misfires of Billy Eichner’s Bros, rewatching Game of Thrones, Alyssa’s takedown of She Said, and the rise of homeschooling among black families.
A listener looks back to last week’s episode on plagues and Covid:
I really enjoy the Dishcast — it is often the highlight of my week.
In your podcast with Kyle Harper, you draw connections between the children’s rhyme “Ring Around the Rosie” and the Black Death. This origin story is likely untrue, as most scholars have been reluctant to accept this information as accurate. Here is an in-depth page from the Library of Congress on the rhyme, as well as many other “get in the circle” children’s games.
Glad to be corrected. Another suggests a future guest to continue the convo:
I just finished listening to your very interesting conversation with Kyle Harper. He mentions, in an aside, his favoring the account that Covid probably didn’t result from a lab leak — on the less-than-dispositive grounds that, after all, lots of bad things had arisen naturally. I suggest inviting Nicholas Wade to discuss his case for the other side, which I find compelling.
A dissenter continues a discussion thread from last week:
I appreciate and enjoy your work, even as I’m befuddled by your blindspot when it comes to Israel. (Surely someone as worldly and knowledgeable as you knows the history of the region, how the current borders got where they are, and of the many times a two-state solution has been proffered and declined repeatedly by just one party in the dispute?)
I was disappointed to see the way you approached Jon Stewart’s response to the Chappelle controversy. You got this one precisely backwards! Chappelle’s recent work has stumbled for the simple reason that it’s not very funny, that he’s trying to be more frank and controversial than entertaining (to me). The SNL monologue was surprisingly blunt in its antisemitism and Ye-apologism. As with anything of this sort, he could’ve gotten away with being edgy if what he said was actually funny, but it wasn’t (to me, and sometimes to much of the monologue audience from the sound of it). Chappelle even made a lame, poorly-constructed, antisemitic and factually ill-informed joke in one of those unremarkable and boring Netflix specials from last year, in the special where he went on at length about trans issues (an area where much of what he said was right, but where he still failed to be as funny as he once was).
So to see Stewart bend over backwards to defend the monologue is frustrating for two reasons: 1) because he is reaching to defend something that needn’t be defended, and 2) because this aligns with the modern-day antisemitism on the woke Left, which is one of the ugliest and most frightening places where Left and Right converge. Stewart isn’t bucking his recent woke leanings; he’s reinforcing and leaning into them.
Thanks for taking the time to read and consider my remarks and keep up your invaluable work. I love the podcast and haven’t missed an episode yet.
Grateful for your perspective. And, yes, I hadn’t seen that “Space Jews” clip. Edgier than usual. I still find Chappelle hilarious. As for Israel, I had an in-depth discussion of Zionism with Israeli journalist Yossi Klein Halevi. A clip:
Many readers below respond to my latest column on a changing England. The first:
On your discussion of white British numbers going down, is there a way to separate Britishness from whiteness? Does it matter what color you are if you share the values that British people share? I know the majority have been white in the past, but “whiteness“ seems to have become confused with cultural values that a person of any color can get on board with. The issue seems to be not what color people are, but whether they buy into the idea that Britishness has certain values worth preserving and that the existing British citizens get to decide that.
People from other places are coming to Britain for Britishness, even if lefties don’t like to admit it. The trick seems to be what are you allowed to keep from other places and what do you have to give up? I can’t answer that question, but I am frustrated by my fellow Americans who seem unwilling to admit that people come to the US for a reason and that they should — and often want — to adapt to our way of life.
The fact that we Americans don’t always welcome them in the right ways is true, and we can do better, but it’s so childish to think that choices in life have no costs, that everyone can keep everything they want with no sacrifice — including those of us who are born citizens. Welcoming the new, giving up your own comfort to understand and include people, is also a form of sacrifice.
British citizens should not be bullied into losing their way of life out of misplaced sympathy for the people who are immigrating in. Do they know how to articulate it in such a way that it’s not about race?
This leads into the idea of citizenship in general. I see the MSM in the US pooh-poohing citizenship and the nation-state as forms of racism, but citizenship is important. It creates responsibilities and loyalties that humans need in order to flourish, and it gets rid of the race issue. A citizen is a citizen is a citizen, regardless of race, color, personal religious ideas, etc. I owe that person my unswerving loyalty and support as a fellow American.
However, I cannot possibly support every human on the face of the earth the way I do my neighbors, and it seems arrogant to think I could. I agree with Theresa May: “a citizen of the world is a citizen of nowhere.“ Hooray for the British who are telling globalists that citizenship and specific culture matter!
I agree that Britishness is color-blind and should be. I also think certain core English values — toleration, moderation, pragmatism — are products of a unique historical evolution and should not be discarded. The main threat comes from extremist Islam — which is deeply embedded in the UK.
Another reader has a recommendation:
One of the best books I’ve read this year (and I read a lot) is by Ian Morris — Geography Is Destiny: Britain and the World: A 10,000-Year History). Like you, he’s an ex-pat who has lived in the US since the 1980s, and he teaches at Stanford. It’s a really long-form history and deserves a good look.
Thanks. Another reader reflects on his own changing England:
Living in London 1976-1985 wasn’t so bad for a lad from rural Wiltshire. I never actually met a coloured person, if I may use that phrase, until I went to medical school in 1976. London was great at that time. Lots of variety, colour (in all senses), cultures, but still safe. I could walk around at night in my military surplus RAF greatcoat in Camden Town, Tufnell Park, Crouch End and Stratford/West Ham in complete safety. Not sure I’d even try it today. All the same, where I live now I still wouldn’t, but that’s more to do with coyotes and black bears!
Also, with respect to what you wrote here:
This deep distortion of who gay people really are is also spread by the current LGBTQIA+ leadership, its unhinged academic wing, and radicalized super-rich donor class, now intent on indoctrinating gay children in queer and gender theory, telling them their gayness means they could be in the “wrong body,” and pushing so many of them into permanent medicalization, sterilization, and bodily mutilation. A movement that once championed sexual liberation now actually operates on children so they will never in their lives experience an orgasm.
I sense you are beginning to take in the reality of what I previously wrote to you: there is a generation of future gays who have been turned into sexless Frankenstein’s monsters. I don’t use the description to shame them; I use to shame those who engineered their new bodies and their shrunken lives. Along the way we deal with teenagers being allowed to choose permanent sterility (whereas actual adults have difficulty gaining access to tubal ligation or vasectomy if they have no children), and the sinister approval of “eunuch gender” — a cultivated target population of legal-age people who retain pre-pubescent bodies. I mean, what could possibly go wrong with that?
Another reader looks to the latest flashpoint with gay rights:
Reading about the Supreme Court’s oral argument on Monday regarding Lorie Smith’s 303 Creative, well, I am disappointed that this issue was not addressed through the legislative process (which would mean betrayal and apostasy, also known as compromise). Instead of working it out directly, and just exempting small wedding service providers from the law — provided that they claimed the exemption openly — America will have to live with whatever six conservative Justices decide.
Back in 2014, the wise Dan Savage hit that nail on the head: make homophobic businesses identify themselves publicly, so that LGBT persons would not be turned away after walking inside, in good faith, to do business.
Another reader returns to my England piece but on a personal level:
I’m pretty sure I speak for most of your longtime readers in saying you do a pretty good job of striking the tricky balance between topical and personal. It wasn’t “TMI.”
Like you, I’m at the age when departed friends and loved ones are starting to outnumber the remaining ones. My mom made her exit earlier this year. For most of us it came in the category of merciful release, because she had been drifting into dementia for three or four years. But the most unexpectedly moving thing was to see the quiet grief of my dad, who after a lifetime of being “tended to” by her, had come to love his new role of tending instead.
I was especially glad to read the part about your dad “not skipping a beat” after you told him you’re gay. I’m sure you must have shared that somewhere earlier, but I didn’t know it or didn’t recall it. I’m happy for your sake and his that you were both granted that blessing!
I talked more about coming out to my parents here:
Man, that was a pretty good beard. Another reader also remarks on my dad:
My quibbles with your writing and opinions are nothing to your pain, and the beauty and value of your father’s lovely paintings. Now we see where the artist in you comes from. His work is charming and at times stunning and singular. Thank you for sharing and I am so sorry for your loss. Next week (or the following) I’m sure I will rail at you for something — or maybe just under my breath at my desk. For now, stay strong.
Here’s another painting, “Allotment Scene”:
A Brit reflects on his changing country:
I was born in 1944 in a small country village: my father was for the second time in his life wearing the King’s uniform to defend England. In the village, there was one anomaly: a Catholic family where the mother was Irish, and as such their Catholicism was, if you like, allowed.
I can clearly recall (about 1950) the first time I saw a Black man: he was an American military policemen (a Snowdrop) rounding up GIs to return them to their base. My father dragged me along the pavement saying “Don’t stare, it’s rude.” In 1956, having passed the 11+ examination, I went to the local grammar school: 1018 boys, all white, with a couple of Catholics and one boy, Andrew Higgins, whose parents were Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The Suez invasion marked the accelerating decline of the UK. My father-in-law had served in Egypt for six years and felt embarrassed by the humiliation of the British troops. From then on the UK continued to slide down a self-created slope to irrelevancy, and Boris Johnson, with Brexit, marks the death throes.
Back to America, another reader:
When discussing your recent visit back to England you asked for alternatives to the phrase “great replacement.” For me, some phrases are poetically accurate and poignant. “Great replacement” is one such phrase, just like “America First.”
For context, the rally cry “America First” started at a time where Christian multigenerational White Americans and newer White immigrants didn’t see emancipated Black Americans as their fully American countrymen. Their anti-Black American stance was obviously wrong and profoundly costly to unity in the U.S., yet it is morally right to prioritize our own nation and its people in all policy and economic endeavors. So, I say call out and disrupt the great replacement — it is real — and put ALL Americans First, with special consideration to preserving the equity of multigenerational Americans.
For the record, I am not White nor particularly religious. I’m a seventh-generation American, descendant of U.S. slaves. Immigration reduction is important to me because mass immigration has significantly increased the barriers affecting my fellow descendants, has diluted our political power, and divests from the upward mobility for my multigenerational countrymen of all races.
Please keep picking at the underbelly of mass immigration. This line of inquiry is not for the faint of heart.
I will. It matters. And we desperately need to reform and remake our entire immigration system. Honesty is the only basis for lasting change.
To keep the conversation going, on this and other subjects, drop us a note: email@example.com.