A Unified Theory Of The Death Of The Movie Star
12:08 PM EDT on September 19, 2023
Time for your weekly edition of the Defector Funbag. Got something on your mind? Email the Funbag. And buy Drew’s book, The Night The Lights Went Out, while you’re at it. Today, we're talking about bosses, corn on the cob, old people, fumbles, and more.
Before we get into the bag, another reminder: The Distraction live show in coming to New York in just over two weeks! Get your tickets for October 4 here. We even roped international heartthrob Rohan Nadkarni into being up on stage with us, so bring all the single ladies you know.
This year my wife was teaching a class to college freshman and mentioned Denzel Washington, and no one in the class knew who he was. The class was diverse, but definitely all 18-19 years old. Is Denzel somehow irrelevant to Gen Z, or is this wild blind spot for this particular class? Is Denzel, someone I’ve basically known by one name most of my life, overrated? Or did this class collectively decide to fuck with my wife by feigning ignorance of a major Hollywood actor from the last 30 years?
I’m gonna give you a straight answer before indulging in some bullshit theorizing. Go look at Denzel’s filmography, especially the recent titles. How many young’uns out there were lining up to see Equalizers 1 through 3? Or The Tragedy of Macbeth? Or Fences? Denzel doesn’t make movies for young people. He’s never been in any of the big franchises, and he doesn’t do TV. He’s never shown up on Ahsoka as some fabled Jedi named Erd Torona. He’s an old man who makes movies for older audiences. So your students aren’t fucking with you, Lou. They legitimately don’t know who this man is. If they did, they’d respect the shit out of him, but alas.
That’s the straight answer. But now I’m gonna expand on that answer as if The New York Times paid me to do so. Denzel is a symptom of a much broader problem across Hollywood, which is that actors don’t mean as much to movies as they used to.
This is by design. The people behind Star Wars/Marvel/DC don’t want to invest hundreds of millions of dollars on a project whose success rests solely on some flaky, dipshit actor. Actors are unreliable. They show up late. They age. They drink. They want to give notes on the script. If they’re Johnny Depp, they want to give the character an Irish brogue for no discernible reason. No studio wants to deal with any of that horseshit. So at the turn of the century, they started making movies where the character/costume was the star, and not the actor. How often do you see actors’ names on the top of the poster now? How often do you see some bullshit like From The Studio That Brought You Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken up there instead? That’s no accident.
There are only two ongoing exceptions to this trend. The first is the Fast & Furious movies, and I promise you that NO ONE involved in making those movies is happy they have to deal with Vin Diesel to make them. The second is Mission: Impossible, and that’s because Tom Cruise is a producer on those films as well as its star. Actors have given reporters the whole “what I really want to do is work behind the camera” routine for decades now, implying that they could fulfill even greater artistic dreams by doing so. In 2023, that’s just where the money is, and it’ll prove even more true once F&F and M:I die out (likely sooner rather than later). My 17-year-old can name a few actors because she watches a lot of grown-up shit now, but my two sons? Forget it. I don’t think they could name a dozen actors between them. Play showbiz trivia with them and they’d get destroyed. I don’t think they’re alone among their generation in that regard. Studios don’t want movie stars to have pull, so they’ve optimized the pipeline to make sure that they don’t.
This is why the actors are on strike. They’re trying to win back not just money, but their collective influence over the entire industry. They want to matter again, whereas studios remain determined to make them easily interchangeable parts. [Bill Simmons voice] Are actors the running backs of show business now?
I personally identify and relate to Aaron’s question last week. The answer you offered, I feel, was one of the harshest, judgmental answers I can remember in years of reading your mailbag. No empathy for the myriad of legitimate reasons that go into where Aaron could’ve been coming from when it comes to weddings sucking. It’s a double standard, some people are allowed to dislike weddings because of the “always the bridesmaid, never the bride” stigma, if a dude says weddings are bullshit he’s a cheap, antisocial prick. I’m disappointed, Drew.
I’ll re-answer this question in a more empathetic way for you then, Dennis. I gave Aaron that answer because he appeared to simply dislike weddings outright, and gave me no other reason for it. He just wanted to have every weekend to himself. I’m so worn out by this kind of cynicism online now that I get ornery whenever I encounter it firsthand. Hence, I gave him a bit of “the business.”
But yes, there are more defensible reasons why people despise weddings. They have might have social anxiety, or the expense is far more than they can bear, or they’re recovering from alcoholism and can’t be around people who binge drink so casually, or they saw that Red Wedding episode of Game of Thrones and have yet to recover. I’m not gonna get on your jock for any of those hang-ups. Those are fair reasons for staying home. It’s only if you’re like MEW MEW I DON’T LIKE IT OTHER PEOPLE ARE SO LAME that I’m gonna put on my coaching pants and give you some tough love. That fair?
The end zone fumble rule is the shittiest rule that never gets a light shined on it, right? Wouldn't the obvious solution be to spot the ball back at the point where the fumble occurred? If you think it's a viable rule then make it make sense.
I don’t think that rule goes unnoticed. Everyone hates it, and they say so anytime it comes into play. It’s a fundamental anomaly of a rule: if you fumble out of bounds anywhere else on the field, you get the ball back at the spot of the fumble. If you do it into the end zone, it’s suddenly a turnover. The standard changes for no reason at all, and turns a potentially thrilling moment into something far more rote. There’s no defending the end zone fumble rule outside of turning steakhead and going DURRR JUST HOLD ONTO THE FOOTBALL THEN DURRR. That’s not a cogent argument. That’s the football equivalent of, “If you don’t want the cops to shoot you, then just do what they say!”
And I promise you I’m not saying this just because it was my team that got victimized by that rule on Thursday night. The Vikings would’ve lost to the Eagles regardless, I assure you. But the rule blows in any circumstance, for any team. And the real kick in the balls here is that the NFL has litigated the end zone fumble many times over in the past and somehow gotten nowhere on it:
At the heart of the issue, a source said, is that no one has been able to crystalize what an alternative would be. And if no one cares enough to offer an alternative to the rule, then there won't be any change to the rule.
The alternative is obvious: just to give the offense the ball back at the spot of the fumble for the next down. But the owners know this; they just don’t want to change the rule. So they leak out bullshit excuses like this one to keep it in place. As such, we clearly need to get even louder when we complain about it. For my boy Justin’s sake.
How can I be a good boss? I supervise a couple of employees at work, and it feels like I can't do anything right by them; I end up either giving them too much leeway and stuff doesn't get done, or I come down too hard on them. I don't want to be an asshole to someone, but I also want to make sure that I give guidance and help people take care of their responsibilities. What do you think a good boss needs to do?
I’m underqualified to answer this, because the last time I was directly in charge of a subordinate was in 2000. I’d moved up to account exec at an ad agency and got assigned an assistant account exec to train. I had no idea how to be a boss. I had no interest in being a boss. All I wanted to do was punch out and drink. So all I did was give my AAE any tedious busywork that I myself didn’t want to do. I wasn’t mean to her, but I also wasn’t useful. This is poor bossing, but I suspect you already knew that.
So I can only tell you what I look for IN a boss, having worked under many of them. The best bosses I’ve ever had—and Tom Ley and Barry Petchesky count among them—are the ones who WANTED me to succeed. They didn’t see me as a threat, or a nuisance, or an idiot who just made everything worse. They showed me how things worked at the office, figured out what I did well (write) and what I didn’t (pretty much anything else), and then played to my strengths. If I sucked at something, they either gave me tips on how to improve or they gave me minor, low-consequence projects where I could gain vital experience without the sword of Damocles hanging over my head.
Most important, they worked with me. They didn’t just shove work onto me and go here, this is your problem now. Don’t fuck it up. When Barry edits one of my posts, we’re figuring out big things (structure) and little things (how to phrase a certain sentence) together, with the shared goal of publishing something that’s fun to read. Sometimes Barry doesn’t need to fuck with my copy, but other times he does. Other times I explicitly ask him to, because I value his insight. I know that this particular job naturally lends itself to that kind of dynamic, but there’s no reason it can’t also work for more projects in medicine, law, accounting, etc. The nature of the work itself doesn’t have to be fun for everyone involved to share a common interest in it ... if everyone involved trusts one another. That’s really all there is to it. You trust your underlings, you believe in them, and then they return the favor. People just want to know they’re working for someone who knows what they’re doing, and who gives a crap.
But again, I haven’t directly supervised anyone in literal decades. I don’t even get to boss around Defector interns, which is crime because I think we all would’ve loved it if Abigail Segel had been assigned a post on why Bob Mould is the greatest musician who ever lived. So I’m not accounting for the natural hostility built into the American corporate org chart. Being the boss means you’re going to be disliked for any number of reasons, justified or not. There may be times when you can’t do anything about that, and you just have to accept it. Because you can keep your office door open and take people out for beer and wings and do all that other good boss shit, but they may still resent you anyway. All because you’re the boss and they aren’t. There’s only so much you can control, and you have to be satisfied with that relatively paltry amount. Try to control any more than that and you end up becoming an asshole.
I’ll wrap up with this: the fact that you, Steven, WANT to be a good boss is like 95 percent of it. Lord knows I didn’t want to be one. I still don’t.
When is the proper time to eat corn on the cob during a meal? It’s got to be either before the main course or after the main course. Eating corn on the cob during the main course is just an awful never-ending sequence of napkins, butter, more napkins, and trying to keep the ketchup off the niblets.
I never eat it first, usually because I have bigger priorities on my plate: a pulled pork sandwich, a hot dog, a whole lobster, etc. This means that I’ll either eat the corn on the cob last, or as an intermission in between eating everything else. The one constant is that once I pick up the corn, I’m not putting it down until I’ve finished it. Ever. Same as when I’m eating a burger. I’m not gonna eat half a cob and then set it down to take a bite of salad. That would be weird as shit. Also, like Aaron said, the ketchup factor comes in hot if I should ever do that.
So this is a matter or practicality and not etiquette. There’s no stated rule from Emily Post about when you’re allowed to eat corn on the cob and when you aren’t. You have to go by sheer instinct, which is why I usually eat it last. And when I do eat corn, I’m an absolute savage. Same deal as when I eat watermelon: lots of chomping and smacking and mmmmm it’s goods coming out of me, along with bits of food shrapnel. Nearby diners all recoil in disgust, my wife foremost among them.
Last week, I was walking my dog near a local high school and saw a JV football game kick off. There were no refs on the field. Apparently they didn't show up, so each team contributed a few assistant coaches for the job. From what I could tell, they did a decent job and the game ran fairly smoothly. This situation got me thinking: given short notice, for which sport(s) and at what level do you think you could substitute ref/umpire for successfully?
I was tabbed as a ref for a youth soccer game years ago and performed the job, on the spot, without incident. Granted, my duties that day involved keeping track of time and deciding which team of 8-year-olds kicked the ball out of bounds. But no parents threatened to kill me during the entire game. Not even one time. GREAT SUCCESS. Does that mean I could do Carl Cheffers’' job better than Carl Cheffers can? Yes.
In all seriousness, I’m not arrogant enough to think that I could easily officiate any sporting event at the high school level and above. Except for U.S. Open chair ump. THAT job I could do. It’s the perfect officiating job. You don’t have to keep a meticulous eye on the ball, the way a line judge has to. You get to sit high above the players, so they can’t assault you when they get mad. All you have to do is announce the score (British accent: “Juice”), shush the crowd when they get too rowdy, manage the challenge system, and sit there calmly while an angry Serb tells you that you’re the stupidest person alive. I can do all of that in my sleep. And sure, the job might be much more difficult than what I just laid out, but I’m too lazy to look up those particulars. I’d kick ass anyway.
Also, I’d be a GREAT corrupt judge in boxing and/or figure skating. Or both! You don’t even have to pretend to know the rulebook for that shit. You can just make up any number you want and get away with it. Plus, you don’t have to run. If I had to run around a field like a soccer official? Fuck that. Gimme a chair and a form, and then let me be a petty sack of shit. That’s where I excel.
Is it time to stop respecting old people? When I was a boy, a little old lady had grown up during the depression and dealt with the austerity of WWII rationing. My wife's grandma did not have indoor plumbing until the age of 30, and spoke a variation of Gaelic as her first language. Her formative years were closer in material culture to the Middle Ages than to the present day, and her point of view was respected as a distinct viewpoint. But a little old lady today who came of age in the 60's and 70's did coke in roller rink parking lots and is essentially a more depraved version ourselves. But if your kids cry in public, they will advise you to put them in a closet for two hours. So can we drop the notion of old people having wisdom, or is grinding out a few extra decades on this planet worth some deference?
I’m still in the throes of middle age, right between fighting to prove I’ve still got it and seething that young people today have absolutely no respect for my hard-earned wisdom. I’m not old enough to be treated like I’m Gandalf, but I AM old enough for every asshole to hit me up with Steve Buscemi gif anytime I dare to have an opinion on anything. Very frustrating.
The answer here is that old people aren’t a monolith, and never have been. There was never a time when every elder was worth respecting, just as there’s never been a time when all of them deserved to be locked in an attic and left to die alone. Take Defector’s own Ray Ratto as an example. Ray has indisputably seen some shit, as this photo proves:
So whenever Ratto writes something, I know that there’s a lifetime of on-the-ground sportswriting behind it. No 25-year-old is going to be able to tell you the things that Ray Ratto can tell you. That’s a fact. That doesn’t mean that Ray is RIGHT about everything, because he sure as shit isn’t. But he’s earned your attention. I hope that, one day, I have the kind of knowledge base that Ray is able to draw from. Everyone should hope for that.
Now, is EVERY old person worthy of similar reverence? Of course not. You’ve met our Congressional leaders. You know the deal. Sometimes old people are tragically out of touch. Sometimes young people don’t know half the shit they think they know. All of that is fluid, which means you’re best off giving old people—anyone, really—the benefit of the doubt before they prove clueless. If you disrespect them right off the bat, they’ll vote Republican just to fuck you over. Happens on a mass scale every four years.
Until this past week, I've been blessed with a really easy baby. Recently, though, we've been violently introduced to the concept of sleep regression. The only way that my baby will sleep now, is when she is wrapped against someone's chest. Otherwise, my baby likes to scream at the top of her lungs until she starts puking. The thing about wearing her in a wrap, though, is that it's murder on my back. At night, when I am wearing her and trying to get her to sleep, I am in physical pain the entire time. The longer it takes to put her down, the more impatient, irritable, and even angry I get.
Oftentimes, I become so overwhelmed by the pain and the anger that I have the abandon the wrap, set her down, and go to the other room to cool off. My wife sometimes jumps in to relieve me at this point, which makes me feel like one of those shitty dads who doesn't carry his weight and who lets the mother do all the work. Drew, I really do not want to feel anger towards my crying daughter. Without fail, though, I start with enthusiasm, and end in pain and feeling like a failed parent. As a fellow bad back haver, do you have any tips or tricks to offer?
The first tip, if you haven’t already, is to see a spine specialist. Make sure you’re treating your back problem effectively—that means meds, PT, even surgery—before anything else.
But let’s assume you’ve done all that and still have a shit back. It happens to a lot of people, especially parents. This is because the physical labor of parenting isn’t something that anyone warns you about. They warn you about changing diapers and never sleeping, but they never tell you about how many compromising positions you’ll end up in just trying to get a baby to fucking nap.
I didn’t know this, and I had a bad back to boot. So I was right where you were, Ryan. I’d hold my baby, the weight would pull me forward, my sciatica would kick up, and then I’d resent my own child for causing me so much physical pain. It’s an awful feedback loop that you create for yourself, and it can feel inescapable at times.
However, you CAN escape it. First off, forgive yourself for needing your wife to relieve you at times. That’s how marriage works: one spouse picks up the slack when another can’t. Doesn’t make you a selfish asshole to need help. Secondly, experiment with putting your daughter to sleep in different ways (I used to have to put our oldest in the car carrier in the middle of the night and rock her to bed on a coffee table), or by testing out new positions when you have her wrapped against your chest. We had a glider in the nursery when my kids were babies. If you ever talk to an orthopedist, they’ll tell you that a glider/rocking chair is easier on your back because it evens out the weight distribution on your spine as you move back and forth. That made a huge difference whenever I had to swaddle one of my kids. If I kept rocking, I’d usually avoid the worst of the pain. I also fared well doing kangaroo care in my recliner, too.
Thirdly, forgive yourself for your anger. Every parent gets frustrated, angry, and ashamed. You’re not alone in that. That’s worth keeping in mind anytime you’re about to lose your shit, and even more so when you need help figuring out a solution. Ask other parents what they do. Ask your pediatrician, too. You have more resources at your disposal than you might realize, so don’t be shy. Get help anywhere you can find it. You’re gonna be fine, and so is your daughter.
I had a friend in high school whose favorite band was Autograph, which surprised me. I mean, "Turn Up the Radio" is okay, but his favorite band? Is every successful band someone's favorite band? Or are there bands that become successful without inspiring the passion necessary to be anyone's favorite band?
I believe that Autograph guy answered that question for you, amigo.
Email of the week!
Inspired by your old Gametime Snack Of The Week in Jamboroo, I've made a list of dishes to make when home during football season. In your Chopped champion opinion, what is the best meal and worst meal for a football Sunday vibe, or anything you recommend changing?
9/17/23 - Brisket sliders, sausage and sauerkraut
9/24/23 - Spinach pies and labneh
10/1/23 - Fried squash blossoms, cucumber sandwiches
10/15/23 - Tinned fish, cheese and crackers
10/29/23 - Chicken lemon & rice soup with pita bread
11/5/23 - Smoked game hens (OR PHEASANT) with mashed sweet potato and cranberry
11/12/23 - Salmon, pea and gouda flatbread
11/19/23 - Three bean (chickpea, black, pinto) chicken chili
11/26/23 - Turkey cranberry crostini
12/3/23 - Venison stew with roasted apples and cranberries
12/10/23 - Turkey meatloaf with roasted carrots and potatoes
12/17/23 - Chicken casserole (with phyllo dough)
1/7/24 - Chicken and black bean nachos
Don’t change a single thing here. And invite me over. I’ll bring Takis.