Tag Archives: isabella rossellini

Belligerent Q&A, Vol. XVII: Pop culture journalist Will Harris


As the journalist Will Harris so bitterly learned during a brief partnership, Elmo's one-two punch of icily avoiding pronouns and the rope-a-dope lovability ploy does not always translate into total supremacy in the blood-spattered arenas of the North American Chicken Fighting Association. Courtesy photo.

NORFOLK, Va. – Will Harris is a pop culture journalist, a splendid form of the muckraking arts that often dispenses with the muck by subbing in stuff that people enjoy reading.

Harris is a senior editor and TV columnist for Bullz-Eye, and he’s become a regular contributor to one of my favorite online destinations, The AV Club, a pop culture and criticism site that is a sister publication to The Onion.

Harris has written for a number of publications over the years. Additionally, and clearly most importantly, he was the runner-up in last year’s Fortune Cookie Fortune Writing Contest here at the blog.

He keeps a blog called News, Reviews and Interviews at this link. I recommend the Larry the Cable Guy interview, in which the subject opens up about a beef with comedian David Cross, as well as perceptions of him. There’s also an interesting discussion in the comments.

Harris can turn a phrase. He can write funny. One of the big things I enjoy about Harris’ work is that his writing often comes from a place of respect and appreciation for the possibilities of the various forms – movies, TV, music, etc. The best critics have this; the rest are just passing through.

And how much juice does this guy have now? When Morgan Freeman wants to drop the f-bomb, he asks Harris for permission.

This Belligerent Q&A was conducted via email. There is some brief potty mouthery below.

I hope to speak with Harris at a later date about freelancing, navigating conferences and junkets, and how he landed at The AV Club.

Q: Just who do you think you are? Please use three examples in your response.

  1. I’m a street-walking cheetah with…no, wait, sorry, that’s not me, that’s Iggy Pop. (You can understand how people would get the two of us confused, I’m sure.)
  2. I’m a guy who got his journalism degree in ’92, worked a variety of retail, telemarketing, and I.T. jobs for more than a decade while continuing to do freelance writing and look for the elusive full-time gig in my field, and, after finally getting my foot in the door with Bullz-Eye.com as an associate editor, finally found the career I’d been seeking and have done everything in my power to make the most of it.
  3. I’m just this guy, you know?

Q: What is pop culture?

It’s the viewing, listening, and reading material that defines a generation even as it dates it.

Q: When pop culture gets on you, how do you get it off?

You don’t. Either it falls by the wayside because it isn’t worthy of permanence, or it sticks with you forever.

Q: Where do you, as a pop culture journalist and critic, place yourself in the pantheon of those engaged in the practice of assessing and, to some extent, propagating the entirety of thought and cultural reflections that represent the often media-driven, social collective of an increasingly globalized consciousness, which in turn could be said to reinforce culturally-dominant entertainments and artistic (and less artistic) works at the expense of marginalized perspectives? What are you truly assessing when you examine what is considered popular? What we value compared to what we should value? Also, what do they mean, the things I just typed?

I don’t think those things mean what you think they mean. But they might. I’m just a pop culture journalist and critic, so my knowledge and opinions – like those of my peers – shouldn’t be trusted any farther than you can throw them. They’re only ours. Yours are probably just as worthy. Well, almost, anyway.

Will Harris and the stars of Breaking Bad. Courtesy photo.

Q: You have interviewed Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad on various occasions, and even visited the set. How did this develop? If, after the next three interviews, the two of you join consciousnesses, how will your mental energy orb maintain dominance over the mental energy orb formerly known as Bryan Cranston?

The first time I met Mr. Cranston was at the Television Critics Association Awards in Pasadena, I believe, and I was subsequently part of the group of TCA members who was invited out to the Breaking Bad set the following winter while they were filming Season 3, which resulted in the greatest dinner conversation I’ve ever had. Subsequently, between in-person encounters and phone interviews, I have now interacted with Mr. Cranston more times than any other celebrity. In fact, I see and/or talk to him more regularly than some of the people who were in my wedding party. (Dammit, I knew I should’ve asked him to be a groomsman … ) But while he is one of the nicest and most genuine guys I’ve ever come across, someone whose head is on straight – he’s been happily married for two decades now, with a daughter who’s now in college – and whose many years in the acting trenches have enabled him to truly appreciate his success and not get an ego about it, I do not believe Mr. Cranston and I will ever join consciousnesses, as I invariably ask him about some obscure project on his resume which he hasn’t been asked about in ages, thereby breaking his concentration and preventing any such melding.

Q: What do you think of that show? Seems awfully fixated on meth.

A bit, perhaps. But no more so than Weeds is on marijuana. Hand on heart, I think Breaking Bad is the best show on television. Period.

Q: Your career field enables you to interview people such as Isabella Rossellini by asking her questions to which she responds in the actual voice of Isabella Rossellini. I suspect this is better than the Isabella Rossellini imitation I do after I ask Pretend Isabella Rossellini “Am I handsome?” And Pretend Isabella Rossellini replies, “Naturalmente – but only in the right light.” Emboldened, I then say, “Now witness the power of this fully armed and operational battle station.” But she spurns me. What am I doing wrong?

You’ve got to know when to walk away, man. Or when to stop talking. Or, in this particular case, when to seek out a licensed therapist.

Q: When Morgan Freeman asked you “can I say [f-bomb]?” during a recent interview, how did it make you feel that he phrased the question in such a way that he had dropped the f-bomb before securing your approval to do so?

If you were to go back and listen to the recording, you can hear the pride and amusement in my voice that he bothered to ask at all. But I like to think that, had I said, ‘No, I’m afraid you can’t,’ he would’ve offered an even more offensive word in its place, then upturned the table and said, ‘Morgan Freeman says [f-bomb] whenever the [f-bomb] Morgan Freeman wants. Now you get the [f-bomb] out … and when you hit the hallway, tell Michael Ausiello to get his ass in here!’

Q: Did you ask him “What’s in the box?” I assumed that question was edited out.

Actually, I asked him, ‘Do you still feel that ‘that reading stuff’ is out of sight?’ (He does, but he doesn’t like to take a public stance on it anymore. Too many publishing companies looking for endorsements, apparently.)

Q: Did Isabella Rossellini happen to mention whether she’s down with men of the, let’s say, “husky” persuasion? Please answer this one.

When I brought it up, her mind immediately went to thoughts of seduction. She even made a video about it.

Q: You have bravely waded into The AV Club comments section. For readers who do not know this online oasis of advanced thought and emotional consideration, please describe the sensation. What protective gear do you wear? Is there a ritual cleansing later?

Actually, I have been very, very lucky for the most part, as far more of my work for the AV Club has been in the field of interviewing rather than criticism, which limits the amount of vitriol spewed in my general direction. In fact, after my first interview (“Random Roles with Peter Gallagher“), one of the commenters wrote, ‘The comments above are all, like, sincere and shit. What’s going on here today?’ I’m as surprised as anyone that the readership has embraced me as quickly as they have, but I’m confident that I will somehow cause them to turn on me before long.

Q: What can we as a culture do to fight the spread of memes?

Stop being so damned creative. Creativity has always been humanity’s downfall.

Q: You sometimes string for our local newspaper, The Virginian-Pilot. When you force The Pilot to pay a fee to purchase the supple fruit of your freelance journalism, do you ever feel guilty for reducing the available pot of money for executive bonuses?

In my scrapbook, I still keep a letter I received from E.F. Rogers, Jr., The Virginian-Pilot’s Assistant Managing Editor, Recruiting/Personnel, dated December 31, 1990. ‘This is to acknowledge receipt of your application for a summer internship on The Virginian-Pilot and The Ledger-Star,’ wrote Rogers. ‘Interns will be selected in January. If you are selected, we will be back in touch.’ The fact that Rogers did not, in fact, get back in touch with me handily assuages any guilt I may feel about reducing the available pot of money for executive bonuses. If they’d only brought me into the fold as a full-timer when they had the chance, they certainly could’ve cut me by now, thereby adding more funds to the coffers.

Q: Did you happen to get Isabella Rossellini’s phone number? For the purposes of fact-checking, I mean.

Sadly, we were connected by a publicist, so she herself did not call in. I say ‘sadly,’ but for Ms. Rossellini, this is probably a blessing.

Q: When you ask a subject such as Larry the Cable Guy whether they appeal to the lowest common denominator, do you have to define the word denominator?

It’s so tempting to mock ol’ Larry, but the truth of the matter is that he was an incredibly nice guy, and he liked me enough to discuss something he’d never been of a mind to talk about in the press before. I mean, it’s a shame he went and wasted such great material on a little ol’ blog like mine, but I still feel a certain allegiance to him for having done so, especially given that I once completely tore Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector a new one. (Funny how it never occurred to me to bring that up during our conversation … )

Q: When you use the word denominator in front of subject such as David Cross, do you look up what it means before hand, just in case he wants to challenge your understanding of the word’s meanings?

I always have Dictionary.com at the ready, just to be on the safe side.

Q: Mad Men has returned. It is quite popular. Why are they still so mad?

Oh, that’s just the lung cancer and liver damage talking. They’re really a swell bunch of fellas.

Q: If you did indeed write down Isabella Rossellini’s phone number, where do you keep it? I’m thinking an address book in the center desk drawer. Of course, that might be the decoy address book. You’re a clever one, Will Harris.

If you truly believe that I have the budget to afford a desk with drawers, John-Henry Doucette, then I don’t think you really know me at all.

Q: Has a certain series of questions in this Q&A effectively furthered the popular notion that a certain actress is a desirable person or merely slapped around a dead horse through repetition? How do both of those techniques – identifying a referent of a cultural perception and engaging in reaffirmation of the referent – fit into writing about pop culture?

Fact: Isabella Rossellini is endlessly charming … or, at least, she was during the 15 minutes she was chatting with me. But, then, she is an outstanding actress. As for repetition in the field of pop culture, I always return to the Simpsons scene where Sideshow Bob steps on a seemingly endless number of rakes, each one smacking him in the face, each time instigating a low grumble. It’s funny at first, then it isn’t anymore, and then all of a sudden it gets funny again. This doesn’t translate to everything in pop culture, of course, but it works on a surprising number of things. Like, say, this Isabelli Rossellini gag.

Q: Seriously, you find that number, I’m sure she’ll be cool with you passing it along.

See, now the joke isn’t funny anymore. Remember what I said about knowing when to walk away? This would’ve been one of those occasions.

Q: We’ve covered so much ground. Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

Did I mention that I once interviewed Isabella Rossellini?  (I’m not sure, but I think the fact that I’m bringing it up this time makes it funny again. If so, you’re welcome.)

Beyond that, I’ll just say that I appreciate your appreciation of my work, and I hope that my ridiculous obsession with doing research in advance of my interviews continues to pay off both for myself and the people who seem to like the pieces that result from these conversations.

To read more Belligerent Q&As, click on this link.

The Stooges plays us out. Sometimes we’re all just the world’s forgotten boy.

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Language, lines and listening


The following post isn't really about Ted Danson, but it is kind of/sort of, and people seem to like looking at the man, so here is a picture of him. Photo by John Doucette.

This post is about priorities, if you bear with it.

As both who read this blog know, the actor and activist Ted Danson and Norfolk, Va., author Mike D’Orso recently spoke and signed books at Prince Books. The talk was moved across the street from Prince to the Selden Arcade in downtown Norfolk due to anticipate demand. Good thing. Nice turnout.

Danson and D’Orso are authors of Oceana: Our Endangered Oceans and What We Can Do to Save Them. I’ve written about the book and D’Orso before, and previous posts can be found here. The book’s website is here, and you can find links to some nice interviews with Danson there.

I’m not really going to get into the talk here, but I want to share two experiences – one I had, and one someone else had – the day Danson and D’Orso spoke.

In one case, a guy did not understand the concept of a line for the book signing.

By the line, I mean a formation of human being as a mutually agreed-to organizing principle amid a common activity. This is the third most important thing that distinguishes us from the beasts. The first two most important things are (1) language and (2) counting. And let me just list them with a couple other priorities for perspective:

  1. Language
  2. Counting
  3. The line
  4. Thumbs
  5. Isabella Rossellini

This is not to say language and counting are all that superior than the line. An argument could be made that we have language and counting mostly to tell people what number they are in the line. A sad, sad argument.

But say a line jumper gets snippy, you give them the thumbs as a way of demonstrating where they should be in the line. That’s a benefit of thumbs. I’m not about to get into doorknobs here, but certainly thumbs matter there. Also getting a pickle out of a jar. And so you have something to sit on during business meetings. Thumbs: another topic for another day.

The Isabella Rossellini thing is just and oh-by-the-way. Maybe you show them a picture of her to try to calm them down. I don’t know how the lady works, but she works.

So back to the guy and the line.

Lucy Couch, who works at Prince Books and is married to my fellow Old Dominion University Creative Writing MFA-er Ian Couch, apparently had to deal with a disgruntled gentleman with an implied past military affiliation, and an aversion to waiting his turn.

As I understand it, Lucy used language and indicated counting, but the guy wouldn’t have it. Dude just wanted a moment with Ted Danson. Right then. So if this disgruntled guy really had a past military affiliation, I’m amazed he couldn’t out-wait a little line or, say, buy a book maybe on account of it being a book signing at what is a book store, not some subsidized program to bring a bit more Danson to the masses.

This line simply was not some soul-crushing thing. When I was in the service, I’m pretty sure I waited in longer lines to eat chow more than once. And if I tried to jump the chow line? Out came language and thumbs.

Overall, this was a really cool line, with more folks seemingly interested in the environment than they were in how Danson used to be on a TV show called Cheers. Even the guy who asked about a Cheers reunion didn’t belabor it. Much. And some of us were there for D’Orso. This is Norfolk. He’s our guy.

So some guy was a jerk, and Lucy had to deal with it. Lucy held her ground, and he split.

Yay Lucy.

Boo some guy.

That’s the part that happened to someone else. Next is what happened to me.

Earlier, I’d ducked into a business. Through the mutual application of language, two seasoned gents learned where I was going and promptly busted Ted Danson’s chops for a prediction or statement he made many years ago about the oceans’ future – one Danson addresses in the book, by the way. And the men, as though channeling the talk radio drones that ripped into Danson at the time, had a nice laugh.

Though, to be fair, they liked him on Cheers. And Damages.

This reminded me that when I’d read Will Harris’ piece for The Virginian-Pilot on the D’Orso-Danson event at Prince, a couple of online commenters had raised the same points that spoke nothing of the merits of the science Danson is trying to put forward for our consideration.

Now, look: if you’re from Hampton Roads, you know that encountering the reader comments at Pilotonline.com should only be done in a cautionary way, to remind one to drive defensively.

Some of those people own cars.

But it also reminded me that there are a lot of people who seem to exist only to belittle ideas.

To some people, your words are useless and they don’t want to see the math. They don’t give a damn about lines, whether they exist for a reason, right or wrong. They want what they want when they want it, and they don’t care where it comes from, how it was gotten, and what it costs in the long term for short-term gain. You can point them to reality and they’ll say you don’t have the right to give them the thumbs.

What’s left? Help us, Isabella Rossellini – you’re our only hope?

I don’t know that a book changes how some folks are, no more than a silly blog post. I’ll read what Danson and D’Orso wrote, and so will some others, but I already make decisions about my seafood and where I shop and so forth. Maybe I’ll make better ones. Maybe not.

But I’ll try to keep an open mind. I wish more people would try. Ignorance, as it has been said, is not a sustainable position.

Some won’t consider that there’s any value to regulating overfishing by commercial fleets and protecting coastal environments and what have you because, well, they just won’t. At that point, they’re not in a conversation but in a bunker.

I’m kidding around when I say some actress is one of the key things that separates us from the beasts, and my list above, admittedly, is 99 percent bunk. But I’m convinced that language is the key to our humanity, both the written and spoken words. How we add to the pile of existing language defines us.

Part of that is listening. We need to understand the disagreement and the common ground before we speak and write. If we aren’t willing to listen to others, if we always put ourselves first, we can’t communicate. That means we’re incapable of collaboration and compromise for the common good.

That’s inhuman, and it’s scary that any of us find that condition acceptable. It’s even scarier that we sometimes don’t even realize we are actively refusing to hear truths that challenge our own.

P.S. Why can’t we count on Isabella Rossellini alone? She’s busy with um, specific topics, and the following video is (a) nutty and (b) probably not safe for work.

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