Wesley Morris and J Wortham are working it out in this weekly show about culture in the broadest sense. That means television, film, books, music — but also the culture of work, dating, the internet and how those all fit together. Listen to this podcast in New York Times Audio, our new iOS app for news subscribers. Download now at nytimes.com/audioapp
America Has a Problem
39:38Today: The undoing of Kanye West. “We’re in deeply vile territory, and I can’t make intellectual sense of that,” Wesley Morris says about West, who now goes by Ye.In 2004, when Ye released “College Dropout," he seemed to be challenging Black orthodoxy in ways that felt exciting and risky. But over the years, his expression of “freedom” has felt anything but free. His embrace of anti-Black, antisemitic and white supremacist language “comes at the expense of other people’s safety,” their humanity and their dignity, J Wortham says.Wesley and J discuss what it means to divest from someone whose art, for two decades, had awed, challenged and excited you.
Plastic Off the Sofa
30:02“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” came into theaters with a huge responsibility: It had to address the death of Chadwick Boseman, the star of the first “Black Panther” movie, who died of cancer in August 2020.Wesley and J discuss how the film offers the audience an experience of collective grief and mourning — something that never happened in the United States in response to the losses of 2020. They interrogate what it means that this gesture of healing came from Marvel and Disney, a corporate empire that is in control of huge swaths of our entertainment, and not from another type of leadership.Additional resources:To hear what Wesley and J had to say about the first “Black Panther” movie, listen to this episode of “Still Processing” from 2018. Ryan Coogler, the director of “Wakanda Forever,” spoke to the author Ta-Nehisi Coates about the making of movie, and how it captured the real-life grief that people experienced after Chadwick Boseman’s death. Listen to their conversation here.
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I'm That Girl
27:45Beyoncé’s latest album, “Renaissance,” showcases a pop star letting go of all expectations. Wesley and J go deep into the album and this new era of Beyoncé. It’s an era of play, freedom, comedy and queerness — unlike anything we’ve ever heard from Beyoncé Knowles-Carter before.
32:01Wesley and J discuss the push to “return to office” — and what it means for their lives, as well as American culture as a whole. What have 50 years of workplace sitcoms, from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” to “Abbott Elementary,” taught us about our romance with the office? And what do TikTok parodies and the TV show “Severance” get right about the history of labor in America? In this period of returning to so-called normalcy, Wesley and J reflect on how we can ensure that the lessons of the early pandemic aren’t forgotten.
26:31Donna Summer’s 1977 hit “I Feel Love” is the inspiration for the final track on Beyoncé’s new album, “Renaissance.” Summer became the queen of disco in the ’70s, but her catalog goes much further than that. You can hear her legacy in decades of electronic and R&B. “She is an architect of the pop culture we experience today,” J says.In this episode, J and Wesley revisit her 1982 album, “Donna Summer” — and explore why, out of all of her music, this self-titled album is the most distinctly Donna.
31:09J Wortham and Wesley Morris are back, just in time for Scorpio season. Ever since they watched Jordan Peele’s latest film, “Nope,” together over the summer, they haven’t been able to stop talking about it. The film stars Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer as siblings whose family horse ranch is threatened by an otherworldly creature. But instead of escaping or destroying the monster, they are determined to take a picture of it. Why is proof so important? And what does it mean to be believed? Today: The unresolved questions of “Nope” (some of them, anyway) and what the film says about the grimmer aspects of living in America. (Beware: Spoilers ahead!)“Still Processing” is back for a mini-season. New episodes on Tuesdays. Follow the show on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, Amazon Music or wherever you get your podcasts.
We Belong Together
23:34Reunited at last, J Wortham joins Wesley Morris in the studio for the last episode of the season. They reflect on the challenges of being apart for almost a year while J was on book leave.How did J deal with the inevitable stretches of loneliness? How do you re-enter your home and your relationships after so much time away?J and Wesley discuss how they managed to stay connected over the past year, and the role of community and intimacy in moments of tragedy.
When Your Neighbor’s the Highway
36:37Today, Wesley leaves the studio – and goes home. He embarks on a journey that involves a car named Khad'ija, a tireless 92-year-old activist and one Chinatown. Last year, President Biden signed a $1 trillion infrastructure bill into law. One part of the initiative especially struck Wesley: the federal government’s acknowledgment that its mid-century push to build a massive highway system had caused suffering. Wesley started thinking about a highway that he sometimes crossed as a kid in Philadelphia: the Vine Street Expressway. When it was built in 1991, he never realized how deeply it had divided and altered the Chinatown neighborhood. What happened to all the people who were living there? How did their lives — and their communities — transform? On today’s show, Wesley returns to his hometown to try to find out. Click here for photos of Wesley's journey and more info about the episode.
And a Britney Song Was On …
19:04"This Is How We Do It" by Montell Jordan is an unforgettable hip-hop relic, a jam whose opening six words alone make you want to party. Wesley has heard this 1995 hit countless times since he was a teenager, but it wasn’t until hearing it recently at the gym that he had an epiphany: It’s a country song. It belongs to a long tradition of country music that expresses love and respect for one's hometown. Wesley explores other songs that have changed in meaning for him over the years (like “Losing My Religion” by R.E.M.), and he considers what happens to music’s meaning when the culture around it changes — the way it did with Britney Spears and her hits, in the aftermath of her yearslong struggle to end her court-sanctioned conservatorship.
31:05When Wesley was 11, he wanted to be just like Sandra from the sitcom “227,” played by Jackée Harry. Sandra was sassy, boisterous and always got what she wanted. But it took reading Margo Jefferson’s latest book, “Constructing a Nervous System: A Memoir,” for Wesley understand the complexity of this memory. On today's episode, Wesley and Margo Jefferson sift through their most deep-rooted, and sometimes difficult-to-explain cultural influences. Why did Margo adore the scatting of Ella Fitzgerald, but squirm at the sight of her sweating onstage? Why was Margo drawn to Ike Turner as a teen, but not Tina Turner? Together, Wesley and Margo unpack their cultural memories — and what they reveal about who they are now.