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.
We Belong Together
Reunited 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
Today, 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. Visit nytimes.com/stillprocessing for photos of Wesley's journey and more info about the episode.
And a Britney Song Was On …
"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.
When 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.
Can Athletes Ever Be Movie Stars?
What happens when athletes decide to act? And what doesn’t happen? Wesley Morris and Bill Simmons, sportswriter and founder of The Ringer, break down the history of athletes in movies. They start with Jackie Robinson playing himself in 1950, discuss the Blaxpoitation-era stars and make their way to the ’90s, from “He Got Game” (where Ray Allen turns in a solid performance opposite Denzel Washington, directed by Spike Lee) to “Space Jam” (the less said, the better). They trace this phenomenon all the way to Dwayne Johnson, a.k.a. The Rock, arguably the most successful athlete-turned-actor of all time — who seems to be playing the long game. Then, they imagine a new kind of renaissance for the sports movie.
Wesley wants to get to the bottom of Keanu Reeves — and to understand “why we get so much out of a movie star who appears to give us so little.” He’s joined by Alex Pappademas, the author of “Keanu Reeves: Most Triumphant: The Movies and Meaning of an Irrepressible Icon,” to solve this mystery. They discuss Keanu’s three-decade acting career, how he became the internet’s adorably tragic boyfriend and why we are seeing ourselves when we look at the actor.
Love hearing these two talk. Always interesting and honest, super-smart and funny, they teach me a lot. The first show of this season (about that word) is still going round my mind. We need this show.
Look forward to this every week. Jenna and Wesley are so insightful and wise. Top stuff
Love from London
Thoughtful and insightful. Thanks for helping us make sense of Americaland!