Megan Garber
Megan Garber
Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic, covering culture.
Kara Gordon / The Atlantic

Arch Enemies

A new company is bringing the engineering savvy of rocket science to the design of the high-heeled shoe. Can stilettos that are actually comfortable to wear change centuries’ worth of symbolism?

  • Sven Frenzel / ABC

    Good Grief: TV Is Getting Better at Mourning

    The medium’s episodic structure makes it an apt medium to explore that most long-running and unpredictable of emotions.

  • Come Watch Wag the Dog With Us

    Refat / Shutterstock / New Line Cinema / Katie Martin / The Atlantic

    Mid-way through October—and aaaaalmost approaching the finish line of this long-running election season—it seems appropriate to consider, for the next installment of Political Theater, the October surprise.

    Wag the Dog, the 1997 satire starring Robert DeNiro, Dustin Hoffman, Anne Heche, William H. Macy, Kirsten Dunst, Willie Nelson, Woody Harrelson, and a handful of many other mid-’90s luminaries, is all about the last-minute revelations that can change the course of an election. That might be why it was one of your most up-voted movie selections for Political Theater. As one reader explained, “This movie gave me my first look into the government communications machine and drove my interest in political PR, which I ended up making my career.”

    Wag the Dog, indeed, is all about the interplay between politics and pageantry. It follows the PR guy Conrad Brean (De Niro) as he attempts to distract the U.S. electorate from a presidential sex scandal—by orchestrating, with the help of a Hollywood producer, a fake war with that unlikeliest of foes: Albania.

    Yes. A little bit Argo, a little bit Canadian Bacon, Wag the Dog is uniquely cynical—and, in that, possibly even more relevant today than it was when it premiered nearly 20 years ago.

    Here’s a preview:

    We’ll be watching Wag the Dog on Monday, 10/17, starting at 6:30 p.m. East Coast time. (Wag the Dog is streaming on Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, Google Play, and other digital platforms for $2.99.) If you’re free to watch it at the same time, please join in! I’ll be tweeting some initial thoughts about it then, with the hashtag #AtlanticPoliticalTheater. As before, though, watch it whenever is good for you, and join the conversation whenever you’d like—via Twitter (I’m @megangarber) or via an email to hello@theatlantic.com.

    Looking forward to watching and chatting with you!

  • Dennis Van Tine / STAR MAX / AP

    Amy Schumer: The Comical Is Political

    Some 200 people walked out of the comedian’s Tampa arena show after she made jokes about Donald Trump. It’s unclear why, exactly, they were surprised by her partisanship.

  • Election's Alternate Ending

    MTV Films / Katie Martin / The Atlantic

    As we were watching Election on Wednesday, my colleague Matt alerted me to something I’d had no idea about: the film’s creators had originally provided a different ending. A really, really different ending.

    It went like this:

    Which is, yes … shockingly different from the conclusion the filmmakers went with! [Warning: From here, I should say, there will be intense spoilers about that ending.]

    The ending that ultimately made the cut is, I think, tremendous: It almost single-handedly elevates—even, you could argue, redeems—Election, transforming it from a high-school soap opera into something that more strictly resembles a sweeping morality play.

    The official ending is twofold: First, it finds Mr. McAllister catching a glimpse of Tracy, years after they both left Nebraska, in Washington—just down the street from the White House. She has graduated from Georgetown; she’s now an aide to Mike Geiger, a Republican representative; she’s leading exactly the kind of life you would expect Tracy Flick to be leading. When she and Mr. McAllister cross paths—she’s across the street getting into a limo with Geiger—she looks in his direction, with an expression of triumph on her face, but he’ll never know whether she actually saw him.

    And then: He can’t resist. As the limo pulls away, heading away from the White House up 16th Street … he throws his cup of soda at it. The drink explodes on the back window of the car. He runs away. He is just as petty as ever. And she, once again, has won.

    Watch the whole glorious scene for yourself:

    And then there’s the very last scene: We find Mr. McAllister back in New York, where he works in the educational department at the Museum of Natural History—he guides tours for kids, basically. In the museum, surrounded by dioramas depicting early man, he asks a question: “So will that make this an igneous rock, or sedimentary? What’s the difference between igneous and sedimentary, anyway?”

    The hand of a girl shoots up, eager and insistent: the next Tracy. Tracys, the movie suggests, here in this monument to the inevitability of evolution, are everywhere. And they will win, in the end. Darwinism is on their side.

    Compare all that, then, to the ending that director Alexander Payne et al almost appended to Election: one that finds Tracy and Mr. McAllister reconciling, awkwardly, via that most idealistically American of rituals: the purchase of a new car. This ending features Tracy, having just graduated from Carver, confessing to Mr. McAllister that she is scared about what the future might hold. This ending, in short, humbles Tracy, and defangs her. It finds her confessing, actually, exactly the thing Mr. McAllister would want her to confess.

    Which is all to say: It’s a very, very good thing Election’s creators went with the ending they did.

    What about you? What are your thoughts about the ending, or the film in general? Let us know at hello@theatlantic.com.

  • Scott Garfield / Netflix

    Is Mascots Too Mean?

    Christopher Guest has always been an auteur of the awkward—but his mockumentary formula, in a culture that prizes quirky individualism, mocks a little too hard.

  • Jim Bourg / Reuters

    How Ken Bone Became a Brand

    “America, prepare to enter the #bonezone.”

  • ABC

    American Housewife Has a Weight Problem

    Progress: The ABC sitcom cast a non-skinny actor as its lead. Setback: It made her character obsessed with her own body.

  • Come Watch Election With Us

    Refat / Shutterstock / MTV Films / Katie Martin / The Atlantic

    When Hillary Clinton met Reese Witherspoon, the politician had a good way of breaking the ice: “Everybody talks to me,” Clinton is reported to have said, “about Tracy Flick in Election.”

    It’s not necessarily a flattering comparison: Tracy Flick is, in one sense, a kind of comic-book villain in a plaid skirt. She’s obsessed with winning. She will stop at nothing to achieve that goal. And she’s also that most fraught of things for a woman to be: openly ambitious.

    Because of all that, Tracy is an extremely relevant character for the era that is still (still!) grappling with the political ascendancy of Hillary Clinton. So let’s talk about Ms. Flick! And about the movie she stars in! Our next installment of Political Theater will be … 1999’s Election.

    Here’s a preview:

    We’ll be watching Election on Wednesday, 10/12, starting at 6:30 p.m. East Coast time. If you’re free to watch it at the same time, please join in! I’ll tweet some initial thoughts about it then. (Election is streaming on Hulu and Amazon—where it’s free with a Prime membership—and it’s available for purchase for $2-3 on iTunes, YouTube, and other platforms.) But, as before, watch it whenever is good for you, and join the conversation whenever you’d like—via Twitter (I’m @megangarber) or via hello@theatlantic.com.

    Looking forward to watching and chatting—and to reveling in high school political intrigue—with you!

  • TBS

    The Anger of Samantha Bee

    Her latest Full Frontal episode is a reminder of how deeply the election's outrage has permeated American culture.

  • Reuters / Shannon Stapleton

    The Ballad of Ken Bone

    On what might have been the most depressing night of the 2016 campaign so far, citizens found their hero—not on the stage, but in the seats.

  • MOMA

    The Long (and Short) History of the Choker

    Delicacy and violence, danger and control—the necklace of the moment evokes more than the grunge of the ’90s.

  • Who Cares If a Politician Is Likable?

    NBC / Katie Martin / The Atlantic

    One of the election-season clichés that has been a standby in previous cycles, and that has been obliterated in this one, is the Beer Question. Which candidate would you rather have a beer with? Who, basically, do you find engaging, and interesting, and on your level? Who would you want to have over for a pint or two?

    It’s the question at the heart of “Game On,” the West Wing episode that finds President Bartlet in a climactic, live-televised meet-up with his Republican challenger, Florida’s Governor Ritchie. The episode may only loosely feature beer; it revolves, though, around the qualities the Beer Question really tests: matters of “relatability” and, with them, “authenticity.” The question is about the gut feeling voters have about the people who put themselves forward to be their leaders. It’s about the tricky paradox that candidates have been navigating ever since the Washingtons welcomed that first eager traveler to Mount Vernon: Americans want leaders who will lead them, but who will also not be above them. They want the world’s most powerful elected leader to be a regular guy. Or a regular girl. They want … a peer.

    So “Game On”! Ritchie, here, is very clearly the candidate you’d want to have a beer with. He’s folksy and charming and plainspoken. He probably has thoughts about the Dolphins’ defense. Bartlet, on the other hand … probably does not. He’s the know-it-all, the nerd, the snob, the kind of guy who probably eats a lot of quinoa (and who knows that it’s pronounced “KEEN-wah,” and will totally tell you so when you marvel at how ubiquitous “kin-OH-a” has become). If you came over to hang out with him, let’s be honest, he’d probably offer you a cheeky Zinfandel.

    And “Game On” is not subtle about laying any of this out. (The episode is, perhaps relatedly, part of the last season of West Wing episodes to be written by Aaron Sorkin.) Indeed, throughout the televised campaign, Bartlet versus Ritchie, these blunt oppositions have been the stakes: smart versus not, educated versus not, thinking with your head versus knowing with your heart. George H.W. Bush versus George W. Bush.

    The stakes are, to be clear, extremely glib: Ritchie is essentially a walking (well, dais-grasping) straw man, standing in for a great many of the stereotypes within which progressives are fond of packaging conservatives. During the debate, Ritchie talks about “Eskimo poetry.” He calls “unfunded mandate” “a big word.” He seems confused. He seems unprepared—not just for the debate, but for leadership. It is simply not a fair fight.

    And that, of course, is the point. As Sam and Will are savoring Bartlet’s victory after the debate, Will registers his surprise about how forthrightly superior Bartlet was as it played out. “I thought he was going to have to fall all over himself trying to be genial!” Will says.

    “So did we,” Sam replies. “But then,” he adds,

    we were convinced by polling that said he was going to be seen as arrogant no matter what performance he gave in the debate. And then, that morning at 3:10, my phone rings, and it’s Toby Ziegler. He says, “Don’t you get it? It’s a gift that they’re irreversibly convinced that he's arrogant ‘cause now he can be.” If your guy’s seen that way, you might as well knock some bodies down with it.

    Again: so smug. Smuggity smug smug. We can acknowledge our own superiority, without shame or retribution! But I think there’s something hopeful in it, too.

  • Hulu

    Rom, Calm: The Mindy Project's New Spin on Coupling Up

    The Hulu show is the latest to explore that most modern of things: the absence of romance.

  • Netflix

    I Drank Coffee Like a Gilmore Girl

    To promote the show’s return, Netflix set up 200 pop-ups across the U.S. to give fans free caffeine ... and an extra shot of nostalgia.

  • Europa Editions / Katie Martin / The Atlantic

    Elena Ferrante and the Cost of Being an Author

    Who does she really belong to?

  • NBC

    Friday Night Lights Democratized TV Drama

    The NBC show, which premiered 10 years ago today, operated under the assumption that every person in the series had a story worth telling.

  • AP

    How to Pronounce Everything

    The new book You’re Saying It Wrong promises to help you avoid that most modern of pitfalls: revealing yourself to be a hopeless ignoramus.

  • Come Watch the West Wing Debate Episode With Us

    Refat / Shutterstock / NBC / Katie Martin / The Atlantic

    This week’s presidential debate! It was … something, right? (Joe Biden summed things up well, I thought, when he told Jimmy Fallon last night, “I’ve never quite seen anything like that.”)

    Since presidential debate season is upon us (this Tuesday will feature the veep debate, and the following Sunday will bring the second Clinton/Trump face-off), this time around we’re taking a slight detour from films: For our next Political Theater segment, we’ll watch … “Game On,” the debate episode of The West Wing. (This is the first one, to be clear, the one that aired in 2002—not the experimental live debate between Santos and Vinick that would follow in 2005.)

    “Game On” finds President Bartlet running against the George W. Bush-esque Governor Ritchie, and the episode contains, for my money, everything I love to hate—and hate to love—about The West Wing: blithe partisanship, broad-brush treatments of complicated public policies, optimistic institution porn, characters delightfully pranking each other.

    Here’s a preview:  

    We’ll be watching “Game On” on Monday, 10/3, starting at 6:30 p.m. East Coast time. If you’re free to watch it at the same time, please join in! I’ll tweet some initial thoughts about the episode then. (“Game On” is streaming on Netflix—it’s Episode 6 of The West Wing’s Season 4—and available for purchase for $2-3 on Amazon, iTunes, and other platforms.) But, as before, watch it whenever is good for you, and join in the conversation whenever you’d like—via Twitter (I’m @megangarber), or via hello@theatlantic.com.

    Looking forward to watching/chatting/catharting with all of you, and to reveling in the pageantry of this unprecedented election season. Game on.

  • The Candidate and the Sequel That Never Was

    Warner Bros. / Katie Martin / The Atlantic

    Jeff, the J.S. reader who wrote in before with great thoughts about The Candidate, followed up with a fascinating tidbit I hadn’t been aware of: The movie almost—almost—got a sequel. “In case you hadn’t heard,” Jeff writes, “there was talk a few years ago of a sequel, in which an older Robert Redford would play Bill McKay as the president he went on to become later in his career. Redford reportedly wanted to do it, but apparently the project never came off—unfortunately!”

    The project was discussed, best I can find, in 2002. Here’s Entertainment Weekly’s write-up of the sequel that, alas, was not to be:

    At the end of the classic 1972 political satire The Candidate, having won an upset victory for U.S. Senator from California, the once-idealistic young candidate played by Robert Redford asks, “What do we do now?” Thirty years later, we’ll find out. Variety reports that Redford is planning to direct a sequel, where he’ll play an older Senator Bill McKay. Writing the sequel will be veteran comedy scriptwriter Larry Gelbart (Tootsie, TV’s M*A*S*H).

    “Interesting further questions,” Jeff notes: “What might a film about a President Bill McKay try to do? What would it satirize? How would it update the 1970s vision of The Candidate in light of later developments?”

    Turns out that, before the project was scrapped, its would-be creators answered some of Jeff’s questions. In 2003, Larry Gelbart told Maureen Dowd that “he’d like this one to show the daily grind of compromises and governing, ‘like trying to make a U-turn with an aircraft carrier.’”

    And Redford, for his part—though he told Dowd that he was, at that point, “anti-sequel”—also told the Times columnist that “he wanted to bring back McKay because things had gotten so much worse with the collusion of business, money, media, politics and celebrity.” As Redford put it: “The truth is so awful, but in its own horrible way, it’s entertaining.”

    Dowd offered her own wry explanation: “Perhaps Mr. Redford figures this is his best chance of seeing a Democrat back in the White House in his lifetime.”

  • Wikimedia Commons

    How Pop Culture Tells Women to Shut Up

    Sady Doyle’s new book, Trainwreck, explores the many ways the U.S. (and its media, and its paparazzi, and its Donald Trump) continue to demean the ladyfolk.