Past Present Podcast: Antonin Scalia, Samantha Bee, and the Grammys

Kendrick Lamar

On this week’s Past Present podcast, Nicole Hemmer, Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, and Neil Young discuss Antonin Scalia, Samantha Bee and women in comedy, and the Grammy Awards.

Replacing Scalia

The death of Antonin Scalia has opened up a spot on the Supreme Court and created a political controversy about his replacement. Niki noted Scalia’s reputation as a Constitutional originalist, and but Neil noted Scalia pivoted between originalist and textualist interpretations depending on the cases.

While most originalists are conservatives, Neil commented that some liberals, like Yale Law School’s Akhil Reed Amar, have also claimed the originalist mantle.

Niki argued that controversies over Supreme Court appointments didn’t begin with Robert Bork’s nomination battle in 1987, but instead had been a regular feature of the twentieth century.

Natalia cited Jonathan Zimmerman’s recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle that showed these nomination fights went back into the nineteenth century.

Are Women Funny? (Are We Still Asking This?)

Full Frontal with Samantha Bee recently debuted on TBS, but why have so few women comedians had late night television shows?

Natalia discussed why historically women have not been seen as funny, a prejudice exhibited as recently as 2011 in Christopher Hitchens’s essay, “Women, the Unfunny Sex.” Niki noted Tina Fey has written about the discrimination she faced as a woman at Saturday Night Live in her recent book, Bossypants. Neil argued Joan Rivers’ short lived show in 1986 had become the standard Hollywood argument for why women couldn’t succeed in late night television.

Natalia observed how women comedians continue to be assessed as much by their appearance as by their humor, something that Amy Schumer has tried to skewer in her comedy and in her recent nude photographs for the Pirelli calendar.

The 2016 Grammys: A Sign of the Times?

Kendrick Lamar’s performance of his songs “The Blacker the Berry” and “Alright” produced the most memorable moment of the 2016 Grammy Awards. Niki commented that Lamar’s performance of “Alright” at the 2015 BET Awards and also the song’s video had much more overt criticisms of police violence than his Grammy performance demonstrated.

Natalia remarked that the Grammys have often awarded songs about racial justice, such as Bob Dylan’s Grammy wins for We Shall Overcome (1964) and The Times They Are A-Changin’ (1965), but these typically took a much different tone from Lamar’s song and its performance.

Niki observed this owed in part to the Grammys’ conservative reputation as an organization founded in 1958 to preserve classical pop music against the new form of rock and roll. Neil noted Grammy performances were often remembered more than the awards, such as the mass wedding presided over by Queen Latifah in 2014.

What’s Making History

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