Canned Questions and Interesting Insights

I’ve been following Alyssa Rosenberg’s work for years. One of the things that I love about her is her ability to not just report on camps across the aisle from her, but her inclination to understand them, explain them, and offer a sort of common ground or an olive branch.

Her latest piece that got me thinking is “Seven questions the entertainment industry needs to answer about rape,” inspired by the HBO’s president of programming’s squirmishness around the frequency of rape plots on the premium channel’s shows.

“It’s remarkable that public relations departments aren’t briefing network executives and talent about this question, which has come up at every press tour I’ve attended. If nothing else, better answers, no matter how canned they are, would help advance discussions about the depiction of sexual violence, instead of leaving us stuck in the same frustrating intellectual morass,” writes Rosenberg.

And so she offers them seven questions that they might prepare stock answers for.

On its face it goes against what a lot of journalists believe about the proper format for an interview; the interviewer is traditionally the one with the power and full forethought. But it also undermines the DC/gamergate/Ghost- bros’ argument that critics are only in it for the scoop, Dirty Laundry style. Here Rosenberg is saying—and showing—that critics are interested in getting to the heart of the issue. It’d be easy to write about yet another network exec who fumbled his answer to questions about sexual assault. It fits right into what’s expected; fuels that “outrage culture” we hear so much about.

And yet, she takes the time to offer up some prepared questions for network execs to prepare for, because she genuinely wants to know what they think about it.

“What are you interested in saying about sexual assault, either in the context of a single story or across your network or studio’s mix of programming?”

“If you believe your exploration of violence is “not specific to women,” what stories are you telling, or do you plan to tell, about men’s experiences with sexual assault? Do you believe men and women’s experiences with sexual violence are the same or different?”

“What stories about sexual assault by other artists do you admire, and why? Can you name a story about sexual assault that you think was badly done or unnecessary, and explain why you feel that way about it?”

These are fascinating questions, and any answer to them aside from a squirm and a brush-off would be breaking from the norm in a way pop culture writers are eagerly awaiting. Rosenberg is showing that the answers are worth perhaps compromising a bit for.

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