During the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic, my Spotify playlists filled up with hits from my teenage years. I stopped exploring new arrivals on streaming networks and queued up familiar sitcoms and iconic movies. In my most vulnerable moments, I may have even cracked a “Sweet Valley High” paperback.
“YWA” bases each episode around a story most of us are at least passingly familiar with — and reveals what we weren’t told, how the facts were skewed, or, as in the case of Monica Lewinsky and so many other tabloid-fodder young women, how easy it was to create a narrative that mainly served sexist headlines and late-night show hosts’ monologue jokes.
“You’re Wrong About” offers a useful counterpoint to the idea of “cancel culture,” a term that, like “politically correct,” is almost always lobbed derisively. As Hobbes pointed out about political correctness (an aspect of culture popularized in the 1980s and 1990s) on a recent “YWA” episode, most of the claims made in its heyday were minor anecdotes that didn’t hold up to investigative scrutiny.
“YWA” does the heavy lift of excavating the cultural factors that create faulty, or overly simplistic, narratives. Sometimes, this can be the opposite of cancellation, bringing nuance and humanity back to people who were unjustly pigeonholed.
The often-heavy subject matter is balanced by friend chemistry between the quick-witted hosts, who thrive on extensive research and cracking each other up. Marshall, the goofier of the duo, has an infectious laugh that regularly echoes through my house. The show is structured so one host has the task of researching a topic and explaining it to the other. The appealing result is learning along with them: Where did we get it wrong, and why?
One recurring “YWA” topic is the abysmal media treatment of famous young women. If there’s one thing America loves, it’s an attractive young woman laid low by supposed scandal. Harding, Lewinsky, Amy Fisher, Anna Nicole Smith, Princess Diana, Vanessa Williams and Jessica Simpson have all been subjects of fantastic episodes I’d recommend if you’re looking for a place to jump in.
“Why Are Dads” excels at examining problematic things about the movies we once loved, while granting, with humor and grace, that we are still allowed to love them.
Gumb (played by actor Ted Levine), a.k.a. serial killer Buffalo Bill, remains one of the enduring associations many people have with transgender people, despite Hannibal Lecter’s one line that he’s “not a real transsexual.” As Colangelo points out, the Oscar-winning film still links queer people with monstrosity in a way that has been weaponized against countless transgender people in the real world. Like Marshall, I’ve always loved “Silence of the Lambs,” but I don’t think I’ll ever view it the same way again.
I also adored the “Top Gun” episode, which zeroes in on the Reaganite nightmare that is Tom Cruise’s Maverick. Who were we wrong about? Val Kilmer’s Iceman, that’s who. He doesn’t like Maverick because he’s “dangerous,” and as Marshall points out, it’s actually really not OK to be dangerous when you’re flying airplanes.
Another recent episode enlisted autistic journalist Eric Michael Garcia for a discussion of 1988’s “Rain Man” (yes, Tom Cruise seems to be a running theme in movies that got stuff wrong). In many ways, they conclude, it’s a wildly reductive and ill-informed portrayal of autism — but there are illuminating parts of the plot as well. Garcia points out, for example, that sending autistic children to institutions was indeed “seen as the right thing to do” in the not-so-distant past.
But the hosts’ conclusion is never that these movies are worthless, which is music to my Gen X-cinephile ears. Too often, I’ve despaired that many of my favorites may have to go unwatched forever, on principle. Marshall and Steed and their insightful guests have me feeling optimistic about being able to wade back in, albeit with a critical eye. And occasionally, the “WAD” look back raises up a film that deserves a bigger place in pop culture than it’s traditionally gotten, like the 1999 rom-com “10 Things I Hate About You,” an unabashedly feminist “Taming of the Shrew” for teens.
The fight against misinformation and disingenuous media narratives isn’t likely to get easier anytime soon. But shows like “You’re Wrong About,” and their brethren, that help sharpen our news literacy — and have a laugh at our propensity to interpret things wrong all the time – might help us move toward a kinder, more honest future.