Podcasts and Politics and Still Processing
When I started this newsletter in September — which, after the election last week, seems like an eternity ago — I stumped for podcasts as a vehicle of comprehension, as an essential way to understand the things in our world. It can, like movies, television, books, and everything else we ingest for fun, be a way to escape the world for a few hours. And in the middle of those two spaces is where I’ve lived since Tuesday’s results: Angry, confused, not sure if I want to submerge myself in the political podcast world or if I want to be left alone.
So, my listening habits have been erratic, irrational: I listened to Keepin’ It 1600, my weekly democratic therapy session, and Code Switch, which is just about the best show in my feed every week. I avoided the Political Gabfests and Radio Free GOP. The last four episodes of the well-done but stress-inducing The United States of Anxiety are still waiting for me. Straight-up deleted Hidden Brain’s episode entitled, “What Happened?” Unsubscribed from Presidents Are People, Too. I took my brain away from politics by catching up on weeks-old episodes of Heavyweight and 2 Dope Queens and The Football Ramble.
I did all that in a flailing attempt to figure out which shows actually have influence and staying power. I was trying to figure out what matters anymore. (It’s been a slightly darker-than-normal week, and I’m a white guy.)
But, in the midst of the relative purge of my feed and a creeping need to throw the covers over my head, I heard the most recent episode of Still Processing, a show hosted by Wesley Morris and Jenna Wortham at the New York Times. During “The Reckoning,” I cried as they cried, and I remembered why listening to people — really hearing them — is important. I remembered why I believe in the power of audio to be something really good in the world.
Morris, a Pulitzer Prize winner, is perhaps my favorite critic in the country and has been on my must-read list since his days at Grantland. I’m new to Wortham’s work, but together they form one of the best duos in the whole podcast landscape — in just 10 episodes, they’ve proven to be thoughtful, funny, bold, and important. “The Reckoning,” obviously, was no different: Their recorded conversation was the kind I assume many millions of people had with friends and family in private during these past eight days. It feels as though the two friends walked into the building, hugged silently, and went directly into the studio to record a conversation about the election that was more personal than anything I heard this week; the most intimate discussion in the most intimate medium.
“We’re all stuck, for better or for worse,” Wortham said in the episode. “I have a lot of concerns about personal safety for my community and my family. I’m very anxious. We have no idea what’s going to happen next. And that’s…a really difficult thing to grapple with.”
“You know one of my weaknesses in life, which is empathy. It’s a great thing to have sometimes and other times it’s a problem,” Morris said, and then through tears: “I’m really trying to understand the fear that people have of us [or] the President…who never hurt anybody, didn’t start a war, wanted to give people stuff like healthcare. I feel so ridiculous right now crying about this.” At that point, Wortham jumped in to help her friend, and the two of them got through the show. It was brave of them to be so open.
Our conversations about race and politics are tightly bound. They are not intertwined because someone or some entity tells us they should be, but in part because we are a country with a history of racial issues, and in part because people voted along racial lines. That second fact alone should indicate that asking “Why?” — and all the discussions that ensue — are topics worthy of our time and energy. But perhaps we found out this week that, before you can answer that big question, it’s best to talk — and cry — with a friend.
- This American Life did its part this week in the aftermath of the election, interviewing a dozen (or more, I lost count) different people who all had different backgrounds and opinions for an episode called “The Sun Comes Up.”
- For you Hamilton junkies, Lin-Manuel Miranda was on WTF with Marc Maron this week. I’ve heard great things, although I haven’t gotten to it yet.
- The Heart, one of my all-time favorites, just won the Third Coast Audio Festival’s top award for “Mariya.” I’ll be writing more about The Heart in later editions of this newsletter, for sure.
I’m going to start spotlighting an independent show in each of these newsletters…starting with the next one. Love each other, all of you.