It's Time For This American Life To Grow Up
August 30, 2012 7:54 PM   Subscribe

The lesson couldn’t be clearer: it’s time for This American Life to grow up.
posted by Fiasco da Gama (89 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
'This American Life' Completes Documentation Of Liberal, Upper-Middle-Class Existence

Ira Glass Tries To Explain 'This American Life' At High School Reunion
posted by odinsdream at 8:03 PM on August 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


Wow, TAL is insufficiently hard-hitting? Will the Baffler next tell me that Wait Wait Don't Tell Me lacks the hard-hitting intellectual rigor of College Bowl in favor of so-called "jokes" by the panelists, who often actually seem to be more concerned with amusing the audience and themselves? That Saturday Night Live actually airs two thirds on Sunday mornings and can be recorded?
posted by Etrigan at 8:10 PM on August 30, 2012 [39 favorites]


Hell yeah. Needed to be said.
posted by ReeMonster at 8:12 PM on August 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


No, don't wanna!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:12 PM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Baffler criticizing TAL.

LOLOCAUST
posted by bardic at 8:18 PM on August 30, 2012 [13 favorites]


Because one guy managed to scam them?

You'd better tell just about every major news outlet in the world the same, then, because I challenge you to find one that has never had to retract a story.

That said, I really don't personally get the appeal of TAL - To me, it seems like just a nonstop stream of random people babbling about random events from their lives. Sometimes they get to the point; more often, they have no point.

"So the first time I met the Dalai Lama, I had a navy blue Brooks Brothers' suit on; But the second time, I had on khakis! Can you believe it, khakis??? But true to his gentle good nature, he just said something about the sound of an apple falling in the forest, and I knew he didn't mind".
posted by pla at 8:19 PM on August 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


Here we go again.
posted by hypersloth at 8:20 PM on August 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


TAL is basically faces for radio but with voices for mime camp.

Discuss.
posted by bardic at 8:22 PM on August 30, 2012 [11 favorites]


first, Eugenia Williamson , you put a lot of effort into that so, eh.., .thanks.

second: re: Etrigan: everyone with Wait Wait Don't Tell Me should get a big old kick in the balls and then cancellation. And then a complementary Carl Kasell message on their answer machine and a tote bag. Except for P.J. O'Rourke and Mo Rocca, who get two kicks apiece and must submit all their tote bags to Charles Pierce.
posted by Auden at 8:27 PM on August 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


What upcoming media outlet wannabe is going to ape the same tired keepin' it real take down that websites like The Baffler have perfected? Who's the next in line to try and jealously shave off their own ounce of relevance from someone else's creation with a rambling hand wavy pile of snark disguised as argument?

This article is about as far from best of the web as you can get.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 8:29 PM on August 30, 2012 [12 favorites]


THE BAFFLER is an anagram of HE LEFT BARF
posted by Sys Rq at 8:32 PM on August 30, 2012 [16 favorites]


The author seems to think rather lowly of the This American Life audience, and This American Life for some reason, but I'm having to re-read to remember why. Is the problem that not all journalism fits into the format of "a dramatic nonfiction narrative in the form of a personal journey" ? Which is an interesting and hard to argue with, but seems a bit pedantic to me. A lot of this read more like hipster-bashing than criticism.

Is the problem that This American Life mixes both entertaining non-fiction and entertaining satire, and even (gasp!) downright fiction? Is there room in popular entertainment to do that? Or are audiences too stupid to understand that (it seems like the author is saying yes) whereas Ira in the article believes the audience will understand enough to 'get it'. Is expecting your audience to not need explanation elitist? Is that more hipster bashing?

The most withering criticism I could find was that TAL "has carefully blunted the class implications of its stories". I don't think so. I think that finding TAL only thinks about, or talks about some New Yorker-reading volvo-driving galaxy is a self-fulfilling prophecy. But it ignores some of the best non-fiction reporting they've done that transcends class boundaries and discovers truths about the human condition. If turning things into gripping stories is wrong, I don't want to be right, and I don't want TAL to be right either. I think they do an excellent balancing act, and it seems the baffler just doesn't like the balance.
posted by ejfox at 8:33 PM on August 30, 2012 [28 favorites]


My favorite part of the article is when the author uses the story by theonion as a source to prove her point. The rest of it seems to be cherry-picked confirmation bias (sorry for being redundant).
posted by Drumhellz at 8:34 PM on August 30, 2012


“As she was sleeping, she started to fibrillate and just died. She was two days short of her thirtieth birthday.”

“Oh my God,” Glass says, though he must have known what was coming.

Oh my God, indeed. The poor psychiatrist did everything right: she had an advanced degree and a white-collar job that would pay for health insurance, found true love with a rebel in an Armani blazer, and death came for her, too. Is nobody safe?


That's a pretty glib subtitling of this moment in the show. I understand many people have harder lives in which death is preceded by bitter struggle instead of falling in love and hopping on planes to concerts, but I'm really not at all impressed by this trivialization of the sudden arrival of death even for those enjoying their prime.

Also, regarding dishwasher Pete: yeah, there's a difference between tourism and living somewhere, and it's fair enough to remind everyone tourists that they don't experience things the way those who live something do, or to posit that we could use more non-tourist journalism.

But the author doesn't seem to get that far. Instead, the label of tourism seems to be the entire prosecution of the case, and I'm left with the impression that the author hasn't even thought about the topic enough to realize that even though tourism isn't adequate for complete knowledge, that doesn't rob it of value.

But she's totally got their number on the pathos, those first-person narratives and their recognizable story arcs.

Hey, by the way: did you know most pop songs use the *same chord progressions*?
posted by weston at 8:37 PM on August 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


I got that the author wants TAL to "grow up", but I didn't grasp how. They do grown folks journalism in my meager opinion. Hey got fooled, yeah, but then the mainstream media is fooled and misdirected and straight lied to all the time.
posted by koucha at 8:39 PM on August 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wasn't this all over months ago?

Anyway, what's this author trying to say? That segments on TAL which don't present themselves as journalism should be fact-checked as if they were? That segments on TAL which do present themselves as journalism should be allowed to contain outright untruths? That TAL should be entirely different from what it is?

I think there are plenty of other radio programs which are entirely different from TAL so there's probably a TAL-shaped niche which can conveniently filled by TAL.

Ultimately, the Daisey story was presented to TAL for broadcast as Truth, which is something which Sedaris has never claimed about anything he's presented. Comic monologues aren't journalism. Surprise!
posted by hippybear at 8:40 PM on August 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think that Glass would be amused by this thread. There are many people here who diss TAL, and they go into great detail, making sure that their reasons are thorough and sound. Which means that they are likely listening very carefully to TAL, every week. How else would they be so cogent in there dislike?

Well played, Ira.
posted by Danf at 8:41 PM on August 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


My unfavorite part of the article was where the author couldn't be bothered to Google "pearl diving" and "suds busting" so decided that Dishwasher Pete had made them up. (Protip to Ms. Williamson: if he did, he also invented a time machine to plant them in pulp fiction going back to the 1930s.)
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:41 PM on August 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


I got that the author wants TAL to "grow up", but I didn't grasp how.

The author forgets that pretty much every grown up wishes they were still a child. Or at least a 21 year old with rich, doting patents.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:43 PM on August 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


If it came out that a TAL contributor had fabricated key portions of their story about "that time I went on a wacky, adventure-filled road trip with grandpa but also saw him as a complex, vulnerable person for the first time", no one would care.

The problem is that Daisey's story involved touchy political issues, and when serious issues are involved, you have to have more than just an alluring narrative (which TAL does well), you have to have actual journalistic standards (which is new territory for TAL, to say the least).

That doesn't mean that it's time for TAL to codify a rigorous ethics policy. It means TAL should stick to doing quirky and slightly banal stories about modern American life, because that's what it's for—and there's nothing wrong with that.
posted by dephlogisticated at 8:45 PM on August 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm also pretty sure that Dishwasher Pete isn't "a child of privilege" and being a dishwasher from ages 18 to 30 (iirc) is hardly "tourism".
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:47 PM on August 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have mixed feelings about TAL. When it is hitting on all cylinders it can be pretty awesome, and there are a number of people who's work I really like, such as Sarah Vowell, that I first encountered on TAL. However there are often long stretches where it just doesn't do much for me, and over the years I've come to low-grade loath Ira's voice combined with his speaking style. It's probably a great personal flaw on my part I am sure.
posted by edgeways at 8:50 PM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


The problem is that Daisey's story involved touchy political issues, and when serious issues are involved, you have to have more than just an alluring narrative (which TAL does well), you have to have actual journalistic standards (which is new territory for TAL, to say the least).

I don't think that's actually true that it's "new territory, to say the least."

The Judge Amanda Williams stuff they did was very, very good and made a real difference. Their stuff on fracking was also very good.
posted by liketitanic at 8:51 PM on August 30, 2012 [14 favorites]


Well, Click and Clack should feel fortunate that they retired Car Talk before The Baffler got to them...
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:52 PM on August 30, 2012 [11 favorites]


I could go the rest of my life without hearing the phrase "the human condition," unless maybe it's a superhero name.

With my mighty bathos...
posted by adamdschneider at 8:54 PM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


What the heck is with this person?

Ira Glass has a successful radio show. It's aimed a little differently than she would like. Where does she get the authority to demand that he grow up? It's not like he's hurting anyone.

If he's doing it wrong, how about you do it right, and show him how wrong he is? Sitting on the sidelines, carping, accomplishes nothing. If he was really doing any real harm, then there might be good reasons to be critical, but he just isn't. It's not like he's Monsanto, or Halliburton, or even Sean Hannity.

I suspect, if Mr. Glass did what you suggest, he very rapidly wouldn't have a radio show anymore for you to complain about. But, hey, maybe you're right. So go make a show and, well, show us all. Risk your livelihood, not his.
posted by Malor at 8:56 PM on August 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


Anyway, what's this author trying to say? That segments on TAL which don't present themselves as journalism should be fact-checked as if they were? That segments on TAL which do present themselves as journalism should be allowed to contain outright untruths? That TAL should be entirely different from what it is?

S/he starts out trying to say something like that, but it devolves into "comfortable white people are smug and sheltered so the show shouldn't be made to appeal to them." How the author got there is really nebulous. I wondered if my comprehension was failing me, but I went back a few paragraphs, and I'm pretty sure that the author is trying to grind a couple axes simultaneously without much effort to bridge.

I'm not sure what the alternatives are for pandering to a demo that the author dislikes. Here are a few:

• turn it into a show for working class people, who mostly (I said "mostly," calm down) wouldn't listen to NPR if it was one of their kid's hostage demands

• hand the show over to some humorless Communists who lecture you on your waste and decadence and rename it "This American Re-Education." (I would totally listen to this is the car to drive my wife insane)

• An hour of third world laborers taught to say "fuck you!" phonetically and chanting it for an hour. You could pick a factory from a new region every week to make it truly inclusive.
posted by Mayor Curley at 8:59 PM on August 30, 2012 [15 favorites]


Back then, Glass had a ponytail.
Shocking revelations indeed!
posted by chrchr at 9:00 PM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


The show makes its listeners feel proud of their station, their values, their endless sympathy for the infinite, and infinitely fascinating, varieties of middle-class families...

Ouch. That's gotta sting.

Most of the time, in fact, the stories on This American Life fall under Milan Kundera’s definition of kitsch: “the translation of the stupidity of received ideas into the language of beauty and feeling [that] moves us to tears of compassion for ourselves, for the banality of what we think and feel.”

Ha. Ouch twice.

Ok, sure, there are some really totally unfair hits, but there are also some real zingers. I like it, overall, and think it can only make Ira Glass a better reporter/hoster/whatever he is if he pays attention to the good bits.
posted by mediareport at 9:09 PM on August 30, 2012 [11 favorites]


Yeah, this smacks as some kind of hipster bashing thing. And what isn't "grown up" about TAL? They don't always do hardcore journalism on every show, and that's always been clear. Some shows (like the judge one) are clearly geared that way. The Sedaris stuff is clearly more along the lines of entertainment. The Daisey show was supposed to be hardcore, and then surprise.

I dunno, this kinda smacks of whining and "haters gonna hate" here.

(Disclaimer: I am a diehard Ira Glass fangirl for life, and blew a ridiculous amount of money getting a "series subscription" of paying for shows I don't even want to see this year, because otherwise Ira Glass would be sold out before they got to the single ticket shows. IRA GLASS 4 FOR LIFE, yo! Seriously, he's actually worth paying that much to see in person and I continue to admire the hell out of how he puts shows together.)
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:10 PM on August 30, 2012


I nearly posted this weeks TAL here: it's fucking facinating journalism. I'm pretty against their twee memoir style retellings, but sometimes there are great ones.

I feel like, kinda I guess, David Sedaris and mike birbigs telling "funny" "true" meandering self-involved tales are like the puppies and kitties human interest stories than gets the big ratings so that the old TV news can investigate the political and business wrong-doings in town. I don't mind having to sift through a few shouts and murmurs rejects to get planet money.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:12 PM on August 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


This just in: Since Click and Clack the Tappet Brothers aren't named Click, Clack, OR Tappet they deserve to be strung up by their toes in Harvard Square.
posted by item at 9:17 PM on August 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


hand the show over to some humorless Communists who lecture you on your waste and decadence and rename it "This American Re-Education." (I would totally listen to this is the car to drive my wife insane)

I used to listen to that show! Sunday nights on WTJU in Charlottesville, it was "Gravediggers of the Bourgeoisie", hosted by "Sacco" and "Vanzetti". Except they were actually kind of funny and played left-wing punk rock. During the '96 election, they exhorted people to go to their polling places, not to vote, but to tear the polling places down.
posted by LionIndex at 9:21 PM on August 30, 2012 [9 favorites]


The Baffler kept me sane in the '90s. They were the last defenders of 20th century Liberalism when it was under attack from both the Conservative movement and the Political Correctness movement, and its supposed supporters (from the Whole Earth crowd to the President of the United States) had fallen in love with entrepreneurial techno-capitalism instead. You could count on the Bafflerites to pen a ringing condemnation of Wall Street and Who Moved My Cheese, and a celebration of F.D.R.'s New Deal, the labor movement, and the activist social-democratic State of the good old days.

But there was always another side to The Baffler, left over from its days as a Chicago Punk Rock fanzine -- articles in which cool underground writers attack cool cultural figures for being insufficiently cool. This was usually done with guilt-by-association phrases invoking yuppies, Silicon Valley, and the New York Times in some unspecified relationship. Sometimes the whole of their creative work would be compared to the '90s capitalist zeitgeist: e.g. "Quentin Tarantino's entire oeuvre is the perfect cinematic complement to our marketing-driven attitude economy."

Ever since Tom Frank became the editor of Harper's, it's been clear where the good parts of the magazine came from. I haven't been able to convince myself to resubscribe because it now seems to be all the stuff I couldn't stand. The FPP article is a perfect example. And anyway, I've got Paul Krugman to fight for Liberalism!
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 9:30 PM on August 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I see there is a big potential audience here for my proposed radio show "When the State has Withered Away!"
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:34 PM on August 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


"For a 2007 article for The New Republic, Alex Heard took it upon himself to fact-check Sedaris’s essays, many of which Sedaris had read on This American Life. Heard found a great number of embellishments and outright fabrications—and Sedaris admitted as much when Heard confronted him."

You know, I had some suspicions about that Sedaris story where the barnyard animals play Secret Santa, but I never fact-checked. I guess I owe a cow an apology.
posted by 445supermag at 9:39 PM on August 30, 2012 [10 favorites]


But This American Life has become more than just an influential radio show. Today, it’s a megawatt, multi-platform empire. It is the most popular podcast in that medium’s short history. And it exerts no small influence on the publishing industry: an author’s appearance on the show all but guarantees a sales boost, if not best-seller status, and Glass canonized a number of journalists in The New Kings of Nonfiction, his 2007 anthology.
Yeah, the empire of public radio is what is deluding us into a complacent, smug, left-coast suburban existence. Was this article written by Mike Huckabee's speech writer?
posted by deathpanels at 9:40 PM on August 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


Is it bizarre or something to think that maybe Sedaris does get a bit too much of a pass on the truthiness scale? Because that doesn't seem bizarre to me at all.
posted by mediareport at 9:46 PM on August 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


In seventeen years on the air, This American Life has become a runaway commercial success and the gold standard for first-person radio journalism.

I don't think this writer is using the phrase "commercial success" in the traditional way. A million listeners is nothing in the context of, say, TV.

Also, are we not supposed to be sad for that dude because his girlfriend died suddenly because he's rich? I don't think dismissing sad stuff that happens to rich people as not sad because money is really winning the class war.

This was not a good takedown, because it just reminded me of how much I love TAL.

Shoutout to Mefi's own Choire Sicha!
posted by purpleclover at 9:58 PM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


mediareport: “Ok, sure, there are some really totally unfair hits, but there are also some real zingers. I like it, overall, and think it can only make Ira Glass a better reporter/hoster/whatever he is if he pays attention to the good bits.”

I agree, but it is getting ever more difficult for me to keep paying attention whenever somebody starts tearing something down for being too "hipster."

Enough with the hipster hate. Sure, we can sit around all day othering "them" – those people who listen to music and like to think they're cool and try to wear cool clothes, and who think they know a bunch of stuff just because they read about it on the internet – but all these things are things we recognize in ourselves, and simply hate to see embodied outside ourselves.

All hatred of hipsters is just sublimated self-loathing.

(Admittedly that's kind of a derail, but so it goes.)
posted by koeselitz at 10:04 PM on August 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


My experience with TAL is that it's almost always interesting enough and when they hit gold, they hit gold. I have literally sat in my parked car listening through a few TAL episodes before getting on with whatever I needed to do; sitting in the Safeway lot while a man recounted confronting the man who raped him as a child particularly stands out in my memory. Does the show need to "grow up"? They dedicated an entire episode to apologizing for their Foxconn fuckup, which is more journalistic integrity than any other radio or TV news I can think of. Every week they interview people like nurses in rural Texas or bartenders in Wisconsin, which is more "class consciousness" than almost any other radio or TV news I can think of. If anyone needs to "grow up" it's CNN, NBC and the rest of the gang, not that I'm holding my breath.

That all being said, Adam Davidson from the Planet Money team has some very serious conflicts of interest.
posted by eurypteris at 10:09 PM on August 30, 2012 [6 favorites]



pla: "it seems like just a nonstop stream of random people babbling about random events from their lives."

did you mean Radio Lab? Which I think of as the fool pointing to the moon of TAL.


TAL is ok, they did pretty well with their retraction and were pretty introspective about their fuckup and the reasons behind it. I think that's a pretty good definition of growing up.
posted by boo_radley at 10:12 PM on August 30, 2012


I was into TAL before there were hipsters. <the universe explodes>
posted by jewzilla at 10:16 PM on August 30, 2012


If their retraction was just 'pretty well' I'm curious as to what kind of retraction could/would rate higher.
posted by Drumhellz at 10:17 PM on August 30, 2012


What's not to like? Not every show is a home run but if I am entertained and informed from time to time that is all I really expect from a radio show for story tellers. I don't build my schedule around it or obsessively download every podcast but I usually enjoy it when I listen to it. It seems to me that being "manipulated" into having or expressing feelings in stories of the mundane is resented by hipsters, "this show is trying to make me feel empathy and succeeding dammit". The art of telling a story can be appreciated it is ok for some stories to push your buttons some of the time. What's not to like?
posted by pdxpogo at 10:19 PM on August 30, 2012


About a year and a half ago, I went back and listened to all the back episodes of This American Life, which is probably the best way to get a sense of the show's progression. You can definitely understand that this is a show that transitioned pretty quickly from personal hobby horse to institution in a way that would have prevented, say, Sedaris' stories from getting some hard-nosed fact checking scrutiny. Though, frankly, Ira's right that an audience should be able to tell the difference between a Sedaris story and a Daisey story. More importantly, the consequences of a lie in the case of the latter are far more significant: who cares, frankly, whether Sedaris is embellishing the behavior of department store santas?

All that said, Dishwasher Pete is the one thing in the back catalog I really can't stand. It exemplifies the worst of what has become stereotypical This American Life: articulate white guy uses his experience to make grand proclamations on the state of a marginalized people. Dishwasher Pete's approach is a lot different (and more selfish, frankly) then, say, Barbara Eichenrich's book Nickled and Dimed, which aims at the same thing.

Better in this case, though, to treat TAL like a magazine: a collection of work by both independent and contracted content makers which varies in quality based on the quality of those makers. Should editor Ira be held accountable for the quality and diversity of those voices? Yes. Should he also get more than a little credit for just how far he's pushed the ball down the field on diverse voices in public radio, both on his program and by boosting shows like Snap Judgment? Yes. Is it sensible for a literary journal to lump a trained sociologist doing actual qualitative research work like Sudhir Venkatesh in the same basket as Mike Daisey, just because they appeared in the same outlet six years apart? No.
posted by Apropos of Something at 10:21 PM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


If he's doing it wrong, how about you do it right, and show him how wrong he is? Sitting on the sidelines, carping, accomplishes nothing.

I was wondering how long it would take for the usual fanboy cry of "you do it if you know so much" would turn up...

Where does she get the authority to demand that he grow up? It's not like he's hurting anyone.

She got ears and she listened to the show, that's enough to form an opinion about it.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:51 PM on August 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


"If their retraction was just 'pretty well' I'm curious as to what kind of retraction could/would rate higher."

The kind where they have a time machine and can go back and not report the story in the first place, DUH.

I do not actually like This American Life, which is a problem because the only station programmed into my car radio is NPR, so when TAL is on I don't know what to do because I don't know any other stations because I don't drive very often so I've never learned the local radio. But this article's complaints about it seem dumb. "Oh, no, it's a style of storytelling that's annoying and dislikeable if it isn't to your taste! They're terrifically repetitive with a formula that clearly pleases a large audience! The upper-middle-class college-educated NPR audience is too fond of not listening to overly-earnest communists be super-downers while they commute to work! When rich people die it's not okay to feel sad because they oil the wheels of capitalism with the blood of the workers and that must be noted in their obituaries!" I mean, I find TAL pretty tedious and I don't really like the storytelling formula, but geez, even its title highlights that it's a "slice of life" sort of show, nobody's making you listen to it (unless, like me, you don't know of any other radio stations and can't change the channel).

Plus I think we can all agree that it's Wait Wait Don't Tell Me that needs to be nuked from orbit. WHY RADIO GOD WHY.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:56 PM on August 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Stopped reading when he called Pink Floyd a "terrible rock concert".
posted by smoothvirus at 11:17 PM on August 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ok, sure, there are some really totally unfair hits, but there are also some real zingers. I like it, overall, and think it can only make Ira Glass a better reporter/hoster/whatever he is if he pays attention to the good bits.

This was mostly my reaction. I have listened to the show very intermittently since about 1998, and there have been a few fantastic moments (the first time I heard Sarah Vowell still stands out to me, for example), but buried in a mountain of twee. The article made some good points and I think the show deserves the scrutiny and the criticisms.

Plus I think we can all agree that it's Wait Wait Don't Tell Me that needs to be nuked from orbit. WHY RADIO GOD WHY.

Oh god yes yes YES PLEASE KILL IT NOW
posted by Forktine at 11:26 PM on August 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Forktine: the show deserves the scrutiny and the criticisms

Amen.

Thanks for the link, Fiasco da Gama.
posted by halonine at 12:37 AM on August 31, 2012


The Onion nailed it pretty good, but for my money Kasper Hauser's parody podcast got the tone perfect ("I can't even plug a plug into a plug").

So TAL is too cute in presentation and too clean in its stories. It's easy to parody along those lines. That's just simply a criticism of what the show is. If you don't want it to listen to that show, just don't.

Or better yet, if you think TAL is too naive, don't attack them for doing actual journalism imperfectly.
posted by cotterpin at 12:59 AM on August 31, 2012


boo_radley : did you mean Radio Lab? Which I think of as the fool pointing to the moon of TAL.

Hmm, I may have mentally mixed the two somewhat, but if so, only because I don't really see all that much of a difference between their formats - "people telling stories-of-the-mundane".

I have no problem with that, though personally I prefer my documentaries "useful" and my stories "escapist"; but for that reason, I don't really see a point in holding such shows to overly strict standards of "journalistic" integrity.
posted by pla at 3:45 AM on August 31, 2012


I tried growing up, once. I was no good at it, and gave up. I don't recommend it.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:14 AM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Jon Peel did it right, but then he died.
posted by fullerine at 4:30 AM on August 31, 2012


I'm reading all of your comments in Ira Glass voice.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 4:39 AM on August 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


Speaking for the poor and white demographic, TAL has always rubbed me the wrong way. It's good fun now and again, but I think it's spot on to say there's a cool middle class detachment from real class struggle. TAL will hit on those all-encompassing human issues in what I'm sure Glass and his cohorts find to be a suitably poinient way. However, when it comes to issues of class division, there's a stink of confounded interest and privlige behind the TAL mask that I, being what many would consider to be a second-class citizen, find really repellent. I don't hate the show overall, but I think some of these criticisms were spot on, if veiled behind the very same distantly interested gaze that TAL itself uses. (see using NYT as a benchmark of individual worth etc.) Can we stop using terms that divide humanity into us and them? It's really not ammenible to having a constructive discussion, and it hurts The Jockey's feelings. :) A naive wish, I know.
posted by Ephelump Jockey at 4:41 AM on August 31, 2012 [9 favorites]


How is "hipster bashing" any more thoughtless than accusing someone's criticism of being "hipster bashing"? So the essay thinks that TAL likes to indulge in this vicarious underprivileged-ness. Is it difficult to see why this might be irritating?

To hell with people who only gain (incomplete) perspective vicariously and only do things ironically.
posted by hellslinger at 5:06 AM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Plus I think we can all agree that it's Wait Wait Don't Tell Me that needs to be nuked from orbit.

No, I'm not sure we can all agree about that.
posted by hippybear at 5:18 AM on August 31, 2012 [12 favorites]


I really enjoyed that. I've always found TAL to be insufferably smug, the epitome of all that is twee and precious. I've heard it on multiple occasions but have never listened to a complete episode. Just... no.

It's not just TAL though. I'll listen to NPR's news bits, and I will tune in to All Things Considered periodically, but most of the rest of their programming is just too much. There should be warnings to keep diabetics away.
posted by valkyryn at 5:32 AM on August 31, 2012


I feel like, kinda I guess, David Sedaris and mike birbigs telling "funny" "true" meandering self-involved tales are like the puppies and kitties human interest stories than gets the big ratings so that the old TV news can investigate the political and business wrong-doings in town. I don't mind having to sift through a few shouts and murmurs rejects to get planet money.

David Sedaris is the squirrel on waterskis.
posted by odinsdream at 6:04 AM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Plus I think we can all agree that it's Wait Wait Don't Tell Me that needs to be nuked from orbit."

"No, I'm not sure we can all agree about that."


Let me tell you, it is LONELY being a liberal who listens to NPR and CANNOT STAND Wait Wait Don't Tell Me. I feel like they're going to make me turn in my liberal card, and then strap me to a chair and make me listen to it until I've been properly re-educated. So I am always desperately searching for other secret WWDTM haters to join me in my secret orbit-nuking plan.

Or just, you know, complain about it with me, and how on Monday people are like, "OMG, so hilarious -- did you hear Ban Ki Moon on WWDTM this weekend when he answered the question about Justin Beiber?" NO BECAUSE IT IS NEITHER FUNNY NOR INFORMATIVE AND IT MAKES ME WANT TO SHOOT MY RADIO.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:33 AM on August 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


Mrs. Bastard hates This American Life and Fresh Air. She hates Terry Gross and she hates Ira Glass (how many m*****f****** Iras do they have on m*****f****** public radio? I've never met a m*****f****** Ira in my life.)

The other day, Ira Glass was on Fresh Air.

I finally understood her whole thing.

What I really hate is that show with those two Ivy League Working Class Posers the Ratchet Brothers on Auto Tawk or whatever the fuck. "I've got a 1997 Subaru...""WELL THAT'S YOUR PROBLEM" followed by 6 minutes of laughing at their own joke.

I guess my point is, we donate about fifty bucks a year for this shit rather than listen to Lex and Terry and John Boy and Billy for free
posted by Cookiebastard at 6:35 AM on August 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


Plus I think we can all agree that it's Wait Wait Don't Tell Me that needs to be nuked from orbit.

The BBC Radio News Quiz is essentially "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me" in front of a live audience, but I love it. Sandi Toksvig is a treasure.
posted by gladly at 6:47 AM on August 31, 2012


the show deserves the scrutiny and the criticisms

Gah. Noone is saying it's wrong to criticize a popular radio program or anything else. Please, be my guest!

But if your criticizim is weak, nit picky and generally missing the big picture. You can expect to get called out on it. Because it's just as fair to scrutinize the critics.
posted by j03 at 6:48 AM on August 31, 2012


Let me tell you, it is LONELY being a liberal who listens to NPR and CANNOT STAND Wait Wait Don't Tell Me.

I know plenty of people who can't stand WWDTM, both liberals and conservatives. (Yes, conservatives listen to NPR too. Hard to believe, I know, what with all the brainwashing about "liberal media" that goes on these days...) I've honestly never had someone do a "did you hear that" moment with me about WWDTM, and I generally listen and enjoy it and let it go as the ephemeral thing that it is. It's not world-changing, it's just an hour which amuses.

I like it. I miss its early days when it was more inventive with the variety of games they played, but they've settled down into a decent rhythm. It's not always funny, but it's generally entertaining. It's the closest thing we have here in the US to a BBC-style quiz-comedy show. (Not all of those are funny, either. I've tried plenty of them.)

My personal jury is still out about Ask Me Another. I've only caught one full show, and haven't gone out of my way to listen to any more.

I find more and more I have been tuning in to the local over-the-air broadcast of the Public Radio Exchange, which has a fascinating variety of programming which isn't news focussed. Not much in the way of quiz comedy or game show type stuff, but plenty of other stuff which is entertaining, informative, and insightful without being driven by the news cycle. I feel lucky to live someplace where it's available on my car radio without having to do anything fancy other than twist the knob.
posted by hippybear at 6:48 AM on August 31, 2012


Drumhellz: "If their retraction was just 'pretty well' I'm curious as to what kind of retraction could/would rate higher."

I'm doing my part to fight praise inflation.
posted by boo_radley at 7:46 AM on August 31, 2012


gladly: "Plus I think we can all agree that it's Wait Wait Don't Tell Me that needs to be nuked from orbit.

The BBC Radio News Quiz is essentially "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me" in front of a live audience, but I love it. Sandi Toksvig is a treasure.
"

Oh, yes. Once you go Toksvig, you'll never go... backsvig.
posted by boo_radley at 7:47 AM on August 31, 2012


She sounds angry that David Sedaris sells a lot of books and that Ira Glass is too busy for a full sit down interview.

The article is soaked in bitterness - which doesn't help the (weak, imo) arguments.

Does everything have to be hard-hitting journalism?

I mean, the David Rakoff episode, c'mon. I was a puddle.
posted by operalass at 7:58 AM on August 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Enough with the hipster hate. Sure, we can sit around all day othering "them" – those people who listen to music and like to think they're cool and try to wear cool clothes, and who think they know a bunch of stuff just because they read about it on the internet – but all these things are things we recognize in ourselves, and simply hate to see embodied outside ourselves.

All hatred of hipsters is just sublimated self-loathing.


I'm confused. I'm nearly 50, so maybe your "we" doesn't apply to me.

I don't hate hipsters, though (to the extent that I understand what they are), I don't identify with them. I listen to music, but mostly stuff written prior to 1940. Mostly classical. The people I recognize as hipsters seem more interested in contemporary music.

I have never for a second thought I was cool. I'm not cool. I don't wear cool clothes. Well, maybe you'd think they were cool. I don't know. I just try to wear whatever is comfortable. And most of the knowledge I feel comfortable about I either experienced first hand or read in books -- not on the Interent.

When you talked about sublimated self-loathing, were you talking about younger people than me for the most part? And what about older people than me. My dad's in his 80s. I don't know how he feels about hipsters, but if he hates them is that sublimated self-loathing?
posted by grumblebee at 8:08 AM on August 31, 2012


I'm nearly 50, so maybe your "we" doesn't apply to me.

I don't hate hipsters, though


Well, that answers that.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:12 AM on August 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't hate hipsters, though

Well, that answers that.


Sort of. They irritate me sometimes. And when the do, it's in a old-fart "get off my lawn" kind of way. I don't like "ironic facial hair" and various other hipster affectations.

When I have those feelings, it seems so very much old-fart-generation-gap bullshit, which is why I'm confused by the "sublimated self-loathing" thing.

What is the demographic that is being self-loathing when they hate on hipsters?
posted by grumblebee at 8:26 AM on August 31, 2012


My favorite part is when the Baffler wrings it's hands about David Sedaris's stories, wondering if TAL listeners can tell the difference between anecdotes about working as a Santa elf and extended interviews with people who had been held prisoner at Guantanamo, and worrying that TAL listeners might not realize that a series of anecdotes about people using their cell phones in public bathrooms might contain exaggerations and not be 100% fact checked.
posted by straight at 8:35 AM on August 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


grumblebee: “I'm confused. I'm nearly 50, so maybe your "we" doesn't apply to me. I don't hate hipsters, though (to the extent that I understand what they are), I don't identify with them. I listen to music, but mostly stuff written prior to 1940. Mostly classical. The people I recognize as hipsters seem more interested in contemporary music. I have never for a second thought I was cool. I'm not cool. I don't wear cool clothes. Well, maybe you'd think they were cool. I don't know. I just try to wear whatever is comfortable. And most of the knowledge I feel comfortable about I either experienced first hand or read in books -- not on the Interent. When you talked about sublimated self-loathing, were you talking about younger people than me for the most part? And what about older people than me. My dad's in his 80s. I don't know how he feels about hipsters, but if he hates them is that sublimated self-loathing?”

Well – I am little younger than you (I'm 33 now) so I guess I can try to explain how this worked as I saw it, at least on the music front:

Hatred of hipsters seems like a new thing, at least on the level it's on. My generation was probably the last to grow up largely without the internet; we discovered it when we were in our early and middle teens, in the innocent 1990s. (This is one of those things we'll be telling our children, as they look on in wonder and try to imagine...) By the late 90s, the internet and music had collided, and suddenly any newish music (and plenty of oldish music) was available, freely and immediately.

And Pitchfork was a thing - a big thing. I probably checked the Pitchfork website every single day for two years straight there, waiting for new reviews and stuff. Somebody somewhere pointed out the interesting thing about Pitchfork, the really new thing about it – that it was pretty much the first time when "reviews" were not primarily intended as a kind of buying guide. Up until that time, you had to spend your money on whatever record you got, so you counted on reviews at least in part to give you an idea of what records were worth buying and what records weren't worth buying. But suddenly, around the time when I was in college (1998-2002), that wasn't the equation at all anymore. Music was immediately available on the internet for free. So the point of Pitchfork wasn't to 'review' albums and recommend purchases on that front – it was something else.

I mean, before – in the early 90s, in the 80s, back into the 70s I think, people tried to distinguish themselves by what records they bought. That's facile and superficial, yes, but your record collection was supposed to say something about who you were, as those things aren't cheap so you generally had to make a choice as to what direction you'd go in. But suddenly you could have every kind of music, immediately, for free. So what then? Suddenly I think people found they could only distinguish themselves by their opinions about music – and all of us tried to do that.

And, yeah, that was about as superficial as anything else. And within a few years, there was a huge backlash against that – hipster hatred. Whereas all of us spent the late 1990s and early 2000s reading Pitchfork a whole lot, suddenly people who read Pitchfork were evil hipsters looking down on everybody else. But I notice this about people who complain about hipsterism – it's almost always coming from someone who distinguishes themselves by their opinions, who is taking a stance and asserting superiority. I really do think that hipsterism and hatred of hipsterism usually come from the same place, at least in my generation.

And, yeah, I see that in this article, too. The Baffler is an intellectualist magazine. It is looking down on TAL because TAL is, in its view, insufficiently intellectualist. There's a degree to which that has some truth to it, but there's also a lot of moaning about "middle-class squeakers" who have the gall to be middle-class squeakers.

To put in a way that might be more universal – in an earlier time (although this remains as a disdain for the "middle class") this would have been a bunch of moaning about how "bourgeois" something is. One notices that people who complain about "bourgeois" things are almost always "bourgeois" themselves, but would like to think of themselves as revolutionary or as transcendent of the common people, or at least as more "authentic" than the bourgeois. The hatred of the bourgeois is in turn (ironically, in the context of Marx) just a manifestation of the same disdain people once had for "commoners" or "peasants." I think the hatred of "hipsters" is currently quite similar to these.
posted by koeselitz at 8:55 AM on August 31, 2012 [11 favorites]


I wanted to RTFA. It sure looked interesting. But that font is practically unreadable, at least for my combination of browser, monitor, and 40 year-old eyes.
posted by ErikaB at 8:56 AM on August 31, 2012


koeselitz, that makes complete sense to me. Thanks for explaining.

It reminds me of a trend I've noticed: my middle-class friends appending "I know this is a first-world problem, but..." to their complaints. There's supposedly a difference between the "privileged" ones complain about air conditioning and the more enlightened ones who complain about air conditioning but with the correct, self-deprecating, worldly disclaimer tacked on to the complaint.

It sort of baffles me. When my air conditional breaks, it sucks. It sucks, because I'm hot, and I hate being hot.

Another fact: there are starving people in the world. There are homeless people who are always hot, because they are forced to be out in the sun all the time. That sucks way more than my air-conditional problem.

Meanwhile, I have a broken airconditioner. That sucks. It sucks, because I'm hot.

I'm either going to go help homeless people or I'm not.

Meanwhile, it's fucking hot in my apartment.

I don't see an important difference between the folks that talk about "first world problems" and the folks that don't, but a lot of my friends apparently do see a difference -- even if none of them actually do anything to help alleviate first-world problems.

The big deal seems to be "recognizing" you're privileged. Just announcing it now and again.
posted by grumblebee at 9:34 AM on August 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


hippybear: My personal jury is still out about Ask Me Another.

I tried three full episodes of Ask Me Another and then took it out of my podcast rotation. I like Jonathan Coulton, but that show hasn't found its rhythm yet.

But I really enjoy Wait Wait, and I don't understand the bashing by others in the thread - nuke it from orbit? Really? - it's just 45 minutes of light comedy.

And for all the variability of TAL, they've done some spectacular work - the shows on the Giant Pool of Money (which led, IIRC, to the spin-off of Planet Money), Inside Job (ProPublica / Planet Money), NUMMI, When Patents Attack, Toxie (also Planet Money)... If I have to tolerate the occasional show full of nothing but whining, that seems like a very small price to pay - I can always skip the show after 5 minutes.

Likewise with RadioLab - I think it is overproduced, but they do some interesting stories. I'll never think of parasites the same way again, for example.

If you're looking for other shows on PRX (TAL, Planet Money, Wait Wait, and maybe Car Talk isn't enough for your NPR fix, and you don't want to spend time on History of Rome / History of Byzantium or the New Yorker or Nature podcasts or overlong tech meanderings by John Gruber), you might look at Roman Mars and 99% Invisible. That show has promise, I think...
posted by RedOrGreen at 9:50 AM on August 31, 2012


How embarrassing, 3 pages and she forgot to make a point.

pla: "it seems like just a nonstop stream of random people babbling about random events from their lives."

did you mean Radio Lab? Which I think of as the fool pointing to the moon of TAL.


I was just going to say this. TAL is my favorite show in any format, but Radio Lab, which is almost an exact copy, is really annoying and tedious. It’s like they said "you know what people are missing? TAL with less interesting stories, dumbed down, told poorly, and hosts constantly interrupting and talking over each other. You know, TAL for REAL people, not so uppity."
posted by bongo_x at 10:25 AM on August 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


It’s also weird to me that people seriously ask about the literal truth of David Sedaris’s stories. I feel like I’ve entered a parallel universe, or encountering aliens that don’t understand storytelling or humor.

Then again, the only time I turn off TAL is when Sarah Vowell is on. No accounting for taste.
posted by bongo_x at 10:29 AM on August 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


"But I really enjoy Wait Wait, and I don't understand the bashing by others in the thread - nuke it from orbit? Really? - it's just 45 minutes of light comedy."

(Yes, really, I own nukes, have the power to launch them into orbit, and will drop them on a radio show. No, not really!)

Most things that aren't to my taste I just shrug and ignore -- like TAL. Sometimes I hear something on TAL that's entertaining, but mostly I'm like, "Meh, not for me, oh well." For some reason, though, Wait Wait is like FINGERNAILS ON A CHALKBOARD to me. It actively annoys me. But, whatever, I'd still just move on with my life, except people are constantly recapping it and wanting to talk to me about it and being all "What's wrong with you???" if I say, "No, I turned it off, I don't like it." This is apparently a bat signal to Wait Wait defenders who now cluster around you and start evangelizing the show and diagnosing dire psychological problems you must have to not like it.

"I don't see an important difference between the folks that talk about "first world problems" and the folks that don't, but a lot of my friends apparently do see a difference -- even if none of them actually do anything to help alleviate first-world problems. "


When people say "First World Problem!" around me, they're usually saying, "I know my complaint is ridiculous ..." The one thing I always say "First World Problem!" about is my stroller complaint -- my double-stroller has one too few cupholders. I know, I know: stupidest thing in the world to complain about. But I feel like given the amount of design work that went into this elaborate contraption, someone should have realized the average parent would need one more cupholder. Saying "First World problem" is a way of acknowledging what you're complaining about it a little silly and not very important. I've never heard anybody say "FWP" about a broken air conditioner or something actually problematic like that.

Regarding hipster-hate, what bothers me personally about stereotypical hipsters is that I like enthusiasm and engagement, and I like people who can laugh at themselves, and many hipsters cultivate ironic detachment about everything but themselves, which they take super-seriously. A hipster who's just super-into obscure music and makes weird clothing and facial hair choices, but is engaged in something and doesn't take themselves too seriously? Let your freak flag fly, little fishie! The world needs more weird in it. I've got no problem with that. You might be weirdly judgmental about other people's taste in music and a little bit pretentious, but hey, that's cool, that's your thing, as long as there's something you get excited about. But being 100% ironically detached from everything and spending all your time cultivating cool? That's tedious, shallow, lame, self-involved, and desperate. I don't feel like I have anything in common with someone who looks at the great wide world and can't get excited about ANYTHING in it.

I think people can also tell the difference between someone who genuinely loves Obscure Band X, and someone who only likes Obscure Band X because its obscurity lends it exclusivity, and as soon as Obscure Band X gets popular, they'll move on to something more obscure -- because they don't actually like the music, they like being different, and they don't have the confidence in their own taste to actually like the things they like. That's very fourth grade. "I'm not wearing unicorn shirts anymore because Jessica is wearing unicorn shirts now so they're not cool anymore!" That sort of thing pushes people's buttons because people don't like posers.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:40 AM on August 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


The big deal seems to be "recognizing" you're privileged.

Recognizing our privilege, remembering that most people in the world have much worse problems than we do, is obviously not sufficient to get us doing something to help them, but it's certainly a necessary first step.

The most achingly hipster, ironic, knee-jerk use of "First World Problems" is surely better than our usual mode of doing everything possible to ignore the fact that poor people exist at all.
posted by straight at 10:45 AM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wonder what she thinks the Twenty Worst Hipster Bands are?
posted by freecellwizard at 11:41 AM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


when i read the title of this fpp, i thought the article was going to criticize TAL or ira glass for injecting inappropriately cheerful music immediately following a somber or harrowing personal story. because that's the one thing that really irritates me about that show. maybe not horrific molestation monologues immediately followed by the benny hill song, but more like circus music after a grandma-getting-scammed story. and ira seems to have an almost gleeful tone in his voice at the most inappropriate times.

otherwise the show's pretty great. haters gonna hate.
posted by blendor at 11:50 AM on August 31, 2012


In this thread, bourgeois MetaFilter members defend This American Life from criticisms of being too bourgeois. Later, some discussion over whether anyone complains about hipsters who isn't a hipster.
posted by klangklangston at 3:07 PM on August 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


In this thread, bourgeois MetaFilter members defend This American Life from criticisms of being too bourgeois. Later, some discussion over whether anyone complains about hipsters who isn't a hipster.

With a final culmination in peak meta.
posted by Forktine at 3:30 PM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


The BBC Radio News Quiz is essentially "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me" in front of a live audience, but funny.
posted by RogerB at 7:31 PM on August 31, 2012


I don't like NPR because their level of understanding is just a couple of clicks above Oprah, and in their news reporting they always let the bad guys have the last word.
posted by dunkadunc at 5:59 PM on September 1, 2012


Well I, for one, think This American Life is perfectly copacetic.
posted by typical npr listener at 9:12 PM on September 1, 2012


OK, question from someone who works in public radio--whether or not you like TAL, do you feel like the "TAL" style of storytelling (both topics and how it sounds) is leaking into other public radio? And do you think this is great, or terrible?

For several years I worked a shift where I listened to TAL 2x during the weekend, and I've had a hard time listening to it since. I'm curious about people who haven't heard a lifetime supply of the show think. I have opinions on this but I'm holding them back because I'm a crab and I don't want to expose all you nice people to it. Plus I'm a journalist so god forbid I should have an opinion.
posted by supercoollady at 3:07 PM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


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