In a certain Web 2.0 kind of way, I’ve checked out of mainstream media. I loathe the local radio stations where I live, and in an effort to save money, I’ve disconnected my cable TV.

I’m a consultant. When the walls of my home office begin to close in on me, I work in a local coffee shop. I LOVE this place, except for the music. I’ve taken to listening to things online while I work. Sometimes, I tune into the stream of WWOZ 90.7 FM–New Orleans. Occasionally, they’ll play a little Kermit Ruffins, Rebirth, or something from back in the day by Professor Longhair. I get a little too into it. The head bobbing and toe tapping is noticed by the post-grunge grungy kids and nouveau urban hipsters who surround me.

Even though I’m grooving in silence, I figure they can tell it’s not the latest from their genre of choice. The tables are pretty close together, and sometimes I have to catch myself before I turn to the person next to me and exclaim, “I love the piano on that last track!” The ear buds make the music so real that I have a hard time remembering that, although I am in the middle of a crowd, the music is the soundtrack to only my reality.

There was a time when you watched TV at night, say Seinfeld, and the next morning, you could discuss it with pretty much everyone you saw because they’d seen it, too. Now, we program our iPods or log on to Hulu, and we’re all in our own little worlds, all the while surrounded by other people.

With the Saints going to the Superbowl and Mardi Gras right around the corner, listening to WWOZ has made me really homesick. So I’ve changed soundtracks. Now I listen to podcasts of This American Life (TAL).

Lawd, I do love me some Ira Glass.

At first, I went through the program list and tried to find episodes I’d missed. There weren’t very many of them in the last few years, so I decided go back to the beginning: November 1995.

Now, instead of bopping to a soundtrack only I can hear, I’m periodically busting out laughing in the middle of the coffee shop for no discernible reason. A few days ago, I actually choked and sputtered coffee all over myself, my laptop, the table, and maybe a little on the guy next to me. What was so funny? A male-to-female transgendered British white person marrying her severely mentally ill black butler in the parlor of her Charleston mansion with two Chihuahuas as her flower girls, circa 1967. (Episode 15: Dawn. 2/28/1996)

What about the serious eeeewwww factor in the story about the woman who photographs bugs, reptiles, and rodents as they mate and eat each other?

Or the woman who created a whole worldview based on the idea of quitting. She was so thorough and convincing, I almost bought in and quit all my contracts.

If these had been on last week’s TAL, I could have easily called or e-mailed a friend or posted on Facebook to exclaim my love for these fine pieces of storytelling. But they weren’t on last week, or even last year. They were originally broadcast 14 years ago. I guess someone else must be listening to this stuff, or they wouldn’t take up their bandwidth with the old podcasts, but I have no way of contacting my fellow connoisseurs.

It’s like when you decided to go back and read the classics. You’re so engrossed with Heathcliff and Catherine that you forget that it’s not in the front of everyone’s mind.

But there’s a big difference. Even though Wuthering Heights is not on everyone’s nightstand, you would likely find someone who remembers it enough to discuss. I’m listening to a 14 year old radio show. Who’s going to remember that?

There are the general insights I’m gaining from listening to a lot of them, too. Like do you realize how far gay rights have come in the last 15 years? I didn’t, but now I do. In this age of ‘Don’t ask. Don’t tell’ and Prop 8, it’s easy to forget what things were like a mere decade and a half ago.

In one of the first broadcasts, Ira Glass issued a disclaimer that the next segment would contain discussion of homosexuality. Given this introduction, I was expecting the description of an actual act. Instead, it was a story about money in relationships and the speaker was a gay man. He described himself as such and made reference to his male partner. Period. That’s it. THAT warranted a warning to the NPR audience in 1996.

It’s stunning, but who else shares this recent insight? No one. I could tell people about it, but it definitely loses a lot of its punch.

I’ve decided to invite people into my solitary media consumption universe. My first recruit was my best friend. She’s a master storyteller and a consumer of all things written and fabulous but not so much of an audio storytelling fan. I first turned her on to the transgendered British Charlestonian. Her e-mail reply: “Okay, that was some DAMN FINE storytelling. Top notch. Call me to chat whenever.”

And we did. About the story itself. About the visuals we created in our own minds while listening. About the time period of the story, when it was broadcast, and now. About the voices and accents. It was freakin’ awesome.

Screw Michael Buble’ on my radio. Forget you, sitcoms on the two television stations that my rabbit ears provide. I’m not going back to being a passive media consumer. I’m going to the far reaches of the internet universe to get what I want, and I’m dragging the cool kids there with me.

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Alison Aucoin is descended from people who spent their weekends dressing up in costumes and taking silly photos of one another to send to relatives who were serving in the Pacific during WWII. She makes her living as a freelance grant writer but is much happier squeezing playdough with her two year-old Ethiopian daughter, creating photography/audio projects, crafting manifestos on her blog (http://endebetehyemhoneyelem.blogspot.com) and making costumes with her trusty glue gun. She is one of only about a half dozen Cajun Jews in existence.

30 responses to “Please RSVP to my media 
consumption universe”

  1. First, what do you have against Michael Buble? I love Michael Buble.

    But on topic: I drove from Jersey to LA with my sister in May of 2006. We listened to Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and Anansi Boys most of the way there because we couldn’t get any radio stations for more than a couple hours at a shot, right up until we got around San Bernadino, at which point we switched to the car’s stereo. The station it defaulted to was playing classical, and we were fine with that after so long in the car.

    I lived in LA two years and drove twenty miles to school nearly every day. I never changed the station (turned out I think it was KUSC, which was serendipitous).

    I didn’t have to, really. I had my iPod, and my computer. I didn’t need television; my roommate and I had cable Internet, and so I watched stuff online when I could.

    I mention all this because the biggest change, for me, is the difference between choice and no-choice. Back when I used to listen to the radio, or watch television, I was beholden to other people’s setlists and schedules. Now, however, I get my own. Now, if I want to watch something, I just click, and find.

    It’s true, there’s a lot of great stuff out there. But what’s even better is that there’s a lot of great stuff out there I can listen to any damn time I want. I kind of love that.

  2. jmblaine says:

    I think it’s awesome that
    Professor Longhair now has
    two mentions on TNB.
    Now how about some Irma Thomas?

  3. Apologies to the Michael Buble fans. I don’t actually find him all that objectionable. He was just the first thing that popped into my head. I think it’s because that’s what I imagine on the iPods of all the smooth business folks.

    Yeah Will, loving all the stuff, loving enjoying it whenever I want. Just not so fond of doing it in a vacuum. I’m considering starting a stuff on the web ‘book club.’

    • New Orleans Lady says:

      Michael Buble’s Feelin’ Good is amazing! Other than that they all sound the same or all sound like Sinatra. If I want to listen to Sinatra, I’ll listen to Sinatra, not Buble’.

  4. Tom Hansen says:

    My hero. Sigh

    My problem with mainstream media, or music, or television, or whatever, is that it’s part of the whole media/advertising complex, and to me, it seems as if they’re telling us what to consume, in very insidious and sneaky ways. Well, I can decide for myself what I want to consume. I don’t need some media hack or ad to talk me into it. So I have programmed myself to disregard the media in its entirety. I find it’s much more rewarding to come across whatever books or shows or art by way of my own research or my friends.

    • Alison Aucoin says:

      Yeah Tom, I’m with you but the problem is the isolation. I’m a girl. I process verbally. For me, a major part of reading/listening to cool stuff is discussing. That’s what makes TNB so much darn fun!

  5. Irene Zion says:

    Alison,

    I’m ashamed to say I have never even heard of Ira Glass.
    I guess I don’t listen to the radio.
    I like it quiet.
    Really quiet.
    It rarely happens, though.

    • Alison Aucoin says:

      My fave thing about audio is the amount of intimacy that can be created. Sometimes TAL is hysterically funny. Other times it’s really touching. I find that with audio, I am able to tell stories that feel too complex to write and far too intimate for video.

      • Irene Zion says:

        Alison,

        I can see that.
        I read things out loud to myself over and over that I find are written virtually perfectly.
        Of course, Victor thinks I’m crazy, but he already did, so what the hay?

  6. Simon Smithson says:

    I moved away from the radio when I realised I couldn’t put up with the incessant advertising. Alison, you’ve shown me the light.

  7. Alison Aucoin says:

    Oh Simon, I would LOVE to get your and Zara’s take on This American Life. It is both utterly universal and ridiculously American.

  8. Erika Rae says:

    I love This American Life.

    My husband and I live in the mountains and run an ISP. We have canceled our cable, as well – mostly because we get everything we could ever want or need via the Internet, but money is a factor, too. I feel like I may be missing something (residue from the days of that Seinfeld phenomenon, no doubt), but I don’t even care. I watch and listen to what I want when I want. What’s more, like you point out, I can email links to whomever I want to discuss it with. How cool is that?

  9. Megan Power says:

    Yes! This American Life is solid gold. I think I love it because the storytelling is dispassionate yet poignant if that makes any sense. Have you watched the TV episodes Ira did of it? “John Smith” is the best $2.99 I ever spent.

    Ease up on Michael Buble. He’s nice dinner music; so many more offensive mainstream acts.

  10. Matt says:

    The podcast of TAL is must-listen fare for my Monday morning commute.

    My hobby of late hase been tracking down recordings of old dramtic radio shows however I can find them: podcast, CD, even on vinyl–especially Orson Welles’ old Mercury Theater productions. Great, great stuff.

    I think I started checking out of the moment-to-moment media world around the time they first started releasing television collections on DVD. I didn’t have cable (still don’t), and I found that I preferred to watch things on disc rather than watching it when programmed. No commercials, I could watch them according to my own schedule (part of the appeal Hulu & Netflix streaming now offer, as well), the image was way better than what I was getting with my rabbit ears. Plus, it always felt like a way of giving the finger to the network execs.

    • Thomas Wood says:

      Matt,

      Totally agree. I went through a big, ol’-timey radio phase (which isn’t to say I’m out of it) where I downloaded hours and hours of this.

      And people think I’m weird for listening to NPR while lifting weights.

      I think we should support the TNB podcast more and more and get it up to Mercury par, unattainable as that is.

  11. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    I hereby out myself as the aforementioned best friend and declare that the TAL story about the transgendered British Charlestonian who was also a NOVELIST was superb.

    It’s not that I don’t like hearing stories—it just seems my brain has strange wiring and I have to pay very close attention to what’s being said. Conversation uses a different set of synapses.

    Sidebar: I heard a duo tell spooky folktales when I was a teenager. In a box, I kept a flyer for their albums. (I am old.) When I purged some junk a couple of years ago, I found this again. We tracked down a copy of CHILLERS by The Folktellers and listened to the stories one night after Gustav. CREEPY!!! Might have to share.

  12. Gloria says:

    I LOVE “This American Life.” I’ve seen it taped live. I’ve also seen Sarah Vowell read her essays once. I would kill to see David Sedaris do a live taping. Well…maybe not kill. Well…I guess that all depends actually… The point is: feel free to email me anytime you want to bond with someone over any “This American Life” episode – past, present, or future.

    I once submitted a story to TAL. It must have been in…’99? 2000? I’m pleased to report I got an actual rejection letter from a very lovely woman named Jennifer. 🙂

  13. Alison Aucoin says:

    David Sedaris goes on tour before he publishes a book to test his stories. New Orleans is one of his regular stops so I’ve seen him several times. On one tour I found out that a very close and clever friend had never heard of David Sedaris. What?! So I bought her a ticket.

    During the middle of Six to Eight Black Men she looked up at me from her doubled over position with tears streaming down her cheeks and mouthed the words, “Oh thank you.” Later, in the line for autographs, my friend realized that the incredibly handsome man in front of us was actually the massage therapist who’d given her a massage earlier that day. We took note that when he made it to the front of the line, David Sedaris’ eyes were about to pop out of his head. When it was our turn David started off making appropriate conversation and then stopped himself and said, ‘I’m sorry but I can’t concentrate. That guys before you was unbelievably handsome.’ When he found out that the fellow had given my friend a massage he wanted all the details. We talked for a good 15 minutes. The line behind us was pissed. It was awesome!

    And in another story where an NPR star is driven off the rails by NOLA, The NPR affiliate had a reception for Ira Glass before a live performance and the other guests got him drunk. Really drunk. Slurring speech and all. First thing on stage he confessed to the audience that he was wasted and as the performance went on he went through all the stages of intoxication: giddy, belligerent, sleepy. It was hysterical.

    • Jeremy says:

      Hey, I was at that Ira Glass show! It was great! Especially the belligerence.

      You’re preaching to the choir, Alison. If you have time for even more quirky media, try the podcasts from WNYC’s Radiolab, Times Online’s The Bugle, and Le Show.

      • Alison Aucoin says:

        No way Jeremy, you were? It was SO awesome! The sleepiness was my fave part. When was that, early 2005 I think? Are you still in NOLA?

        Radiolab is often great but sometimes gets on my nerves. A little too precious. I’ll check out the other two. I’m a total audio nerd. Doing a certificate in Documentary Studies at Duke in audio and photography. Have you checked out Radio Diaries? Joe Richman is genius! His production quality is somehow gentle while always has his signature.

        • Jeremy says:

          I hear you re Radiolab. I’m not in NOLA anymore. I was only there for a year, but I had to leave due to the fact that the heat compromised the health of my extremely furry dog.

          Documentary studies? That’s really cool. My girlfriend went to Salt up in Maine and worked for Sound Portraits, the people who do Story Corps. Seemed like the best job ever.

          I love Radio Diaries but always forget to subscribe. Am downloading the podcasts now.

          Don’t know if you’re into more spiritually bent podcasts, but I can’t say enough good things about Alan Watts and Bob Thurman. They’re brilliant, deep, charismatic and funny.

          Can’t wait to hear you on the radio!

    • New Orleans Lady says:

      Sedaris will be back in NOLA on April 29th in the Mahalia Jackson Theater. I can’t wait.

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