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.