Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Sunday, July 3, 2016

two apologies and a bleg

Apology One: I wrote a post a while back about hating time-travel stories, and almost immediately after I did so I started thinking of exceptions to that rule. I mean, I’ve been praising Adam Roberts’s The Thing Itself to the skies and it’s a time-travel story, though it’s also many other things. I thought of another example, and then another, and soon enough it became obvious to me that I don’t hate time-travel stories at all. I was just annoyed by one that I thought went wrong, largely because it reminded me of several others that I thought went wrong in very similar ways. So that was a classic case of rash blogging. I am truly sorry to writers and readers of time-travel stories, and I humbly repent and pledge amendment of life.

Apology Two: In a similarly fractious mood, I once wrote a screed against podcasts. But I have not given up on my search for podcasts — in part because I think the medium has so much promise — and since I wrote that post have listened to a whole bunch of them, and have developed affection for a few. So let me again repent of the extremity of my language and the coarseness of my reactions.

In another post, I’ll do some capsule reviews of the podcasts I’ve been listening to in the past year, but for now I have, as we academics say, a comment and a question.

The comment is that the one kind of podcast I absolutely cannot abide is the most common kind: two dudes talking. Or three dudes, or three women, or any combination of genders — it’s the chatting-in-front-of-a-microphone that drives me nuts. The other day I tried listening to Control-Walt-Delete, but when Walt Mossberg and Nilay Patel spent the first five minutes discussing what the sports teams of the schools they had attended were called, I said Finis, done, I’m outta here. No, I like podcasts that are professionally edited, scripted, festooned with appropriate music, crafted into some kind of coherent presentation. Podcasts like that seem respectful to the listener, wanting to engage my attention and reward it.

But one thing I’ve noticed is that the podcasts I know that do that best are relentlessly liberal in their political and social orientation. Which is not surprising, given that most of our media are likewise liberal. And I don't even mean that as a criticism: there is a significant liberal element to my own political makeup, and if you want to know why that is, just listen to this episode of the Criminal podcast. Criminal in general is a good example of the kind of podcast I like, from its sound design and apt use of music to its strong storytelling. Even the website is artfully designed.

Which leads me to my Bleg: Does anyone know of similarly well-crafted, artful podcasts made by conservatives or Christians? I have not yet found a single one. Podcasts by conservatives and Christians tend to be either bare-bones — two dudes talking, or one dude talking with maybe a brief musical intro and outro — or schmaltzily over-produced. (Just Christians in that second category.) Anyone know of any exceptions to this judgment? I suspect that there’s an unbridgeable gulf of style here, but I’d like to be proved wrong.

UPDATE: Despite the quite clear statements I make above to the effect that (a) I really, really dislike dudes-talking podcasts and (b) I am not asking about dude-talking podcasts but about professionally produced podcasts, people keep writing on Twitter and email to say "Hey, here's a dudes-talking podcast that you might like." Sigh.

10 comments:

  • Probably not intellectual enough for you, but its a decently produced podcast by a dutch priest. Pop culture, tech and Catholicism, good listen while running.
    http://sqpn.com/category/podcasts/bfr/

  • Regarding your first apology, on the bright side, that post inspired a lively conversation in my house about what we love and hate about time-travel stories and whether time travel could ever happen in real life, so it was beneficial to us, even though we mostly disagreed with your post.

    As for the bleg, I don't listen to podcasts much so I don't really have anything to compare these to, but I have enjoyed several produced by CiRCE Institute (dedicated to the cultivation of wisdom and virtue through the contemplation of truth, goodness, and beauty). They're pretty much all the two-dudes-talking sort, and they don't seem to be heavily edited, but the people involved are good conversationalists, and they stay on point. When they do wander it's very interesting and adds to the overall theme of the episode. My favorites so far have been the "Perpetual Feast" series in which Andrew Kern and Wes Callihan talk about Homer, which is to say, about Life.

    CiRCE's podcasts

  • I think part of the problem may be that what you dislike most in podcasts is what a lot of people seem to like about them - laid back conversations between affable, reasonably intelligent people on the issues of the day, usually with some theme like "sports" or "technology." I'm with you, personally, but my (perhaps idiosyncratic) read on the genre is that you're finding it hard to discover ones you like precisely because of what most people like.

  • Kelly- Thanks for reminding me about CiRCE Institute. I used to follow them (as an English teacher and a former home school parent) but had lot track over the years.

  • Freddie, I'm sure you're exactly right about that. And you help me to realize that if I'm not that interested in people talking, with a general plan but not a script, on a pre-set subject that's probably because doing just that is my day job.

  • As a conservative who has experimented with making a podcast like you are talking about, there are a couple of items. The first is that if you want to make it legal getting rights to use the music is neither cheap nor easy. The second is that unless the podcast is a) part of your job or b) you are a rabid hobbyist, it is a massive time suck. The first part of that time hole is simply learning the base tools even if it is free audacity. Figuring out how to cut in and out, layer sound and get the leveling right is an art form. You quickly come to the conclusion to operate pirate, or talking head.

    My experience has two branches here. Liberals fall into those two categories more often. They are also often just more willing to operate pirate figuring if they get picked up they can settle it later. But the bigger experience is within the Christian realm. The capital is distributed poorly. It is liturgical folks that would desire a well produced experience. It is the contemporary folks that have the equipment and base production skill. So what you get is overproduced schmaltz like contemporary worship, or talking heads.

  • Mark, the kind of podcast I'm asking about would definitely be a professional production — no way (or almost no way) to do it at home, I would think. But there are Christians and conservatives who have those resources; I guess they're just investing them elsewhere. Seems like a bit of a missed opportunity.

  • I don't know. The relative obscurity of Mars Hill Audio doesn't make me hopeful that an audience exists... (though part of the reason for the small MHAJ audience is the ubiquity of free audio...)

  • The Orthodox Ancient Faith Radio has many "podcasts," which are mostly "listen-when-you-want" versions of things they've streamed on one of their two feeds. I suspect they don't meet your criterion of podcasts, however.

  • Alan, check out Mike Cosper's project The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. It's the most well-produced Christian podcast I've found, in the vein of This American Life

    http://www.harbormedia.com/about-our-shows/

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