EPisode 56: Podcast Saga Part 9 - Great “Found” Podcasts


(Music fades in)

            I don’t usually talk about my podcast stuff with people in my day to day life. It’s not that they aren’t supportive. It’s more like doing, in my experience, so has never exactly gone well. Normally, it just means I’m committing to some topic or plot development that I’m not actually able to follow through on. Or maybe don’t want to follow through on.

            I like the freedom of being able to change my mind. And look, I know committing to things is important. I understand that if I were better at it, maybe the turnaround time for these episodes wouldn’t be so tight, and I’d be able to build a cushion for myself, not a big one but enough to not ever be stressing about uploading every week. But you know, that’s not how I roll.

            But this week, I broke that habit to discuss this idea that is foundational for this segment within a segment. And was promptly met with confusion. But I’m pretty sure I’m right, so I’m just going to run with it. I mean, it’s not only because I think I’m right. I am all up for pointing out when people or things do the right thing or do something kind of interesting and amazing. And I think the way these two audio dramas incorporate this idea is not only interesting but pretty profound. In the right light.

            And maybe that light could be here. I do have a theatre background, after all.

            (softer) Was that a poorly executed pun?

(Music fades out)

            Hi. It’s M. Welcome to Episode 56.

(Music fades in)


            Here’s the idea in question. There are many podcasts I would classify as found footage or found footage-esque. Shows in which part of the world-building is the fact that this audio existed outside of its distribution and is essentially being discovered by the listener or whoever posted that episode in some capacity.

            The idea of “found footage” type stories is quickly becoming attached to the horror movie genre, and per the discussion last week, I can see why that makes sense. It’s a good fit. This horrible monster, demonic force, etc, etc struck its victims, leaving only these tapes in some situations. Or when it all started, the victim was just trying to do what we would likely do when odd things start happening, i.e. documenting these odd occurrences. Add to that, in found footage, we as the audience can’t feel confident that any of the characters are coming out of this alive. After all, they don’t have to exist in order for the story to reach us. If anything, it might even be easier to believe the opposite. That if they had lived through the story, they’d likely guard these tapes or do literally anything else other than distribute them in the most impersonal way possible.

            And with video equipment becoming so mainstream and recording our day to day lives, just part of day to day lives, the idea of the things that haunt us being caught on film—as well as the low points of our lives or even end of lives—is incredibly realistic. Maybe the supernatural part not so much, but you know what I mean. Finding video recordings of someone being attacked or haunted is plausible if not inevitable because it isn’t hard for any video at all to exist. Then there’s the fact that the culprit is grounded in our reality too: either a character in a legend we might have heard of, a familiar entity in horror stories, or an element of our reality twisted as to be harder to recognize.

            And then there’s something appealing about making these types of movies for production companies. Namely, they are a lot cheaper to make but do incredibly well in the box office. And technical mistakes are to be expected in some regards. In making the right one, you keep the atmosphere alive. So you don’t even have to be careful.

            Who is to say, though, that a similar thing couldn’t happen with podcasting and audio recordings in general?

(Music fades out and new music fades in)

            After all, the ability to make audio recordings has been around for a lot longer. And isn’t the whole point of podcasting that it should be readily available? Well, that’s what I’m going to be talking about here. There’s certain podcasts that take this “found footage” type approach to their shows, that use it to improve the stories, a listener’s experience of it, and or just to be endearing.

            Now, in saying that, I’m not going to include anything by Pacific Northwest Stories or Minnow Beats Whale. Their shows like The Last Movie, Tanis, and Rabbits are podcasts in which the narrator is reporting—more formally—the events that happen to them that just happen to have a supernatural twist. It’s fictionalized journalism, which is worth discussing. In another portion of this little segment within the larger leg of this saga. Partially because I think they connect more with the way podcasting disseminates information easily and with the perception of privacy. So yeah, when I talk a little more about that, I can go more into those shows. So if you really love those shows. Me too, but just hold on.

            What I mean right now is that there are audio dramas in which main characters aren’t necessarily trying to present anything to the audience. The tapes we are listening to just exist or exist for another purpose.

            Now, it just so happens that this is my favorite twist to the art of audio fiction. So the first few you’ll hear about will be shows I’ve talked about before. But it will be a new twist on things I’ve said before, so it won’t be too boring… Also, some of these were on the docket a long time ago, so that probably helps me too.

(Music fades out and new music fades in)

            The most obvious example of this—at least to me—is Within the Wires, the Night Vale Presents production, which came to mind, in part, because the entire narrative is seemingly built around this idea. Each season features a specific type of audio recordings—relaxation tapes, museum tour cassettes, and dictations for someone’s secretary—and the bonus season, the Patreon exclusive, falls into this pattern as well. That bonus is composed of the recordings pulled from a plane’s black box.

            I mentioned this, the first time I talked about Within the Wires: season one, especially, the authenticity of those first few episodes works against it in some regards. It can turn the listener off because who really wants to be told to relax. Like who can relax like ever? But I’m going to take a step back from my own dysfunction.

            See, here’s the thing. Because the tapes that compose the series are meant to exist in another dimension and for another purpose, for authenticity’s sake, the narrative or world-building aspect of the story can’t be too explicit. For one, the intended listener wouldn’t necessarily need to understand the whole world or what the world looks like. They kind of already know that or they know enough. I mean, this is also kind of their existence. And putting too much emphasis on that would be a bit off-putting and condescending, you could say. The idea is that the (quote) intended listener would know certain facts that—hey—could just so happen to come up in conversation later. And should for the sake of the actual audience.

            In Season 2, it’s more obvious. Season 1 was about a narrative unfolding. It was about memories coming back to the listener, cassette-owner, person. In season 2, though, this strategic disclosure is a bit more obvious. The narrator Roimata is supposed to be talking about Claudia Atieno in every tape, and yes, the actual socio-political order of the world needs to be unpacked for the show but also it needs to be unpacked because it might have contributed to Atieno’s disappearance. See, at first, it’s not the sort of thing Roimata could be discussing openly. Then she falls deeper into her grief and cares less and less, and that’s when it can come out. And it can come it in character. With Roimata focusing on the officials who more closely clashed with Claudia and could have been part of her disappearance. Reasonably so.

(Music fades out and new music fades in)

            But when you look at Within the Wires as a whole, Roimata telling Claudia’s story fits into it in a very different way. Here’s the thing. What we are actually witnessing as an audience, in my opinion, is an increasing unrest and instability within The Society that could eventually lead to its downfall. But all of this is information that should never be made public. Through the tapes, we are made privy to things we shouldn’t know about. We start with an imprisoned individual in the Institution who isn’t going to benefit from being in the Institution even if that’s what the Society wants us to believe. And then we moved on an artist whose visionary life gave discontent more of a face and who could have been very likely been murdered by these people in power. Generally, a stable society doesn’t need to go murdering its artists, so hey, that’s a problem we now know about , And then we have a government official who seems to believe in the ideals of The Society facing opposition because of course Michael Witten or any bureaucratic is going to be jeopardized by the political ambitions of other people. I mean, come on. That was going to happen.

            Now that might not make a great deal sense when you realize that season 3 jumps back in time from season 2 and I’m presenting it as a linear narrative, but bear with me. Because, I don’t think a breakdown of society on that level, the level of the actual government, is going to happen or come up right away. Season 3 shows us the seeds of discontent that needed to be laid down. We can reasonably assume that these problems, left unchecked, lingered in the political order. Or even that the possibilities of these problems is a major issue in its own right, and there’s evidence in Season 2 to that end as well.

(Music fades out and new music fades in)

            I’ve come to the conclusion Within the Wires isn’t about characters specifically but about human nature more generally: the threads that can come and seize us without context or specifics. The Society that exists in a world a parallel to our own stemming from one key difference in terms of how The Great War (one of our World Wars) was handled is going to suffer from the same problems that we do even if certain details have changed.

            You could say that we might be watching our own world and life fall apart. We could be watching the sins of our own social order whose details are simply being misremembered. When considered in that light, there’s something profound and deeply unsettling about this story. And that’s a great way to define the relationship I’ve come to have with it.

            But in every manifestation of that relationship, because it does take on different forms, the anchor has always been that authenticity. I don’t think I could feel this way, if the tapes were so… real… in quotes.

(Music fades out and new music fades in)

            This is just a bit of an add-on to my prior episode or comments on Within the Wires. The ones where I’m talking about the question of connection that the show brings up for me. Whether it be connection to a person I love or to a story I love. And I think this idea of authentic, found audio adds another dimension to this idea.

            Namely, isn’t this the ideal way to connect to someone? Just for you to be simply as you are. Or if you could be able to exist as you are without the constant need to justify or explain yourself. Look we all have our own trajectories. We are in the midst of living our own stories and wouldn’t it be nice if those we are close to could simply join in

            No need to persuade them to care or that everything makes sense. But that we could just have people come along and not be so lonely.

            I mean that would be a nice thing. At least to me. It’s partially why I have two cats. Okay that got a little dark. And that might be a stretch, but it might also be a nice thought.

(Extended transition – Music fades out and new music fades in)

            Look, I love Within the Wires. I love many show. But the other show that has a huge chunk of my heart is The Amelia Project, an audio drama from Imploding Fictions. And hey, Season 2 is coming out July 19th, so you could totally jump in now. Like, that would work great for you.

            The Amelia Project, as in the entity in the story, is a secret agency specializing in faking a client’s death—with as many theatrics as your heart could desire—and then they can help you rebuild your life also with as many theatrics as you could desire. Also, cocoa. They have a lot of that, and they take pride in what they do. Good for them.

            Now, it would be a bit of a stretch to call this “found footage” or a slight against the creators who work so hard to make it perfect. But then again, “found footage” isn’t meant to be a style defined by imperfections only strategically placed imperfections.

            But I call it “found footage” because we are listening to client sessions that are being recorded for the sake of The Amelia Project’s records. This isn’t a story explicitly being told as a story. Rather, our feed is being filled with tapes that weren’t meant to be public but now are, and they still tell the day to day story of The Amelia Project offices and stories. And then there’s the end to Season 1 that creates… well, I’m not going to spoil it. Obviously. But it means The Amelia Project doesn’t have complete control over their records, canonically speaking.

            Yes, it could be a closer one to one example, but there’s some thread of connection there.

(Music fades out and new music fades in)

            And look, if you think I’m wrong. Fine. But let me remind you that this podcast is supposed to be a discussion of media through a very specific lens. I.e. mine. And I think this “found footage” esque element is a key component to my love for the show. So I’ll never fully turn away from it.

            In short, The Amelia Project might be funny and have a bit of an absurdist twist to it that I truly enjoy. There might be something uniquely profound in this idea of faked death and reclaimed life, that I just happened to discuss in my first podcast medley episode if you were interested. But the thing is, you, as the listener, aren’t supposed to be there at all. I mean, that’s kind of the point of a secret agency that fakes things. It has to be a secret. So it can fake things.

            And yet, you—as the listener—are barging in on a moment that technically isn’t yours to listen to. And maybe I shouldn’t put it that way or talk about this sort of thing that I’m going to talk about. But hey, once again, my show, my rules.

(Music fades out and new music fades in)

            I think there’s something about us that is inherently interested in the happenings of other people’s lives. For better or worse. But usually for worse because that’s more entertaining where is my popcorn. I mean, sometimes we are genuinely interested in people’s wellbeing and we like knowing that they’re okay. But sometimes, we’re just nosy. We want to know what the office drama is because if Karen from accounting is going on any sort of bridge burning rampage, we should know about it so we can take an inventory of however we may have wronged her or what dirt she may have on us.

            Or that’s me trying to find an evolutionary justification for our love of gossip and drama: this impulse that keeps tabloids and drama YouTube channels going, no matter the damage they could cause to people who could very well be innocent of the things they are being accused of. But I do kind of mean that. Look, there is power in information, in understanding the world, but perhaps more so in understanding those who make up what we know to be our inner circle.  The people who could pose the greatest threat to us should they decide to. Because maybe they will turn on us or maybe the thing they are going through could actually happen to us too.

            For all the clients of The Amelia Project, they all have a reason for wanting or needed to leave their current situation through a supposed death and then a new life. And at first glance these circumstances or reasons might not be anything we could ever fear or hope to face, but if we take a step back from that then maybe we could see a possibility therein for us. Maybe we could see that there is danger out there that we should be worried about. Whether it be our own arrogance, a bad relationship, the fallout for a mistakes of ours, or an actually enemy of sorts.

            It’s possible. Not incredibly likely, but it still is possible. Technically. Especially when you get genre enough.

(Music fades out and new music fades in)

            The Amelia Project can satisfy that forbidden desire to listen in on conversations that aren’t ours to lean into. And despite all the jokes and gags—or cocoa conversation—there’s still this lingering challenge to what we think we know our reality to be and a fear therein.

            The Amelia Project, the thing within the show, offers a way for some people to get out of bad situations. Granted, these are more extreme cases, and canonically speaking, there is an elimination process to find these cases. First of all, you have to find them. And second, they don’t take cases that aren’t interesting, to keep it general.

            So this sort of faked death and reinvention isn’t for everyone. But like I said in my first podcast medley episode in which this show in it, the faked death is a response to an overwhelmingly difficult situation, but because this break isn’t a physical break—only a socially -based one—it’s not an act of destruction but one that prevents destruction. Reinvention becomes reclamation as one reclaims their life and the direction it’s going to take. It’s through a hard left turn or outright teleportation, you could say, but regardless, you are moving on to your new life, free from the problems of the past.

            Less extreme problems—like the ones we face every single day—could be solved in a similar way. There are times when complete disengagement would be impractical, so why not shift the situation to your own benefit or to your own corner? Take a proportionate left turn when you are losing control or take new directions and try new things. Do whatever it takes to bring about this next era in your life and shake off the junk as you cross over.

            The Amelia Project is unique in that not only does it bend reality a little bit to uncover the potential dangers therein, dangers that might not be realistic but sometimes are and would still be things we are not inclined to think about. Rather, it potentially includes the guidelines for a solution. It essentially gives you life advice as it shows you things that you may need advice to handle. It’s a full package, and in being such, it pushes the boundaries of what we could think of as “found footage.” Not just something to scare you but also something to guide you.

            And that’s worth celebrating with a nice, big cup of cocoa. And marshmallows.

(Music fades out and new music fades in)

            I’ll be sure to have one before next week. And also, don’t forget, there’s my audio drama, The Oracle of Dusk that you could listen to. Season 1 is coming to a close, so if you are the type to plow through seasons whenever you consumer your fictional media, then I’ve got you covered. There’s only two episodes left, and one is going up this week.


(Music fades out)