Episode 58: Podcast Saga Part 11 - Images and Podcasting


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            I wanted to spend the opening of this episode unpacking an idea that doesn’t really need to be unpacked. And then I wasn’t quite sure how to do that. Well, okay, I mean that this idea has been unpacked in various forms of media and across multiple genres, though the sci-fi stuff usually does it best. Usually.

            But regardless of that, lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the power of image or perception in dictating our day to day lives. And in saying that one particular manifestation of this idea might come to mind, but I don’t mean how some people photo-shop Instagram posts enough to get a sizeable following, the validation that comes with it, and a few brand deals that only work if the illusion is maintained. I mean, the product certainly can’t justify itself.

            And sure, that whole thing can make for interesting content on a subreddit, but this is still a game we have to play in our day to day lives. And in some ways, we’ve always had. The internet didn’t really change us. It only magnified this need to look put-together if not just shy of perfect or better yet, actually perfect. Why? Because of some perceived or maybe even real benefit or some other type of incentive. True or not, we’ve come to believe that the act of performance—of pretending to be perfect—is better than admitting the truth. The truth being that not only is no one perfect, but that we are all struggling in our own ways. And that is just how life works: we trip, we make mistakes, we grow, we change, we do a bunch of things. And apparently, we’re supposed to all pretend that isn’t the case.

            Now, it’s not a malicious thing. I guess, sure, we are technically lying, but we don’t think about it like that. We can’t. We can’t afford to, exactly. We need to survive and being perfect or perfect-ish is part of that. It’s like self-defense but also not. There isn’t a real threat. We’re just scared.

            Look, I’ve said this before, but if we could be more open about all of our struggles and failings, we would be better off. It just wouldn’t be easy to do, you could say.

            And maybe that’s yet another reason why we love stories so much. Or it really goes back to that sense of validation we get from certain stories. Because most stories aren’t about perfect people doing perfect things. That just wouldn’t make for a good narrative. Instead, they are about flawed people taking on challenges that will hopefully make them—and maybe us in some vicarious way—better off for it.

            And once that habit started, I don’t think it could have ever easily been overcome. Because there’s this other side of this coin that we aren’t so aware of. There is something to be said about the sight of these faked images, particularly when we know they are fake. Because we still maintain them. And since we do, we must be getting something out of it, right? Out of a status quo that depends on essentially lying.

            There are some lies that we genuinely need to believe, for our own sake. Or that’s how we phrase a mere desire to believe them, so we don’t have to do the emotional labor involved in reimagining our realities. Maybe we want perfection to be possible, and so we are more than willing to participate in this maintenance. No matter what the cost is to us. After all, the alternative is so much worse.

            Look, what I’m trying to say, is that there’s likely a reason we’re beating a dead horse. Images and façades have great power. Partially because we want them to and maybe we need to start or continue to unpack all of that.

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            Hi. It’s M. Welcome to Episode 58.

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            Okay, so today I want to talk about two different shows, and the first is A Scottish Podcast. Yes, it’s a podcast with Scottish roots and voice actors who have fairly thick Scottish accents, and it’s an audio fiction podcast telling the story behind the production of a Scottish, supernatural exploration podcast named The Terror Files. But the name of this show is also A Scottish Podcast. I’m a little worried that will be confusing, but I’m sure it’s fine.

            And beside the accent issue that… Look, I’m not trying to be mean by pointing out that this is a thing you as a non-Scottish listener—I don’t mean to ignore you if you are a Scottish listener, but my analytics don’t show a strong presence in Scotland, so I like my odds—you’re going to be taken aback at first. It isn’t a different language, no, but it might feel like it. Listening to the first episode twice will help as well as not throwing it on when you’re driving or doing something. Trust me, the show’s worth the investment that is taking it slow at first if you need a chance to adjust to the accent.


            Add to that, the show can get a bit not family friendly. So if you are the pearl-clutching type. Don’t listen to this podcast unless you get a rush from the forbidden things that make you clutch your pearls, in which case keep this whole thing to yourself, friend. That’s all I can ask. Enjoy your cognitive dissonance in the privacy of your own home. Because I don’t want to deal with it.

            But warning over. Let’s get into the actual discussion.

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            A Scottish Podcast is a serialized audio fiction podcast that tells the story of a washed up radio DJ who still dreams of achieving some sort of celebrity status. Which… sure, it’s not great that he got fired from radio, but radio isn’t doing so well, anyway. So really this is an opportunity for him. After all, the world is changing, and it’s all about podcasting now. Particularly paranormal investigation podcasts. I mean look at The Black Tapes, well not literally, I would say. Just to play it safe, but you know what I mean…

            So that’s what Lee sets out to do. He starts his podcast, The Terror Files, with his pal Dougie, who is a bit more optimistic and and also is willing to work for the puny wages Lee is initially able to offer. It probably isn’t anything he isn’t used to. The life of a musician and all that.

            And look, it’s not like The Terror Files isn’t—by all reports—a great podcast. It seems well-liked enough and a quality edition to the genre, but we aren’t listening to The Terror Files, so we can’t be certain. We’re listening to a podcast named A Scottish Podcast. And in it, we are technically eavesdropping on the production of The Terror Files, or listening to an extended behind the scenes type of thing, if you will.

            In the podcast medley episode I did that included this show, I called it the story “of a modern man living a modern life with all the problems therein.” Because, modern life was one in motion. We can’t pretend that we’d have the same job, workplace, or even industry for the entirety of our professional life. It just didn’t work that way anymore. And Lee found himself in the sort of situation so many find themselves in. There’s just no consistency anymore. Instead, we are now going to spend our lives in motion, temporarily rooting ourselves somewhere for a while before we have to jump ship again. It might be hard sometimes, but there’s also a beauty to it. In being able to adapt and reinvent yourself, and A Scottish Podcast captures that rather nicely.

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            But A Scottish Podcast also hits at another aspect of this whole modern life thing, one that has largely always been true but was magnified in the age of social media. You see there’s the image of perfection we put forward and then there’s everything else. And in A Scottish Podcast, we get to see everything else. Well, everything else, in a particular context that is.

            I think it’s been fairly obvious that Miscellany Media Studios is somewhat of a hot mess production-wise. This show and The Oracle of Dusk have a harsh, raw quality to them. Not because of an artistic choice necessarily but because I’m still trying to learn how to make a podcast. And with both of those shows being so personal and dear to me, I feel like I really need to keep them close to my chest rather than outsourcing to someone who knows better. And while I’d like to think my editing has improved across time, there’s this sense in which I can’t always hide that I don’t know what to do something or how to fix something. Never mind all the resulting mistakes.

            Obviously, Lee and Dougie aren’t going to have as many problems. I mean, Lee is used to public speaking and hosting shows, so he’s going to be more comfortable presenting information even if he’s pretty convinced it isn’t real or true. And Dougie, being a broke musician, can probably handle the whole editing thing. As he likely has done before. But that doesn’t mean that things aren’t potentially unravelling in other ways. Because they also have to, or want to, push to a level of popularity that I’m not sure could ever be in my grasp. Hence the hemorrhoid cream, I guess.

            It’s about the hustle, you could say. Not so much for podcasters specifically, but for the modern content creator in general. Coordinating can also be a problem. And networking. And reviews. A lot of things, obviously. And Lee has to push through it all. He has to actually work to achieve what he can manage, potentially more than he has ever had to, and he’s not too thrilled about all the extra work. But bravado aside, there’s something endearing about watching a comeback on that level. Not just to see the paranormal podcast springing to the charts, carrying a has-been with it, but seeing what it took to get there.

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            That’s one sense of imagery being uncovered. But to add to that, though, is the simple truth that paranormal mysteries are seldom what they seem at first glance. There is an explanation for almost every supernatural occurrence. Sure, it might not be the one that sells the books or changes our fundamental understanding of the cosmos as we know it, but there is a reason that these things happen. And sometimes, it’s simple. Someone is lying or misremembering or unable to accurately identify what it is they are seeing. And sometimes, it’s more sinister than that.

            It’s unlikely, but I’ll fair and say that sometimes conspiracies could be. And what makes A Scottish Podcast such a compelling narrative is the way it unpacks that idea. Yes, there are supernatural things that Lee and Dougie are capturing on audio, but it might not be what you think it is. And you have a radio host who you are supposed to be rooting for, finding things he shouldn’t know about but isn’t incredibly aware of all of it. And he might be the one person who wouldn’t eagerly jump at the chance to expose the truth. I mean he could do it, and in certain circumstances he would, but if the presented narrative works to advance his career, then fair enough. What does the truth matter?

And that should make us kind of uncomfortable. Because wouldn’t we say that truth still matters no matter what? That its importance is unconditional?

            Yes and no, I could say. Would… is a different matter. Because it’s not as if people don’t enjoy The Terror Files or any other paranormal podcast. And there’s a reason people are fascinated with the paranormal. Full stop. And that’s where the dilemma comes in.

            The status quo, the current story, seldom harms people but, in these cases, it might even offer them some benefit. It gives them stories to tell that help them make sense of their reality, it gives them hobbies, assurances, or a central point around which to come together. And suppose nothing comes from revealing the truth of it anyway? Or suppose the truth is harmless or not a harm that you could deal with and in revealing it, nothing changes no matter what. What are you supposed to do then?

            I don’t think it’s not an easy thing to answer. And when you’ve become attached to the host, well that’s another issue entirely, isn’t it? It might make you question your priorities a bit. Because should what’s best for him matter? No, maybe not, he’s just one person, but you might hesitate before you say that.

            After all, a good story can make you care about what may very well be the wrong thing to care about. We are human. We are going to make mistakes when it comes to our priorities. But sometimes, I wonder if the (question) “how we got to some conclusion” isn’t the most important thing. I mean, it says the most about who or how we are.

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            Speaking of danger, that might be the best segue into Alice Isn’t Dead, the Night Vale presents production that starts off as us listening to a truck driver venting into her radio. She’s been desperately searching for the wife that she thought was dead but surprisingly isn’t. And no, this is not the typically approved use of a CB radio, but I mean, we’re still in the segment within the a leg of the podcast saga in which I’m discussing audio that the audience wasn’t supposed to hear but has been listening to anyway. The issue of how exactly we got this audio might be explained but also not. Yes, I’m stepping further away from that whole found footage idea in its classic manifestation. But I also think an umbrella-type term. And within that idea, I would argue and/or I am arguing, that this unexplained, exposé type of podcast fits within that, particularly whenever something supernatural is involved.

            Alice Isn’t Dead is a podcast all about beliefs and preconceptions being challenged. The world we think we know is merely just a presentation, much like Alice’s state of not being alive. And that obviously was deeply unsettling for Keisha. I mean, physically losing a wife is hard, but existentially losing a wife has to be so much worse. I mean, it tends to come with other losses. It’s a thread that maybe you shouldn’t pull, but of course you pull it. And then everything comes unraveled.

            I’m starting to think that this is at heart of what we fear when it comes to perception and revelation. Sure, sometimes we know what we aren’t supposed to know. We know where the lies are, and we just ignore them. But on the other hand, occasionally, there are lies that are at the core or are embedded into the foundation of everything we know. And uncovering them or exploring them is a risky thing. Because what if it means you can’t return to the home you left behind. Sure, it was emptier without your wife, but it had her memory. And now, you don’t even have that.

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            It’s not just a simple fact we are losing when these things happen. I read online in one of those “shower thoughts” type places that we never really see ourselves head on. It’s physically impossible given the way our eyes sit on our face, and we depend on those eyes. And also mirrors do what they do in a very specific way.

            In short, we always rely on reflections to know what we look like. I think all of our explorations of the world are limited in some way, and if we can never really learn about ourselves directly, then we don’t have a chance in learning everything about everything. We have to depend on those around us. So what happens if we find out that they can be wrong or will maliciously lie to us? Or even not maliciously lie to us

            Well then, once the shock wears off, we have to move on. But how? How can we do that? We could never expect to rely on them again or maybe even anyone, and we can’t even know where this new starting point is. We might be eventually stuck aimlessly navigating roads that all look the same, unsure where to turn or what the billboards mean. It could be scary, I’d imagine. Sure, I’ve done something similar in terms of reinvention, but that was out of clear necessity. And that necessity is a strong motivation in the face of fear. Almost like nothing else can be.

            In Alice Isn’t Dead, the threats are more real. And horrifying. And the roads are more barren because that’s how road trips across the United States are. And to a great extent, Keisha doesn’t have a starting point to return to. I mean, once she knows her dead wife isn’t dead, she can’t forget that. She can’t excuse the lie that rattled what she thought her marriage was. Or that stripped away everything that Alice had led her to believe about herself.

            But it’s not like Alice didn’t have a reason to lie. I mean, there are some horrifying things out on the road, and Alice believes many things about them. Things that influenced her choice. And are we supposed to blame her for that? Can we blame her for that? Well, maybe if we keep in mind Keisha’s pain, we can.

            Alice Isn’t Dead raises questions about the validity of choices in the face of lies or misguided beliefs. And that’s incredibly relevant to the here and now, though maybe you don’t want to think about it so much. Maybe you don’t want to think about the consequences of our choices or the horrors of the world that lurk in the shadows and not shadows, but in the internet age, ignorance isn’t so possible. We see the cracks in the façade of the utopia that we want to see and what others would want us to see. But are we really going to pretend that we can’t?

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            To put it that way is to lead to a specific conclusion, but I would also point out I’ve seen plenty of otherwise decent people do just that. And while I was angry and could still be, it’s not like I don’t also understand why this happens. But maybe the scariest thing you could ever see isn’t The Thistleman or any Scottish ghost. Maybe it’s the lines or limitations we have or lack thereof. Maybe we’re always going to be stuck in front of murals that are exaggerated or not accurate in one way or another. Maybe it’s our breaking point or lack thereof in face of horrors that really should scare us.

            But frankly, I don’t know.