Episode 66: Podcast Saga Part 19 - The Triumphant Return of the Medley


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            Considering how much of this podcast saga has been about origins—whether of the podcasting medium as a whole or of the specific shows I’ve been talking about—it seems appropriate to do some sort of tribute to the origins of the podcast saga. Namely, the podcast medley episodes I would do: for when an audio drama was good, but my thoughts hadn’t baked long enough in the figurative oven to make a full twenty five to thirty minute episode.

            And that worked out pretty well, even if I was worried that I was cutting a corner or two. I got to talk about to shows I love in a way that wasn’t overly strenuous for me and potentially unenjoyable for you. I’m making a judgment call on that latter point.

            But it wasn’t sustainable. Unfortunately. I was listening to podcasts faster than I could make those medley episodes, so then I ran into a slight problem in that it became harder to select shows for the medleys and keep all my remarks somewhat brief. It’s a great problem to have, don’t get me wrong. I mean, it led to this entire podcast saga, which has given me the chance to unpack something we all take for granted and show everyone what’s so great about it. And why its community can be so protective of their relationship with it.

            That being said, it just so happens that I have a couple odds and ends in the proverbial podcast bag that I need to talk about. Well, not really need. I mean, there is an urge there, but it’s not something I couldn’t really ignore. I just want to do it. It’s also a great way to buy time ahead of a couple launches we’re working on at Miscellany Media Studios but aren’t ready to be announced yet. Which is pretty exciting to me. It bothers me a little more than it should that after almost eighteen months of being active, Miscellany Media Studios has only launched three shows. I mean, that’s a lot, and that’s also ignoring a lot of the technical and production problems behind the scenes that we’ve been very good at hiding. For the most part.

            But regardless, today, I’ve got some rapid fire podcast showcasing to do. So yeah, I should probably do that.

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            Hi. It’s M. Welcome to Episode 66.

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            And podcast medley #4. Which thematically, I guess is a list of, like, my guilty pleasures. But even that phrase doesn’t exactly feel right. Maybe only because I don’t like using it. I don’t know why we want to categorize media this way. It’s pretty rare for something to be enjoyable despite being so bad as to make its existence something to be regretted by people who were not involved in its production. It’s possible, yes, and I’m sure you have a few examples you would like to throw onto that list, if I were making a list. But really, this potential disagreement highlights the difference between definition and manifestation.

            Or that I don’t think I ever should feel this way, especially about these shows. But I recognize that when I’m enjoying a piece of media that isn’t intellectually or emotionally stipulating or able to inspire the sort of consideration that leads to an episode of this podcast, for example, I feel a little guilty about it. I feel like I’m wasting precious time and resources, even though that’s not true.

            These are pieces of media that I enjoy, somewhat passively you would say. I’m not thoroughly engaging with the work, even if I’m paying attention to every single word or details. That shouldn’t be a problem, but in my mind, it somewhat feels like it. I’m enjoying a piece of media in the moment. Then that moment passes, and I don’t really carry it with me. So what is my return on investment in that case?

            But I shouldn’t be thinking about returns on investment. That shouldn’t be so important, right? I shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for enjoying something. But my reasons for feeling that way are going to be harder to unpack. I mean, I’m sure the intense pressure for achievement and perfection I felt while in high school wasn’t going to compartmentalize itself and limit its damage to my sense of self-worth. Which is already something that would affect everything about my life. But you know, chicken and egg, as the old argument goes.

            I will say that personally, I don’t think one should feel ashamed for enjoying media that is genuinely harmless. But practicing what I preach is a very different matter. A matter that is made somewhat easier with this podcast.

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            So first on the docket, is a podcast I tweeted about on the Twitter account for The Oracle of Dusk. @OracleofDusk if you were wondering…. On that account, I’ve been trying to do a series of hashtag-podshare posts in the wake of scripting that episode on It Was Never Just About the Revolution. After all, I can’t really point out the role audience enthusiasm has to play in podcast promotion without acting upon that responsibility. I say this to point out that you might already be somewhat familiar with the first show on this medley and my thoughts about it as a result.


            And that is Chris Gethard’s Beautiful/Anonymous: Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People. It’s a show from Earwolf. Which, if you’re familiar with would seem a little odd, considering Earwolf presents itself as a leading comedy podcast network, but it makes sense after you take a few steps.

            The host Chris Gethard is—among other things—a comedian, and also there’s that old adage against looking a gift horse in the mouth. Instead, it’s a better use of your time to just enjoy your time with the horse rather than questioning it. Because this show has turned out to be a pretty amazing one, even if it’s not what you’d expect from Earwolf

            The premise of the show is that Chris will open up a phone line with one anonymous stranger for about one hour. And there’s only one hold barred. Just kidding. There’s no holds barred. I mean, there is a stipulation that Chris can’t hang up first, but that’s about it. This anonymous person can lead the conversation about pretty much anything. I mean, there’s been an episode recently that had a lengthy discussion on Brazilian jujitsu. So, there’s that. I mean, this show isn’t the typical confessional. You have a lot heartache and philosophical musing, you know the sorts of things you would expect. But there’s a lot of extra stuff, too. There’s a lot to the human experience, and everything is fair game.

            To give you a bit of background information on my relationship with this show: I found it through Player FM, actually. I know there’s talk about them redesigning the discovery page or homepage to their search option, so these remarks might not age well. But sometimes I like to window shop for podcasts on that screen, it has or had different collections of podcasts that fit within certain tags or parameters that line up with the tags you have on your shows in your library.

            I don’t remember how Beautiful/Anonymous was sorted, but it was definitely prominently displayed on that screen. And I looked at it and its premise. I liked that premise enough to add it to my very long if not way too long list of shows to listen to. And then it sat there for an unknown amount of time, but I got to it eventually.

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            Another way of describing the show is that it’s almost like a love letter to older radio call-in shows. Maybe I should not be calling them older. I mean they still exist. Mind you I only ever hear them when I’m riding in a cab or rideshare to or from work in nearly stop-and-go traffic. And yes, the traffic is always that bad when I’m in a cab or rideshare. If I’m not on public transit, my day has really gone downhill. And that’s just par for the course.

            But tangent aside, the idea is appealing, right? But in radio, those conversations are more limited. Producers have to plan around so much other programming and advertisements, the call-in queue can get pretty long, and they have to make sure you can hold the audience’s attention. Also not have anything air that could come around and bite them. In short, the constraints of that time-driven medium do alter the experience somewhat. They have to.

            But in this podcast, callers can take more time, they can truly root themselves in the conversation and in the moment, and they can give their truths the attention that’s deserved.

            It almost feels like this podcast is a love letter to what radio call-in shows are and could be if they weren’t hindered. A love letter to the dream that hadn’t yet had a chance to be. Not that it ever fully forgets or steps away from what came before. Stylistically speaking, it rings very true to its predecessor. To the point that I actually got car sick while listening to it. Specifically the kind of car sickness that will set in when you are stuck in stop and go traffic.

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            For the record, from here on out, I don’t know how I got these shows on my listening queue. It’s like they just appeared one day.

            The second podcast I want to talk about is Whatever Happened to the Pizza at McDonald’s. And I don’t even know where to begin. It’s an investigative journalism program where Brian Thompson who is a totally legit journalist seeks to find out why McDonald’s stopped serving its pizza.

            Yes, McDonald’s used to serve pizza. For a quick internet search, the entire life of the product started in the 80s and ended at the year 2000.  And even then, I think the release was somewhat limited. Thanks to franchising and the nuances therein. Also, maybe none of us just saw it. Maybe you wouldn’t even think to order a pizza at your local burger joint. I mean, I can see how that happens.

            In short, McDonald’s pizza might just seem like a collective fever dream. But not to Brian. Brian knows this happened, and he sees a mystery if not an outright injustice that needs an answer, and he is going to get to the bottom of it. In fact, he seems more dedicated to his subject than other podcasting investigative journalists are to their stories. Like, I want someone to care about me as much as Brian cares about the fate of McDonald’s pizza. That level of commitment is a virtue to be cherished.

            It’s not an exaggeration to say that this is one of the best things about this podcast. While I’m not exactly sure why I’m so enamored with it, this has to be a huge part of it. I love how serious this show’s tone is despite the absurd subject matter. I love that this show is devoted to looking into something so absurd and meaningless as McDonald’s pizza—a menu item that I don’t even remember.

            Yeah, I was a child when this menu item existed, so you would think nostalgia, right? But I never ate it once. In my family, we didn’t eat fast food that often. If we did it was a very special occasion, and my dad would order me a Happy Meal. The same thing every time not because my parents didn’t think children should have a choice, but because by then I had made it very clear I was a creature of habit. Also, the pizza in my life was always homemade. Dad would make the whole thing from scratch, and all homemade food just tastes better as a general rule.

            So if I can’t even blame nostalgia for my intense interest in this podcast, what is at the heart of it? I really don’t know. I think with so much stress just out in the world and in both my podcasting and not podcasting life, it’s just nice to have a mental break that comes from a not-so-serious matter being handled so seriously.

            Also, I think I really want to know what a McDonald’s pizza would taste like.

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            Third on the list is Improvised Star Trek. (Pause) I don’t think I really need to explain too much about this one, do I? A group of comedians get together and improvise the adventures of the USS Sisyphus through the Star Trek universe with some guidance from the audience over Twitter.

            Because it’s improv, it’s harder to find certain threads that carry through at least a respectable portion of the show that could be talked about. Or at least, I don’t think I could find something that wouldn’t work better with some other show at the forefront.

            But there’s always the improv element, and that in and of itself might be ripe for jokes. I mean, for some reason, improv in and of itself is a joke. Okay I’m sure there are reasons than for that, but I don’t think about them. I grew up with the improv show Whose Line is it Anyway? being at the center of some of the best bonding moments my mother and I had. We planned our schedules around the episodes, and if there was a surprise airing, it didn’t matter how many times we had seen that particular episode; we would drop everything and watch it together.

            Improv is the carpe diem branch of comedy. And comedy is hard to do in general. Much like life. And no, I’m not trying to segue into anything supposedly deep. I might love this show, and improv might always have a special place in my heart, but I really don’t think I have anything more to say about it.

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            So this fourth slot is a callback to the closing comments of last week’s show. The ones I made about my suspicion that I’m not going onto graduate school because—while I do want to live an examined life, as you could call it—other parts of it just don’t appeal to me. Now, don’t worry, I didn’t list out thee reasons nor are they particularly relevant.

            The most important one is that--well--I think the things I want or could get out of that life are things I can find in podcasting. I can produce content that dissects media or themes or philosophical ideas in this space without having to pander to norms that I think are pointless to anyone who isn’t ego driven. Which I don’t think I am. I mean I’m somewhat uncomfortable with the many facts of my existence, but there you go.

            Regardless, there is one aspect of academia that you might realize I can’t have otherwise because it requires other people. And that is the presentations: the listening to other researchers in your field or tangentially related fields discuss their work or any breakthroughs in their field. It’s not just the current events angle that makes this relevant and valuable. Rather, it’s a great opportunity to learn more information just in general. And that information can be applied to your life, not just your work, in any number of ways

            Well, surprise, I have a couple show for that. But to focus more on my favorites in my collegiate specialty. You know, in the field I would have probably stuck with in the alternate universe that I go onto graduate school.

            First, there’s The Partially Examined Life podcast. It somewhat works more like a general philosophy course than anything else, in case you wish you could take the class or gain the insight without the pressure or work involved. That being said, it’s not a lecture, someone talking at you style. It’s more a roundtable discussion of people who like the subject. Actually, as they put it, they were at one point set on doing philosophy for a living and then then realized how bad of an idea that was. Oh boy that seems really familiar. There’s some comraderie here, for sure.

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            And I guess this would be fourth… point five… Yeah that sounds stupid. Ordinal numbers weren’t meant to work this way. But the other half of that coin in The Political Theory Review, a series of conversations with political theorists about their new books led by Jeffrey Church currently associate professor at the University of Houston. On one hand, it’s a convenient way for me to keep on top of the new research in the field, which is great, but it also serves a secondary purpose.

            So you’ve probably seen memes about how expensive college textbooks are. Well, any and all books destined for academic consumption are pretty expensive as a general rule. It can also be hard to find out which books are worth reading and which ones are not, as a somewhat related problem. Not really related; it just worsens the other problem. Yes you can check out reviews that are typically done in academic journals that are sometimes, actually usually kept behind paywalls. And also sometimes egos get involved in that. Not always. Most editors are pretty good at catching it. But with a lot of money on the line, I might genuinely want the book, but purchasing it is not a decision to make lightly. Either for me or the library. And also, sometimes a book is just so niche a library can’t justify the purchase. Fair enough. Support libraries, and this problem will gradually go away.

            In the current moment, however, I’ve found The Political Theory Review to be a way out of this situation. You’d think having an impartial third party reviewer would be the most useful, yes, but it doesn’t quite work for me. I’m more interested in knowing what the author was trying to argue, what their perspective was in writing the book, and what the most superficial expression of their argument is. I get all of that here.

            Currently the series has released 47 episodes. In that 47, I’ve been able to prioritize seven purchases, make note of ten books that I can either buy at a later date or maybe by the time I get to it the library will already have a copy, and I was also talked out of five books that I genuinely don’t need at this junction and wouldn’t necessarily benefit from reading at all.

            In place of all of that trouble, I get to listen to genuinely interesting conversations. So it works out.

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            And hey, look at that, I was able to end this medley on a high note. A note of utility. Though I will admit that my approach regarding those last two shows might be more about my personal style and approach than anything else. None of that might be useful for you, but I would never know. At least I gave you some interesting podcasts to check out.

            Also, we at Miscellany Media Studios have some more of our own in the works. So follow us on Twitter @miscellanymedia or keep your eyes on this feed because I will probably tuck in a trailer or two for your convenience.

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