Pop Culture Podcasts and Spoilers

(Cross-post from my tumblr)

Although in recent months my level of intake has declined some, I still listen to a lot of podcasts. My two pop culture discussion favorites are Slate Culture Gabfest and Pop Culture Happy Hour (and this week there was even a cross over of the amazing Glen Weldon!).

I have recently become frustrated in the discussion of new movies (sometimes TV too) on these shows. I totally respect that critics and bloggers –  and every day people – get a lot of shit for spoiling things. However, I think dancing around topics means that the analysis from these critics suffers. The whole reason I listen is to hear their opinions and discussion, which hopefully betters my experience of a particular piece of culture.

In comparison, on this week’s episode of Culture Gabfest, the discussion about the ambivalence article was better than the conversation about Superman because for the former there was no worry about spoilers. I haven’t seen the new superman movie yet, but I’m not sure I’m going to, and I would much rather choose to listen to the conversation or not but have it be a very substantial conversation.

Therefore, I think the solution is to either drop in a note from the producer saying the minute to jump too post-spoilers or include the minutes of the segment in the podcast information. That is what they did at the much-mourned Extra Hot Great, which was wonderful! I knew exactly how long each segment was going to be, and I could go to whatever piece I wanted to if I was afraid of spoilers.

In conclusion, let the audience know there will be spoilers, give us the option to skip them, but do not be afraid of them as it hinders the conversation.

Regardless of this complaint, if you are not listening to these shows, and really all the Slate gabfests, you should be. They are wonderful.

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SPORTS! Yay! – Thoughts on the Olympics

Getty Images – Synchronized Male Platform Diving

Ok, so, I think a key component to enjoying the Olympics is having television.

That may be super obvious, but for the last eight years, I didn’t have television (we owned a TV in Davis, but had nothing coming to it). In 2004 and 2006, I watched a little bit and started a Very-Important-Tradition of watching the Opening Ceremonies with my friend Drew, but what I caught was always at other people’s homes.

In 2008 and 2010, I had no TV and no cable, I tried watching parts of the Bejing games on my computer while living in Ithaca, but it was basically a bust. The screen was tiny, the advertisements were huge, and the internet was slow.

Now, we come to the last two weeks, where I have seriously main-lined some Olympics coverage. (At least main-lined for me – watching anywhere from 20 minutes to 3 hours of coverage a day). This has been steadily helped by our excellent and large TVs, the wonders of the DVR, and my super-fan sister (who has possibly watched everything. I left for work one morning, and she had the TV showing one thing, the computer another, and was checking other updates on her phone).

I started out the two weeks at a lovely Opening Ceremonies party at Syche and Drew’s. (As I said, a Very-Important-Tradition). We ate foods of the world (including lumpia, which may have made my month) and alternatively enjoyed and were snarky about the spectacle. (I really enjoyed it up to the dance/technology montage, which I didn’t understand and was so very long).

After that, I would just watch whatever my sister was watching. Sometimes briefly, and sometimes being sucked in for the whole prime time segment. (This first Wednesday, I came home from the gym, sat down for a moment and got majorly sucked into swimming & men’s gymnastics). My favorites have been: synchronized male platform diving, track in general and the women’s 4×100 relay in specific (which the Americans kicked ass in), all the swimming relays, BMX (though, Jesus Christ that is brutal), and then, today, the women’s Modern Pentathlon.

Donna Vakalis in the equestrian portion of the Modern Pentathlon

I watched the women’s Modern Pentathlon because one of the Canadian athletes, Donna Vakalis, is a Jordan Jesse Go! listener. This show, my favorite podcast, has a segment called “Momentous Occasions” where listeners leave messages about the exciting things in their lives – people call about weddings and babies and craft projects and more. Donna called to say she would be competing in the London games, and Jordan and Jesse followed up that call the next week with a phone call to learn more about Donna’s story.

It was super interesting and kind of insane. The Modern Pentathlon was created to be a collection of sports a modern (at that time early 1900) solider would need to know. It is four events: fencing, swimming, riding an unknown horse, and a running/shooting combination. And it all happens in one day! The NY Times article about it is entitled In Modern Pentathlon, a Day of Madness. We watched the second half of the women’s competition today, and I was super impressed.

So, thanks to my sister and the MaxFun community, I watched and was invested in much of the Olympics. I almost can’t wait for the next summer games. As Andy Zaltzman said “How am I going to last four years without being able to remember to care about rowing?”

(That leads me to a side recommendation: Andy Zaltsman and the Bugle have done daily recaps of the games. They are hilarious, relatively short, and I think would hold up way beyond the games ending. Go! Listen!)

99% Invisible: a Podcast & Kickstarter Recommendation

As I blogged about last fall, Pop Up Magazine Issue #5 was one of my most favorite things, and especially Jon Mooallem’s tale about poor Billy Possum. Fortunately, that tale was then re-told and expanded a bit for Episode 40 of 99% Invisible, a great podcast by Roman Mars about design, architecture and the 99% Invisible activity that shapes our world.

This is the tale of two toys with two very different fates. The Teddy Bear, named after the charismatic president Theodore Roosevelt, was a sensation in the early twentieth century. …. So the powers that be went on the search for the next cuddly companion that America’s children would adore. It was completely logical that they looked at the next president for inspiration, Roosevelt’s handpicked successor, William Howard Taft. In 1909, the toy makers of America placed their bets on the Taft presidency’s answer to the Teddy Bear: the Billy Possum.

I was so happy to have this story show up in another medium. I loved it and wanted to learn more. And, as an added bonus, I learned of the wonderful 99% Invisible, now a staple in my podcast rotation.  The show is incredibly smart, often joyful, and a wonderful way to learn about parts of our daily lives that are often ignored.

UN Plaza, San Francisco, CA

I recommend, especially to my San Francisco readers, to listen to this episode: 39X- The Biography of 100,000 Square Feet

In the center of San Francisco, there is a plaza with no benches. Its central feature at the entrance of the plaza is a unique fountain that was designed by Lawrence Halprin in 1975.The water shoots out at various angles, from inside a sunken pit, filled with large granite slabs. It’s a design that kind of pulls you in and invites you to take the steps down to the water and climb in between the hulking stones. And that’s part of the problem.

After you listen and fall in love, head over to the kickstarter for the third season of 99% Invisible, and pledge a little bit of money to help a great show. As of the writing, there are 49 hours left to go, and your money in whatever amount will allow the show to continue on, and be even better.

This first in a series about supporting media & art that you love. A little goes a long way, and allows individuals to connect with a larger community. (Crossing one off of my “meant-to” blog posts mentioned here).

A blog post in lieu of other blog posts

Friends and me at Hendry Wines a couple of weeks ago. One of many things I meant to blog about….

OK, so I have this friend, and she has a great blog.

Why is it great? Well, she writes well, has a good sense of humor, talks about interesting things and isn’t afraid to have an opinion. But, I honestly think that is only 50% of why it is a great blog. The other 50% is because she posts very regularly.  She wrote four times in July, actually a small amount for her, but still once a week. When you go to her blog, you know you are likely to see a post, and be entertained.

Now, me on the other hand? I think I have an ok blog. I am still trying to find a good balance from being enthusiastic over stuff, and talking too much, and also writing about whatever is interesting in the moment, and not just when something is amazing. But my number one problem is I do not do it enough, and I do not blog on a consistent schedule. I’m a little bit better at keeping my tumblr going, but that is mostly because of reblogs.

I’m trying to change that, but it seems unlikely.
So this post is a round up of things I have meant to blog about, basically since January.
Some may end up being posts of their own eventually, but most will not. As it is kind of a ramble, I will put it behind a tag.

2012 Things I Meant to Blog About:

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Pulling Back the Curtain

One of my most favorite parts of the week comes usually on a Thursday, and is a brief email exchange with friends Joe and Alex. In it we discuss that week’s Slate: Culture Gabfest, one of my favorite podcasts.

I love these emails for a few reason:

  1. chatting with friends is always great, especially as we live in three different states and especially about culture;
  2. one of the hosts, who I love in spite of it, is just so pretentious that talking about him becomes mandatory to sanity;
  3. and most of all, because I convinced them to listen to this show! I love sharing things I love, especially good media.

Hence this post – which is partially a push folks to listen to the Gabfest on a regular basis (basically, three culture critics look at three cultural things from that week – books, essays, movies, music or whatever else), but mostly to push a different bit of media – “Puling Back the Curtain” from WNYC’s On the Media.

A few week’s ago on the Gabfest, they discussed the Bachelor and mentioned that the segment ended up being the longest they had ever talked about one topic. Well, when it reached our ear’s it was only the standard 15 minutes or so of talking. So, here they were showing how much editing goes to produce this piece of media, that feels very edit-free, just like listening to a free-flowing conversation. Both Joe and Alex were surprised to learn how much editing occurs.

This reminded me of “Puling Back the Curtain,” a great segment that looks at how audio media is edited, even in seemingly live scenarios. As the blurb states:

Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes here at OTM?

(Hint: Not everybody speaks as cleanly as it might seem.) A few years ago, we invited reporter John Solomon backstage to see how the sausage is made.

The piece originally ran in May 2007, but I heard it sometime in late 2010/early 2011, after the reporter passed away. OTM always has an excellent voice about transparency in media, and the importance of always questioning the truth.

I highly, highly recommend a quick listen. It is fascinating, entertaining, and under 15 minutes long.

Any wonderful bits of media that you would like to share? Podcasts? Essays? Great Game of Thrones mashups?

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn

July 2009, I get on BART after a day of development data entry at the Red Cross. I sit down, pull out my Sudoku and key up an AJ Jacobs audiobook. As I’m settling in, I notice a guy in his late-20s with a black “the Sound of Young America” (TSOYA) t-shirt. I had listened to this radio show/podcast a few times, so thought, neat. At this point, I only listened to a handful of podcasts and was always interested in finding new ones and meeting other fans. But, this is public transit, and I’m not going to strike up a conversation over a t-shirt.

At least not on a normal day, but this train ride was unusual. About 15 minutes into the normally 25 minute train ride, the BART train stops. We wait. And wait. And wait. At about 10 minutes into the waiting process, I give up on the puzzle and have made eye contact with the t-shirt guy. I comment on the shirt, and we end up having a five minute conversation about TSOYA and “Jordan, Jesse, Go!” It turns out he went to college with Jesse Thorn and recommended I dive deep into both shows. Then, finally, the train resumed and our conversation ended.

I am forever thankful to that random train ride. As my data entry job continued, I devoured the many excellent interviews and well curated comedy of TSOYA. And I fell in love with JJGO, a bantering comedy podcast also park of the Maximum Fun media empire. I began to support MaxFun with monthly donations in the spring of 2010, and continue to do to this day. I tell everyone I can, I go to live shows, and last year, to the wonderful MaxFunCon. So, yes, I’m a bit of a fan girl.

But I’m also someone who would not listen if the quality was not there. Thorn, who has many admirers in public radio and elsewhere, picks excellent and interesting guests across many genres of culture – he doesn’t differentiate between high and low and most importantly always has interesting questions that show he really dove into the work of his interview subject.

Today, TSOYA is rebranded as Bullseye with Jesse Thorn and you should listen immediately. The blurb says:

Bullseye is a public radio show about what’s good in popular culture. With a keen editorial eye, Bullseye sifts the wheat from the chaff, and brings you hot culture picks, in-depth interviews with the most revered and revolutionary creative people and irreverent original comedy.

In the first 50 minute episode, Thorn talks to the AV Club, cast members from the amazing Downton Abbey, Chris Lilley (Australian comedian and creator of Summer Heights High), Dan Deacon (Baltimore musician) and Thorn’s love for E-40’s anthem “Fuck Them.” So if you like costume dramas, comedy, or rap music there is something for you. And the best part is, if you listen to Bullseye for the Downton Abbey chat, you can be easily pulled into the humor of Lilley or the compelling lyrics of a rap song that I, at least, would never have otherwise heard.

Of course, the bit with the cast of Downton was my favorite, so I’ve embedded that here for you. Bullseye Downton Abbey Interview

After you check out the new Bullseye, I recommend diving into the past episodes of TSOYA.Thorn and TSOYA introduced me to the great authors Colson Whitehead (Sag Harbor, Zone One) and Sarah Vowell (Wordy Shipmates, Assaination Vacation). He has great interviews with creaters I already loved from the Mountain Goats to Doctor Who cast members. And his year end comedy special (2011 here) are wonderful looks at brilliant pieces of standup and sketch and other comedy gems.

This is a quality radio production – an analysis of what doesn’t suck in the culture landscape. I love it, and think you would too.

If you are already a fan, what is your favorite episode of TSOYA? What are you hoping Bullseye will cover?

Hey, its the Bowery Boys, hey!

As I move ever closer to my last day as a New Yorker (now only 13 days away), I have just passed my four-year anniversary in the City on August 22nd.  These four years have been pretty amazing, crazy, hard, wonderful… really, all sorts of adjectives.

As I think of all I didn’t yet do, I reflect on what made my four years here what they were.  Therefore, a short series on four years in New York shall commence.

On August 22, 2007, I arrived in New York, where I had previously visited for a handful of days in 2003 and for a 5-week internship in the summer of 2005.  That limited experience had given me a taste of the many possibilities New York contained, and when I was looking forward to New York from the safety and familiarity of California, I felt sure I could handle most NYC had to offer.  But after a night spent on Syche & Drew’s burnt orange couch, I was sitting alone in my new apartment on the only furniture I owned – a blue air mattress – feeling sad, worried, and adrift in this new City.

As, I began to explore my new surroundings, I stumbled upon a fantastic  guide to my new home – the Bowery Boys.

The Bowery Boys: New York City History is a brilliant podcast created by Tom Meyers and Greg Young.  Each episode the pair tells the story of a NYC landmark, person, or moment.  They do so with an incredible grasp of the facts, excellent storytelling, and a wonderful humor.

The podcast began in July 2007, just before I arrived, and was an excellent companion in those early weeks, and still to this day. (I actually finished listening to the most recent podcast #128 Hoaxes and Conspiracies of 1864 just this morning).

Admittedly, being a history dork (and at that time with a spanking new BA in History), this podcast was made more for me then most people. But any podcast that can convey serious, valid information and still turn Peter Stuyvesant and Robert Moses into running jokes, is in my good book!

The podcast helped me to learn about the world I was living in (#47 covered my neighbor in Grant’s Tomb, #54/55 covered Central Park – every New Yorkers retreat, & #90 covered Columbia itself) and others encouraged me to explore parts of New York I otherwise might have missed (African Burial Ground, Gracie Mansion.)

I recommend checking the podcast out, whether you live here or not, as it is a great glimpse of a great American city.  Here are some of my favorites (images taken, without permission, from the great Bowery Boys blog):

David Belasco and some of his lady friends

#18 Ghost Stories of New York City

Every Halloween, the pair puts together a set of scary stories from New York’s past.  I’ve loved each of them, but still think the first is the best.

Two of the tales teach us why ghost lights are so important – David Belasco still haunts his 44th street theater and Olive Thomas, a Ziegfeld Follies chorus girl, who haunts the New Amsterdam theater can still be glimpsed walking the long destroyed catwalks.

A Richard Serra piece from MOMA

#32 Museum of Modern Art

I love MOMA, both its permanent collection and special exhibits (seeing Marina Abramovic there will be its own blog post). And this podcast was a great tutorial on how a Modern museum could be birthed in the City, and a great story of a strong, important woman – Abby Aldrich Rockefeller – who battled enforced bed rest to create a cultural institution.

Henry Ward Beecher sits in Columbus Park in front of Brooklyn Borough Hall

#37 Henry Ward Beecher and Plymouth Church

Possibly my very favorite of all their episodes, and their descriptions sums it up best:

We’ve never done such a saucy show — full of sex, lies, and petticoats. Meet Henry Ward Beecher, Brooklyn Heights’ most notorious resident, and find out about the fascinating and provocative history of the church that turned him into a national celebrity.

I have listened at least a half a dozen times, and I still very much want to read Beecher’s biography The Most Famous Man in America by Debby Applegate.

There are so many other great episodes – the story of the Bronx Zoo, Robert Moses, himself, movie making in New York. And each summer they have done a series of podcasts on theme – last summer the transit system that makes life possible in NYC, and this summer New York and the Civil War.

I highly, highly recommend a listen to this superb podcast.  And to the Bowery Boys – thank you for being an excellent companion on my four years in New York.  I will still listen long after I leave.