Hey fam. A lot has changed since the 2016 election in the United States.
Not, like, in the country. America, after all, was founded by genocide, built by slavery, and rose to global domination via unfettered militarism abroad and consumerism at home. Electing a reality TV show host who ran on a platform of explicit racism was not the anomaly many white folks like myself felt it was at the time.
No, the change I'm talking about -- insignificant in the scheme of things I just mentioned, but actually pretty huge for me personally -- is how I listen to podcasts.
I've been an avid podcast listener since 2005 (and creator since 2010!), and I've always enjoyed a wide variety of genres. I've devoured storytelling shows like Radiolab and This American Life; comedy shows like Comedy Bang Bang and Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!; religious and spiritual shows like A Thoughtful Faith and On Being; and movie shows like the /Filmcast and This Movie Changed Me.
But in 2016, my balanced diet of podcast-listening became suddenly one-dimensional. I added a bunch of political podcasts to my Overcast app, and I started ignoring most episodes passing through the rotation that weren't covering the campaign.
In the years since, I have continued to prioritize news shows like FiveThirtyEight Politics; NPR Politics; Up First; The Daily; The Brian Lehrer Show; Intercepted; Left, Right & Center; All Things Considered; On the Media; and (the excellent but now defunct) Politically Re-Active.
I value being a well-informed citizen, but being well-informed includes more than just following every latest breaking news headline. Keep in mind what CBS then-CEO Les Moonves said about Donald Trump's candidacy in 2016: "It may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS."
That quote has become infamous in the years since -- as has Moonves himself, who was recently ousted from his job following multiple allegations of sexual assault and harassment -- and the infamous message is important for consumers of the news to keep in mind. Commercial news networks sell a product of news that titillates, even if it means ignoring other important issues.
Balance to the podcasts
So, I've started a modest plan to get balance back in my podcast-listening life.
While I still have daily and weekly politics and breaking news podcasts auto-populating a news playlist in my Overcast, I have created a manual playlist that I call "Listen This Week." Each Monday morning, I add the ten oldest podcast episodes on my device -- whatever they are -- and commit to listening to all ten before the end of the week.
Not only is it like time travel which is really fun, but my brain has also thoroughly appreciated the expanded subject matter I have exposed it to the last few weeks. Adopting this new practice, I have heard three new podcasts -- mentioned in the Rear-View Radar section below -- that have no doubt made me more informed, even if their focus is not on fleeting headlines.
I can already feel the fresh air (and, in coming weeks, literal Fresh Air!) filling my lungs from this expansion of my attention span. As the should-have-been-nominated-for-an-Oscar-this-year Bo Burnham has put it, "Your attention’s a valuable thing." I'm glad I'm now giving my podcast attention to more subjects.
And I'm especially glad you've decided to give your attention to me for this newsletter! I'll talk to you again in two weeks. Now for the main event: a big long list of stuff (OK, mostly movies) I'm looking forward to giving my attention to in the coming weeks and months.
On my radar: Jan. 25, 2019 - Feb. 7, 2019
To put something good on my radar, please get in touch.
📺 Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (New episodes Jan. 25 & Feb. 1 @ 9 p.m., CW) -- The final season continues!
📺 Rent: Live (Jan. 27 @ 8 pm, FOX) -- I am obsessed with live event television, probably because I crave the feeling of sharing a simultaneous experience with strangers.
📺 Brooklyn Nine-Nine (New episodes Jan. 31 & Feb. 7 @ 9 p.m., NBC) -- I finally caught up last summer after falling behind, and I am really enjoying the new season.
📺 Broad City (New episodes Jan. 31 & Feb. 7 @ 10 p.m., Comedy Central) -- The final season has begun! More on this (perfect) show later in this newsletter.
🎭 Superhero (Off-Broadway, previews start Jan. 31) -- Some of my favorite musicals debuted at Second Stage Theater off Broadway: Spelling Bee, Next to Normal. Now the theater has a new musical with a score by Next to Normal composer Tom Kitt and a book by playwright John Logan, and that's all I need to know to want to see it. Listen to a preview clip.
🎬 New SparkShorts program from Pixar shorts on YouTube -- Pixar is expanding its short film program with a series of upcoming shorts that will play on the Disney•Pixar YouTube channel. The first of these, Purl, hits the channel on Feb. 4, followed by Smash and Grab on Feb. 11 and Kitbull on Feb. 18.
🎬 What Men Want (In theaters Feb. 6) -- Never saw the Mel Gibson version (and never will), but this gender-swapped remake starring Taraji P. Henson looks like much more my thing.
🎬 Catching up on Oscar noms -- By my count, there are 52 Oscar-nominated films this year, and so far, I've seen half of them. I've got some work to do.
At the end of each newsletter, I look to -- the past! -- to mention the most most notable pieces of culture I've been paying attention to, whether they were previously on my radar or not.
📺 Broad City (Thursdays @ 10 p.m., Comedy Central) -- Over the past two weeks, I have finally started watching this show... and it's AMAHZING. Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson have created a comedy masterpiece. Their depiction of city life and friendship is insightful and hilarious. I am so glad I get to take in this (final!) season as it airs, and I already know that whatever projects either of them do in the future will automatically be On My Radar™.
Finally, I want to mention three incredible podcasts I have been listening to because of the new practice I described at the start of today's letter:
🎧 Other: Mixed Race in America is a limited podcast series produced by Alex Laughlin for the Washington Post. (She now produces the New York Times podcast The Argument.) The series explores the stories and perspectives of Americans who have mixed racial backgrounds, and it is beautifully constructed as well as being illuminating.
🎧 Ear Hustle is produced from inside a prison, by folks who are currently incarcerated. I first heard about the show at the end of 2018 when news broke that the show's co-host Earlonne Woods' sentence was commuted. He and co-host Nigel Poor have created something electric and powerful in this series, which is now three seasons strong.
🎧 Sooo Many White Guys is a pop culture interview show hosted by comedian Phoebe Robinson. There's only one "token white guy" as a guest per season, and he's asked to represent his entire demographic. The show is insightful about art and culture -- and it's hilarious.
Thanks for reading! What's on your radar? Get in touch to let me know! And look for my next letter to go out on Feb. 8.