Two weeks in and already it feels disingenuous to say “Happy 2018!”
Welcome back dear reader, and a hearty hello to all of the new readers we gained following the publication of our Best Podcasts of the Year. I’m so glad that you’re here. We’ve got big plans for Constant Listener in the coming months, highlighting many new and returning podcasts that you’re sure to fall in love with, as well as continuing to explore the themes and motifs currently dominating the podcasting landscape.
This week I’m highlighting a few brand new programs, as well as one that is new to me, and also looking back at two brilliant lights of the medium that we lost over the holidays.
Last month I had the great fortune of attending the 2017 Third Coast Conference, put on by the Third Coast International Audio Festival. Though it was only my second year in attendance, I already feel an unabashed love for Third Coast and all that they have done for the furtherance of narrative audio storytelling. Following their work over the years has only served to make me that much more of a perceptive listener to, and observer of, the world of audio. In this present moment, adopting a bird’s eye perspective of the podcast landscape reveals the Third Coast organization and conference’s indelible fingerprints on this century’s communal listening experiences. From Re:Sound, to Radiotopia, many of audio’s major players can credit the organization as having been integral in their growth. That its rise in prominence has coincided with that of the podcast medium is largely by design and not mere coincidence.
Thinking critically about podcasts is sometimes a maddening affair.
You know as well as I that, despite being an audio-first experience, podcasts are not music. They’re also not film, or television, or books. They’re kind of their own thing, a wondrous melange of all of those other forms. Yet thus far every approach to covering podcasts has sought to shoehorn them into one of those other models of evaluation. The lack of an extant model makes for a challenging scenario. There is no Lester Bangs or Pauline Kael in the podcast world for critics to emulate and aspire towards. This is down to the relative youth of the medium and the contraction of media outlets for such writing. Perhaps more significantly though it is impacted by the ease with which one can review films and albums since they are usually self-contained and exist within a densely woven tapestry of historical antecedents. Radio and podcasting, it would seem, haven’t been a part of the broader shared cultural lexicon in any meaningful way since the advent of television.
This Tuesday opened in strikingly somber fashion, with the announcement that the Trump administration will be rescinding the provisions of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA for short. The DACA program, a sort of stopgap measure enacted by the Obama administration following the many Congressional defeats of the proposed DREAM Act, covers nearly 800,000 individuals who are the children of undocumented immigrants. This is an act of unprovoked, unmitigated hatred, full stop. To see it any other way is to fundamentally misunderstand the aim of the program, to not grasp the complexity to childhood immigration, or to be willfully afflicted with cultural myopia.
While the move affects immigrants from many countries, it will be hardest felt by individuals of Latin American origin, particularly those from Mexico. This is in line with the campaign rhetoric frequently spouted by then-candidate Trump, whose animus towards the country and its people is seemingly now becoming official White House policy. In an increasingly divided nation, such broad-brushstrokes attacks only serve to legitimize the fallacy that immigrants are the real threat to America.
Podcasts have an image issue.
Beyond the fact that our culture has for the most part moved away from the form’s original namesake—the iPod—there’s just a number of curious aspects to the medium that have got me thinking. It feels as though the taxonomy has become blurry, in need of a clean-up.
This week, the release of the new show 36 Questions, featuring Tony nominee Jonathan Groff and Jessie Shelton, has got us thinking about podcasts, musicals, and the intersection of the two. As the trend towards audio fiction has taken off over the past few years, it would seem that the groundwork has been laid for the podcast musical to come into its own as well. We’re looking today at a few examples of the form and analyzing what is working and what still has room for growth.
This past Saturday marked the formal celebration of Canada’s sesquicentennial, officially known as Canada 150, a campaign that has been marked by no little amount of controversy. It shouldn’t be necessary to disabuse American readers and listeners of the popular fallacy that Canada is simply an unfailingly pleasant intellectual haven to the North led by sentient meme Justin Trudeau. Such beliefs can largely be chalked up to the egocentrism of the American news media.
Canada—like nearly every nation—cannot be defined by a single set of experiences. Its is a messy history instead, composed of a patchwork of vibrant communities, indigenous and colonial and immigrant alike, none more authentically Canadian than another. There is just as much political wrangling, moral and ethical issues, boorishness and brilliance, and arts and culture as is to be found everywhere else in the world. None of this is to denigrate Canada, rather to offer readers a reminder that the nation exists on the plane of reality, where complexity abounds.
Just like the country which has birthed them, Canadian podcasts are an enthusiastically varied bunch. One of the strongest through-lines among the nation’s noteworthy shows is an attempt to showcase the diverse chorus of voices which make up the country, acknowledging that there is no universal “we” without giving its people the ability to relate their own authentic experiences. If the Canada 150 campaign was derided as a celebration of colonialism, then Canada’s podcasts appear set on changing the conversation.