armchair cultural observation since 1995

Why we need more This American Life


Though I am a partisan of long form storytelling, here I am lauding another aspect of that great radio program: its ability to consistently broadcast voices that sound different from what we normally hear when we get the news. If your news diet is mainly newspapers, you get quotes so short that they’re mostly stripped of any personality. Television news gives the misleading impression that everyone in America speaks in the accent-less manner of the typical anchor.

But if you listen for very long to This American Life, you’re reminded how big a country America is, all the regional accents it encompasses, and its delightful regional expressions — and by extension, you gain perspective about the size and diversity of our polity. For me, this underscores the wisdom of deciding many issues at the local level. I am sure others draw different lessons, perhaps as worthwhile. The point is that America is a much bigger, broader place than is generally portrayed in mass media, and we’d all understand the country a bit better if more media outlets did as good a job of rendering that as Ira Glass and team.

Conor Friedersdorf

2 Responses »

  1. From the first moment that I came across a broadcast while traveling from Kentucky to New Jersey, I was hooked. The honest human stories combined with suspenseful ambient soundtracks have drawn me in time after time. When I listen or watch the broadcasts, I forget that I really do not care about the pig industry or cryogenics as every piece of the stories enfolds and I am slowly trapped in its web. Sometimes, my wife and I will make up popcorn and snuggle on the couch as if we were watching a movie, but this time we are listening to TAL story. A story that is so much more interesting than any scripted movie.

  2. New TAL podcasts make my Mondays at work bearable! I have notoriously shallow entertainment preferences, but there is something about the quality and sincerity of the team that sucked me in from the first time I accidentally listened. I really like this author’s angle as it’s one I never thought of.

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