Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Canal to the Moon

A few months ago I listened to This American Life. It was, unknown to me at the time, their 400th show, and as a special project, they had each of the member's parents pitch a story for them to produce. The episode included all of their projects. I happened to start listening in the middle of Nancy Updike's story, which was about what they plan on doing with the Erie Canal. The song was catchy and humorously self-referential, and you can listen to it here. (Look under Nancy's Dad's story; I also recommend Robyn's Dad's story, which is singularly awesome.)

Of course, I've had the song popping into my head here and there since I listened to the broadcast. Finally, today, it drove be nuts enough that I looked it up online. The song is not nearly as catchy as I remember it being--the rough folksy edges give it some charm but irritating enough to not throw it on the iPod. Anyway, I recommend the entire episode if you have time.

However, I can never wrap my head around This American Life. Some times I think the ideas and projects they have are awesome--a more or less random search comes up with an episode about seven men named John Smith, people who begin to believe their own hoaxes, and the stories behind deep dark family secrets. These reports are always well-written and produced fabulously.

On the other hand, they are sometimes too clever by half, stretching the themes of their episodes to cram in an unrelated (though otherwise good) story. And, as could be expected on NPR, they let their biases show fairly well. And this is disappointing. It IS NPR, so I expect everyone to make sure they remind their audience about every twenty minutes that they are still young, hip liberals. But because the reports they do are more narratives than hard news stories, it's easy to inject opinion and bias into the story. Which I really don't have any problem with; otherwise the reports would be boring. Still, it's irritating when a perfectly charming report is being broadcast, and yet the narrator feels the need to inject some unrelated throwaway comment about how awful the Republicans, religion, and capitalism are.

So while I enjoy listening to the show, I can't escape the feeling that I'm somehow off the target audience, which is a shame and also probably not true. This probably says a lot more about me then it does NPR.

1 comment:

  1. Hey...found this through a google search. Please don't hate on NPR....It might be of interest to you that TAL is actually produced by PRI (Public Radio International) and is no way associated with NPR.