So once again it’s been a while. THINGS. Things happening. Including a new job – and being a sociologist TAing for a law class is interesting, let me tell you.
Anyway, something else I’ve been doing a lot lately is listening to podcasts. They’re honestly a lot of what’s helping me hold my shit together. I threw a list of recommendations together for my Tumblr blog, and I think it makes sense to post it here as well.
Without further ado (broken into the three primary genres I’m currently into):
- In the Dark – “Child abductions are rare crimes. And they’re typically solved. For 27 years, the investigation into the abduction of Jacob Wetterling in rural Minnesota yielded no answers. In the most comprehensive reporting on this case, APM Reports and reporter Madeleine Baran reveal how law enforcement mishandled one of the most notorious child abductions in the country and how those failures fueled national anxiety about stranger danger, changed how adults parent their kids and led to the nation’s sex-offender registries.” Deep, thoughtful, nicely un-sensationalized, and – I think – important if you care about the effectiveness of law enforcement in America. Also great if you just love a good mystery, even though the murder mystery itself is technically solved from the first episode. The real mystery is how it all happened, not who did it.
- Serial – “Serial is a podcast from the creators of This American Life, hosted by Sarah Koenig. Serial tells one story—a true story—over the course of a season. Each season, we follow a plot and characters wherever they take us. We won’t know what happens at the end until we get there, not long before you get there with us.” Winner of multiple awards – including a Peabody – and one of the most successful podcasts to date. It’s somewhat similar to In the Dark (Serial is actually largely responsible for a flurry of podcasts like this because of its wild success) though also different in some important ways, not least because it’s ongoing and because it doesn’t focus exclusively on crime. The first season is very good, although somewhat racially problematic, but the second season is fucking amazing.
- Sword and Scale – Sword and Scale is a bit more of a guilty pleasure than the previous two, because while it has pretensions to something deeper, it really is kind of trashy at times. But I think in a good way, for the most part, and it does dip into truly thoughtful territory, as well as – in my opinion – at least making a good faith attempt to maintain genuine respect for the subject matter. It usually focuses on more extreme and violent crimes (lots of serial killers and mass murderers), though there are points at which it confines itself to the merely odd, and it’s pretty well written. Bonus good elements: the music is fantastic and I have a major crush on the host’s voice.
A quick side note: I was raised on radio drama (my first exposure to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was the BBC radio production – its original and in my opinion greatest form – and my favorite version of Star Wars is actually the radio drama, which incorporates a lot of the interesting stuff that didn’t make it into the final cut of the film, including the whole Biggs Darklighter subplot and a lot of deeper detail about Luke’s life on Tatooine, as well as Leia’s history as a Rebel operative; I seriously can’t recommend it enough). For a while it seemed like this wonderful form of storytelling was on the decline, and probably the thing I love most about podcasts is that it’s come roaring back. I honestly think we’re in the middle of a renaissance of audio drama and I’m so happy.
- TANIS – TANIS is fucking incredible. It’s actually presented as an investigative series on the model of Serial, and tells the story of the pursuit of a mysterious and increasingly terrifying Lovecraftian dimension/location/entity and everyone whose life it’s ruined. It’s one of the creepiest things I’ve ever heard, though I thought the s2 finale that just aired was slightly below its usual high standards. I’m still psyched for s3.
- The Black Tapes – Same team as TANIS, same universe, same characters, same format, though it has a lot more in common with The X-Files. I don’t think it’s quite as enjoyable as TANIS but I also think that’s down to my personal taste rather than comparative quality, so YMMV.
- WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE – My history with this podcast can be summed up as follows: “Huh, this is kind of interesting.” “Okay, this is pretty clever and funny.” “Wait why is it hurting me with feelings now” “oh my god how dare you” “YAY” “wtf now it’s seriously scary” “how can you not be posting faster, why don’t you post faster you assholes” It’s just… You need it in your life. Trust me.
- Alice Isn’t Dead – Same production team and writers as Night Vale, but majorly different in a lot of ways, not least in that it’s not comedy at all. Essentially: Lesbian trucker travels weird-and-scary rural America in search of her missing wife. It took a couple episodes to grab me and then rapidly joined TANIS as one of the most frightening fucking things I’ve ever encountered in any medium. It’s fantastic horror. It’s also moving, which the Night Vale team has a real knack for.
- Within the Wires – Yet more Nightvale Presents. I think it’s best if I don’t say much about this. Just listen to it, and do so as unspoiled as possible. The writing is simply gorgeous.
- Limetown – “Ten years ago, over three hundred men, women and children disappeared from a small town in Tennessee, never to be heard from again. In this seven-part podcast, American Public Radio host Lia Haddock asks the question once more, “What happened to the people of Limetown?” Yet another fictional Serial clone – and you should not consider that a disparaging description. Like TANIS, it’s a great mix of science fiction and mystery and horror. Starts creepy and weird and gets pretty disturbing in the best way possible. Once again I would go into this as unspoiled as possible.
- The Message – Yet another fictional Serial clone, this one follows a cryptography team as they seek to decode the first legitimate transmission from an extraterrestrial species. The twist at the end is A+. The one quibble I have is that I don’t think there was enough of it, though supposedly a second season is on the way.
istg, these are some of the only reasons I’m coping at all with this fucking election.
- The NPR Politics Podcast – Sharp, insightful, relatively calm analysis about stuff in general, though obviously most of what they’re talking about right now is the US election. Everyone is smart and likable and frequently funny.
- The Political Gabfest – Slate’s politics podcast. Very similar to NPR’s except they don’t even try to keep up a pretense of neutrality (not that NPR is really doing so either because HOW CAN YOU). There’s a bit more bickering but it’s good bickering.
- FiveThirtyEight Elections – Obviously more of a focus on polls and predictive statistics but a lot of great general analysis, and of the three of these I think I like the people best simply as people. It’s also probably the funniest. It tends to make me feel better about everything.
And I actually also have one, which is entirely fandom related and therefore probably completely uninteresting to most. But it’s a relatively new hobby and it’s fun, and I’ve been learning a lot.
So those are my faves at the moment. Listen and enjoy.