S-Town producer Brian Reed stands moodily in the Alabama woods
If you are a big podcast nerd like me, you probably woke up this morning excited at the prospect of your morning commute. Why? Well, today is the launch of S-Town, the new podcast by the team behind Serial and This American Life (aka the podcast your mom calls you about every Monday to discuss), and they dropped all eight episodes at once so you can totally binge on yummy sonic soulfood!
At the time of this writing, I have yet to finish listening to all seven episodes (I did try my hardest, but I am limited by the space-time continuum, and the fact that I actually have to do some work at work, dammit). So, I can’t really tell you what S-Town is about, other than the keywords of: rural Alabama, reclusive antique horologist (the scientific study of time, not insta-THOTs), murder, buried gold, and a small-town lawyer called Boozer Downs. Wired compares the style of storytelling to Twin Peaks by saying “you keep listening not for hopes of resolution, but to figure out what exactly is happening.” So, I’ll meet you in the kitchen tomorrow to discuss? BYO conspiracy theories.
Podcasts have been slowly creeping into the public consciousness the last few years (apparently they were invented in 2004, and iTunes podcasting capabilities weren't up and running until 2005). But it wasn’t until the 2014 release of Serial’s first season that they were shoved from the earbuds of a select few who really knew how to work their iTunes to watercooler conversations everywhere. You know, the ones with your coworker where you animatedly discussed the validity of cell tower evidence and whether key witness Asia McLean was *really* in the library when she said she was.
The thing about podcasts that makes them different to all the other ~digital media~ we consume is that they have a kind of old-timey, ‘family huddled around the wireless’ vibe to them. Even the spoken word ads---for products like meal delivery services and stamps---that precede the podcasts are kinda old-school. Malcolm Gladwell, host of Revisionist History, says it “feels very retro in a nice way.”
In a time where we can On Demand our entire lives, podcasts have an intimacy to them that other media just doesn't. For one thing, podcasts demand our attention, usually for over an hour, sometimes over several episodes (see: Serial, and other popular true crime podcasts like In the Dark). We know the voices, moods, and personalities of the hosts in ways we just don’t with actors, musicians, or even our fave YouTube or social media stars.
The other ~kewl~ thing about podcasts is that they are pretty damn easy/cheap to make and free to download, giving lots of different people the chance to get their voices out there and lots more different people the chances to hear ‘em. Even the big names have the ability to tell us something new. For example, This American Life’s double episode on Harper High School in Chicago was one of the most brilliant pieces of journalism I have ever listened to.
Podcasts also utilize one of the greatest gifts the Internet has given us: really, really, really niche shit. Are you interested in getting high and watching movies? Then listen to Doug Loves Movies! Do you enjoy tales of Old Hollywood gossip and intrigue? Definitely check out You Must Remember This (the Manson Family season will blow your mind). There are podcasts about food, about love, about video games, about a mysterious desert town called Night Vale where strange things happen (okay that one is fiction). Do you like your pop culture news with a healthy dose of Beyonce and segments like “this week in black excellence”? Check out The Read. Are you an X-Files nerd? A Star Trek Trekkie? A music obsessive? A podcast nerd for podcasts about podcasts (aka pod-ception)? Are you sick of white guys doing everything? If you like comedy, well, you’re in luck. Uhh Yeah Dude, My Dad Wrote a Porno, and Two Dope Queens have all turned me into that familiar New York City trope of an old woman cackling to herself on the subway.
And, sure, podcasts are also a product of our do-everything-at-once generation. Not content to do just one thing at once (like stroll through the park, take the subway, wait for a plane) we can now plug into a totally new world or conversation. But you know what? I think we should lean into all these different voices in our collective head — you never know what you might learn!
So tell me, what are your favorite podcasts? What do you think of S-Town so far? LMK in the comments!