Thursday, November 24, 2005

This American Life and Shared Experiences

Have you ever listened to This American Life? If you haven't, you should. It's an hour-long NPR radio program that explores the random minutiae of American life. Not the type of show you'd necessarily expect to command an audience... but there is something oddly compelling about it.

Its topics range on everything from prom to mallrats to unorthodox military jobs in Iraq (a segment that included an interview with an aircraft carrier vending machine stocker). Each show captures a snapshot from some angle of everyday American life that always seems to resonate with you. It's really Seinfeld-esque in its ability to delve into the ordinary and strike a chord. I still laugh about episodes I heard years ago (the fact that I can even remember them is a testament in and of itself).

The reason I ask is because my wife and I went and saw This American Life's host and producer Ira Glass speak at GWU last Saturday. Long-time fans of the show, we were excited about going and did our darndest to invite friends and family to come with us. Problem was we couldn't sell it. No one wanted to go. Never having heard a program before, everyone from my father-in-law (who was in town for the weekend), to law school classmates, to old friends, they all shot us down cold. I tried to explain the show's concept (something along the lines of an NPR show spotlighting unique aspects of American life), but apparently my description lacked bite; a little too much like a bad re-telling of good joke. I guess no one was willing to take my word on it that the joke was funny. (In hindsight, I could have referred those I was inviting to Fox’s ├╝ber-teen drama The O.C., on a recent episode Summer Roberts referred to This American Life as “that show where all those hipster know-it-alls talk about how fascinating ordinary people are.” Probably wouldn’t have made a difference though).

The disappointing part in this all is that the show really was spectacular (see the Post review). It one of the most enjoyable events I've attended in recent memory. So enjoyable, in fact, that I was actually bothered during the show because of how entertaining it was. As I sat taking it all in, I kept thinking how this person or that person that I had invited would have loved this or that about the show and I found myself getting annoyed. A little neurotic, I know... but it got me thinking.

The experience reminded me of my friend Geoff Tice (who, it should be noted, doesn't really fit the neurotic description). Tice is one of those people who seems to get more satisfaction out of sharing things than he gets from the things themselves. An example might prove helpful... In mid-2000, I was fresh off my mission and two-years removed all that is pop culture. Tice, who had returned from his own mission the year before, was insistent that I watch a movie called Waiting for Guffman (it had gotten popular while we were both away). When we finally got around to watching it, I remember him paying more attention to me and my reactions to the movie than the movie itself. I think what entertained him as much if not more than the movie was sharing his "find."

We're all a little that way I guess. We laugh a little harder at jokes we've told a million times when we get to tell them to someone new. We like to see others appreciate things we've grown to love and, honestly, these things would seem a little blander if we couldn't share them. So that's my point really... good things, whether they be Waiting for Guffman or This American Life, are simply better shared... that and I'm neurotic.

1 comment:

Chris said...

Marc, i love NPR-I download all kinds of podcast subscription. If it werent for you I wouldn't have discoverd this one...thanks.
-Chris