Understanding the Misappreciated Art of Podcasting
I'm obsessed with the idea that culture will save us all. That having a beer and discussing theories on Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones or whatever flagship series is currently airing on television is going to end poverty and international conflicts. The last six or seven years proved me very wrong several times, but I haven't given up hope that people will eventually learn to manage their emotions when discussing Wonder Woman, Doctor Who or whatever show that changed one variable for another useless reboot. Things have not been looking up, but they could change at any time. What can I say? I'm an optimist.
Only thing we need is to stop judging one another for bullshit arbitrary reasons. That also means we should stop identifying with bullshit arbitrary cultural output like superheroes and recording artists and therein lies the challenge. There is no magical solution to help us pull our heads out of our asses and start discussing culture responsibly on the internet, but there already are things that contributes. Today, I want to talk about one of these positive cultural practices. A practice countercultural to everything going on in 2017, yet insanely popular anyway. I'm sure you know it already, but I just want you to think about it differently.
Let's talk about podcasting.
What is podcasting?
Podcasting is often called the rebirth of talk radio. This is not fundamentally wrong, but not quite true either. Their difference lies in the world around them and the audience they're aimed at. Talk radio is a generalist endeavor meant to keep company to every trucker, insomniac and other lonely people tuning-in. This is why talk radio hotlines are so bizarre, sometimes. They were the voice of social outcasts for many years. Older weirdos are still calling hotlines today, but the majority of them found asylum on social media where anonymity borrows them extra credibility points.
A podcast is a digital form of talk radio anchored around its host's niche expertise or interest. It is delivered in pre-recorded episodes rather than aired on the airwaves, although technology now allows to do both. It's a byproduct of evolutionary marketing, which allows to target audiences with the utmost precision. There are some pseudo-generalist podcasts like the Joe Rogan Experience (which I'm going to use for example a lot in this piece) but they are in general about something oddly specific: Castle Rock Radio is about Stephen King books, the JDO Show is about fostering creativity, the Watch is about whatever television show airing right now, you get the gist.
Why is podcasting important?
So, I'm aware that podcasting is already a popular cultural practice. I do think its importance is slightly misunderstood, though. I call it countercultural because it uses time to its advantage while every other platform is feeding off out collective ADHD. Facebook is telling its partners that the average human attention span is 8.25 seconds and encourages them to exploit this information in order to tailor their content. Listening to a podcast involves...well, LISTENING to someone's thoughts without the possibility of you ever interrupting them. It's a platform where people are free to shape a context for who they are and what they're saying. The only format they have to abide to is a recording time, which is often not set in stone.
Let's get back to the Joe Rogan Experience for examples. It's a vastly popular podcast, which I happen to be a fan of.
A couple months before losing her UFC title to Holly Holm, Ronda Rousey was the queen of the universe. She was depicted as this brash, shit-talking and ass-kicking beauty who was allergic to losing. Every headline on social media that was about her featured an incendiary comment of some sort: she could be a boxing champ, defeat male UFC fighters, beat Floyd Mayweather Jr, etc. There was a triumphalist vibe around her that she seemed to embrace and believe. Headlines gave the impression that Ronda Rousey believed her own hype.
The portrait she gave on episode #690 of the Joe Rogan Experience was a lot more nuanced. Over a two hours interview, Rousey gave a compelling portrait of an athlete so absorbed in her own training she didn't quite get the nuances between being herself and marketing herself. She told fascinating stories of her mother's competitive spirit and her insistence on putting her daughter through grueling Judo sessions with boys. She also gave her side of the story on her highly publicized feud with Miesha Tate during the recording of The Ultimate Fighter, where she gave information that was not available to media. She painted Tate as a shrewd marketer who changed her behavior in front of Dana White and liked to paint herself as the victim. Not that this is any true, but there is always two sides to a story and a first hand recollection like this allows you to second guess and modulate the portrait of Rousey given by the media.
Joe Rogan did it again a couple weeks ago when he interviewed Sargon of Akkad, a YouTuber I particularly loathe for his antifeminist comments for a whopping FOUR HOURS. I've sat through the entire interview because I'm obsessed with making my own ideas on stuff an today, I still loathe Sargon of Akkad but I loathe him just a tiny bit less and I understand why. He's a man obsessed with being right and he will either include or dismiss any information in order to make his point. To his credit, he always makes a logical point but it's also his biggest problem. Sargon of Akkad lives in a theoretical space and his ideas have repercussions in the real world, where things that make sense on paper don't always apply. I was happy to listen to Sargon of Akkad for four hours because I could see the human being behind the intellectual monolith and I could loathe him on his own terms. I gave him a chance to explain who he really is and it wouldn't have been available to me without Joe Rogan's podcast.
Why should you listen to podcasts?
We live in an era of data triumphalism. People want to take informed decisions about everything they do and they want to base their decision on data because data is real. But data only tells a part of a story and it's not necessarily up to you to contextualize it. In order to truly appreciate what someone is all about, you need to hear it from them. Headlining and competing for immediacy is a dangerous form of binary thinking. Ten years ago, we made fun of George W. Bush for saying "you're either with us or against us" but this is exactly what we're doing whenever we click on a digested, oversimplified headline or react using one of Facebook's convenient reaction emojis. You're entering a binary response to a message: you either like it or you don't. And more binary decisions will be taken from these responses.
Podcasting is a non-binary form of social communication. It's available to everyone, it's easy to record and easier to listen to and it elicits debate instead of a "yes or no" answer. In the age where U.S president Donald Trump proved to everyone that public opinion and social media outrage isn't worth shit if you're not actually listening, we owe it to ourselves to take a step back and think about what we're doing and how we're doing it. Podcasting is insanely popular, but it can be a powerful and important tool in order to reverse engineer this social conundrum we've created. We owe it to ourselves to think about it differently and better understand what it can achieve.