Sex, death, hate: Pod­cast­ing taboos

These three pod­casts are tack­ling top­ics that have pre­vi­ously been mostly too tough to han­dle

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - NEWS -

One of the great rev­e­la­tions of pod­cast­ing is the for­mat’s ea­ger­ness to lift the cur­tain on the jour­nal­is­tic process. Con­sider the raw in­ter­view, a non­fic­tion pod­cast sta­ple that re­veals as much about the per­son ask­ing the ques­tions as the one an­swer­ing them.

The most in­ter­est­ing ones stretch the form be­yond the jour­nal­ist’s tra­di­tional lim­its. If the clas­sic jour­nal­is­tic chat is ob­jec­tive and emo­tion­ally re­moved, the best pod­cast hosts lever­age their per­sonal in­vest­ments and cre­ative con­ver­sa­tional tac­tics to tackle even the most taboo top­ics. These three pod­casts re­veal new in­sights into how to talk about sex, death and hate. Where Should We Be­gin? with Es­ther Perel Es­ther Perel is a ris­ing-star sex ther­a­pist, com­plete with fun ac­cent. Her new pod­cast takes the form of a one-time coun­sel­ing ses­sion with a cou­ple work­ing through some is­sues. Lis­ten­ing to peo­ple de­scribe their sex lives of­ten feels nom­i­nally sub­ver­sive but ul­ti­mately bor­ing. But dur­ing a ses­sion with Perel, you get to know an anony­mous cou­ple from so many an­gles that it feels more like an un­rav­el­ing mys­tery story.

It’s all be­cause Perel works so cre­atively as an in­ter­roga­tor. She re­jects her clients’ first an­swers. She puts words in their mouths. She sug­gests do­ing the ses­sion blind­folded, with dif­fer­ent names or with for­eign ac­cents. (In the third episode, Perel up­ends one Amer­i­can cou­ple’s story by hav­ing them role play as lib­er­ated French lovers. He plays Jean-Claude. She is Jac­que­line. Perel trans­lates and, at one point, ser­e­nades them with a lit­tle Edith Piaf.)

Perel’s pre­rog­a­tive is to cre­ate a new nar­ra­tive, one that frees the cou­ple from end­lessly re­lit­i­gat­ing past con­flicts. “Peo­ple come in with a story,” Perel says in one episode. “I want them to leave with a dif­fer­ent story, be­cause a dif­fer­ent story is what breeds hope. It’s what gives them a sense of pos­si­bil­ity.” Ter­ri­ble, Thanks for Ask­ing with Nora McIn­erny Nora McIn­erny self-de­scribes as a “no­table widow”. In the three years since she was hit with three ter­ri­ble life events within a few weeks – a mis­car­riage, her fa­ther’s death and then her hus­band’s death from brain can­cer – McIn­erny has devoted her­self to cre­ative projects that cut through her trauma with in­sight and lev­ity. She has writ­ten a mem­oir, cre­ated an on­line sup­port group and now hosts the pod­cast Ter­ri­ble, Thanks for Ask­ing, which be­gan in Novem­ber. In it, she meets peo­ple who are suf­fer­ing – a fel­low widow, a mother of a teenager shot by the po­lice, a woman who tanked her ca­reer – and then so­lic­its hon­est an­swers to the ques­tion “How are you?”

McIn­erny’s per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence with sev­eral gen­res of grief is cen­tral to the pod­cast’s charm. This show about death is not a downer. For most peo­ple, talk­ing to strangers about the worst thing that ever hap­pened to them is a paralysing idea. McIn­erny brings a light­ness, elic­it­ing not just the dark de­tails from her sub­jects but the funny and strange ones, too.

Where Should We Be­gin? Es­ther Perel

In a re­cent episode, her open­ing mono­logue leaps into a di­gres­sion about her life story. “Be­fore I met my first hus­band, Aaron – I love say­ing ‘my first hus­band,’ by the way. It just makes me seem, like, mys­te­ri­ous, I think. Like, ‘My first hus­band,’ and then peo­ple have to ask, and I have to say, ‘He’s dead.’ And then, wow: ‘I killed him.’ Just kid­ding, he had brain can­cer. Or did he? Just kid­ding, he did. He for sure did.” Con­ver­sa­tions With Peo­ple Who Hate Me with Dy­lan Mar­ron In Con­ver­sa­tions With Peo­ple Who Hate Me, Dy­lan Mar­ron calls up strangers who wrote nasty things about him on the in­ter­net and tries to talk it out. The pod­cast is the lat­est en­try in a dig­i­tal sub­genre, where anony­mous mea­nies re­veal the com­pli­cated dy­nam­ics be­hind their on­line mis­be­hav­ior.

What dis­tin­guishes this pod­cast is that Mar­ron’s crit­ics are not gen­er­al­ist haters. He’s best known for his brassy so­cialjus­tice videos on YouTube, and the de­trac­tors he fea­tures are mostly con­ser­va­tives who become mad watch­ing them.

That makes his pod­cast some­thing of a test case for a po­lit­i­cal strat­egy that has been floated among lib­er­als since the elec­tion of Trump: Stop con­de­scend­ing and start em­pathis­ing with peo­ple on the other side of the aisle, and then – this last step is of­ten im­plied but rarely stated – turn them into Democrats. (- NYT service)

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