My husband and I watched This American Life on the television the other night. I had mixed feelings since I believe with all my heart that the radio show can’t be topped. That, and I love radio in general and am extremely resistant to change. I still listen to music on the record player while my husband stores all his music on his hard drive.
I came across a fantastic interview of Ira Glass, the show’s host, in Forward. The profile, by Beth Schwartzapfel, is very well written. Here’s how she describes the radio show:
For one hour each week, “This American Life” tells true stories about everyday Americans; the show’s Web site describes them as “movies for radio.” The stories are organized loosely around a theme — recent ones have included “Quiz Show” and “Houses of Ill Repute” — and manage to locate drama, humor, joy and sorrow in such unlikely places that listeners can’t help but fall in love with the elderly Brooklyn man whose house has become a haven for homeless prostitutes, or with the building superintendent who was part of a Brazilian death squad.
So true! The interview focuses on the benefits of radio over television, and Glass says radio’s invisibility of radio is part of what gives it numinous power. Schwartzapfel asked interesting questions. One of the first stories on the television series is about an atheist who poses as Jesus for a series of paintings. She asks if Jesus stories lend themselves well to television because of the iconography. She goes on to ask about Jewish stories:
Christians are actually, to me, anyway, as a Jew, much more interesting in America. And weirdly, much more misunderstood. Evangelical Christians are the most incompetently portrayed group in America, in TV, in fiction, in the news. When Christians say that the media gets them wrong, Christians are absolutely right. Christian life in this country is really horribly documented, and way more interesting than is done. Generally, in the media, very religious Christians are portrayed as hardheaded doctrinaire knuckleheads. But in fact, from my experience, the most religious Christians I know tend to be incredibly thoughtful, complicated, generous to a fault, very principled and not knuckleheads. Actually, they’re sort of weirdly the opposite of the stereotype, and that includes people from the hardcore fundamentalist faiths.
I am so thankful to have interviewers such as Ira Glass. I only wish that there were more people with his listening aesthetic in the journalism field. It’s so easy for reporers to rely on stereotypes and portray people in a negative light. It’s honestly just easier when you’re working on tight deadlines and with difficult stories. But for years Glass has shown the benefit of working hard, moving beyond stereotypes, and showing the complicated nature of people.