Friday, August 17, 2018

Podcast Roundup Weeks #32 and #33

In the last couple of weeks, I've listened to 72 episodes.  There have been some really interesting episodes.

In Imaginary Worlds, host Eric Molinsky guides us through science fiction and fantasy the questionof why do we suspend our disbelief and enjoy these genres. It's a diverse podcast, covering things from the card game Magic the Gathering to Live Action Role Play (LARP) to fantasy maps, with occasional miniseries covering topics like Doctor Who and Harry Potter more in-depth. Even when I'm not super enthused with an episode topic on first glance, Molinsky is a master storyteller who will make me care by five minutes into to the episode.

The episode I want to talk about is called "Imaginary Deaths." Why do we mourn the deaths of fictional characters so much? I can easily get verklempt if I think too much about Harry Potter losing Hedwig (his present from Hagrid for his birthday and first real magical touchstone!) or Beth in Little Women who just didn't live a life worthy of her goodness except, you guys, Beth was NOT REAL. Molinsky talks with fans like you and I who have these deep feelings associated with death on the page or the screen and then talks to a psychologist, Jennifer Barnes, who studies this very thing. Basically, Barnes argues that it's relatively recently in human development that humans have had to distinguish fiction from reality and this skill is put to the test when we're consuming media. It was a fascinating discussion and, if you consume fiction, this is worth a listen.

I have written repeatedly on the genius of Roman Mars and his podcast 99 Percent Invisible before. He introduces me to things in the designed world that I have never thought about before (there's an episode about basketball which I ordinarily would be zzzz, but it raised a fascinating issue about deciding to actually have a hoop with a hole that I still think about a lot), but you don't need me to talk up one of the most listened to podcasts in the world, do you? The episode "Interrobang" is all about punctuation. I love to nerd out on the history of punctuation and typesetting and the idea that there's a need for a NEW end of sentence punctuation is a total mind game for me, especially as I find more and more ways I'd use it in my own writing.

A relatively new podcast in my arsenal is Dr. Gameshow, a show hosted by comedy genius Jo Firestone, who along with her very low energy co-host Manolo Moreno, plays games that people listening to the show send in.  She usually also has two guests in studio and they play against people who call in. The whole thing hangs on how good or terrible the games are and how game the in-studio guests are.  It consistently makes me laugh, although sometimes I'm laughing because I'm super confused as to what's going on because the games make no sense.  The episode "#NAHSMYOZ" has guests Jason Mantzoukas (of the super hilarious podcast How Did This Get Made) and Moreno's 10-year-old niece. I have actually turned off the podcast before when there was another child guest, but this 10-year-old girl is articulate and her rapport with Mantzoukas warmed my heart. Also, it was a cutthroat game.  I laughed a lot.

I have not been as enthused with Reply All in 2018 as I was in 2017, but there are still good episodes being released. "All My Pets" was an episode that left me confused and befuddled and I started looking up everything I could about it online and I wanted to talk to someone about it, but I don't know anyone who listens to this podcast, so here I am blathering. It tells the story of a girl who has a YouTube channel about pets. She grew up rather sheltered and when she became famous, she met an older guy, moved in with him, and now she doesn't know what to do with her fame.  It's a story from the producer Sruthi Pinnamaneni and I think it was brilliant, but I still have so many questions. So this woman is an animal hoarder? Are these animals cared for?  Is her boyfriend abusing her?  Is she going to be okay?  I mean, we don't know the answers to these questions at the end, but we do know that something is not okay in this woman's world.

The Story Collider is a podcast that curates stories about science. I mean, usually the science angle is quite tangential, but there's at least a bit of science. Each episode has one to three stories put together on a theme. The first story in the episode "Loneliness: Stories about Finding Friends" tells the story of a woman, Cindy Joe, who has an unusual pet and how much comfort she founds in him.  I think about this story all the time.  Pets are great, my friends.

The Adventure Zone is magical. Three dudes and their dad get together and play role-playing games. Their dad is clearly kind of a doofus who raised three other doofuses, but they're all SMART and FUNNY and so clever and quick and they love each other and the family relationships that come across in this stupid podcast about tabletop games frequently makes me tear up.  Also, sometimes it's so funny I snort out loud when I'm walking to a parking garage in a major metropolitan area, like this past week when a bit from the "Live in San Francisco" show in which they talk about an octopus looking like two halves of a horse. Even now I'm giggling, even as I know that what I typed is not remotely funny.  You guys. This show.  Please listen to it.

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