Gordon Davidescu wrote this article.

Last night I attended a one-time film event called This American Life Live. While, strictly speaking, it was not actually live due to my being on the west coast (Side note: for some reason, we on the west coast almost never get “live” broadcasts – they are always “time delayed”) it was still a spectacular event.


In one of two sold out theaters we watched two hours of what some people would quickly dismiss as just plain stories about so-called normal people. What really struck me last night was how it’s not the events or stories of Madonna’s latest baby adoption that we normally see on mass media that tells the story of who we are as a people but more simple stories such as those told on This American Life.

For the last thirteen or so years, host Ira Glass and a team of writers and reporters and producers and other people that are remarkably like everyday average people have put out a weekly episode of This American Life; every week features a different theme and stories that relate to that theme.

There has been a story about twin sisters who are so identical that they have always lived together and do everything exactly the same and a story about one of the first people to try to start a cryogenic organization and how he dealt with the utter failure of the organization to properly keep bodies frozen – apparently it was quite expensive, even in the 1950s.

We know that some people constantly broadcast their life story – but for the most part we spend more of our lives hearing what is new with Angelina Jolie than the person down the street from us who may have had a heartbreaking time surviving colon cancer and learning a lot about themselves in the process.

What if we also somehow knew about this person and their colon cancer and the process they underwent? Could it be that we too could learn something about ourselves by hearing about their simple, ordinary life? Don’t even get me started on the television show that went by the name “The Simple Life” but was as far removed from reality as a show featuring Mork from Ork!

What is it about “reality” shows like The Hills, which features people that are in one of the highest income brackets in this country, that fascinates people so much that they don’t even notice the epic story of their neighbor’s fight to encourage everyone in town to spay or neuter their pets so that there is not an epidemic of stray animals?

How are we so wrapped up in television soap operas that we completely ignore the real soap operas of our own lives? There is so much to be learned from everyday living and life that it’s simply a waste to focus so much of our energy on things that, quite frankly, have nothing to offer us but a diversion from life.

Are we so terrified by the impending American apocalyptic that we want to get away from anything that smacks of real living?

If so, we are doing ourselves a great injustice – the real life is where genuine experiences are to be made. Otherwise, we may as well connect ourselves to machines and live our lives through a virtual dream world, as in the film The Matrix.

Perhaps a good preventative measure would be semi-regular listening to This American Life. How else are we going to learn that Britney Spears is an anagram for Presbyterian?

11 Comments

  1. This is a good teaser article, Gordon. I have heard a lot about this show, but I have yet to catch a full episode. I’ll have to sit down and watch and listen.

  2. Gordon–
    Since my profession involves working with folks who have depression, chronic illnesses, addiction, cancer etc, I’m not always into real life programming.
    I find myself gravitating to a comedy or the evening cable political news shows.
    Celebrity news and the reality shows are snoozers to me. And I’m tired of the Law and Orders and any shows that resemble them.
    This sounds intriguing because they vary the stories so there’s bound to be something of interest.
    Where can I catch this show?

  3. You can actually subscribe to the show via podcast on itunes – or listen directly on their web site to the majority of the episodes from the last 13 years. 🙂 Quite a nice listen, really.

  4. Gordon, Yes!
    There is so much we can learn and understand from the everyday and what is known as the commonplace that if we actually put in the effort we’d no longer need stories. but i guess it’s probably because none of us can afford to constantly infer meaning and create helpful narratives from our immediate experiences while we are busy living that we turn to stories in the first place.

  5. Ah, but Dananjay – can any of us truly experience everything in one lifetime? Sometimes stories are good just to get outside of our own worlds. 🙂

  6. Gordon,
    You’re right, it isn’t possible because what is everything? And yes, sometimes stories are good just to get outside our own worlds. but doesn’t that process itself aid us simply by allowing us to look at our lives from a different perspective.
    having said that, i share your apathy towards most factory-produced trash that gets peddled as entertainment. the purveyors of the culture industries abuse the trust people have in the power of stories by selling vacuous and mindless content in its stead.

  7. The process absolutely does help us to look at our lives from a different perspective – and that’s what is so tremendous about it. 🙂