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Posts Tagged ‘This American Life’

What We’re Loving: Underwater Photography, Semicolons, Rimbaud

March 8, 2013 | by

SilverSpring_may08_6When I was a teenager, I had a series of dreams in which I would attempt to do the most banal tasks underwater: eat breakfast, cut my toenails, read a book whose waterlogged pages would always stick together. I never really thought much about the dream’s implications—Was I suffocating under life’s demands? Or was it just something I ate?—until I stumbled on Bruce Mozert’s 1950s underwater photography. Using a self-constructed underwater camera, Mozert spent his career shooting underwater portraits for numerous lifestyle magazines—entirely without digital manipulation. (One Mozert trick was “using baking powder to create the powdery ‘smoke’ coming out of the underwater barbecue.”) Why would a photographer devote his life to such a niche? Some things (like the genesis of my dreams) are better left unanswered. —Justin Alvarez

I’m impressed by a twenty-eight-page examination of “The Endangered Semicolon” in the debut issue of Apology, Jesse Pearson’s new quarterly. It’s disheartening, though, to read that the semicolon is in decline, not least because it is my favorite punctuation mark—a fact that displeased Matt Sumell, who cheerfully rejected the suggested use of semicolons in his story for issue 200 (save two) and who wrote me recently with the sole purpose of informing me that he still doesn’t use semicolons. I pity him and Alexander Theroux, who bemoans in Apology the semicolon’s typographical imbalance (neither a colon nor a period) and its existence as a tentative mark, an “illicit and uneasy compromise.” Let others have the em dash, the period, the showy exclamation point. I’ll keep the semicolon, so adept at capturing a particular cadence, a curt melody. —Nicole Rudick Read More »

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David Rakoff, 1964–2012

August 10, 2012 | by

We are sad to learn of the death of David Rakoff, at forty-seven, after a long battle with cancer. Rakoff’s essays and contributions to This American Life include what must be the most melancholy humor writing of our time, or else the funniest melancholy writing. Even at his most arch, Rakoff wrote with an undertone of kindness that made his fans love him. Many of his readers will feel that they have lost a friend.

 

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Live on Air

May 17, 2012 | by

Radio journalism is having some trouble with self-definition right now. Every art form always is, of course, but radio’s growing pains are under particular public scrutiny. In January, This American Life broadcast part of a monologue by Mike Daisey, who had visited factories in China that make Apple products; it turned out he’d invented pieces of the narrative based on reports he’d heard, not seen, about labor conditions in other factories. This American Life retracted the episode, and a thousand questions bloomed. What does this mean for the industry as a whole? Is journalism even about facts anymore? Are larger truths ever more important, or is that a false dichotomy? Is storytelling different from journalism? Where do documentary-style shows like This American Life fall on the spectrum, and to what standards must they adhere?

Good questions, all, and vital ones. May I sidestep them? If the spotlight is on fact versus fiction, the refracted light falls somewhere else: on the reason this episode matters so much to us. The original Mike Daisey program was the most popular in This American Life’s sixteen-year history. Listeners cared about Daisey’s character and about the ones he described: his translator; a thirteen-year-old laborer; a man with a mangled hand. All, save for Daisey, were invented, in the pure sense of the word, but visceral.

This is the point: we can’t care about information until we can feel, and we can’t feel until we know people. We can’t learn until we empathize. This American Life may be the go-to example of character-driven radio journalism, but it’s a pervasive practice right now. Radiolab, StoryCorps, The Moth, Radio Diaries—name a radio program and I will show you its protagonists.

It’s impossible to say, for certain, where a form of expression begins. But I offer that this concept—that we need characters in order to understand pretty much anything—was first put into practice in radio by Edward R. Murrow, during World War II.

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