Monday, December 11, 2006

This American Life

Every Friday at 1500 EST, I try to tune into my local public radio station (101.9, WDET-FM) and catch my favorite radio show, This American Life. I'm a closet fan. I don't know anyone else who listens to it--anyone else, really, who listens to public radio on a regular basis at all, except my sister. I'm not part of some Detroit cultural elite. I just love the show.

Maybe it's Ira Glass's voice. Maybe it's the short musical vignettes during and between acts. Maybe it's the humanity of the stories, the laying bare of those things which make normal people cringe or cry, or laugh out loud at inappropriate things. The show is definitly known for its unique human quality, and humanity is something that is definitely lacking in not only commercial radio (for which, I suppose, it must be praised, as this is precisely why many of us tune in [to tune out]) but open society in general.

Try it sometime. Walk into a drug store and start talking about feelings. Not yours, just in general. One of two things will happen. The stranger who is the cashier or pharmacy tech or stocker, or whomever, will either (1) look at you in disbelief, or at least discomfort, or possibly with contempt, and may or may not begin deriding or condescending you as oversensitive, liberal, homosexual, or something else...or (2) something will connect with the person, an event upon which you will be understood to be in a sort of temporary, two-person, micro-society. Secrecy is included in all such agreements, as all others outside this short-lived, newly formed organization will be assumed to immediately jump to all conclusions in (1) about both of you.

Try it in a bookstore, a place where culture (supposedly) lives a little more freely. At least in the large places (Borders, B&N), it's more allowable to open up, but you're still subject to some of the same labels. You can only go so far into why you think The Good Earth is worth the money and time. You cannot call it beautiful, not unless the person you happen to be speaking to shares this view (something you will only find out by baring your own opinion). You cannot say how Ellison affected your professional direction, or describe the excitement of Moby Dick on your kids' faces, without being viewed, at least by a majority, as some kind of...freak.

I don't mind being a literature freak. I don't mind that when I asked to borrow the BBC Pride & Prejudice DVD's from one coworker, another balked at my lack of manly qualities. It's part of who I am. I don't mind that I have no one to laugh with about Jonathan Goldstein's "If This Ark is a Rockin', Don't Come a Knockin'." But sometimes I'd like to. Sometimes, it would be nice.

So in the barren land of human life, a weekly dose of humanity is refreshing and welcome. Come next Friday at 3, count me in.

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