I’m thrilled to announced that I’m now a contributing writer at the Bello Collective, where I just published my first piece: 18 Episodes About Gender Transitions. Check it out and subscribe to Bello’s newsletter for more.
A few weeks ago, the podcast How to Get Away With Parenting released an episode called “How Do I Talk to My Kid About Molestation?” That question, which host Malaika Dower puts to her guest—sex and family therapist Courtney Watson—is quickly overtaken by a bigger issue: How do I talk to my kid about sex? And yet another struggle overtakes that: How do I talk to my kid about sex when I am still working through my own sexual issues?
The root of Malaika and Courtney’s conversation is that yes, a parent can help their child develop a healthy, shame-free attitude toward their body and sexuality, but the parent also needs to process the impact that rape culture has had on them. After all, we can’t teach healthy attitudes if we can’t model them, and we can’t model them if we don’t deal with our own problems. In order to raise a child in a culture we didn’t grow up in—a culture we’re working to create—we have to deal with the trauma of growing up with the cultural norms we’re trying to dismantle.
Courtney emphasizes one strategy in particular: establish a support network for the caregiver as well as the child. Parents can combat secrecy and shame by building a network of safe people that a child can go to if they’re having an issue, but parents also need a community to lean on. “If you have an issue with sex—definitely if there’s some sort of sexual trauma in your past and you feel yourself being triggered in raising your child—get help,” Courtney says. “You don’t have to do this alone.” Courtney stresses this point a few times, including when Malaika asks about helping a child to heal from sexual trauma. She speaks specifically about going to therapy, but the larger point is that raising a child doesn’t happen in a vacuum and that caregivers come to caregiving with all of the cultural baggage they had before they were in charge of a kid.
Malaika enters the conversation asking, “how do I make sure my kid isn’t molested?” And Courtney replies, basically, you can’t. “Rape culture tells us that there’s something we can do to stop someone else from perpetrating against our children,” she says. Here it is, folks: our old friend rape culture. Or, rather, here’s victim blaming, one of rape culture’s favorite henchmen. Victim blaming tells us that if we had worn a different outfit, gone home earlier, or not drunk as much, we could have avoided our own assault. And rape culture tells parents that they’re responsible for protecting their kids at all times. If something happens, victim blaming rushes in to remind parents that it’s their fault. Here’s the cycle in action: the parent must keep their daughter covered/watched/inside because otherwise the daughter may be assaulted. If the daughter doesn’t internalize this message and subject herself to its rules, and someone assaults her, then she was asking for it. Courtney won’t stand for this: “The only person that is responsible for sexually assaulting your child is the person that does it,” she says. “Not your child, not you—it’s them.
There are, of course, things we can do to try to keep children safe, and there are things we can do to support them if anything does happen. Malaika’s kid is just over a year old, so Courtney focuses on developing an open and honest atmosphere that’s free of shame. To start with, she says, call body parts by their proper names. When diapering, when bathing, when playing the “where’s your ____” game. “Society, or we, or whoever, puts that shame on those body parts,” Courtney explains. “At the end of the day they’re still just body parts.” By honestly and openly identifying body parts that we usually shroud in euphemisms, we can show kids that a vulva is no more shameful than a fingernail. (As an added pro, a kid who can accurately name their body parts will be able to communicate what happened if anyone does touch them in a way that they don’t like.) Courtney offers many more strategies for talking to older as well as younger kids, and for talking about sex explicitly as well as bodies and consent. She has included most of these in an article on how to talk to young kids about sexual assault that she posted on her website soon after the episode aired.
The roots of rape culture start in our conversations, expectations, and attitudes toward our own bodies and the bodies of others, and we develop those attitudes from infancy. Anyone who interacts with kids—which most if not all of us do at some point, in some way—has the capacity to help them develop healthy attitudes toward their bodies and sexuality. Today’s kids will grow into tomorrow’s adults, who will respect or blame victims, will ask for or disregard consent, and will treat their partners and themselves with love or contempt. Today’s conversations lay the framework for tomorrow’s actions and attitudes. But to help our kids develop healthy sexual relationships, we have to have a healthy relationship toward sex ourselves. We owe it to our children to take care of ourselves. This is how we combat rape culture. This is how we change the conversation.
In the five-ish months since I last wrote, I’ve repeatedly exhausted my podcast list and gone searching for more, and have deleted most of the photos on my phone to make space for the new additions. Among these additions are:
Us & Them: Stories from America’s Cultural Divides
This show goes deep into polarizing issues: Democrats vs. Republicans, whistling Dixie vs. banning Dixie, sex ed vs. abstinence-only ed, Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays—that kind of polarizing. It’s kind of like Embedded means Scene on Radio, and is quickly becoming one of my favorite shows.
If you like Undisclosed: The State vs. Adnan Syed or other very technical accounts of murder cases, you will probably like Breakdown, which, each season, follows a single case through the court system. Season One is about a possible arson that killed the accused’s neighbor, and Season Two, “Death in a Hot car: Mistake or Murder”, covers the trial of a man accused of killing his toddler son. It definitely gets gruesome, and it’s more court reporting than the narrative journalism of Serial, but I keep wanting to know what happens next.
This is the only show I’ve finished listening to and said, “Wait…what?” As in, what was that? It’s non-narrated—or, like, the opposite of narrated—nonfiction. Perhaps I would call it documentary audio collage, or experimental storytelling through sound. Whatever you call it, it alters and remixes the tape itself as well as adding music on top. More atmospheric than plot-driven, it nontheless conveys stories that stick with you.
How to Get Away with Parenting
This is a conversation-style parenting podcast by a black mom of a mixed-race baby in Brooklyn. If you’ve complained that The Longest Shortest Time isn’t diverse enough, try this.
Speaking of diversity, I found this great site called Podcasts in Color that lists hundreds of podcasts, in every category, by podcasters of color. It’s an awesome resource that has led me to many new shows. However I’m still looking for more documentary/nonfiction podcasts by diverse hosts. If you have any suggestions, please comment below or let me know @galenbeebe.
Happy New Year!
This was a big year for podcasts, and for my own listening. I added a lot of shows to my docket, and, more importantly, I continued to develop/determine my podcast preferences. So without further ado, here are my favorites.
BEST NEW SHOWS (in alphabetical order)
1. Anxious Machine
I have consistently referred to Anxious Machine as my favorite show of the moment since I learned of it last summer. Hosted by Rob McGinley Myers, it tells stories about how humans relate to technology—considering everything from email to hearing aids to camping out.
2. First Day Back
This is probably the show I’ve recommended most this year. The first season consists of nine episodes that follow the host, Tally Abecassis, as she goes back to work as a documentary filmmaker after six years as a stay-at-home mom. It’s great for anyone in a creative field, and, I imagine, for any parent. In short, it’s a great listen for anyone trying to figure out how to balance “work” and “life”.
NPR’s newest science show, in which Alix Spiegel and Lulu Miller explore invisible, human-making themes (fear, thoughts, categories) through means both scientific and exploratory.
4. Scene on Radio
Created and hosted by John Biewen out of Duke University, this documentary show leaves the studio and explores whatever it finds. The first seven episodes considered sports in American culture (but in a way this non-sports fan could get into).
5. Mystery Show
A funny show in which Starlee Kine solves seemingly-unsolvable, and seemingly-too-personal-to-be-interesting-but-still-interesting, mysteries.
A non-narrated storytelling podcast hosted by Jonathan Hirsch. about “transformation, migration, and change.” One could argue this is what every story is about, but these stories are good, so let’s not quibble.
2. Home of the Brave
In which Scott Carrier lulls us into calm with his soft voice and interesting storytelling. HotB went on a four-episode “Tour of Burned Churches” and later followed the refugee trail backwards from Lesbos, Greece.
4. Out on the Wire
I have mixed feelings about this show. I stopped listening after episode 3.5 and then dipped back in for part of episode 7 before leaving it again. However, I read the eponymous book (a long-form graphic narrative by host Jessica Abel about podcasts that sparked the making of this one) and loved it. And I think this podcast is doing something interesting, new, and important in its audience-inclusion. It’s about how to make a story—in any genre or media—and works with listeners from its Google-driven community.
A non-narrated storytelling show from KCRW hosted by Bob Carlson. Each episodes features a story or group of true stories on the same theme, à la The Moth or Re:Sound or Risk (but less risky). If you like those shows, you’ll like this.
1. “695BGK”, Criminal
The story of an unarmed Black man who was shot by the police and survived.
2. “A Red Dot”, Love + Radio
A registered sex offender talks with the L+R hosts about why the sex offender registry is a problem, and they push back.
3. “Cops See It Differently”, Parts 1 and 2, This American Life
Stories about cops and civilians, from cops and civilians.
4. “Didn’t Want to be Conscious”, Anxious Machine
One woman’s history with intoxication.
5. “Fearless”, Invisibilia
What is fear? Do we need it?
6. “Last Chance to Evacuate Earth”, Here Be Monsters
The story behind the Heaven’s Gate cult, as told by two who joined it.
7. “Shipped to Timbuktu”, Reply All
A mistaken identity online leads Reply All to a woman whose Girl Scout troop helped her survive a concentration camp in China during World War II.
8. “The Accidental Gay Parents”, Parts 1 and 2, The Longest Shortest Time
Trystan and John, a gay couple in their 20s, make a quick decision to adopt John’s sister’s kids, and then have to convince the legal system to make it official.
9. “The Problem We All Live With”, Parts 1 and 2, This American Life
How segregation holds us back, and why we aren’t integrating.
10. “Three Miles”, This American Life
How life differs for kids attending high schools a mere three miles apart.
1. “Abdi and the Golden Ticket”, This American Life
2. “Birthstory”, Radiolab
3. “Britney”, Mystery Show
4. “Fresh Out”, ARRVLS
5. “Najibullah in America”, Home of the Brave
6. “The Facts (About Transgender Kids)”, How to Be a Girl
My Best Episodes list is pretty This American Life-heavy. This isn’t always true, but I think they did a great job this year when it comes to telling stories that matter. It helps that education is in my wheelhouse, but it seems they’re focusing more energy on the hard-hitting, history-of-our-country episodes—and these are the ones that truly matter.
As so many spew hate at Muslims and refugees, some podcasts have used the medium to let these populations speak for themselves. Home of the Brave did a series that followed the refugee trail back from Lesbos, Greece, and listened to the stories of those he met along the way. Scene on Radio did an episode on hijabis, and the decision Muslim American women make to wear or not wear the headscarf.
In this way, podcasts are like articles in a magazine with a wide circulation. Like a magazine, they arrive in your mailbox (app). You’re not quite sure what you’re going to get, but you like the author, so you start reading. Sometimes they’re lighthearted, but they can also speak to current events, comment on what’s happening right now, and, even more importantly, give a voice to those we don’t otherwise hear. They take an Issue and make it a story, giving us the chance to listen to and empathize with those we might not otherwise meet.
Last Monday I went to Cast Party, the one-night “podcast festival” broadcast to movie theaters across the US and Canada. It featured Radiolab, Reply All, Invisibilia, The Truth, and Lauren Lapkus. I have listened to 4/5 of those shows (all but Lauren Lapkus’s) and actively listen to 3/5 (excluding The Truth), and it was exciting to see these people whose voices I hear every week in person. However, the show left me wanting more.
Reply All basically performed an episode, with PJ Vogt and Alex Blumberg sitting at a table, talking from a script, and playing pre-recorded audio from an interview with the episode’s subject. The episode was okay, but it certainly wasn’t their best, and it didn’t feel particularly tailored to a live audience. There were some nice, authentic moments, however, like when Alex lost his place in the script, and PJ’s sincere embarrassment at hearing a clip of him responding to someone who complimented the show.
Lulu Miller, of Invisibilia, also used pre-recorded sound—including clips of the show’s other host, Elise Speigel, which she had a fake but also believable conversation with—but she stood alone at a microphone and spoke her lines from memory. Her segment was more tailored to the audience, with a “challenge” from Elise to perform the story, which was about a man running a 4 minute mile, in under 4 minutes. Her segment was my favorite, and I was disappointed that it was, or at least seemed to be, the shortest.
The Truth did a roast of the US with Canada officiating and China, Russia, Cuba, Mexico, France, and Great Britain doing the roasting, and a guest appearance from God. It wasn’t my type of comedy, as The Truth often isn’t, but it went over okay with the audience. It was certainly indicative of what they thought the audience would tolerate when it comes to insulting our own country.
Lauren Lapkus, who I wasn’t familiar with before that night, was hilarious. Her podcast, With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus, has a guest host every week who interviews Lauren for a fake show. This one was had John Early as the host of a gossip TV show and Lauren playing a 19 year old movie star. The whole thing was great, but I particularly enjoyed the fact that they couldn’t keep it together for more than 15 seconds at a time.
I was very disappointed with Radiolab. They repeated an episode they’ve already done, and while they were great performers and I was glad to finally see them live, I, and probably most everyone else in the audience, had heard the episode before. I would gladly listen to them all day long, but I couldn’t help but tune out, given both the repetition and my annoyance.
The musical guest was the horn quartet The Westerlies. It’s hard to make four horns sound good by themselves, and I applaud them for doing it, but I thought they were a strange choice. The dance troupe, Cocoon Central Dance Team, was also strange but definitely enjoyable. There were some videos between segments that were nothing to write home about. Seth Lind emceed (and produced) the event, and while he came off as nervous and once forgot his script backstage, that worked great for an audience full of public radio nerds.
All in all, while I have no regrets about going to Cast Party and would go to the next one, it definitely lacked the flair I was anticipating.
You Did What?! is a podcast in the making. It is—or, rather, will be—a roundtable-style podcast about sex and dating. The show’s creator, Eric Fleming, is a self-proclaimed “super gay” artist and life coach based in Brooklyn. Through this show, he wants to “shift conversations about sex away from fear and shame into conversations that are fun, approachable, open” and “[create] safe spaces for people to explore and express with complete freedom.” I am generally not a huge fan of conversation-based shows, but this one sounds really interesting and important in terms of building media spaces that include a diverse range of voices.
You can listen to sample audio here and then support this project by donating to their Go Fund Me. The podcast is backed by the non-profit arts organization Fractured Atlas, so in addition to your donations being tax deductible, you know these makers have already worked hard to get the project off the ground. There are only 4 days left in the campaign, so act fast to make this show happen!
If You Like: The Heart, Strangers, First Day Back, conversation-based shows
Michael Mandiberg’s exhibition, From Aaaaa! to ZZZap! opened on Thursday, June 18th, at Denny Gallery in New York. The exhibition is in a small storefront gallery on a packed block on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Two of the gallery’s walls are covered in a floor-to-ceiling grid of painted book spines, which are meant to look like the spines of many of the hundreds of thousands of volumes that would contain Wikipedia, were Mandiberg to print the entire website. Seven white shelves, dotted across the walls, hold the beginnings of the printed archive, the volumes’ spines perfectly aligned with their painted counterparts. The third wall of the gallery is all window, and the fourth is blank save for a projection of the order form for Lulu.com, the digital publisher that prints the books on display. A Dell desktop computer sits on a small, white pedestal in the corner between the window and the projection, running code. This is the “performance” aspect of the exhibition: the computer is uploading Print Wikipedia, a digitally scraped and laid-out version of Wikipedia, to Lulu.com.
There is a smaller room in the back of the gallery, which contains the 36 volume contributors index. Mandiberg himself is in included somewhere in these volumes, having contributed nearly 2,000 edits to the site.
The exhibition’s literature seems most concerned with size, calling the project “a visualization of the largest accumulation of human knowledge” that shows “the futility of the scale of big data”. However, rather than an overwhelming abundance of information that the entirety of Print Wikipedia would provide, we get only a hint of this multitude. The blank wall waters down the effect of the gridded spines, detracting from the display of immensity. Though the white walls suggest the aesthetics of both Wikipedia and galleries—clean, pure, minimalist—they almost beg to be filled. It is in the details that the project’s scope is most apparent. Most of the bookshelves hold only a few books, but the one that is filled holds 20 volumes, 19 of them labeled BAT-BAT. Batman. Bathing suit. Batting average. Each of these 700 page texts covers only 1/19th of the Wikipedia articles starting with these three letters. Even more detailed are the page numbers. Each book’s numbering starts where the last’s left off, and these numbers quickly jump from thousands to tens of thousands, boasting the vast quantity of information contained within.
The painted spines also emphasize Wikipedia’s immensity, with two walls of books not even making it through the first six letters of the alphabet. Extrapolating from there, I can assume that the whole library would cover eight walls. If each book has 700 pages, and there are 20 books on a shelf and something like ten shelves to a column, and let’s say six columns on a wall…that’s a lot of information. But it’s far from inconceivable. It’s true that the website is “[impossible] to render” as one could not reprint fast enough to keep up with the constant edits, but the scale is smaller than I imagined. Perhaps it’s because the exhibit only shows two walls worth of texts. I could imagine a gallery in which I am overwhelmed by a constant proliferation of objects, which would more accurately replicate Wikipedia. But then again, perhaps the goal isn’t to imitate the website, but to capture it, as a taxidermist freezes a creature in order to study it. This exhibit is to Wikipedia as a natural history museum diorama is to the wilderness—a living entity suspended in time.
The exhibition was open 24 hours a day for the show’s first weekend “in recognition that the computer itself works continuously.” The interplay between digital and analog is at the heart of the project, most strikingly in the space itself. The analog invites touch, while the digital refuses it. Though the computer has a mouse and keyboard nearby (a Mac keyboard strangely paired with a PC monitor), its placement close to the floor and the inscrutable code cycling across the screen don’t invite interaction. The projected order form asks the user to continue or cancel, but we, the viewers—and supposed customers—don’t have the means to do so. The books, on the other hand, are open to us. There is a white chair in the middle of the room, inviting viewers to rest a moment and examine the texts more closely. Though there is only a fraction of the number that could potentially exist, there is far too much information in even these few volumes for a person to take in.
Even here, in the analog, the digital is present. The books are laid out by a computer and then digitally printed through an online publishing company. Each shelf has on it the words “Handle with Care,” a seemingly earnest gesture that strikes me as ironic, given that we do not handle Wikipedia at all, and if we did, it would certainly not be with care. We make Wikipedia entries about ourselves, enter fake information, fail to cite, and abuse the resource with impunity. Mandiberg has taken an endlessly mutable, seemingly indestructible entity and transformed it into a delicate objet, underscoring how easy the physical world is to damage. Given his interest in appropriation and the limits of ownership, I could say instead that he has taken an everyday object and elevated it into a work of art—the evolution of readymades in the digital age. But I find the limits between digital and analog, which the exhibit and its literature seem to brush over, the more interesting question.
The volumes don’t include footnotes, which is a curious omission. I have contacted the artist to find out if this was a conscious decision or merely a result of the program scraping the site, but I haven’t received an answer. [Update: Mandiberg says it was a coding and length decision, implying that there would be too many volumes if the footnotes were included. It seems to me that if the point is to show the immensity of Wikipedia, then one would want to have as many volumes as possible, but I guess not.] In addition to the missing footnotes, there is also the absence of links. Unlike a printed text, a Wikipedia article doesn’t end when the page ends; you can always click away. In this physical incarnation, there are solid boundaries, where online, the walls are all just curtains that are easily pushed aside. This makes me think of Wikipedia games, like Five Clicks to Jesus, and the endless rabbit hole I often find myself in of clicking from article to article, learning new information about the world, and, if I stop clicking for a moment of introspection, discovering something about myself. The printed volumes offer no analogous experience (pun intended).
Through community-created resources like Wikipedia, ownership is becoming less clearly defined. But as computers infiltrate our lives, what is separate from the digital is becoming less clearly defined as well. Print Wikipedia is an exercise in archiving that takes a historical approach: put the thing on paper. The tools with which Mandiberg creates the archive are the same as those that created the source text, but the archive—or the translation—captures only a fraction of the original. Print Wikipedia is another metaphor for the same idea: we will always fail to capture the immensity of the universe. The digital universe is merely a new universe to fail with.