Hilarious episode of This American Life

I have written many times before about my admiration for the way that this radio program tells stories, whether they are dealing with serious political issues or whimsical ones. This show really must be listened to to get the full effect, because these people are terrific storytellers, expertly blending in pauses, inflections, and music to great effect that gets lost with just the written word. Reading the transcript is nowhere near as good. Last week they had a particularly good episode that at times had me laughing out loud. It mostly dealt with watching films and TV.

There are five segments.

The introduction (9 minutes) deals something that we are all familiar with, the experience of, as an adult, seeing a film that we saw multiple times as a child. It can often be disappointing but sometimes also surprising. There are things that we completely missed earlier. Then there are scenes and dialogue that we thought we did not remember but suddenly are able to anticipate just before they occur. Host Ira Glass (who does not see the point in watching any film more than once) describes how as a child on vacation, the hotel he and his sister stayed in had just a couple of films, seemingly on an endless loop on the TV. One of those films was the 1972 disaster film The Poseidon Adventure and that was the one he decided to watch again for this show. This time he watched with someone who was roughly the age he was when he saw it, to see what someone who was his age then and seeing it now for the first time might think of it.

The second clip (20 minutes) was Sean Cole talking about the film What’s So Bad About Feeling Good? (1968) that I had never heard about before, which was a comedy about a pandemic. How do you make a pandemic funny? Well, it depends on what the virus causes. I am not going to spoil it for you by describing the plot.

The third clip (16 minutes) was another funny one by Ben Calhoun who was riveted by a five-hour documentary about (wait for it …) a meeting of election commissioners to discuss campaign filing deadlines. It dealt with whether the attorney for the rapper Kanye West presidential campaign had filed the paperwork on time for his name to be on the November Wisconsin ballot. The deadline was 5:00 pm on a particular day but the attorney for some reason came in just around that time. What was at issue was what 5:00 pm meant and whether it meant any time on or before 5:00 pm exactly or whether it meant up to 5:01 pm. The discussion during the hearings before the Wisconsin election commission as to whether the deadline had been meant went into excruciating detail for hours and hours on this question and involved security camera videos tracking the attorney’s entrance through the front door and in the elevator and to the room and at what point one should one consider the documents to be ‘handed over’. Really.

Why was this significant? As some of you may know, West is a Trump supporter and has said that he also is running for president. He has no chance at all and is not on the ballot in enough states to have even a theoretical chance of winning. But that is not the point. The Republican Party is pulling out all the stops to advance his candidacy, an obvious strategy that hopes to peel off black votes that might have otherwise gone to the Democrats. It is a dubious and condescending strategy but that hasn’t stopped them and they are working particularly hard to get him on the ballot in key battleground states such as Wisconsin. Given how narrowly Trump won in Wisconsin in the last election (by about 23,000 votes), even a relatively small number of people persuaded to vote for West over Biden might prove significant.

The fourth clip (15 minutes) was the funniest. Diane Wu said that as a child, their house had just six VHS tapes and so as children they watched them over and over again. The one she loved the most was The Sound of Music (1965) but recently she discovered she did not know the half of it. She describes her shock and amazement at watching it again and realizing what she had missed. Again, I am not going to spoil it by revealing what happens..

The final clip (7 minutes) was about a children’s yoga TV program where the instructor retells the stories of popular children’s films to motivate and show various poses as the story moves along that the children copy. The producers ask her to do something similar with a film that was made for adults and they ended up choosing Thelma and Louise (1991).

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