04 February 2009

Pod Vader

A few months ago I started getting on the podcast wagon. Although I clearly knew about them (I did a whole chapter on podcasting in the RG book), I didn't have any podcasts in regular rotation. I finally got it in gear and now I can't live without them.

Generally speaking, the podcasts I listen to are sports related. One about the NBA, one about fantasy football, a few other ESPN podcasts, and then the mighty Bill Simmons podcast. I've found that this has changed my television consumption habits. I no longer have the patience to have ESPN on in the background, I just want the information I'm interested in fed to me immediately. No commercials, no teasing intros, no need to waste time passively sucking in peripheral news.

Bill Simmons suggested that podcasts will replace radio soon, and it's quite possible. Ease of use, the low barrier to entry, and the continual segmentation of people's interests could result in an ideal landscape where you get what you want, when you want it, and from sources as professional or amateur as you'd like.

Some of the other podcasts I'm addicted to are about books (general reviews, a Twilight podcast), movies, a comics and general geeky things one, a podcast about Dungeons & Dragons, and stuff from Democracy Now!, NPR, and This American Life (also, an interesting article on Ira Glass). I'm always cruising around for new podcasts to listen to and it's entirely replaced my radio and Internet news sources.

My absolute favorite podcast is Slate's Culture Gabfest, hosted by Stephen Metcalf. It's only half an hour long and released every two weeks or so. Generally, Stephen (Slate's critic at large) is joined by Dana Stevens (Slate's movie critic) and Julia Turner (Slate's deputy editor) and they cover everything under the big umbrella of pop culture -- defined simply as anything that's popular and in the public conscience. Aside from always having interesting topics on the table, all three of them sound incredibly smart when they talk about things. They are eloquent, critical, revealing, and persuasive. Not a hint of pretentiousness or condescension.

Recent topics they've covered have included Leno and late night TV, the dire state of the publishing industry, the death of David Foster Wallace, Michelle Obama's role as First Lady and Mom-in-Chief, the mysterious relationship between Madonna and Alex Rodriguez, the NBA's Olympic Redeem Team, and the B.I.G. biopic Notorious. Awesomely eclectic right?

Each episode is typically structured around three items and then interspersed with books, articles, movies, or music they recommend. It's the type of discussion you imagine having with your smartest, most worldly, and intellectually curious friends. But realize you can't because if you knew people who could talk like this, you'd not be invited to participate anyway. Or maybe you'd be invited but as a water boy.

What's so great about this podcast is that it assumes pop culture has something significant and insightful to say. And not in a trivial, satirical, or flippant way. It's thinking and talking about entertainment in a way that justifies and validates the time suck that can happen as you sit in front of the TV or read trashy magazines. It makes me feel smarter just listening to it.

Needless to say, if you're going to explore the world of podcasts, download this one immediately.

In a coincidence, the most recent episode of the podcast revolved about a few things that we talked about this weekend in DC. First, Mike gave us the heads up about a New York Times article about female sexual desire and the Slate team opined on it last week. We also engaged in a discussion (that needs to be expanded on and continued sometime) about minorities versus whites and there's a piece in the Atlantic Monthly about the end of white demographic dominance. My real life and podcast life are coming together. Terrific!