Five This American Life episodes to listen to (while Serial is on break)

Yes, I’ve been listening to Serial these past few weeks. Yes, I’m actually surprised it’s gotten this big. Not that I doubted it – it is, after all, a spin-off to This American Life, and Sarah Koenig’s one of that show’s most reliable producers – but, still, it has gotten big. It might be the whole crime-story-in-installments premise. (They did say the second season, which was just confirmed, wouldn’t necessarily be about a cold case.) Or it might be the circumstances, of our new ability to become more involved armchair detectives. Anyway, the podcast’s on Thanksgiving break this week, so I figured I’d list five This American Life stories that one can listen to to while away the break. Some of my friends listen to Serial but have not encountered This American Life before, so hopefully this serves as a bit of a guide. Not that my picks are the most representative – I’ve only been listening for six years, and the show’s been going on for nineteen; you can also peruse that show’s own picks here – but, you know, I like these stories.

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I did not see David Rakoff dance, but…

…his last contribution to This American Life, off their live show three months ago, is an absolute beauty. In it he deals with his cancer and his resulting inability to use his arm… and saying more than that will ruin the twist. I can’t say I was a fan of the humorist, who died yesterday from the disease he defied by conversation – I attribute it to being late to the game – but the few times I’ve heard him, I liked his voice and his squirreling perspectives on living in the moment and never letting go. Listen to “Stiff As A Board, Light As A Feather” here, and listen to his radio play with WireTap‘s Jonathan Goldstein – where he plays Dr. Seuss to his Gregor Samsa – here(Update: TAL have posted video of David’s segment for their last live show. It indeed translates better when seen – which was the theme of that show, I must add. Thanks to Vidiot for the tip. Also, Ira Glass blogs that David’s work on the show will be showcased next week.)

This Filipino Life

I’ve been fascinated by This American Life since I started listening to the podcast three years ago, but never did I expect the program, with its later focus on international affairs, to tackle (or even mention) the Philippines. This week’s episode, called “Switcheroo”, did, and perhaps not in a flattering light if you’re the sort who gets angry at any mention of anything Filipino that’s vaguely negative in anything foreign. (Remember the Desperate Housewives thing?) Admittedly the attitude is a bit sneering of Filipinos, although I expect that from Americans, really. But the final story in the episode involved two Filipina mail-order brides. “We’re not just mail-order brides!” you’d say, but I think the father’s more at fault in the story told by Happy Endings writer Jackie Clarke. What’s more striking is the story that preceded it: a look at a company hiring writers in the Philippines – for as little as 35 cents a story – to write (or assemble) hyperlocal stories for communities they probably never will be into. So much for journalists being immersed in their beats, right? As a former outsourced writer (although I never had to fake my byline) that story was a sad eye-opener. I just wonder what the angry people will think. “We write good English! Take it back, Ira Glass, take it back!” Typical of us.