Listening List: Tech Game Show, TV Deep Dive, and Cathartic True Crime

Darlings! Occasionally, some of you ask me which podcasts to listen to. And as a podcast obsessive, I thought it would be good to get it allllll out there. But first, I’d be remiss in not acknowledging that amazing face suitcase broken link yesterday, so here it is.

When it comes to pop culture consumption, y’all know I’m a nerd who devours information and stories. But I’m also a sucker for humor and narrative, one who grows a great affinity for the personalities of the podcast hosts gabbing in my ear. So the majority of my favorite podcasts are some variation on the "charming and insightful human walks us through this thing they are obsessed with" genre. Now, I know this is no groundbreaking observation of what makes a successful podcast, but I mention it to say that the podcasts of which I become a devoted (and ticket-buying) subscriber are ones that that allow their hosts to be themselves, drop the NPR-ish detachment and reveal a wee bit about why they work on this topic. I want to know and appreciate why they are so interested in something that they stick a microphone in front of their faces and others to share it with us every week.

That being said, here are my current pod-sessions #sorrynotsorry

Converge with Casey Newton. This tech industry podcast - WAIT, DON’T SKIP OVER THIS, STAY WITH ME - is so delightfully upbeat and silly, a refreshing departure from other jargon-heavy technology programs featuring PR-approved interviews. Utilizing a laugh track - yes, a laugh track - and so-subtle-you-might-just-miss-them shots at his own personal life, Casey spends a half an hour with a technology leader for a “game show” that is “easy to win, but not impossible to lose,” merrily leading his guests around topics like venture funding war stories, work/life balance advice, and what to do if a big-ass tech company copies your product. It’s somehow both super informative and not too serious, much of which can be chalked up to the show structure (silly games disguising a longform interview with probing questions!) and Casey’s ability to draw his guests out via self-deprecation and (what I hope is) a genuine interest in their experiences. And I would be lying to you if I didn’t SOL (snort out loud) at his fake ads and requested fan hashtag (#benghazi.)

Decoder Ring with Willa Paskin. Willa is Slate’s TV critic, which makes for an exhaustively researched and sourced weekly deep-dive into some specific TV trivia or mystery. In her second episode, which I just finished while making coffee this morning, she goes deep - and I mean DEEP - into the fan culture and conspiracies around the BBC’s Sherlock and the “will they, won’t they” theories of a supposed Sherlock and Watson romantic entanglement. I love Willa’s empathy and kindness as she interviews online sleuths and conspiracy theorists, presenting their emotional motivations and personal aspirations alongside answers that would baffle any casual fan of the show (myself included.) And in this particular episode, she frames the entire dive into a fervent online subculture in terms of her own youthful TV obsessions, and how she understands the important role popular culture can play in one’s own personal development. It’s funny and frank and fabulous.

And of course, My Favorite Murder with Karen Killgariff and Georgia Hardstark. This is not a new podcast, but it’s my favorite, satisfying my curiosity about the worst of humanity, but in a funny and sensitive way that emphasizes the individual victims instead of fetishising the actions of the assailants (looking at you nearly every other true crime podcast…) I’ve always been morbidly curious about the terrible actions of the worst people - hello, studying WWII and the Holocaust in college - but I felt like a complete antisocial weirdo for that, especially as a woman. Enter Georgia and Karen, a writer and comedian who discovered a parallel fascination with all things awful. And as this recent New York Times piece on their recent Los Angeles live show explores, their delving into the devious serves a cathartic, nearly transitive emotional role for them and for the millions of "Murderino" listeners a month. And it makes sense that women are going dark right now: as the Times points out, “A study published in 2010 in the research journal Social Psychological and Personality Science found that women use “tales of rape, murder and serial killers” as a way to process the dark persistence of misogynistic violence in society at large.” And as someone who has struggled with anxiety her entire life, I appreciate and respect Karen and Georgia’s humorous openness about their own mental health struggles.

So there ya go. Three podcasts to jump into. Be kind to each other, and see you tomorrow.