Research: This American Life

I’ve been listening to podcasts for several years now, and my absolute favourite has shifted during that time from a design podcast called ‘99 Percent Invisible‘ to a publication with a large following and space in general public media space – ‘This American Life’.

TAL_color2I’ve listened to it so frequently that the opening lines, almost always exactly the same, and almost always uttered by Ira Glass in similar but not identical intonation “It’s This American Life, I’m Ira Glass…”. He’s said it so many times and considers it almost an aside (judging from the credence he often gives it compared to the later part of the sentence – often the topic of the show) and rushes through it.

The format of the show is to choose one particular topic, for example, ‘Words You Can’t Say”, ‘In Dog We Trust’ or ‘Essay B’, and then present three separate stories, known as ‘Acts’ which are variations on the given theme for that week’s show. The stories are often journalistic, but could also be essays, memoirs, short fiction pieces, field recordings (such as stand-up comedy sets) and found footage.

Although the stories and they are most often known as stories regardless of media, do necessarily vary in the topic as well as tone, they are often intimate and enthralling.

This is the real strength of the show, the pieces tend to be around 20 minutes or so long, long enough to be substantial but short enough not to feel dragged out or overwhelming – the time limit is not strictly enforced, but it is an average and that balance of brevity vs substance works well.

What I gained from this:

  • I often connected strongly to the stories told in the show, especially if I share any of the same experiences, but still if I didn’t. It takes strength and courage to share, but from the perspective of a listener to this show, it is very compelling to the audience and they are thankful for it.

What I’m going to take forward:

  • The strength and compelling nature of  the personal, intimate stories convinced me that it was important to face the difficult topics that I wanted to make work about, not only as a catharsis for myself but hopefully to allow for that connection with the audience

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