“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” – Albert Einstein
Listening to podcasts and sharing my takeaways from them to curious ears make me happy. Even if the ears out there are not curious, casting my opinions in to the world makes me happy still. I honestly can neither remember the first podcast I ever downloaded nor the first to which I subscribed. I am confident in saying the very first one was probably about politics or the African American experience or the gay American experience. Or was it about how to deal with being gay from the mouth of Dan Savage? I do remember turning to podcasts as a supplement to my cable news fix.
I would listen to some of my initially favorite podcasts during morning workouts, personal and professional road trips, or while cruising 35,000 feet from one bastion of coastal elites to another. As a resident of Atlanta, especially in the year or so prior to Larry and my moving to Washington D.C., podcasts were not on my radar at all. Suddenly, they supplanted cable news and Twitter in how I consumed news and political analysts’ input.
Larry does not find the political podcasts as interesting as I do, which is fine. He is more interested in the spiritual learning ones such as Super Soul Conversations. Regarding my politically charged podcasts, I relay every factoid and plausible conclusions to him while we’re eating, driving to a hiking spot, drying off after showering, or while walking the dogs. However, he does like Pod Save America. We went to a live recording back in November 2017 in Philadelphia – the Washington D.C. and Richmond ones sold out before I could grab us tickets. The drive was only 140 miles from Northern Virginia, slightly farther away than Richmond. Aside from staying abreast to the swampy scourge that has become present day American politics, I appreciate podcasts for their enlightening content.
Current Affairs. History. Personal development. Spirituality. Injustice. Agency. Mystery. Humor. Intricate details. These are all topics some of my favorite podcasts cover.
What makes me happy about listening to podcasts?
Educational – Podcasts satisfy my yearning to learn something new as often as possible if not every day. My favorite personalities command an understanding of the subject matter they discuss among co-hosts or with featured guests while remaining open to receiving the viewpoints of the latter two. Arrogance and self-righteousness are limited to non-existent. There is lots of humor.
Authentic – Serious yet not too refined. The content of the podcasts to which I subscribe are relevant to my life, resonating in a way I find genuine and is grounded in fact. The hosts never ever tiptoe around discussing hard topics – something I oftentimes reference as saying the quiet parts aloud. In “hearing both sides” – especially if one of the political podcasts has special guests who may be of the opposing political party – the dialogue is inclusive and synergistic. They never cast both sides as a capitulation to facts, irrefutable evidence, or integrity. Hosts and guests do not allow word salads and opinions to carry the same weight as truth under the guise of Free Speech.
Ideal Duration – The length of podcasts is just long enough, fitting into activities I routinely do. Unlike acquiring news and information from the Twittersphere and cable networks, listening to podcasts are not as time intensive or geographically limiting. Sure, you can move about while reading Twitter – yet I do not recommend driving while reading your newsfeed. This may speak more to my willingness or the lack there of to consume info in moderation than the ease with which I can listen to podcasts.
Engaging – My favorite podcast hosts are not boring and monotonous. They crack inappropriate jokes at the least opportune time during discussion of the most sensitive topics. They use expletives. They say the quiet parts aloud – something worth repeating. They have an uncanny ability to take the drudgery of politics and make it relevant to my life. The hosts and their guests are able to articulate thoughts and experiences in a manner that facilitates my getting unstuck on certain topics or processing differently those I once convinced myself I understood fully.
My Favorite Podcasts and Why – As of September 2018
Pod Save America – This is by far my most favorite of political podcasts. The hosts are unapologetic Democrats. They are fully lodged in former President Barack Obama’s corner. They invitingly discuss politics in a way that reminds me as a voter than I can effect change. Their criticism of the Democratic Party is sharp and fair never hinging on whataboutism – unlike the former Party of Lincoln, present day party of Donald John Trump. The hosts are great at connecting the dots of seemingly innocuous political theater with what it means to me from a social, economic, and Constitutionally-protected perspective.
SuperSoul Conversations – I have always admired the way Oprah facilitates conversations between her audience and the guests with whom she discusses various topics. I first learned of SuperSoul Sunday from OWN – the Oprah Winfrey Network. According to the iTunes description of SuperSoul Conversations, Oprah personally selects the individuals featured on SuperSoul Conversations. She sees them as “thought-leaders, best-selling authors, spiritual luminaries, as well as health and wellness experts.” In paraphrasing Iyanla Vanzant and Brené Brown – both of whom have been featured guests on SuperSoul Conversations – this podcast provides me with the language I need to clearly express how I strive to be my best self.
Master Class – This too is a podcast hosted by Oprah where she offers her platform as a place for people to “use their life as a class.” I see Master Class as an audible source of vicarious experiences – opportunities to heed the lessons of others’ teachable moments. This allows me to invest my time in endeavors I may have otherwise put off or approach those I intended to pursue in a more informed manner.
“Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.” – Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt
S-Town – I listened to the entirety of this podcast in two to three-day period. I was visiting Puerto Rico for work and would listen to multiple episodes as I walked along the beach in San Juan. The podcast is centered on a small town in Bibb County, Alabama which is 115 miles northwest of my hometown in Bullock County. Secondly, the main character is a closeted gay man who has lived in the sticks of Alabama his entire life. He was isolated in many regards, yet very liberated in how he expressed himself and discusses the chaos and insanity that was his everyday life. His unapologetically shedding light on the ass-backwardness of small town USA was one of the things I admired most – not cowering to powerful rural interests attempting to silence him.
Why is this Happening? – This is a new podcast hosted by one of my favorite journalists, authors, and overall people, Chris L. Hayes. I first learned of Hayes when he hosted MSNBC’s weekend morning show Up with Chris Hayes which later was transformed into a primetime show All in with Chris Hayes. I think Chris is smart, thoughtful, well-rounded – an admirable mix between comfortably academic and convincingly down-to-earth. Two of his books Twilight of the Elites and A Colony in a Nation were very much so enlightening reads – both copies of which he autographed for me during his A Colony in a Nation’s Washington D.C. book tour stop at Sixth and I.
In Why is this Happening, Hayes ventures into topics I find interesting, those that are not “safe” even for cable news. He leads discussions with very smart and informed people who are straightforward and detailed in their assessment of different topics – the idiocy of Donald Trump, the terror haunting us all regarding climate change, the throes of weathering corruption, and the history of racism in a country which thinks the recipients of said racism are overly sensitive and imagining things, among other topics.
The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell – Lawrence’s cadence in discussing politics probably is my most favorite of the personalities, commentators, and analysts I typically watch. Lawrence has for a very long time been calling Donald Trump a charlatan. He talks about Trump as the caricature everyone in New York knows him to be. Lawrence commands a great understanding of how the United States Senate works – adeptly contextualizing things Senators say and do. He can smell a lie a mile away. His tone is confident yet not smug, hilarious yet not corny, informed yet not preachy, memorable yet not emotionally devastating.