kottke.org posts about This American Life

Radio show story structuresApr 09 2014

Bradley Campbell drew the story structures of various public radio shows down on cocktail napkins. Here's the structure of This American Life:

This American Life ___! ___! ___!

"Napkin #1'' is Bradley's drawing for This American Life, a structure Ira Glass has talked about ad infinitum: This happened. Then this happened. Then this happened. (Those are the dashes.) And then a moment of reflection, thoughts on what the events mean (the exclamation point).

The description of Radiolab is the most fun to read. That show doesn't quite have the non-linearity of Pulp Fiction, but it's a good example of hyperlink radio (a la hyperlink cinema). (via explore)

This American Life newbies: where to start?Jul 12 2013

The 500th episode of This American Life airs this weekend, and to celebrate, David Haglund picked 10 episodes you should listen to if you've never heard the show before.

Fred Armisen hosts This American Life as Ira GlassJan 14 2013

This week's episode of This American Life is about doppelgangers, so they decided to have SNL's Fred Armisen come on the show and co-host it as Ira Glass.

Fred Armisen worked up an imitation of Ira and put it into a skit on Saturday Night Live a couple years ago. But when they rehearsed it with an audience, there was not a roar of recognition; it seemed like Ira might not be famous enough to be mocked on network TV. So today Armisen finally gets a go as Ira's doppelganger in our studios by co-hosting the entire show.

The first story on the show is about artificial calamari, aka hog rectum.

Ben Calhoun tells a story of physical resemblance -- not of a person, but of food. A while ago, a farmer walked through a pork processing plant in Oklahoma with a friend who managed it. He came across boxes stacked on the floor with labels that said "artificial calamari." So he asked his friend "What's artificial calamari?" "Bung," his friend replied. "Hog rectum." Have you or I eaten bung dressed up as seafood? Ben investigated.

Mike Daisey apologizesMar 28 2012

On his web site, Mike Daisey issues an apology for fabricating parts of the story he told on This American Life and elsewhere about the Chinese factories where Apple makes its products.

It made me reflect upon how lucky I have been to call the theater my home all these years, the only place I can imagine this kind of discourse happening. It made me grateful for the great privilege it has been to be able to call myself a storyteller and to have audiences come and listen to what I have to say, to extend their trust to me. I am sorry I was careless with that trust. For this, I would like to apologize to my audiences.

The silence of Mike DaiseyMar 20 2012

The long periods of silence by Mike Daisey were among the most compelling parts of the most recent episode of This American Life...you know the one. Michael Sippey edited together the silences into one glorious clip, the best audio of silence since Cage.

Reading the transcript of the Retraction episode of This American Life is one thing; listening to it is another. The most interesting bits were the silences, not only because Daisey is so clearly uncomfortable answering the questions, but also because we've been trained as radio listeners to abhor silence -- it makes *us* incredibly uncomfortable.

This American Life retracts Apple/Foxconn storyMar 16 2012

This American Life is retracting their popular episode about Apple and their Foxconn factories, claiming that part of the story was fabricated.

Ira also talks with Mike Daisey about why he misled This American Life during the fact-checking process. And we end the show separating fact from fiction, when it comes to Apple's manufacturing practices in China.

The audio is not available on the site yet (because the show hasn't aired yet?), and the audio for the retracted show is no longer available on their site (but you can listen to it here). Mike Daisey, the performer of the retracted piece, responds on his web site:

What I do is not journalism. The tools of the theater are not the same as the tools of journalism. For this reason, I regret that I allowed THIS AMERICAN LIFE to air an excerpt from my monologue. THIS AMERICAN LIFE is essentially a journalistic -- not a theatrical -- enterprise, and as such it operates under a different set of rules and expectations.

(via @alexismadrigal)

Update: Ira Glass writes about the retraction on the TAL blog (mirror).

I have difficult news. We've learned that Mike Daisey's story about Apple in China - which we broadcast in January - contained significant fabrications. We're retracting the story because we can't vouch for its truth. This is not a story we commissioned. It was an excerpt of Mike Daisey's acclaimed one-man show "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," in which he talks about visiting a factory in China that makes iPhones and other Apple products.

(via @waxpancake)

This American Life discovers Coke secret formulaFeb 18 2011

Well, sorta kinda maybe almost not really discovered it. But the story is still well worth a listen...I've never heard Ira Glass quite so on-the-edge-of-his-seat giddy.

Coke Recipe

The formula for Coca-Cola is one of the most jealously guarded trade secrets in the world. So we were surprised to come across a 1979 newspaper article with what looked like the original recipe for Coke. Talking to historian Mark Pendergrast, author of For God, Country and Coca-Cola, we were even more surprised when we found reasons to believe the recipe is real.

If you'd like to mix up your own batch of Coca-Cola, here's the original recipe and instructions.

This American Life completes missionJun 29 2010

TAL has done it...completed the documentation of liberal, upper-middle class existence.

In what cultural anthropologists are calling a "colossal achievement" in the study of white-collar professionals, the popular radio show has successfully isolated all 7,442 known characteristics of college graduates who earn between $62,500 and $125,000 per year and feel strongly that something should be done about global warming.

Built to failApr 21 2010

When I pointed to the last week's news that the SEC was suing Goldman Sachs for fraud, several people pointed me to an episode of This American Life that ran a couple of weeks ago.

A hedge fund named Magnetar comes up with an elaborate plan to make money. It sponsors the creation of complicated and ultimately toxic financial securities... while at the same time betting against the very securities it helped create. Planet Money's Alex Blumberg teams up with two investigative reporters from ProPublica, Jake Bernstein and Jesse Eisinger, to tell the story. Jake and Jesse pored through thousands of pages of documents and interviewed dozens of Wall Street Insiders. We bring you the result: a tale of intrigue and questionable behavior, which parallels quite closely the plot of a Mel Brooks musical.

The allegation against Magnetar is that they helped create extremely risky CDOs, bought the worst part (the lowest tranche) of those CDOs for a little money, and then bought a bunch of insurance against the CDOs for a lot of money. The CDOs were basically built to fail and when they did, Magnetar lost a little money on their purchase but made a bunch more from the insurance. Pro Publica has the whole story.

Rest in peace?Jan 04 2010

This episode of This American Life about murder will put you in a weird mood. For instance, you might find yourself about to cry in the dairy aisle at the supermarket (not that such a thing happened to me, nosirreebob).

Act Two. The Good Son. - A story about a mother who wants to commit suicide and a son who dutifully helps her do it-even though his mother is a happy, healthy, independent person. How did they manage to pull it off? Practice, practice, practice.

The giant pool of money, an updateOct 02 2009

This American Life recently aired a follow-up to their well-received program about the recent financial crisis called Return To The Giant Pool of Money.

We catch back up with the people we met in 2008, to see how they've fared over the last 18 months. We talk to Clarence Nathan, who in 2008 received a half million dollar loan that he said he wouldn't have given himself; Jim Finkel, a Wall Street finance guy, who put together and managed complicated mortgage-based financial securities; Richard Campbell, the Marine who was facing foreclosure; and Glen Pizzolorusso, the mortgage company sales manager who led the life of a b-list celebrity.

This American Life on the financial crisisOct 13 2008

This radio program made the rounds last week, but I finally got caught up this weekend so I'll add my voice to the chorus urging you to listen to This American Life's episode on the financial crisis, Another Frightening Show About the Economy. Paired with The Giant Pool of Money from back in May, this is an excellent overview of what's going on in the financial markets right now. The hosts of the two shows are also doing a daily blog/podcast thing at Planet Money In addition, the last half of this week's TAL concerns the political angle of the financial mess. I haven't had a chance to listen yet, but check it out if you're into that sort of thing.

The case of Bobby DunbarSep 09 2008

Another great-but-disturbing episode of This American Life: The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar.

Host Ira Glass plays the song "Mystery of the Dunbar's Child" by Richard "Rabbit" Brown. It describes Bobby Dunbar's disappearance and recovery and the trial of his kidnapper, all of which was front page news from 1912 to 1914. Almost a century after it happened, Bobby Dunbar's granddaughter, Margaret Dunbar Cutright, was looking into her grandfather's disappearance and found that the truth was actually more interesting than the legend. And a lot more troubling.

This one's not as good as the switched at birth episode (which was amazing) but is still well worth a listen. (All this also reminds me a bit of Don Draper's pre-Sterling Cooper life.)

Amazing switched at birth storySep 03 2008

I just finished listening to this amazing episode of This American Life about two babies who were switched at birth and didn't find out FOR MORE THAN FORTY YEARS even though one of the mothers knew all along.

On a summer day in 1951, two baby girls were born in a hospital in small-town Wisconsin. The infants were accidentally switched, and went home with the wrong families. One of the mothers realized the mistake but chose to keep quiet. Until the day, more than 40 years later, when she decided to tell both daughters what happened. How the truth changed two families' lives -- and how it didn't.

The worst part about the whole thing is that the mother that knew, Mrs. Miller, always treated her non-biological daughter differently, like she wasn't really a full part of the family. The Millers sound like awful people.

Hands on a Hard Body on This American LifeAug 26 2008

I linked to Hands on a Hard Body yesterday. If you need a little extra prodding to watch it, check out the first segment of this old episode of This American Life.

We hear a long interview with Benny Perkins, who won the truck one year and was back the year they made their film to try to win again. He says a contest like this is not easy money. You slowly go crazy from sleep deprivation.

The Wieners CircleJul 23 2008

Here's a clip from the This American Life TV show about a hot dog joint in Chicago called The Wieners Circle. On weekend nights after the bars close, the staff and drunken patrons yell verbal abuse at one another like prison inmates or Jerry Springer's guests.

This, this free-for-all has doubled their business, Larry and Barry figure. They end up seeing a side of people that, honestly, changes how you feel about everybody. You really wish you never saw it.

There are several other Wieners Circle videos on YouTube, including one where a customer orders a chocolate shake, throws down $40, and one of the workers begins to take her shirt off. (via delicious ghost)

If, like me, you don't have ShowtimeMar 23 2007

If, like me, you don't have Showtime and therefore missed the first episode of This American Life last night, you can watch the entire episode on Showtime's site.

Update: TAL has a new web site as well.

Update: The Showtime site doesn't seem to be available to those outside of the US. (thx, jennifer)

Fascinating clip from the This American LifeMar 21 2007

Fascinating clip from the This American Life TV show about some grade school kids who became obsessed with using fake video cameras. Animated by Chris Ware. The thing is though, I remember fights in grade school and even in the absence of fake video cameras, students didn't step in to stop fights. (thx, matt)

Good new series of ads for Apple; "May 02 2006

Good new series of ads for Apple; "Get a Mac". I'm pretty sure the chap playing the PC is John Hodgman (author, Daily Show correspondent, This American Life commentator, former literary agent, monthly readings holder, hobo expert). Can anyone confirm? (via df)

Update: According to MacRumors, the Mac is played by Justin Long.

Update #2: Yep, seems to be Hodgman.

Ira Glass and This American Life haveApr 24 2006

Ira Glass and This American Life have moved to NYC...and they're making a TV version of the show for Showtime.

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