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Film Media Religion

Siskel & Ebert, Mark Driscoll, and the Power of Popularity

Among the podcasts in my regular rotation, there are two others I’m listening to that are both limited series, airing concurrently, and happen to share a surprising thematic overlap.

One is Gene and Roger, an eight-part Spotify-exclusive series from The Ringer that serves as an oral history of Gene Siskel, Roger Ebert, and their movie criticism legacy. The other is The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill from Christianity Today, which charts the story of Mars Hill Church and its controversial pastor Mark Driscoll.

What’s the connection between these two disparate stories? The epiphany came after listening to recent episodes of both shows, released on the same day.

For the brand

“Top Guns” finds Siskel and Ebert reaching new heights of exposure, popularity, and power through their TV show and “two thumbs up” brand. Meanwhile, “The Brand” follows Driscoll as he and Mars Hill’s burgeoning marketing team harness technology and internet to build his personal brand and rocket the church’s growth.

Both subjects became celebrities within their domains despite their unlikely origins, unorthodox approaches, and often prickly demeanor. Whatever criticism that came their way—like for the reductive sloganeering of Siskel and Ebert’s “two thumbs up” and for Driscoll’s macho masculinity and objectification of women—was overshadowed by their surprising success and cultural ubiquity.

Movies and machismo

Though I was too young to watch Siskel and Ebert together on TV at the time, I was a regular viewer of the post-Siskel iteration with Richard Roeper and even the post-Ebert version with Michael Phillips and A.O. Scott. Before podcasts and social media, this was the only time I could see intelligent people arguing about movies. You also couldn’t be a film lover and understand what it means to write and think about movies without Ebert’s influence specifically. (His Great Movies anthologies are an essential resource, and the documentary Life Itself is a great primer on his life and work.)

Driscoll had a similar influence within American Christianity. I listened to his sermon podcasts through iTunes in the early 2010s, back when they were usually topping the Religion charts (and back when I was still listening to sermons). Driscoll’s tough-guy personality and the reported toxic culture of Mars Hill eventually turned me off, but his cultural cache lived on—probably peaking with his infamous trolling of Obama for his second Inauguration—until Mars Hill’s demise less than two years later on account of Driscoll’s bullying and “patterns of persistent sinful behavior”.

The beauty of synchronicity

The comparisons do fade at some point. The end of Siskel and Ebert—as a show and as individuals—was caused by untimely illness, while it was Driscoll’s behavior that led to his disgrace.

Still, it was a synchronistic delight to catch both of these excellent podcasts at the right moment to hear how seemingly unrelated stories can inform each other. One of the benefits of subscribing to (probably) too many podcasts…

Categories
Media

Podcasts of the moment

I won’t do this quite as often as Media of the Moment, but I think it’s interesting to check in every once in a while with my podcast lineup and habits, since they do change over time for various reasons.

What hasn’t changed since my last dispatch: I listen to too many podcasts, and/but I’m still quick to skip episodes as desired.

What has changed: I’ve transitioned to Spotify (free version), and I listen at 1.5x speed.

I’m not super happy about the first one, but once four of my regular listens went Spotify-exclusive I decided to bite the bullet for the sake of a unified podcast listening experience, however frustrating it can be. There’s still one holdout stranded in Apple Podcasts because Spotify doesn’t allow for adding podcasts by custom URL, but otherwise that’s where I live.

Anyway, here’s the current lineup:

Regular Listens

  • Armchair Expert
  • The Big Picture
  • Dare to Lead with Brene Brown
  • Filmspotting
  • Judge John Hodgman
  • The Office Deep Dive
  • Office Ladies
  • The Rewatchables
  • 10 Questions with Kyle Brandt
  • Unlocking Us with Brene Brown

Depends on the Subject/Guest

  • The Bill Simmons Podcast
  • Conan O’Brien Needs A Friend
  • The Dishcast with Andrew Sullivan
  • The Dispatch Podcast
  • The Ezra Klein Show
  • On Being
  • Revisionist History
  • Slate Political Gabfest
  • SmartLess
  • Typology
Categories
Life

We are who we deeply are

Listening to the latest episode of the On Being podcast, with evolutionary anthropologist Agustín Fuentes, and I heard the host Krista Tippett say something while quoting Fuentes that gave me pause. From the transcript:

And even filling out the picture — this is from your Gifford Lectures — “meaning, imagination, and hope are essential to the human story, as are bones, genes, and ecologies.” And that’s kind of what we’ve looked at when we’ve told this human story of who we are, who we deeply are.

When I first heard that last part, I thought Tippett said “we are who we deeply are.” When I jumped back to listen to it again, I realized that wasn’t what she meant exactly. But I think that mondegreen is an intriguing idea to ponder. We are who we deeply are.

Which then begs the question: who am I—who are you—deeply?

Categories
Film

Behold the Oeuvre-view

Since becoming a patron of Filmspotting on Patreon, I’ve really enjoyed getting ad-free episodes and participating in the production-related chatter.

Recently they were looking for a clever title for a new segment that would be a chronological retrospective of a filmmaker’s work, in anticipation of revisiting Christopher Nolan’s work before Tenet debuts in July. (Assuming, I guess, that we all won’t still be quarantined.)

A few suggestions popped up: Filmography-spotting, Grand Tour, Box Set. Then I added my own: The Oeuvre-view.

I thought that name would have several merits: it’d be fun to listen to Adam and Josh try to pronounce it each time, ‘view’ is related to ‘spotting’, and its double entendre covers the purpose of the project, which is to provide an overview of a filmmaker’s oeuvre.

Cut to yesterday as I listened to the latest episode and heard my name mentioned, along with the fact that Oeuvre-view was the chosen one!

Adam wondered if the title was meant as a joke, but let me reassure you that I consider thinking up punny titles for things my solemn duty. Regardless, I’m honored it was selected and excited for the segment in general.

If you don’t already listen to Filmspotting, get on that. It’s great for both hardcore cinephiles and casual viewers looking for a deeper appreciation of movies old and new.

Categories
Television

They went back! On a ‘Lost’ retrospective podcast

Really enjoyed the SYFY limited podcast series Through the Looking Glass: A LOST Retrospective, which celebrates 15 years since the premiere of Lost in 2004.

Hosted by Tara Bennett and Maureen Ryan—two television writers who covered the show’s original run—the podcast consists of six episodes that examine Lost from different perspectives, including how it revolutionized fan engagement, viral marketing, the phenomenon of showrunners, and television in general.

The final episode features Lost showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, who were game as always. Their own podcast that they ran while making the show was the first one I ever followed. Before social media was a thing, they made interaction with fans a vital part of the show’s development and marketing.

As an avowed fan of the series finale (fight me), I couldn’t help but relish Damon’s harsh but true words for George R. R. Martin, who was critical of the finale at the time but has now very publicly run into his own issues ending Game of Thrones. Even if his ending matches or exceeds the now crazy high expectations, he will have done it with far more time and creative control than the Lost guys were afforded for theirs.

And yet, despite my appreciation for the series, I haven’t felt compelled to rewatch it since the original airing. Perhaps because of the time commitment, or the foreknowledge of having to wade through some of the weaker episodes.

But this podcast makes me want to revisit it. You all everybody want to join me?

Categories
Media

My favorite podcasts right now

After examining my current newsletter situation, I thought it would be a good time to look at the podcasts I’m into right now.

I say “right now” because since my September purging, I’m constantly looking for reasons not to follow a podcast. (For the record: I use Apple Podcasts, and I never increase the audio speed.) There have never been more to choose from. It’s a good problem to have, but the need for discernment has never been higher. Even with the ones I do follow, I don’t feel obligated to listen to every episode.

So these are the ones I’ve stuck with, that bring me joy or enrich my soul or challenge my mind or lighten my mood:

Regular Listens

Filmspotting, Pop Culture Happy Hour, Judge John Hodgman, On Being with Krista Tippett, Armchair Expert, This American Life

Depends On The Guest

Typology, WTF with Marc Maron, Conan O’Brien Needs A Friend, ID10T with Chris Hardwick

Depends on the Subject

The Rewatchables, The Bill Simmons Podcast, This Movie Changed Me, Ask Science Mike, Slate Political Gabfest, The Liturgists, The Big Picture

What are yours?

Categories
History Libraries

Go Pack Horse Librarians, Go!

One podcast that survived my recent purge is The Keepers, a series from The Kitchen Sisters and NPR.  The series features:

“stories of activist archivists, rogue librarians, curators, collectors and historians. Keepers of the culture and the cultures and collections they keep. Guardians of history, large and small, protectors of the free flow of information and ideas, eccentric individuals who take it upon themselves to preserve some part of our cultural heritage.”

The latest episode is about the “Pack Horse Librarians,” a group of women in 1930s rural Kentucky who brought books to isolated areas. The Depression-era WPA paid their salary of $1 per day; everything else was their responsibility, including renting the horses and collecting donated books and magazines to distribute.

It’s an inspiring, well-told story that shows the value of preserving local history.

Categories
Media

They podcast me back in

“If your mind is forever filled with the voices of others, how do you know what you think about anything? Pulling attention apart is pulling a mind apart.”

After watching this video by CGP Grey about attention (h/t C.J. Chilvers), I deleted over half of my podcast subscriptions. I’ve culled the list before, but like Don Corleone:

(I happen to be in the middle of rewatching the Godfather trilogy.)

Podcasts are perfect for my input-seeking brain. I have liked them for a while. Every morning, first thing, I check for new episodes and fire them up. Though I’m very liberal with skipping ones that don’t interest me, the ones I do listen to can still flood my brain for hours.

But like any habit, what starts as a fun diversion can easily turn into a compulsion. Social media I can regulate easily. Podcasts, I’m realizing, not so much. They are good during chores and driving, but not during time at home with my wife or when I want to be creative. Scaling back will help, I think, but so will prioritizing those other more enriching and lasting activities.

Categories
Etc.

My case featured on Judge John Hodgman!

A few months ago I submitted this case to Judge John Hodgman, one of my favorite podcasts:

I seek an injunction against my wife, Jenny. When I am cooking any kind of meat, I use a plastic spatula throughout the cooking process. Jenny insists on rinsing the spatula after the meat is no longer raw, but before it’s fully cooked. She says this avoids mixing any residual raw meat on the spatula with the cooked meat. I think this is excessive and unnecessary, and it degrades my autonomy as the cook. I have been cooking for years without the “mid-wash” without a problem. I ask the Judge order Jenny to cease and desist this behavior and let me cook in peace.

Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Only one man can decide, and he did!

We were driving from Colorado Springs to Denver and listening to last week’s docket-clearing episode, “Into the Teal”, when I heard Bailiff Jesse Thorn say my name, then my wife’s name, then the case I submitted.

I couldn’t believe it. They’d released many episodes since I submitted my case, so I assumed it was already passed over. Instead, to our shock and delight, we were listening to it for the first time together, breathlessly awaiting how the Judge would adjudicate our petty dispute.

Listen to the episode to judge for yourself and learn who won. Our case starts at 20:48.

For the record:

  • I do regret the line about autonomy, as I know well the Judge’s bias against dudes trying to impose their own system for things on others. Yet in this case it was my wife trying to impose a system on me.
  • I don’t regret “mid-wash”.
  • I should have clarified that I was cooking meat in a stainless steel pan.
Categories
Etc.

Life as a CTA rail operator

“In that motorcab was my serenity.” Another great Chicago story from WBEZ’s Curious City: what it’s like to operate the L trains.