Sunday, May 18, 2008

I "Hate" NPR

Okay, so maybe "hate" is a strong word, but I generally react with extremes when I am universally supposed to like something and just, well, don't. It's kind of like my never ending battle with the Pixies. I don't hate the Pixies, but I sure don't like them. And because I don't like them and have been subjected to them time and time again, I've grown to hate them. It's entirely reactionary. I have no underlying objection to them, but I just would never chose to listen to them, yet am consistently forced to. I once tried to go a month without listening to the Pixies, Doolittle in particular, and after three days I realized I wouldn't be able to leave my house if I really wanted to be successful in my avoidance of the band.

I feel that same way about NPR. I don't mind it, in fact I'm quite the champion of oral history, a HUGE fan of Studs Terkel and his work, and even studied audio documentary in college and genuinely enjoyed it and my work was well received by my professor, National Public Radio producer, Sarah Montague.

Sarah was a calm and mild mannered professor with a voice like warm cup of tea, all honey no lemon. I'd sit back in class just listening to her speak, she could be telling a story about her cat and it didn't matter, everything she said was immediately engaging. Classic NPR voice. She was deeply passionate about her craft and her dedication made me want to respect her craft. I wanted to love the pieces she played for us in class, wanted to badly to hold my interested long enough to actively seek out the other programs she encouraged us to listen to. I tried to love the radio, but like theory, I only liked what I produced and couldn't jive with the work of others. I'd already been a writer who never reads, a cultural theorist with no one to site, and now was transitioning into an audio documentarian who wasn't a fan of the form.

I am a college graduate who is liberal-leaning and consider myself a fan of the finer arts, yet I have no desire to listen to "This American Life". Is that so wrong? Maybe I am just not a joiner. When something is universally adulated I tend to think it stinks. When I listen to the carefully studied self-effacing tone adopted by Dan Savage or David Sedaris, I cringe. The topics ranging from how you thought you were cool and realized you weren't or...even worse, how having kids made you realize you weren't as cool as you thought you were, don't hold my interest. Yes, your perfomance art piece in 1997 was embarassing and you should feel embarassed about it, but to listen to you speak about it in a carefully rehearsed "casual" tone makes me want to puke. Blog about it and I'll read it, tell me the story and I'll listen, but when you script it and read it aloud and pause for laughter (if it's live) or provide your own half-chuckle that reeks of self-loathing it becomes too close to "performance" for me to handle.

This attitude doesn't apply to comedians necessarily, but is often extended to them. Maybe that's because so few comedians are actually funny. But that's a whole other rant (and really, enough people have bitched about Dane Cook and Jimmy Fallon already.) My roommate listens to "This American Life" in the living room. I hate it. It makes me want to hit something or someone. I try to shut my door and play music as loud as is reasonably polite so I can shut out those voices. That smug bastard tone that seems to be a requirement of a radio essayist is like murder to my ears. It's the self-satisfied tenor of the finally validated nerd. It says, "I'm on NPR. That means I'm smarter than you." It's the ultimate "making it" for brainiac rejects who always had their hands raised in class. I should know, I was one of those, maybe that's why I liked working in audio but never listening to it. You see, I was also brainiac asshole...I liked to speak up, but never listened. (Come on, what would a rant about NPR be if I didn't put in some self-effacing commentary of my own?)


Boredom Is The Enemy said...

this is really awesome. i'm getting an idea. i'm doing a radio show over the summer for my job and im in need of TAL style audio documentaries. Can put this rant into audio format? We can add NPR sound bites and everything. It'll be the perfect rebuttal to NPR, to play that shit on the air waves. Come on you know you want to.

Beverly said...

oh my god. as long as i don't sound like a bitter nerd who is finally validated/vindicated i am so down. i've got no way to record though...those days are long passed. i was thinking about how i'm one of those assholes who loves to read their work out loud but hates to listen to anyone else do it. i guess that's kind of perfect.

Beverly said...

who is this btw?