As I drove north, along I-70 into Indianapolis, then taking I-69 all the way up to the wilds of the back roads north of Lansing, I listened to podcast after podcast. It was a time to catch up on the backlog, and it seems that a trio of shows has cultivated a moment, a sense of union within the chaos.
I’m a fan of Mike Pesca. I enjoyed him on NPR and as a co-host of Hang up and Listen, but I really enjoy the eclectic and entertaining week daily show The Gist. Few shows manage to be as winsome and serious; eclectic and newsy as The Gist. It is the good natured audio experience born into The Daily Show world in which serious and funny are not antithetical to authenticity and authority.
This past week, Mike Pesca kept nailing it.
While I try to balance my need to wean myself from the outrage machine and yet advocate for real need in our world, I’m genuinely conflicted about the way forward, but Mike is offering us a different vision.
A healthier vision. And a funnier one. But mostly, it is a sensible and decent one.
“Not Adding Up”
In each episode, Mike Pesca offers “The Spiel”. It is a closing segment that is part rant, part news story, part personal confession, and it is often the most amusing and most poignant moment of the show.
In the November 4th episode: “Bacon Makes Everything Better, Except Your Colon,” Mike wades into the confusion over the WHO’s classification of processed meats and red meat as carcinogenic. If you haven’t bothered to read up on this, skimming the Facebook posts from last week, I’d encourage you to listen to the whole thing. Otherwise…skip ahead to The Spiel.
In this episode’s Spiel, “Not Adding Up,” (which begins at 16:09) Mike talks about Common Core, and more specifically, the conservative outrage toward Common Core. He deftly points out that the primary opposition to what is being taught is not that it is bad, but that adults don’t know it already. And really, this only matters if parents are expected to help their children learn it.
This fascinates me, not because the outrage seems so petty and ridiculous (though it does) or because we don’t like change (though that is part of it, I’m sure), but because we lack the will to learn and become different. We have this opportunity here to see a program that will no doubt help some children understand math, and we are more interested in what we think of that. Not as teachers. Not as students. Not as education theorists. But as bystanders or perhaps tutors unwilling to learn it.
Here outrage seems not only unfounded but dangerously selfish.
“The Path of the Righteous Man Is Beset On All Sides”
In the November 6th Episode, “Chaka Khan vs. Deep Purple vs. The Smiths” Mike invites Chris Molanphy on to talk about the vote for the next class to come into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. I love these interviews, and this one seemed tangentially connected to the above Spiel. So you should listen to that one, too. Or skip ahead to minute 18:19.
In this Spiel, called “The Path of the Righteous Man Is Beset On All Sides” Mike explores the outrage over Quentin Tarantino’s support for the victims of those shot and killed by police officers.
Again, Mike Pesca’s response is generous, discerning, and fair. It also sheds light on the outrage machine and the opportunistic approach to political gain. He calls out the media for its need for creating controversy out of something that isn’t. He rightly argues that both “sides” are saying the very same thing. The controversy, however, makes them into opponents. It is not only dishonest, it’s dangerous.
Let’s Kill a Frog!
In the November 9th episode, “Why Trump Wasn’t Funny on SNL” Mike Pesca invites Mary M. Lane to speak about a new exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. called “New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933” which speaks to the incredible power of the art in Germany immediately before the Nazis rose to power, the place of prostitution and women’s sexual power in the subject matter and the role many female artists played. It is a truly fascinating listen and juxtaposes wonderfully with the relative weakness and conservatism of American art through that same period.
You shouldn’t skip it, listen! But if you insist, go to 18:39 for “Let’s Kill a Frog!”
Mike Pesca describes exactly why this week’s Saturday Night Live was “aggressively unfunny”. And really, it isn’t about the politics or the quality of the cast or writing. It is about what we fail to try to do: our cowardice and reluctance to actually upend our expectations.
The through line among these stories for me is that we are increasingly outraged at the wrong things. Or more precisely, outraged in the wrong spot.
Like taking the top off your coffee, getting bumped, and having your hot, hot coffee spill all over the place; then taking it out on the guy behind you. It was an accident. He didn’t mean to spill the coffee all over you. Yes, the coffee’s hot. And some people don’t pay attention. But instead of cleaning up, instead of making sure the staff at Starbucks is on that spill, making sure that everyone is safe and the problem is contained, we’re all pissed off at some stranger over here.
Or more precisely, we hear criticisms of police conduct or systemic abuses as a war on police and a reason to tie some ribbons on trees because suddenly half the population wants to kill police officers. Um…no. That’s whackadoo.
Or that a middle-aged CEO hates women because he can get away with paying them less.
Or a male politician hates women because he can legislate a woman’s body in ways he wouldn’t legislate his own.
Or a redneck football coach in Whitesville should be fired for using a word he was taught to use by his racist community.
Or that there actually is a War on Christmas. Seriously, give that one up.
For every moment we are disputing the individual bigotry of some idiot, there is another unarmed kid getting shot, another LGBTQ kid getting bullied, another woman getting harassed at work, another victim of abuse, another death, another death, another death to our systemic cult of death.
While we are pacified by our middle school fights and worrying about what we can or cannot actually get through a Congress which refuses to actually do its job and protect us and serve us and bring justice to our communities, to our states, and to our country, we are busy worrying about some dude over here who started something.
That kind of outrage is outrageous. And we have to quit that stuff.
I encourage you to read Jelani Cobb’s piece in The New Yorker “Race and the Free-Speech Diversion“. Read it. Twice. Take it in. But please, for the love of GOD, read it before you post another comment on Facebook, tweet another snarky thing about Missouri or racists or those idiots hating on a red coffee cup. Read this first. And think.
Think about what really is wrong with our way of doing things right now.
And respond to that, instead.
Respond to the real problem. Not the problem you have with your neighbor. And certainly not the problem you have with a neighbor who has less influence in the system than you have.
Read. Reflect. Then respond to the problem.