There’s an idea that every medium has its own peak. For movies it was the 1920s to the 60s. For radio, it was the 20s to the 50s. Most agree that TV’s started sometime around the 2000s, and some argue it’s still rising. To generalize a bit, a peak is a time of successful experimentation. It’s that moment when creators still have control of their content, when the medium’s been mined long enough that it’s really starting to pay off. It’s that moment when things just can’t seem to get any better than they are.
Well, it’s podcasting’s turn. It’s arrived. It’s here. If the medium isn’t at it’s final peak, it’s still surely at a peak, and it’s time to listen. To celebrate this “Golden Age,” we recommend checking out these three great podcasts we adore:
Midway through the latest episode, host Dan Harmon begins ironically self-congratulating: “You see what we did Jeff? We took this show across a threshold. We went down a road of trials; we met with certain truths. We atoned with fucking death and resurrected. We.. We.. We..” It’s clear he’s only joking, riling up the crowd, but his comment isn’t completely baseless. By this point in the episode they’ve already spoken about a smorgasbord of taboo subjects. They’ve talked about porn, sexism, self-hate. They’ve put on adult diapers. They’ve brought up an audience member to speak about her recent diagnosis of breast cancer (for whom afterwards there’s a huge applause and a touching communal warmth). Meanwhile, the crowd waits and tensions builds as Harmon promises (and then does, at the end) piss into that same adult diaper. Yes, it’s ridiculous. Yes, it’s chaotic and mish-mashed. But it’s a podcast that’s mastered the carnivalesque style, where irreverence is the norm and common respect the only expectation. Harmontown traps listeners in that (beautiful) instability where the next moment may be achingly cringe-worthy, or podcast gold. I recommend this one with the warning that you’ll either love it or hate it—maybe even both at the same time.
“This is how it is: Dan Carlin makes history exciting.” That’s how Hardcore History was explained to me. At first I was reticent about the four-hour episode length and the emphasis on making history ‘riveting’. It sounded like it might be strategically watered down to attract an audience—but it’s not. Carlin pulls from well researched secondary sources, and synthesizes each period into something coherent and lucid. It is exciting and entertaining, not because he cherry-picks events, but because he has a skill for retelling historical events in a way that makes them sound as profound as they really are.
On this show, writers are interviewed by the revered and reverent Michael Silverblatt. Silverblatt is a brilliant, compassionate, sensitive interviewer who draws out unseen sides of each writer and their work. Many of his interviewees have called him their best-case-scenario reader, and it shows. Bookworm is a must-listen. Hint: Make sure to look back through the database to find old interviews with Kurt Vonnegut, Zadie Smith, W.G. Sebald, and John Barth, among others. Or, search for your favourite author (along with the tag “bookworm”) on YouTube; you’ll likely find a great interview.
These are just three brilliant podcasts we recommend, but there are countless others out there. Take a dive into this powerful medium and you’re sure to find something you truly love. But be warned: podcasts can become like books you can’t put down—but with the dangerous slant that they might never end!
Check out SAD Mag's very own podcast, brought to you by our own Jackie Hoffart and Pamela Rounis. Sometimes more than monthly banter on the latest in stories, art, and design in Vancouver and beyond, SADCAST is often strange, and always entertaining. Got a question about life? Solicit advice at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit sadcast.ca for everything SADCAST.