Category: Greater and Lesser Culture

Lend me your ears, part 5

And the discovery and education continues…

For the previous offerings: part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4.

50 Things That Made the Modern Economy

Coming to us from the BBC World Service, this one reminds me somewhat of my much-loved A History of the World in 100 Objects. It includes a wide range of products and services, from barcodes to insurance to paper. They explain where these things came from, why they were revolutionary, their broader influence and importance, and their ongoing value and evolution in today’s world. Episodes are fairly short, so good for a quick hit of smartiness, or you can save up a few for a fascinating binge.

Crimetown

Exposes the seedy underbelly of Providence, Rhode Island, and its fascinating and corrupt movers and shakers over the past decades. From New England crime boss Raymond Patriarca to dirty mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci and beyond. Classic mobsters, mayhem, and accents straight out of central casting.

The Infinite Monkey Cage

The longer format of the weekly BBC Radio 4 show, with Robin Ince as the straight man, and British science’s favourite media son, Prof. Brian Cox. Each episode irreverently tackles a science topic, from sleep to gambling to climate change, assisted by a panel of scientists, academics, writers, and comedians. The Christmas episode on ghosts was a particular highlight. 🙂

Longform

As advertised, these are long interviews (typically an hour or a bit more) with a variety of interesting folks, the key connecting thread being that they’re all writers or editors (or both). That’s a pretty broad category, though, as interviewees range from Ta-Nehisi Coates to Nate Silver to Malcolm Gladwell. I don’t listen to every one, but when you get a good one, man, is it interesting stuff.

Note to Self

This one styles itself as “the tech show about being human”, which is true, though it leans heavily at times on lifehacking and projects – things like making ourselves more efficient, establishing good habits, etc., which isn’t really my thing. (I skip that stuff.) It also tends to lean toward issues and lifestyles of the modern family, which can be pretty interesting, but since I don’t have kids, often more from an anthropological standpoint. It does also get into deeper issues, like privacy in the digital age, and dealing with racism and other bigotry online.

Only Human

This one wraps science and humanity around politics and currently events (US-centric). Like US “bathroom laws” and how they tie into real families with trans kids, and the clinics and medical staff that work with and treat those kids. Or medical care on Native reservations accompanied by centuries old well-earned mistrust of the establishment. Or accompanying a doctor whose mission it is to provide safe abortions in the south, and how increasingly difficult that’s become.

Revisionist History

Malcolm Gladwell’s 10-part series that takes a historical event, recounts it, deconstructs it, and then sheds new light and context on it. Binge listening to this basically saved my sanity during the madness of January (thanks, US politics). The first episode, for example, begins with an obscure female British artist who briefly shot to fame in the 1800s. It broadens out to a discussion of sexism (and other -isms) and explores the phenomenon of “moral licensing”, which is something you’ll have been aware of your whole life and will be immensely grateful to have a term for it. As global and historically broad as some of the stories and context are, some stuff, like the later episode involving the Mennonite church, hits remarkably close to home.

See Something Say Something

Buzzfeed is doing great things for diverse voices, a shot of sanity in this world, and just damned good, funny content. This one’s new-ish, and is about being Muslim in America (which gets more scary and relevant by the minute…) Often times I don’t connect terribly well with millennial-hosted or focused media, but this has been really good, and mixes pop culture with religion, anger, intelligent discourse, and irreverence. The range of guests has been smart, savvy, and eye-opening, from civil rights lawyers to university freshman teenagers. Much needed perspectives and a lot of fun, especially for this middle-aged white lady.

Weekly Infusion

Still relatively new to this one, and it’s a bit slick and produced for my taste, but it does also dig into medical issues, which is right up my alley. I was introduced to it via Nicole Angemi, who I follow on Instagram (she was a guest on an episode). I’ve never seen any TV stuff Dr. Drew has done, but suspect the podcast is more than enough exposure to me. They make things really accessible, and often have celebrities or notable people in areas, either who have a personal stake in a medical issue, or who are experts in a particular area. Topics range from conditions like anaphylaxis and epilepsy to synesthesia.

You Must Remember This

This has been my most consistent binge since I found it. Seasons typically follow a broad but consistent arc, like Charles Manson’s Hollywood, or the Blacklist/McCarthy Communist Witch Hunts, or Six Degrees of Joan Crawford. The general tagline is the exploration of the secrets and forgotten histories of Hollywood’s first century (roughly 1900-2000). There’s plenty of juicy gossip, sex, and scandal, as well as history, politics, and the development of the movie biz. Any delusions of glamour you ever had will be doused with booze and set on fire with a carelessly tossed cigarette. I have a feeling these binges are going to pay off well at future pub trivia nights.

Lend me your ears, part 4

It seems I’ve done a lot of discovery since the last update, so here’s what I’ve been entertaining and educating myself with.

For the previous offerings: part 1, part 2, part 3.

The Allusionist

Helen Zaltzman from Answer Me This talks about the English language. Quirks of words and phrases, where sayings came from, invented languages, colloquialisms and slang, history and evolution, you name it. Good stuff for word nerds.

Another Round

One of the most recent I’ve added. It’s American, but our cultures and such are sufficiently intertwined that it’s all relevant. The hosts are two African-American women, and they do make fun of white people and white culture fairly often. But honestly, it’s entirely deserved, and it’s funny. They recently had a section that was kind of like a spoof of Canadian Heritage Moments, but it was a satirical look at moments and “facts” from Black history. Hilarious. Just as hilarious was the guy they got on who did comparable ones from white history. It’s not all goofing off, though. Combined with all of this there’s a lot of discussion of race and related issues, gender, socioeconomics, straight up pop culture (it is from Buzzfeed…) and some really great interviews from people like Valerie Jarrett, Anil Dash, and Hannibal Burress. You never quite know what you’re going to get, which makes it more fun.

The Black Tapes

I started listening to this one because Paul Bae of You Suck, Sir is one of the producers. It’s been alright, but I think I’m getting close to done with it. It’s about investigations of the paranormal, a bit X-Files-y. The idea being a serialized investigation of an unsolved case each episode, but they got away from that pretty quickly. The dialogue is also a bit rough sometimes, and they go way over the top with the soundscaping for suspense and drama.

Death, Sex & Money

Another quite recent addition, but I love how you’re never sure which focus you’re going to get. The last episode I listened to was an interview with Lucinda Williams, so come on, right? Basically the idea is that they focus on those three things you’re never supposed to talk about, and then delve into them with interesting people who have plenty to say.

Lore

History, folklore, and stories woven together — one per episode. Aaron Mahnke has a bit of a Shatner thing going with how he talks, but you get used to it. The stories are true… with a hint of mystery and plenty of the unexplained. But Mahnke does a good job of weaving in myth, folklore, the supernatural, and other relevant things to give richness and context to the stories. And they never entirely wrap up tidily. Hmm…

Planet Money

A bit similar to Freakonomics… but not really. All manner of finance-related topics covered from a variety of angles. The recent episode on the anatomy of a scam was fascinating and heartbreaking. It went deep into phone scams: how they work, who they target, etc., and included actually audio from companies that’ve been busted. Great investigative work. But then there are others like the one about “delicious cake futures” that’re just hilarious. Again, you never know what you’re going to get, but always fascinating and fun.

Reply All

“A show about the Internet”. Which it is, but another one where they get into all kinds of things. Definitely one for internets geeks like myself. The most recent one I listened to was about why this couple’s house in Atlanta was ground zero for lost phone “find your phone” signals, resulting in strangers knocking at their door at all hours. Insane and so interesting. There’s also a segment called “Yes, Yes, No” where they break down some weird tidbit or meme and explain what it means and where it came from. Even if you think you’re pretty savvy, it’s an awesome leap down the rabbit hole of online culture, and surprisingly often they reveal a lot more depth than you’d expect.

Still Untitled: The Adam Savage Project

Another round of serious geekery. Mythbusters‘ Adam Savage and friends just… talk about stuff. Projects they’re working on, particularly Adam’s, geeking out over… things. Things they like, things they’ve made, things other people made that they wish they had… There’s a definite maker bent and a geek pop culture bent. Like The Martian has gotten a lot of love over the past while. But they talk about everything from billiards to camping, and it goes along with the Tested show as well. For science!

Stuff Mom Never Told You

This one I’ve been listening to for years, but it previously got lumped in with the other How Stuff Works podcasts that I’ve listened to, so time to break it out. Cristen and Caroline cover all things female, gender, feminist, political, historical, pop culture, health — you name it. They dig into intimate issues and sing the praises of unknown historical heroines, and never flinch. Good stuff.

Stuff You Missed in History Class

Like the above, have been listening for years, so time to give it its due. It is an American podcast, so there’s plenty of US history on offer, but they do cover plenty of other countries, time periods, and types of history. Everything from fashion, to art, to great dynasties, to titillating scandals, to amazing characters, to disasters (both ancient and modern-ish). Also, Holly, one of the hosts, has a bit of an obsession with Queen Victoria… They’ll look at new books on various topics and have had some excellent author interviews as well.

A few more that I’ve recently come across and will be checking out…

Only Human
The Stuff of Life (Another How Stuff Works podcast by one of the hosts of Stuff to Blow Your Mind)
Note to Self

Lend me your ears, part 3

Went on a bit of a podcast-adding binge a little while ago, thanks to coming across mentions of new ones, and an article that listed oodles. Since then I’ve listened to and whittled things down a bit, so here’s the new stuff I’m enjoying.

CANADALAND: COMMONS

I mentioned CANADALAND in my previous podcast post, and have been finding it really educational. COMMONS is their take on a Canadian politics podcast. Now, typically I can’t stand politics, and given my avoidance, don’t know as much as I likely should. (I tend to bone up when I need to, like when there’s an upcoming election.)

Wasn’t initially sure what to think, as this seemed to be politics for dudebros. That said, I like the schtick of having a politics podcast hosted by guys who weren’t any more into or educated in politics than I am. It means that while they have shows about what the Senate is and what it’s for, they also ask questions during interviews and stuff about terms and concepts that get thrown around a lot (e.g. what is populism? what does fiscally conservative means?) Sometimes they already know but are asking for their listeners, sometimes they don’t know.

They’re young, educated, urban guys, but balance dorking around with intelligent discussions and interviews. And they aren’t white, which gives them an additional perspective (e.g. recently with the shootings in South Carolina). They also call each other and themselves out when they screw up, like in a discussion among four people, three of them men, asking the other male interviewee instead of the female one (who’s a gender in politics scholar) about a gender in politics issue.

Episodes are short enough (half an hour-ish) that they don’t get bogged down, and I’m caught up, so with nine episodes under my belt I can say that I’ve been learning and enjoying.

Freakonomics Radio

Same schtick as the books, etc., and one I’d listened to some time ago, but then it seemed to disappear. Back now and enjoying it. Economics isn’t really my thing, either, so it’s interesting to see it approached from angles that do interest me, or have a certain “WTF?” aspect. Like recently I listened to an episode on the economics of being a sex offender (it’s a really bad idea – aside from being punished for the crime, you’re going to be punished socially and financially pretty much forever). That ended up being even more interesting and timely with a recent article I read on the families, etc. of sex offenders and their experiences.

Not all episodes venture into such uncomfortable territory, but if you love peeking at the world in different ways, it’s a great way to get the brain grinding away.

All the Books

I love and hate this podcast. Love because it’s about books and recommendations and the hosts are adorable. Hate because it’s expanding my “to read” list faster than I can ever keep up. This is a fairly recent addition to Book Riot’s shows; they’re eight episodes in, and each week they list their favourites among that week’s new releases (hardcover, paperback, etc.) From time to time they do a broader episode, like for the end of June they did an episode on their favourites of 2015 so far.

I’ve read a couple of the books recommended so far, and while they’re not always 100% my thing, they’ve all been really good, and I appreciate the mental expansion. They also get a nice variety of men, women, authors of colour, stories for kids or YA, fiction, biography, etc., so there is something for everyone.

Gastropod

I’ve already gotten my friend Dave hooked on this one after sending him their cocktails episode. This one’s also fairly new, and is all about food through the lens of science and history. Everything from how temperature affects the taste of your drink to commercial snail farming.

There’s some cute “friction” between the hosts sometimes, as Nicola is British by birth, and so has very across-the-pond opinions on many things related to cuisine, manners, etc. Whereas Cynthia is American and Jewish and her east coast experiences reflect that, too. The ladies are both writers and journalists and have gone on some amazing adventures. And hey, what better way to learn all about a gazillion varieties of potato than to go to Peru and attend a festival for them.

Really interesting, will make you want to eat everything, and will give you endless cocktail party factoids.

Invisibilia

This one’s about unseen factors that shape our world, though that sounds pretty vague, and if you just start listening to episodes things can seem kind of random. Also, apparently people think that the hosts, Lulu and Alix, sound the same, but I don’t find that to be the case. 🙂

The episodes can be on huge topics, like how humans’ tendencies to assign (or chafe against) categorization shapes our world, or how our expectations of “disability” may be off base. I really like the combination of stories and anecdotes focused on the topics, but also how they blend that with science and studies and all that other rigorous stuff.

These are longer shows, and I don’t need to binge listen to them, but they’re great for being out on a long walk with the dog and whatnot.

Mystery Show

Dave got me hooked on this one, which is just so quirky and charming. The premise is that the host and chief investigator takes on a mystery for each episode. Something that’s been bothering someone for some time (could be weeks, could be decades), and solves it. That could mean finding out something, returning something to its owner, etc. It can’t just be something solvable by using the Internet, as we’re so prone to doing these days.

It’s also fairly new, but has been a lot of fun so far. One of the earliest episodes I listened to was about returning a unique belt buckle to a chef. Turned out to be an amazing chase and surprisingly poignant. Most recently it was the quest to find out how tall Jake Gyllenhaal is. (Slight spoiler: the man is really fun, a great sport, and utterly charming.)

Certainly unique, and really gets you pondering unknown or unsolved things in your own life and how one would go about solving them.

White Coat, Black Art

This is a CBC offering featuring a guy who’s a Toronto ER physician. It’s not specifically about his adventures, though, but more broadly about medicine and healthcare, in Canada and comparatively around the world, and how that ties into history, politics, and our society. In a country where we have a huge Baby Boomer cohort getting ever older, and the challenges that brings, there’s a lot to talk about. He also has some fantastic and intriguing guests, and some fascinating glimpses into how healthcare gets handled elsewhere (like the US and Europe), for better or worse.

Lend me your ears, part 2

Podcast rolls ebb and flow and change. Sometimes you listen to a series, then it’s over, like A History of the World in 100 Objects. Or you listen to the first set/season, then it’ll be a while until the next one, like Serial. So here’s some stuff I’ve been listening to since the last post.

CANADALAND

News, media, and criticism about Canada. Jesse Brown is the guy who broke the Ghomeshi scandal (the most common way new folks would know him now). It’s opened my eyes to how little I know about what’s going on, news-wise, in the country, and who’s making the news (and what their agendas are).

Caustic Soda

I did a full binge listen of this one of the entire archive. It took a while, but it’s a lot of fun. Big time geeky, lots of science, lots of grossness, sometimes really interesting guests. Plus the Muppet Show cover theme song for when they have guests always makes me grin.

Serial

Of course. It became a phenomenon this fall, and it was everywhere, so I checked it out. A dozen episodes delving into a 15-year-old murder for which they may or may not have convicted the wrong guy. They crowdfunded their way into a second season, but no word yet on what the topic will be.

Criminal

In keeping with the true crime vein, stories recounting actual crimes with interesting details, weird twists, or lingering mysteries.

The Truth

Short radio plays/vignettes that are odd, affecting, and strangely engaging. It’s really hard to describe, but hooks you quickly.

Lend me your ears

Back in July of 2010, I did a post about podcasts I was enjoying. I was much newer to them then, having forsaken the radio for content that was actually new, original, and – gasp – educational. Well, it’s been a few more years, and my podcast listening has grown and expanded, so time to share a few more that I enjoy.

A History of the World in 100 Objects

Andrew turned me on to this one, which comes to us from the BBC. If you’ve ever watched a show like Britain’s Secret Treasures, this is quite similar, and one of the objects featured so far is one that was also on the show.

Each podcast they feature an item from world history and talk about what it is, when and where it came from, what it was for, and other socio-cultural contexts, often with interviews with really interesting folks. There’s already been some Attenborough. 🙂

Answer Me This!

Two British people get questions in from all over the world, though mostly from other British people, about anything and everything, and then they endeavour to answer them. Some of them relate to trivia, some actually require a bit of research about origins and such, and some of them are filthy and funny. Cuz, y’know, it’s the internets. Olly really, really loves his cat, Coco, and Helen hates cats.

How Stuff Works

These were some of the first podcasts I started listening to, and now that I’ve long since caught up on the backlog, still enjoying a few of them, specifically Stuff You Should Know, Stuff You Missed in History Class, Stuff Mom Never Told You, BrainStuff, TechStuff, and Stuff to Blow Your Mind. There are also some video ones that I catch up on while painting, doing dishes, etc.: Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know, Stuff of Genius, Stuff From the Future.

They cover pretty much anything and everything, and there’s enough of them that if the topic isn’t of interest, just skip forward.

Fw:Thinking

Another Discovery one, technically. (Discovery bought How Stuff Works a while back.) The two hosts from TechStuff and another guy. Longer format, and topics cover a potentially broader range – e.g. science that’s not necessarily tech, as well as social implications and things like that.

The Memory Palace

Part of the Maximum Fun network now, though publishing is a bit inconsistent. Interesting little vignettes from history. Sometimes funny, sometimes sad, often presented from a really unique and brain-twisting angle.

Savage Lovecast

Dan Savage’s advice show wherein people call in and leave questions, comments, rants, etc. It’s human sexuality-centric, though there are cultural aspects as well, particularly those relating to non-vanilla, monogamous, heterosexual relationships and interactions.

I don’t listen to this one regularly, but will binge listen for a week or two until I’m tired of the weird problems of the young/old/gay/straight/bi/trans/kinky/etc. I don’t always agree with Savage’s perspectives or advice, but I learn a fair bit, too, which is even better than just being entertained.

Sawbones

Another one from Maximum Fun, and fairly new. Justin, the husband co-host, is also one of the three brothers on My Brother, My Brother, and Me. I tried listening to that one but wanted to punch all of them after about five minutes, so I don’t listen to it anymore.

In this one, Justin plays the dumb everyman to his wife, Sydnee, who is a doctor. They (mostly she) present a medical condition, phenomenon, etc. and discuss how it was perceived and treated throughout history. As you can imagine, many of them are rather horrifying from a modern perspective, but can also be kinda funny, hence the tagline, “A marital tour of misguided medicine”. Everything from headaches to fertility issues shows up, and if you’re the kind of person who makes it a point of visiting 19th century surgical museums while on vacation (yup), you’ll dig this.

Welcome to Night Vale

This is weird. That cannot be overstated. Ostensibly it’s a community updates radio broadcast from a desert town in the US. Except there are angels and aliens and wild dogs and homicidal wheat and wheat byproducts. There’s not just a local constabulary, but a Sheriff’s Secret Police. There’s a long and expensive boardwalk, except there is no water anywhere near the town.

There’s an eccentric old woman and a dreamy scientist, and random shadowy characters who come and go. Occasionally people get vaporized. Or there’s a bake sale. Anything could happen. Like I said, weird. But with fun music and compelling overall.

The Moth

The Moth is a series of storytelling events that go on around the US, and are semi-professional. A lot of the speakers present more than once, there are awards and a championship and such. A lot of the speakers are also professional writers and the like, and I gather you call a hot line to pitch your story idea, and they work with you to polish it up and get it ready for prime time.

The podcast is a distillation of these stories (which are also played on the radio in the US, I gather), and rarely disappoint. In fact there’ve been a couple of times when I probably shouldn’t have been driving while listening, they’re that engrossing. There’s a book, too, of hand-picked stories, which I will be reading soon. Highly recommended.

This American Life

Probably the most well-known of any of these. I believe it remains the number one podcast in the US. I am not a fan of the host, Ira Glass’, voice, but you get used to it. It’s a bit like The Moth, in that it contains in-depth stories about lives often very unlike your own. But it’s also journalism, too, to get these stories, with a fair bit more socio-political commentary, whether it’s about a Chicago school with a lot of gun deaths, or just how dangerous acetaminophen is.

The topics cover an amazing wide range, and some shows are a lot more heart- or gut-wrenching than others, which is cool. The amount of work that must go into making these shows is staggering.

Quirks and Quarks

From the CBC, podcast version of the radio show. All manner of science, and plenty of dinosaurs – everyone likes dinosaurs! I’ve also noticed that there tends to be a lot of women among the scientists they interview, which I appreciate.

Freakonomics Radio

Same folks who wrote the books and whatnot, and similarly themed topics. Pick some aspect of society, dig into it, go “hmm”. Not consistently produced, and haven’t seen one in a while, but there’s a considerable backlog.

Ontario Brewer

A great way to get to know the breweries and beers of Ontario, and the people who make them. (Craft brewing folks tend to be a lot of fun.) I find Mirella Amato, the host, to be fairly pretentious, but it’s not really about her. I also tend to only listen to every other podcast. They do two per brewer, first picking a couple of their beers and talking about them, as well as the brewery history and whatnot. Then in the second one they pair the beers with cheese, chocolate, etc. A podcast about people talking about tasting things strikes me as a bit dumb.

99% Invisible

My newest pickup, recommended by two very different friends, which is a good sign. It’s about design in the world, architectural and otherwise. (A project of the American Institute of Architects, among others.) It looks at things you may never have seen, and things you look at every day. Mars could be talking about a specific iconic building, or about a guy who is trying to draw All the Buildings in New York. A good way of shifting your perspective a bit.

The Nerdist

I find Chris Hardwick a little annoying sometimes, and things can get pretty in-joke-y when Matt and/or Jonah are there. However, they also interview really cool people, so those are fun. I don’t listen to all of them, and skip the ones where it’s only Chris and co. talking, or when the guest is someone I don’t know or care about. Plenty of great geek culture, though.

StarTalk Radio

Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s space-y show/podcast. Have to admit I haven’t listened to this one in a while. He gets some really cool guests, but the musical bits are so annoying. Includes both Tyson talking science, and discussing with the guests. The cool part is that they’re not all boffins. Could be Dan Aykroyd or Tony Bourdain or Joe Rogan.

So there’s my current line-up. As a bonus, here are two video series of which I’m also a big fan.

Crash Course World History

John Green delivers the history of the world in 10-ish minute chunks. He explains the what, where, when, etc., as well as how those things affect the world now. He also has mad love for the Mongols, which never stops being funny. Aside from learning a more inclusive, less west’n’white version of history, you’ll also get fun tidbits, like how the Silk Road (which wasn’t just one route) helped bring the plague (Black Death, anyone) to Europe from Asia.

Thug Notes

Big props to Dave for turning me on to this one. Sparky Sweets, PhD, delivers book/play summaries and analysis on classic works of literature, from Austen to Shakespeare, in 5-ish minute increments, accompanied by entertaining animations and charmingly colloquial language. Seriously, just go watch one to understand. Frankly, his summaries and analysis are better than a lot of the formal education in lit that I’ve received. And way funnier.

Tradition

A Fiddler on the Roof. Sounds… addictive, no?

Not the classic opener, but you might agree had you been at the showing of Fiddler we saw this week. I promised no singing or dancing, and kept my word. But we had ladies behind us singing, people off to the right trying to start a clap-along, and several people trying to grapevine their way to the parking lot after the show.

It was good to confirm that I still knew the play almost by heart (we put it on in high school). And though my appreciation of musicals has certainly waned the last few years, I do still love this one.

For the set design they leaned heavily on the influence of Marc Chagall, as he also inspired the original staging, and was both a Jew and a geographic contemporary, more or less, of the characters in the story (he was Belarussian by birth).

Chagall did plenty of work that showcased shtetl life and such, though I admit the style didn’t really work for me. The primary colours and simplified storybook styles jarred with the brown, homespun world depicted. I get that it reflected the elements of fantasy and imagination in the story, but I kept looking at the “mobile” on the ceiling and being distracted by the child who looked like the kid from Where the Wild Things Are.

The initial scenes worried me a bit, as they really played up the schtick and yuks, which, while likely true to original stagings, isn’t really my thing. Ask Sherry — I’m not a fan of stylized. 🙂 After the first couple of scenes, however, things largely smoothed out and the comedy was allowed to be a bit more natural.

Scott Wentworth played Tevye, which amused me a bit since we just saw him as Shylock a couple of weeks ago. Apparently the Jews are just one guy. 🙂 He was a bit different from other Tevye portrayals I’ve seen — and let’s face it, it’s easy to just follow the leader where that character is concerned. He was a bit… smaller? Which worked for Wentworth. Also more conversational and less theatrical, if that makes sense. The audience certainly liked him, and there was definite play in the performance.

Golde I didn’t like so much. Granted, she’s a bit of a straight man and always bossy and grumbly. But her singing particularly was annoying. Clearly she’s not usually a musical actress, and while they worked with Wentworth’s vocal limitations well, not so for Golde, and she ended up weird and shrill a number of times. She and Tevye had their moments of camaraderie and comedy, but it wasn’t consistent.

The daughters were interestingly cast from a physical perspective. Their performances were fine, but they managed to use size and physical presence to underscore their personalities and roles. And while I found Tzeitel’s full-face grin distracting at times, it did make her lovely. Motel… well, I know the character is a nebbish, but it still grates.

I found Yente stuck out a bit, too. She was a tad young for my taste. Seemed odd to have an ancient, doddering rabbi, and a middle-aged Yente. In my mind they’re kind of opposites that fit together somehow. She was also the only one who had a really noticeable Jewish accent. Which is typical, and part of the comedy, but still.

I wonder, too, how many actors who’ve played the Fiddler have been women. The Fiddler at that performance was, and our high school one was, too. I always enjoy seeing how they costume the Fiddler. A hint of jester, but a certain elegance somehow, too. And goodness knows I love me some fiddler/violin music.

The set was simple and very wooden, which is to be expected. They made use of tiny prop houses to represent the village, which I liked. They cast a warm and close knit glow and feeling. Though I was compelled to text a picture to Andrew with the Zoolander reference of, “Is this a shtetl for ants!!!” 🙂

Overall, while not every aspect of the play’s presentation worked for me, I appreciated that they tried some different things, and enjoyed myself a great deal.

And I managed to make it all the way home without a single folk dance step.

Stratford Festival – The Merchant of Venice

This past Tuesday Sherry and I headed to Stratford to take in a little culture. Typically my first jaunt isn’t this late in the season, but we’ve been kinda busy.

I last saw The Merchant of Venice in 2007 with some friends, and really wasn’t a big fan of that production, so I went in to this performance with fingers mentally crossed.

It’s always interesting to see how and when Shakespeare is staged, and with Merchant you can go really literal, really obscure, or somewhere in between. For this staging it was set in 1930s Italy, which I think worked. It gave the play a strong foundation and mood, and had a certain elegance, but was modern enough to impart the uncomfortable “how did this happen?” feeling, given that the 30s are still living memory for some.

It can also be very easy to stay the play in a way that beats the audience over the head with its politics, since its ethnic, racial, and class themes are so prominent. This makes how the actor playing Shylock approaches the role so pivotal. I’ve seen him played as… whiny, frankly, more than once, and it’s never quite worked for me. Going gentle into that good night and so forth.

The main set piece was a large, two-storey metal piece, with a doorway/gates on the main level, and more shutter-like window openings up top. It was quite attractive and served them well, standing in for everything from a local cafe to Portia’s house to Shylock’s, to the court. The costumes were tailored and fairly richly constructed, since appearing well off was important, whether you actually were or not.

Tom McCamus as Antonio and Scott Wentworth as Skylock were both excellent. They have the presence to pull off these roles, though I would argue that Antonio could have been played even a bit more “grandly”. I felt that there could have been a bit more substance or nuance to Antonio and Bassanio’s relationship. Good friends are good friends, but putting his credit on the line for his friend who’s a known spendthrift, and then seem to be perfectly okay with dying for it? Yeah… I need more convincing. (Like, honestly, if they’d been lovers, it would have made perfect sense, though it would have screwed up the Portia story line just a titch…)

I greatly appreciated that Wentworth played Shylock with a significant amount of “fuck you”. After all, what he endures is long-standing and awful, and pretty much everyone else thinks it’s a-okay. And then when he is thiiiiis close to sweet revenge, they STILL continue to do everything in their power to deny him his just desserts. Ironically, they want him to act “Christian”, when neither he nor they are, frankly.

And then, of course, Shylock is given a choice that’s no choice. And punished on top of that, for daring to not just take their abuse and contempt. This is the stuff that workplace shootings are made of. I thought the moment at the end when Jessica is given her father’s (no longer needed) yarmulke was quite poignant as well.

While his role is a bit over the top and reasonably small, I enjoyed Gratiano as well. It was boisterous without being boorish. I was not a fan of Launcelot Gobbo’s. The whining was a bit excessive, and there was more than a hint of “creeper”.

I also wasn’t a huge fan of Portia’s. I found it interesting that they made her so long in the tooth (particularly for Shakespeare’s era), though I found that at odds with feminist ideas that a woman that age would still consider herself “bound” by her father’s posthumous wishes and will. (Though one has to suspend disbelief that such a decree would ever stand up in court these days…) Her mockery of her suitors also seemed rather juvenile, given her age and station.

Her delivery was what I had the most problem with, as she regularly fell into the “Shakespearean delivery trap”, which has a certain cadence and flow and emphasis that sounds nothing like conversational language. It stuck out and got worse as the play went on.

Overall, though, I found myself engaged the whole way through, which was a little under three hours. The march of fascism as the play progressed worked well to impart an aura of menace without overpowering the rest of the action. I couldn’t really tell from the bit with the radio if it was supposed to be Mussolini or Hitler broadcasting, or one then the other, but it was obvious what the broadcast was in general, and that was enough.

In the end I found myself flashing back to conversations I had 20 years ago when we staged Fiddler on the Roof in high school (which we’re going back to Stratford to see in a couple weeks). I recall the discussions we had about our fictional characters and the coming of the Nazis and WWII and hoping that they got out (emigrated, etc.) I found myself wondering the same about Shylock’s fate, which is evidence as good as any that Cimolino and Co. achieved what they set out to do.

“We are the media.”

Hat tip to Amanda Palmer for the title (at least one of the most widely quoted versions).

I was reading this post, and was stopped dead in my tracks.

Not from the facts and realities of the case, with which I am more than well acquainted at this point. But with numbers. Numbers that illustrated, in spades, just how much I am not “the kids these days”, nor create/share media (especially mobilely) with anywhere near the prevalence they do.

Read the numbers below, and then ponder a moment the various implications of that much content, that much of their lives shareable with the whole world, pretty much instantly. Oh, and stored, edited, data mined…

According to ABC News, “[t]he contents of 13 cell phones were analyzed, which amounted to 396,270 text messages, 308,586 photos, 940 videos, 3,188 phone calls and 16,422 contacts.”

Or broken down a bit, per person/phone, on average:

texts: 30482.31
photos: 23737.38
videos: 72.31
calls: 245.23
contacts: 1263.23

And that doesn’t even say how long each person had had their phone. Or the contents that had previously been deleted and wasn’t recovered.

Given the aforementioned blog post, “pics or it didn’t happen”, indeed…

Stuff and Nonsense

I haven’t had cable in some time, which is rarely of any concern, though it does occasionally put me well behind the curve with regards to shows that have weaseled their way into the zeitgeist, or at least become of fascination to my friends.

Hoarders is one such show, extensively referenced by my parents and a number of friends (with a mixture of amusement and horror. So, needing some mild distraction while doing repetitive work last week, and my curiosity having gotten the better of me, I downloaded a season.

Umm. Wow. They weren’t kidding.

Perhaps starting with the first episode of season 2 was a bad idea, given it was a house/woman so badly off that they only featured her that episode. (Usually there are two houses/homeowners featured per episode.) As a friend noted, there are two kinds of hoardings: stuff and filth. Sometimes it’s very clear which type of hoarding it is; sometimes it’s a combination. The “stuff” hoardings are much easier to take, though the filth ones certainly carry more jaw-dropping train wreck fascination.

One woman’s condo didn’t seem terribly dirty, but her depression-fueled compulsive shopping left it simply packed to the rafters with stuff. This is a bit different from the woman who walled off her bedroom because it was very cold in there. You see, the goats had eaten the siding and chunks of the back wall of the house, so there were large holes in the walls…

By about 10 minutes into the first show I was traumatized, and itchy, with an overwhelming urge to run home, throw out everything I own, and scrub the baseboards with a toothbrush. (I gather this is a not uncommon reaction.) When they dug TWO dead and dessicated cats out of the carpet (from under ~8000lbs of garbage), I nearly got the vapours. When they found the upper plate of the homeowner’s dentures, I nearly barfed. (They never found the lower plate.)

After all, on TV you can only get a visual idea of the mess, but when you see a stiff mass of matted fur on a shovel and realize that that died and decomposed within the house, and no one noticed it was there, it hits you just how bad it would have to smell in there all the time. (They never said how many cats she owned, though they did mention she’d had dogs, which had been seized some time before, and in his teenage years her son was removed from the home and placed with his sister.)

In another house the woman’s power and water had been cut off for at least a couple of years, so she just used adult diapers, which she stuffed in bags (or not) and left them to pile up. What exactly does a bathroom with a four-foot-high pile of used diapers smell like? Apparently it becomes a powerful destructive force, since the waste had “eaten” a large hole through the bathroom floor (like a, “Hey, there’s the basement!” hole, not just through the linoleum or something).

It’s funny discussing the show with people who are familiar with it. My shock and awe at these scenarios are “Yeah, and?” commonplace to them. I guess you get a bit inured to it after a while. You’d have to, else your mind would explode. And really, though some of the scenarios are very different (age or financial state of the hoarders, type of contents being hoardard, etc.), they all become fundamentally similar at a certain point. We are talking mental illness here, or, in many cases, multiple issues.

Interestingly, of all the people I’ve seen so far, most seemed… largely present, if not healthy. One or two, however, had that weird, crazy person calm, and you could see in their eyes that they just really weren’t all there. You almost felt better about the belligerent people, since at least they were invested and aware (if fighting it). The others you just kinda wonder what would happen if they eventually snap out of it and then have to process everything that’s gone on. Or maybe they never will get it; some of them are already elderly, after all.

And some of the people you just know, if they went back in six months to a year, the people would be well on their way to re-accumulating mountains of trash.

It makes me realize, certainly, yet more careers I totally wouldn’t be suited to. Hoarding specialist? Yeah, not so much. I think within about five minutes I’d be screaming at the person to put that rotted sponge BACK IN THE GARBAGE. Not calmly reasoning why said item doesn’t really have sentimental value. Or the compulsive shopper woman who had to see and touch every item before she could decide if it was keep/donate/throw away.

This is, of course, assuming I wouldn’t take one look at these houses and immediately order them burned and/or bulldozed as is. And as if these glimpses into people’s epically messed up lives wasn’t enough, at the beginning of every episode they remind you that there are over three million hoarders in the US. Most of whom aren’t getting that kind of help, I imagine, whether with the tv crew strings attached or not.

I don’t think I could handle having cable anymore if everything on nowadays is that mind-boggling…