From WBEZ Chicago, I'm Ira Glass. Today on our show, MetaFilter. July 21, 2013 2:33 AM   Subscribe

In the This American Life blog post which is a list of the staff's favorite lists of other sites' favorite This American Life episodes, Ira links to a 2005 AskMeFi thread in which MetaFilter members named their favorites. Notably, there was remarkable consensus among lists of that vintage and the lists that were published this month to observe the show's 500th episode. I'm fairly surprised there hasn't been a more recent thread along those lines.
posted by knile to MetaFilter-Related at 2:33 AM (21 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

That's pretty cool. I really like TAL, but I wish they'd decide if they are a place for journalists or story tellers, or just admit it's okay to be both, as long as that's clear. Maybe an artistic liberties disclaimer before certain pieces.

I also live in a relatively small community that in the past couple of years has been the focus of multiple and typically very ugly TAL episodes or segments. Part of that is one of their producers has moved here, and the other part is the community she and I live in is Penn State. Anyway, even though I love the program, I still kind of flinch when I hear the teaser for the current week's episode. Please let it not be about us. Please let it not be about us. Please let it not be about us.
posted by Toekneesan at 5:34 AM on July 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


we did have this thread recently.

also - it seems weird to describe the coverage of penn state as very ugly - i mean, the events at penn state were atrocious, so of course the coverage isn't complimentary.
posted by nadawi at 6:59 AM on July 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


My favourite is Petty Tyrant. I meant to make a post about Steve Raucci when I first heard it but never got around to it.
posted by alby at 7:12 AM on July 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


There was a whole hour of drunk and obnoxious students a year before the Sandusky story broke, so the town already had the scorn of their audience long before we might have deserved it. Either way, it used to serve as something of an escape from the everyday. Not so much anymore knowing that Sarah Koenig could be around the next corner with a microphone.
posted by Toekneesan at 7:32 AM on July 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


it's almost like maybe there were systemic issues that led to a university covering up such an awful series of crimes for so long (and then had a fair number of people supporting the child molester and enablers)...

i'm sorry if TAL was ruined for you, but there's a lot more to them than the handful of stories on your "small community" and with or without a producer living close it makes sense that those stories would be told.
posted by nadawi at 7:54 AM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Whether Penn State deserves negative coverage is a bit of a side issue in this thread, it seems to me.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:56 AM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


nadawi, thanks for that. I did not manage to see it this morning as I got lost in the AskMe questions seeking music and remembered stories...
posted by knile at 8:18 AM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just spent the last hour listening to the House on Loon Lake episode. It was an hour very well spent.
posted by double block and bleed at 10:38 AM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


it seems weird to describe the coverage of penn state as very ugly - i mean, the events at penn state were atrocious, so of course the coverage isn't complimentary.

It can be pretty hard to read scathing indictments of the culture of your hometown, deserved or not.

I grew up in a town outside New Orleans that was largely spared by Katrina. As such, it was a staging point for rescue operations including community spaces being commandeered to shelter displaced people. My town was a focus of a New Yorker piece on the long-term aftermath of the storm, and, well, for totally deserved reasons the community didn't come off very well. Even though I haven't lived there for years and left because I hated the very aspects of the community that the New Yorker piece highlighted, I still couldn't finish reading it for Too Many Feels reasons.

So I totally get Toekneesan's "please don't be about us, please don't be about us" flinch.
posted by Sara C. at 12:17 PM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


I wish they'd decide if they are a place for journalists or story tellers

As I was reading this, I totally thought you were going to touch on TAL's penchant for padding out weak episodes with short fiction pieces--I'm not a regular listener, but every time I come across one of these it's invariably some cutesy fable from the POV of a domesticated animal and ugh--but I don't think I get the "artistic liberties" aspect to your complaint.

Also, my hometown is a place that is principally famous for multiple high-profile cases of disappeared/murdered women, and I would love it if there were some national spotlight shined on its multiple other serious problems. I don't live there anymore, but I want to know that someone with a bully pulpit cares.
posted by psoas at 2:22 PM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have tainted this thread, and as penance I hope to re-rail it with one of my favorite episodes, The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar. That is an amazing story about what we mean when we talk about family. I thought about that story all last week while thinking about the recent US and South Carolina Supreme Court decisions to return a Cherokee child to her adoptive parents. That's what great storytelling does. It helps you to understand your own confusing world just a little bit better.
posted by Toekneesan at 5:20 PM on July 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Great, thanks. Now I have spent the past hour listening to Prom, and the end of the first segment is always, always, a heart-dropping stomach punch.
posted by like_a_friend at 8:06 PM on July 21, 2013


The story about the community play in Fiasco! was one of the funniest things I've ever listened to.
posted by triggerfinger at 8:30 PM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Toekneesan, your general point is a really good one. I'm a longtime TAL listener, and I do think that's been at issue for a while, and it all came to a head with the Mike Daisey/FoxConn thing recently: are we hearing something factual and journalistic, or fanciful and embroidered? For a long time, the blurring of that distinction was what made the show special - a personal perspective on a story presented as just as important and interesting as a national news piece on a significant issue.

And yet, the more serious the show's ambitions to uncover real problems (like the judge in Georgia that they became so impressed with themselves about, or the patent scams), the less that fictional/personal/unverified stories make sense considered against that. The fundamental question becomes: can you trust the TAL presentation of a topic or not? When are we playful, personal, fanciful and idiosyncratic and when are we hearing fact? It's a pretty contemporary dilemma. I say this with love and not with hate, and I'm not sure if I'd even want TAL to change or how, but I think it's starting to get problematic mainly because they do take on topics that people want to understand as fact, and they want to present as fact. I mean, if we found out that the Bobby Dunbar episode, or the bike/car accident that killed a classmate episode, or the Coke recipe episode, or the Prom episode were entirely fiction, I think people would be justifiably PO'd.
posted by Miko at 8:44 PM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


There was also an AskMe thread a few years ago of people's least favorite TAL episodes. After listening to the 500th episode, I think I'd have rather heard the TAL producers talk about their least favorite TAL moments.
posted by roll truck roll at 10:22 PM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


There was a whole hour of drunk and obnoxious students a year before the Sandusky story broke

I've always been curious about that episode. Whether the producer lives very close to campus, or the town is just so small that all of it is essentially an undergrad neighborhood.
posted by gerstle at 10:58 PM on July 21, 2013


I've always been curious about that episode. Whether the producer lives very close to campus, or the town is just so small that all of it is essentially an undergrad neighborhood.

State College is pretty much a quintessential "college town". According to Wikipedia, 70% of the population is 18-24.
posted by kmz at 6:38 AM on July 22, 2013


State College is pretty much a quintessential "college town". According to Wikipedia, 70% of the population is 18-24.

That seems pretty high. For the other Big Ten "college towns," we have Bloomington, Indiana: 44.5%; Iowa City, Iowa: 33.4%; West Lafayette, Indiana: 49.4%; Champaign–Urbana, Illinois: between 31 and 36%; and East Lansing, Michigan is next highest at 62.4%.
posted by stopgap at 1:40 PM on July 22, 2013


I lived in East Lansing for a summer. It was unbelievably college-y. I was 25 at the time; it was really fun being almost completely surrounded by other young people. It seemed that anyone living in the town who wasn't another young person was either a professor, a landlord, or both.
posted by Miko at 2:07 PM on July 22, 2013


That seems pretty high. For the other Big Ten "college towns," we have Bloomington, Indiana: 44.5%; Iowa City, Iowa: 33.4%; West Lafayette, Indiana: 49.4%; Champaign–Urbana, Illinois: between 31 and 36%; and East Lansing, Michigan is next highest at 62.4%.

And yet it is true, per the 2010 Census. If you look at State College, PA in Google Maps, the official town limits show up; a lot of the suburban area (where presumably the profs, business owners and other college town grownups live) are outside of the town proper -- even the stadium where the football team plays is actually outside of town limits. About 100K live in the urban area, but the town limits hold 40K. The county as a whole has 150K residents, 31.7% aged 15-24.

And for what it is worth, I didn't see the #1 Party School episode of TAL as being about State College and Penn State specifically, so much as about a mentality of some college students that happens all over the place -- there were moments I, cringingly, saw it as being about myself 15 years ago.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 8:28 PM on July 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


And yet it is true

Oh, I didn't doubt it was true. I just don't think it can be called typical. Even though there are "party school" issues in lots of college communities, State College is still something of an outlier when compared to its peer schools.
posted by stopgap at 6:24 AM on July 23, 2013


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