The name is “The Argument,” reminiscent of the old New York Times “Room for Debate,” which died a mysterious death when the Times decided there was no longer anything to debate. And if the name wasn’t enticing enough, the particular headline certainly caught my eye, “Why Do Powerful Women Make America Panic?” So I went to take a look.
There was nothing to look at. There were, apparently, three participants in the argument, Ross Douthat, David Leonhardt and Michelle Goldberg. The former two, the men, are occasionally interesting, and occasionally thoughtful. Goldberg, the not-a-man participant, is fascinating in the same way as if an intellectual train crashed with a truck carrying a load of manure. It’s not that she’s a woman. Many women offer interesting and illuminating ideas. It’s that she’s vacuous. The most interesting thing about Goldberg is that the Times gives her real estate despite her puddle-deep feelings.
With this provocative headline, I went for it. And . . . it was a podcast. It ran 36 minutes and 51 seconds. If I was to listen to it, that would mean I dedicated 36 plus of my life to it. This I was unwilling to do.
A typical 1000 word post will take about five minutes to read, tops. And while reading, you can stop, fact check, ponder, reread, while missing nothing because the words remain on the page (or screen), before your eyes. Podcasts take far longer and the words keep flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup.
They slither wildly as they slip away across the universe.
Writing is discipline. You can’t take wild leaps over logic in the course of a compound sentence that reflects a conclusion without basis or support, a logical fallacy that is subsumed by the follow-up phrase as the goal posts move. We say things that aren’t correct, but gloss over them as we move to connect the next dot in our head and get all the words out before we forget what the hell we were talking about. We focus more on the “what” than the “why,” and can at best bolster the why rhetorically since we can’t link our words to actual evidence that supports our conclusions.
But podcasts have become more pervasive, and popular, than I would have imagined. There was a shift toward podcasts a few years back, but it failed to gain traction. They were shallow. They took too long. They were mostly based on people’s imagined fascination with themselves. Who doesn’t want to hear someone talk about their feelings, beliefs, experiences for an hour? If you have no life, you can enjoy a brief interlude in theirs.
As it turned out, people learned that they weren’t nearly as interesting to others as they hoped to be. Unless you were a “personality,” or offered some insight that others wanted to learn, you were just making noise. Your noise was no more interesting than anyone else’s noise.
It ain’t no use a-talking to me.It’s just the same as talking to you.
But for people who, for whatever reason, caught the attention of others, whether because of their particular insights or celebrity, podcasts have returned. Yet, they still suffer from the same infirmities as before, a far more substantial chunk of their listeners’ life for far less substantive value. Why?
It’s hard to blame the people doing the podcasts, particularly when they get paid to do so as with the New York Times. But there is the taint of knowing that it’s cheap talk. Writing takes effort and thought. Talking on a podcast takes, well, nothing.
This isn’t true of all podcasts, or all people who do podcasts. Some will do extensive research into the subject matter of the podcast in order to not spew nonsense, not make the listener stupider and not besmirch their reputation as a knowledgeable person. It still requires a huge dedication of time to find out if they’ve succeeded, but at least one goes in with the knowledge that the podcast is on a real subject and the people speaking know what they’re talking about.
So what did Douthat, Leonhardt and Goldberg have to say about why powerful women make American panic? The first portion of the podcast was about The Wall, so I cut to around 20 minutes in to see if I could save that slice of my life from being wasted. I then listened for a few minutes to learn that Goldberg thought Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s (D-Mich.) call to “impeach the motherfucker” was “delightful” and wouldn’t put off anyone in the #Resistance.
That was as much of my life as I was willing to give to Goldberg’s feelings on the subject.
As an aside, every elected official, regardless of party or “immutable characteristic” (good one right?) should be subject to scrutiny and criticism for what they say or do, without regard to how it compares and contrasts to what any other elected official says or does, which should be subject to scrutiny and criticism on its own. I could explain why this is so, but in the age of podcasts, why bother? And it didn’t take up 36 minutes and 51 seconds of your life to find this out. You’re welcome.