Have you noticed the brewing This American Life backlash? Along with Jen Bekman’s recent tirade and an Onion spoof, Nancy Franklin has a negative review in the New Yorker. Like Bekman, she begins her piece with an apology:
“One wants very much to like “This American Life”—to love it—because the people who make it are so obviously thoughtful, intelligent, and respectful of their subjects.”
Franklin struggles to pinpoint her frustrations. “A certain amount of smugness comes through,” she says, “though it is hard to locate precisely.”
I’ve spent much of this weekend thinking about This American Life and the nature of cultural backlashes. A few theories:
- We quickly tire of anything highly original that is produced within a conventional context
- Aficionados want to destroy anything that becomes popular
- It is culturally beneficial to limit the influence of highly influential work.
But maybe the problem with This American Life is the formula. In the New Yorker review, Franklin quotes host Ira Glass on the structure of the show:
There’s an anecdote, that is, a sequence of actions where someone says ‘this happened then this happened then this happened’—and then there’s a moment of reflection about what that sequence means…It’s the structure, essentially, of a sermon; you hear a little story from the Bible, then the clergyperson tells you what it means.
I’ve spent way too much time on this lovely Sunday trying to come up with a sermon on cultural backlashes. I don’t know what they mean. You tell me.