Music, The “Silent” Influencer

Lovers of podcasts rely heavily on music in their listening experience, whether they are aware of that fact or not. The music is usually so well crafted into the story that a casual listener can easily miss it. But, how can it have such a substantial impact on the emotional state of the audience, when it’s hardly noticeable?

The entire concept of “True You” by Invisibilia is filled with suspense and anticipation – who really ARE you when you are not looking? The podcast series provides an ideal platform for the analysis of music as a tool of emotion.

The music drives the action, with gentle rings at suspenseful moments, and upbeat melodies during happy recollections. Lullaby music plays during the description of the child, a symbol of innocence and joy, Tania’s alter-ego. The woman who dreams of this four-year-old girl is curious about her, but the idea itself is creepy. The editors of the podcast play on that feeling.

At times, when the story becomes eerie, like when the child speaks, the sound embraces the same ominous tone. The editing of the little girl’s voice to sound raspy and low is another editing trick for the reinforcement of suspense. The layering of music and sound effects creates an emotional tone, which goes from happy, to scary, to hopeful.

The music “emanates” from the characters, a term used by Abel. When cartoonist Chad is unsure or describes his fear of being found out, the subtle music compliments his emotions. Without visual cues, the audience has nothing else to rely on for emotional impact. Thus, music tells the audience how to feel and to empathize with the character.

I have noticed a lot of “holding of space” in this episode. Abel describes music as having that pausing effect, as it lets the impactful moment in the podcast linger a few seconds longer. This occurs when Tania first hears herself speaking to her alter-ego in her sleep. The same moment of hesitation happens when Chad answers that his online character will die with the reveal of his identity, his name and the name of the school where he teaches. That space is as impactful as any other sound effect, as it lets the emotional gravity of the situation to settle into the audience’s minds.

Now being aware of music’s role in my podcast experience, I cannot help but notice when it is doing its intended work. I think the goal for any editor of a podcast is to blend the sounds seamlessly with the action and spoken words, in a way that it carries you deeper without you even noticing.

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Podcast Idea: Cults

I am a big fan of podcasts like Last Podcast on the Left, True Crime, and Zealot, all of which cover stories about cults. While most of the popular cults, such as Jonestown and Scientology, have received much coverage on podcasts and news stories alike, there are many communities all over the United States that express cult-like behavior and have not been exposed by the media. The Constitution-given freedom of religion keeps many citizens wary of criticising these organizations unless they have resulted in widespread murder or child abuse. Even so, organizations like Jehovah’s Witness, or smaller ones, like the Twelve Tribes, are generally accepted into society, despite overwhelming evidence of cover-ups of systematic abuse by the leaders in those communities.

I am interested in these groups in particular. As of 2018, there are over eight million active members of the Jehovah’s Witness organization in the world. Twelve Tribes community, much smaller in size, but concentrated in New England, has a few thousand members. If I conducted a podcast about JW, it may be easier to find ex-members to interview, but the podcast itself may be controversial due to the acceptance and prevalence of JWs in the United States. Twelve Tribes, on the other hand, have not been covered well by the media, which will make up unique material for the podcast. However, there is a small number of people that have left the organization, and it may be difficult to reach them. One of the TT’s locations is in Rutland, VT, with their address easily available. In addition, the community owns a deli that may be interesting to attend.

As for Abel’s prompt, one of the story structures could be:

(Someone) An Ex-member of one of these communities, (Does Something) leaves the community, (Because) due to the disagreement with their lifestyle. (But) The community holds secrets [abuse, restriction from normal societal function] that may prove to be harmful to ALL of its members, not just the individual.

Both of these communities have been reported to abuse their members, in one way or another. If we could speak to an ex-member, as well as an expert on the said community or on cults in general, this may be a very compelling story.

“I’ll Make Sense to You When You’re Older”

The “focus sentence,” as defined by Jessica Abel is the following:

  • Someone (the main character) does something…
  • Because (motivation)…
  • But (conflict or unknown outcome)…

In a segment from “It’ll Make Sense to You When You’re Older” from This American Life, the “focus sentence” goes like this:

Comedian Sasheer Zamata makes a joke about her mother in one of her standup acts.

Because her mother, as Sasheer claims, hates white people.

But…Once Sasheer sits down and speaks to her mother about this, her mother admits that she is mad at her own mother, who forced her into a white community as a part of a Civil Rights movement.

The XY Story Formula by Alex Blumberg presents another perspective developing a grasping story with satisfying conflict. The formula consists of two simple questions –

  1. What is the story (X)?
  2. What is interesting about it (Y)?

Blumberg relies on the element of surprise. The interest element, Y, has to surprise the audience and intrigue it with the story.

In the case of Sasheer’s story, the topic of a racist mother has a twist of coming from abuse for a good cause. This ended up traumatizing Shasheer’s mother, and that is what makes the story interesting.

Soren Wheeler, the senior producer of Radiolab, proposes a third theory, which embraces chronology and the factor of being “f—ing unbelievable”:

This happened ____, then this _____, then this____, and then you wouldn’t f—ing believe it but _______ . And the reason that is interesting to every single person walking on the face of the earth is _________.

With the third theory, Shasheer’s story turns into this sequence:

This happened (Sasheer made a joke about her mother on stage), then this (Her mother hates white people), then this (She sits down with her mom to talk), and then you wouldn’t f—ing believe it but (Shasheer’s mother’s racism roots to her own mother’s extreme parenting, which helped promote the Civil Rights Movement). And the reason that is interesting to every single person walking on the face of the earth is (That the worst of qualities in people may be explained and granted with compassion and understanding)

The three theories behind story-building may be used in conjunction with one another.

 

Plan for My Own Video

I plan on creating a political video on the issue of climate change.

I have an all-time favorite song by Radiohead, “Idioteque.” Thom Yorke, the frontman of the band, has been a climate change activist since the early 80’s. The buildup on the song, as well as it catalyst, powerful lyrics, and existential melodies will act as the perfect background to my call for change.

I have found a number of climate change denier interviews, as well as Trump himself denying the existence of human-caused climate change. I will start the video with that footage, while the song plays an instrumental build up. Once that tension breaks, I plan on showing footage and images of natural disasters caused by human change – everything from melting ice caps to dying oceans and coral reefs, to forest fires.

I want to end the video with an image of humanity coming together for the sake of our shared planet, to signal hope for the future, as long as we stop denying what is coming and is already happening.

Political Video Remix Review

This video by a former student explores the relationship between hyper-masculinity and violence in society. The powerful spoken-word poet talks over the images and videos representing the various ways in which masculinity manifests at both its lowest and its extreme, harming both men and women. Those clips included in the voice-over range from a man lifting at the gym to the image of school bullies, wife beaters, and rapists.

The juxtaposition of different clips chosen by the creator, mostly depicting hyper-masculinity, both through violence and the standards of male beauty, creates a powerful message, without being forceful. The contrast between the spoken-word poetry, which denounces this societal image, compels the audience toward the argument.

 

Consider the Dung Beetle and Other Eminent Arguments

In “Carnivore’s Dilemma,” Robert Kunzig explores basic but contradicting aspects of human relationship to meat – health, nutrition, ethics, taste, sustainability, and culture.

Kunzig’s prose feels somehow inappropriate, yet compelling, as he refers to the slaughterhouse as “the city of beef” where the cows’ life purpose consists of putting on pounds of “well-marbled beef.” It is not sterile, he does not use careful, scientific language to refer to the animals and the process they endure at the slaughterhouse. Instead, he embraces a language of personification and objectification in one, humanizing the cows while also being blunt about their purpose during their short lives. This causes a disruption in how either side of that argument is usually presented – either cows are serving humans as an inferior species with useful traits, or that consumption of meat is murder, and humans are disgusting for taking advantage of the poor animal that lives its life in harsh, unethical conditions.

The constant contradiction in Kunzig’s language drives the narrative, attracting audience from both sides of the argument – “Meat is murder. . .Meat is delicious. . .Meat is nutritious. . .” His sources include his own witness, as he goes on to a Texas slaughterhouse and interviews the main operating officer, as well as learns more about the process.  As Kunzig relays the interviews of multiple people that genuinely love their job and believe in meat as a tool to helping the world, the sidebar displays graphs on the footprint of meat, with devastating numbers leaning unfavorably to beef. This produces a double sided effect, allowing the audience to interact with both real stories and beliefs, as well as the numbers that prove otherwise.

The Fairytale of a Stepmother

In her New York Magazine feature, “In the Shadow of a Fairy Tale: On Becoming a Stepmother,” Leslie Jamison sources fairytales as the crux of the tension in the story – how does the evil stepmother character of a fairytale relate to the role of step mothers in the real world, the world that she found herself in? Jamison both sympathizes and finds comfort in those characters, while also being terrified of becoming one of them. Her young step-daughter, fascinated with evil stepmothers, compels Jamison to delve deeper into that conversation, as she tries to appease her with princess toys, aware of her own role and its fragility in the girl’s life through the lens of fairy tales.  

Jamison refers to a psychiatrist source, which allows her to explain her own relationship when six-year-old Lily points out, “You are not like her, [the evil stepmother in Cinderella].” She finds comfort in the signification of “not evil” that the fairytale stepmothers push forward through their own contrast. As she goes deeper into history sources, Jamison finds out that this stereotypical characterization of step mothers came from Brothers Grimm revision of earlier tales. The step mother figure acted as a scapegoat for the heavy emotional aspects of being a mother – resentment, jealousy, or ambivalence. This layout allows the child to preserve the image of the true mother as something pure and loving. This, as Jamison finds out through a study by another psychologist, hurts the self-identification of real world step mothers, who admit to still feeling “wicked,” while doing their best for the child. A source found in history again discovers the origin of the American stepmother in the witch character of the 1800’s. American history provides relief to this post the Civil War, where the role embraces a more amiable characterization.

The author lists sources from fiction, psychological research, history, and essays of other stepparents. However, Jamison provides her best source in the analysis of her own emotions through the journey of being a stepmother. She presents anecdotes of feelings of guilt, questioning of judgement, or the need to bribe, as she questions herself, “Would a real mother be feeling this way?” She feels like an impostor – which is an incredibly compelling source within itself. Her conclusion to her own story is uncertain, yet satisfying, because the author took a well-researched, but intimate journey within the page.