Idol Chatter

ThisAmericanLifecover.jpgMajor confession: if I have ever listened to National Public Radio’s “This American Life” series (hosted by show creator Ira Glass), it was only at the prodding of a friend who insisted I check out a specific episode or because I had tired of the Green Day CD in my car and stumbled across the program while channel-surfing. Everyone was always telling me how wonderful NPR was, in general, but I seemed to only turn it on when they were dedicating an hour to the Siberian horsehair trade and its effect on violin bows made for the Anemic Children’s Orchestra of Albuquerque.
After watching the Emmy-nominated Showtime television series “This American Life: Season 1”, however, I shudder to think of all the amazing stories from the radio show I’ve missed over the years. This newly-released DVD, available exclusively through Borders until later this year, is an awesome exploration into some of the offbeat and completely fascinating patches of the American cultural quilt. It’s easy to forget just how colorful this country of ours is until a wonderfully-produced program such as this one comes along to remind us of the gift of diversity.
I fashion myself, as I imagine most of us do, as a little quirky. That being said, you won’t find me in the Mojave Desert in 110 degree heat, Polaroid poised toward the sun, with spiritual hopes of capturing a Rorschachian image of Jesus, the Virgin Mary or a stairway to heaven. My sense of the divine runs more toward the air-conditioned and away from, as Glass announces, trying to “picture something that can’t be pictured.”

Nor will you find me asking a Marxist, atheist economy grad student to spend hours up on a cross somewhere in backwoods Utah for a pious picture-cum-painting because he has the perfect beard (and Jesus face) in a state where facial hair is frowned upon. Never mind the fact that his longtime girlfriend shrinks from instigating any religious dialogue with her über-Mormon father and her boyfriend’s mere participation in this exercise reminds her of a particularly memorable quote from the Church of Oprah about how we subconsciously choose relationships so we can work through our own issues.
These two stories, both found in the fourth show titled “God’s Close-Up,” are only a very small taste of the captivating canon found within this show’s first season on DVD. What makes me so gaga over the series? Simply put, every story is compelling, complex, and completely human; they remind me of my own journey and deepen my sense of what it means to be a spiritual being having a human experience. More importantly, they open my mind to the phenomenally-diverse world that lies just beyond my doorstep.
So pull that hide of your beloved pet bull that you skinned yourself out of the bedroom closet, aim a video camera at your certifiably nutty parents for cheap therapy, set up your boombox and mini-TV in your wife’s mausoleum, tell nothing but the truth in your political campaign where even your own employees won’t vote for you, and cuss like a sailor while ordering sober-up food in the wee morning hours in a Chicago suburb.
The stories in Showtime’s “This American Life— Season 1” aren’t just the stories of a select few – they’re American stories. They’re our stories. And with this DVD collection, we’ve finally found the reality in ‘reality TV.’

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