Thursday, June 18, 2009

My Favorite This American Life Episodes

When I started this blog, I made a list of topics I thought I could write about. I’ve always wanted to do a list of my favorite episodes of This American Life because that show deserves all the attention it can get. It’s one of the best shows around in ANY medium.

When I cut my list down to my very favorites, I realized almost all of them are in some way about business or economics. Business is a strong interest of mine, and I guess I like the way the show humanizes these issues in a way data listed in spreadsheets and charts cannot.

“Plan B” There’s the thing you plan to do, and the thing you end up doing. This collection of stories deal with what people do when their first plan in life doesn’t work out. I first heard this show when I was going through my own “Plan B” experiences (or was is plan “C”? All I know is I’ve moved way past plan “F” by now) and I could really relate with what these people were going through.

“The Giant Pool of Money”/“Bad Bank”/”The New Boss”/”Scenes from a Recession”/”The Watchmen”
Taken together, these might be the best collection of essays on the Great Recession yet created (followed closely by Frontline’s work). Something about this specific radio format that makes these stories even more informative and powerful.

“Fiasco!” This episode is special because of its first story, which is hysterical. It’s cruel to laugh at grade-schoolers trying to put on a play, but not when it goes this completely, epically bad.

“Habeas Schmabeas”
An in-depth look at the concept of Habeas Corpus, and how the Bush administration ran over it to execute their War on Terror.

“Somewhere in the Arabian Sea” The radio crew goes aboard an aircraft carrier and interviews members of the crew. To me, this is a welcome antidote to the endless gung-ho cheer leading that happened during the Iraq War. This is a report that treated military people like the human beings they are.

“Christmas and Commerce” This episode contains the extended version of David Sedaris’ essay Santaland Diaries. I think anyone who’s has worked a 9-5 job would find something to appreciate in it.

“24 Hours at the Golden Apple” The show spends an entire day at one of Chicago’s oldest remaining diners, interviewing the workers and customers. Nothing earth-shattering happens, but this episode is a great example of what the show, and radio in general, does best.

“The Fix is In”
There IS a global conspiracy on the part of multi-billion dollar corporations to fleece the public through collusion and price-fixing. This is one of the few publicly available pieces of evidence that proves it. It’s a disturbing, harrowing story, so far-reaching in its implications that no major media outlet would ever touch it.

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