February 11, 2010

This American Fluke

Last night I was slowly making my way through the end of the Second Season of the Showtime version of This American Life.   I prefer the radio show -- mostly because there is something sort of relaxing and romantic about turning off the television and listening to something on the radio that doesn’t suck (plus Ira Glass has kind of a hot voice in a nerdy way) – but that is a topic for another time.

I got tired of the television and I decided I wanted a little bit of peace and quiet so I drew a piping hot bubble bath and jumped in with my newest library procurement, Chuck Klosterman’s Eating the Dinosaur.  At this point, if you like pop-culture or music at all, I’m going to recommend that if you have never read anything by Chuck Klosterman you remedy that immediately. I'm ashamed to admit that I picked up his first book after seeing Seth Cohen reading it on an old episode of The OC -- god he was cute -- but that is also not the point.

(And I do have one, I promise)

The first essay in his new collection mostly revolves around Klosterman’s curiosity, as a former journalist who did many celebrity interviews, about people’s motivation to answer questions in any sort of social interaction. He found himself wondering this after having had some literary success and was more often found in the role of interviewee. Obviously, in his case there was a mostly commercial element at play -- he would answer questions to help a reporter craft an article on him that would help sell his books -- but after an experience being interviewed by a Scandinavian reporter where he answered questions for a magazine published in a language he didn't speak , in a market where his books weren't available, he decided to explore some pretty fascinating theories about why people share information and opinions when they are not doing it for financial gain.  People who participate in documentaries, people in the supermarket making small talk, or people using Social Media as a form of expression (hello bloggers!). What motivates these people to reveal themselves?

The essay rocked, quite frankly.  And as a weird coincidence, it happened to include an interview with Ira Glass(!) which was fascinating and relevant, especially since Glass has made an entire career around asking random people questions and crafting their answers into a storyline.  It was interesting to hear his perspective on why people answer questions when they don’t have to, or why sometimes people tell elaborate stories for no other reason than because they were asked.

Along with the Glass interview, the essay included an interview with Errol Morris (who I was unfamiliar with prior to this essay) who spoke quite a bit about his documentary The Fog of War, which was inspired by a James McNamara book called Wilson’s Ghost: Reducing the Risk of Conflict, Killing, and Catastrophe in the 21st Century.  As I was reading this in the bath I had a tangential though to myself -- I wonder if that is the same Wilson as that movie Charlie Wilson’s War that Tom Hanks starred in?  But then I started thinking about other Tom Hanks movies and my feet got pruney and I never remembered to go look it up.  Then this morning the first thing I hear on NPR on my way to work is this.

Dude you guys, he died.


Maybe he died while I was in the bathtub wondering to myself if Forrest Gump, though an entertaining movie, is really one I would watch a second time.

There is something sort of freaky about that, right? The Ira Glass coincidence, the Charlie Wilson tangent. But in the end, I love when I am able to recognize a chain of seemingly random events like this one -- because every once in a while I like to be reminded that there just has to be some kind of method to this madness we call life.

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