4 Podcast Arcs Worth Listening To

October 02, 2018

Four podcast album covers

Last Sunday was National Podcast Day. I don’t typically celebrate these fake holidays but since I love sharing podcasts, I thought I’d share some of my favorite podcast arcs I’ve listened to recently.

I love podcast arcs. I love when a regular potpourri topical podcast carves out 5-10’ish episodes to focus on one narrative. It feels so intentional and is a welcome break from my usual diet of “four white guys talking about Apple products”.

Radiolab Presents: Gonads

While waiting for a flight, Aaron Gustafson recommended Gonads by Radiolab. Always up for hours of podcast content, I queued up some episodes. I really enjoyed it. Gonads is a look at how we as humans get here. Having had a couple babies in the last 5 years, I knew some of the obvious stuff, but how we start as a lump of cells and grow into these present bodies is a miracle I will never tire of hearing.

I felt like this was a biology refresher course I needed. I didn’t know that X and Y chromosomes are no longer considered the best determiner of sex. It turns out it’s way more complicated! I try not to make too many sex or gender based assumptions, but it was good to update my basic knowledge to the latest science. Using that science, Gonads prods you to think differently and update your understanding about sex and gender.

I actually recommend starting with the episode right before the series called “Birthstory”, then listening oldest to newest in the series.

Scene on Radio - Seeing White

I caught mention of Seeing White in a tweet from my friend Sophie Shepherd. Seeing White with John Biewen and Dr. Chenjerai Kumanyika is a 14-episode study on topic of “Whiteness”. It’s a sobering look at how American society and its systems (of landownership, education, elections, etc) have been built entirely for the white man.

I was casually familiar with the idea of whiteness through various Twitter followings, but this podcast delivered the conversation in a well-packaged format with the grace, humility, and patience I think is necessary for a powder keg topic like race.

One phrase that keeps turning in my head is “Racism does not create oppression, racism is created by oppression.” That is to say, humans create systems of oppression and then use rhetoric and even fake “science” to justify their violence. And then we write laws to codify these empty justifications. The extent to which White America has gone to subjugate those considered “others” is truly unbelievable.

Although the podcast tried to cover it in the final episodes, I think I’m lacking some tactical advice I can do. How can I help “undo” whiteness or at least reduce the systemic oppression of other races. I still don’t have concrete answers, so the knowledge quest continues, but it has sparked some good conversations amongst my (white) peers on at least identifying broken pieces of the system.

Revisionist History - Season 3

The third season of Revisionist History by Malcom Gladwell wasn’t billed as an arc, but spoiler: it is. This season is all connected around the concept of the fallible memory, the fallible mind.

Gladwell picks up examples of people, like former NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, who through retelling of stories and making small embellishments actually change the way they remember the story. Our memories, though perceived one hundred percent true to us, can actually be inaccurate.

I didn’t plan for this, but this idea of memories being co-opted and mutated over time plays deeply into the current national political theater. There’s probably never a more prescient time to devour this podcast arc than this week.

As your podcast sommelier, I recommend pairing this arc with any episode from the You Are Not So Smart podcast, particularly any episode with “Bias” in the title.

Uncivil Podcast

Another Aaron Gustafson recommendation, and while technically an entire podcast, Uncivil is a short run history podcast from the point of view of African Americans during the Civil War. The stories, characters, heroics, and horrors detailed within this show are jaw dropping. The first episode starts off with a bang.

It also features Dr. Chenjerai Kumanyika who reinforces some of the broader themes from Seeing White. And again like Gonads, it was nice to update my basic Civil War history knowledge and develop a fuller picture of the race story in America. This podcast debunks the myths about the Confederacy that I grew up learning in Texas. It feels like corrective lenses, correcting my view of America and repairing my understanding of the Civil War.

Bonus: The Butterfly Effect

Ron Johnson is one of my favorite authors. I’ve been an avid reader of his work since I heard him on This American Life Ep201 where he did an excerpt from his book Them (2001). Them is a book about hanging out with extremists like InfoWars’ Alex Jones who thinks the world is run by lizard people. Again… relevant to modern times.

The Butterfly Effect (NSFW) is about the effect the Internet has had on the porn industry. In some ways the porn industry has trailed what we’ve seen in the web with an incredible centralization of power and wealth. One man, Fabian, creator of PornHub owns upwards of 80% of all porn traffic over various sites. And it’s all free.

The podcast takes a look at how that consolidation of content distribution and its pirated content (that gets taken down eventually, but certainly not soon enough to protect copyright) has essentially de-funded and fundamentally changed the economics of porn industry. As a result of this, porn is becoming more bespoke. But it doesn’t stop there. Sites like PornHub are becoming the defacto sex education for teens. Even erectile dysfunction in teen males is on the rise from too much… ahem… access to content. And what happens when students reveal to their peer that her mother is a professional MILF? All of these avenues are explored.

Butterfly Effect is a wonderful, non-judgemental, humanizing, sex positive look at the ins-and-outs of a changing industry that tends to be hidden in the shadows of society.

2× Bonus: ShopTalkShow - How to Think like a Front End Developer

A little shameless self-promotion, but I would be remiss to not mention my podcast Shop Talk Show has kicked off an arc at Episode 331 we’re calling “How to Think Like a Front-End Developer”. We’re interviewing multiple developers, asking them the same questions, and probing the mind of what it means to be a front-end developer. Each episode finished with a quick rapidfire where guests look at ~5 Dribbble designs and begin to “mouthcode” out what is going through their heads. Our first episode is out now and features Eric Meyer.

Got some favorite podcast arcs?

Thank you for reading this. If you have some favorite podcast arcs, please share! And tell me a little bit about why you like them. Heck.. even write a blog post. I’ll read it.