#70 Tread carefully
Watch your step.
In Issue 70: stories about tricks, traps, and leaps.
We're all trying to make our fortunes. We're all motivated, to some degree, by self-interest and greed. But a small percentage of people are outliers. They look like us - they might even look better than us, aglow with charisma, possessed of a sparkle in the eye - but they think differently. Their brains are whirring away at the complex social arithmetic that will convince us to trust them. They want to make their fortune and ours.
In this new Panoply series, New Yorker contributor Maria Konnikova exposes hucksters, con artists and frauds, making use of insights acquired through the writing of her book, The Confidence Game. Over 10 episodes, she brings us the stories of 10 fraudsters. They're all of different stripes, but cut from the same cloth: a boyfriend who has constructed an elaborate false life; a New Jersey living-room cult leader; a maker of expertly painted fakes. These gripping accounts are built from interviews with both victims and perpetrators and narrated by Konnikova. Though we are often left in awe of her subjects' skill and audacity, our host is careful not to glamorise them: these are criminals who hurt people, and she is telling us their stories as much to warn us as to titillate. Great stuff, weekly, with five episodes still to come.
Gateway episodes: Religion of the Black Dog (25 Apr) / Genuine Fake (11 Apr)
Released: Weekly, 10 parts
Question: do you want kids? For a lot of people, it's a big one, maybe the big one. In this indie documentary series, married couple Zak and Shira are asking themselves exactly that - or rather, Zak is asking it, because Shira already knows what she wants. She feel strongly that she wants a baby, but Zak is ambivalent; he likes kids, but he doesn't feel ready the way Shira does. We entered this series with some trepidation, worried that a straw man would be constructed and dissembled for our entertainment, and that Zak's half-hearted dithering would wear thin. Instead, we found a tender, tentative portrayal of the possibilities of parenthood or another, different life, featuring the couple's friends and family as well as special guests (e.g. Meghan Daum, editor of Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed). Episodes Six and Seven raise the show to a new level, in a dizzying one-two punch that reminds us nothing is impossible, everything unknown, and pain a powerfully clarifying force. Seven episodes available now.
Gateway episode: #1 Wandering in the Desert (17 Mar 2017)
The C Word, Episode 2: Human Remains
We take pleasure in sourcing the occasional audio oddity, like this show about the art of conserving artefacts. Intended for the consumption of museum professionals, we were delighted to find a band of charming young conservators at the helm, who are fascinating and accessible on the subject of their work. In this episode, they debate the morally complex business of working with human remains, be it an object made from human skin, a hair caught in an ancient ceramic pot, or a mummified body. The group reminisces about bodies and artefacts they've worked on, the rituals that have helped them feel close to the dead, and the tricky question of consent and privacy when human remains are shown to the public. Listen for the (very) inside track on the hard graft of preserving history.
Released: 16 Mar 2017
This neat little offering just took home the Best New Show trophy at the British Podcast Awards and it's not hard to understand its appeal. Our hosts are an Irish couple living in the UK, media professionals, and regular movie-goers. They have cleverly identified that the best thing about going to a movie is dissecting it afterwards, so in The Cinemile they bring us their lightly edited walk-and-talks, recorded on the way home from the cinema. Their reviews are delivered in a state of post-theatre buzz, whether outraged or enraptured, that all film-lovers will recognise, and the wind whistling past them, or honking traffic, only adds to its fly-on-the-wall charm. It helps, too, that they are funny, prone to relatable bickering, and relatively brief, with episodes running 20 to 30 minutes long.
Gateway episodes: Fast and The Furious 8 (18 Apr) / Life (26 Mar) / La La Land (15 Jan)
You might already know Brooke Gittings from her popular podcast Actual Innocence, which features interviews with people who have been wrongfully imprisoned, including high-profile subjects like Jason Baldwin and Amanda Knox. She's not a lawyer, but a social worker, who developed an interest in wrongful conviction cases in those heady days that followed the launch of Serial and Making a Murderer. Now she's emerged with another podcast in a by-now classic mode. In 1996, Richard Nicolas was convicted of killing his toddler daughter, and has been in prison ever since. But Richard's legal team doesn't think he did it, and at this stage neither does Brooke, who is independently producing this series with the support of Richard and his team (Richard himself is not totally sure how a podcast works, but he does know they can have, in his words, "power"; Adnan Syed is housed in his block). Brooke is an amateur in almost every aspect of this effort, so the quality of what she's produced here is impressive, as is her passion for her subject. We're one episode in, with more to come bi-weekly.
Gateway episodes: Ep 1 - A Story Worth Telling (24 Apr 2017)
Strangers / Lea in Trumpland: Alicia
Politically Re-Active / Michael Skolnik on Being a White Woke Guy
Who Weekly / Fyre Fest & Danielle Jonas?
Stoner / 6: Charlie Warzel
Here Be Monsters / HBM077: Snow on Date Trees, then on Pines
The CBC Doc Project / 'The smartest, funniest person you know is dead'