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This American Life

Okay, I do not listen to NPR. I know I should--I know that it's probably full of really important things that would boost my hipster cred, solidify my proud liberal stance, and make me a significantly better person--but I just can't seem to do it. I have tried, I swear, but...I get so bored. When I listen to the radio, I don't really want to be edified. I want to dance around my kitchen and sing "Don't stop believin'!" at the top of my lungs or do a really embarrassing dance to Britney Spears. I am part of the generation about whom Kurt Cobain sang, "Here we are now--entertain us!" I don't know, I guess I feel the same way about NPR as I do about dark chocolate: there are lots of reasons I should like it, on paper it's perfect, lots of people I admire and respect like it...I just happen to hate it.

However, I thought maybe my problem was that I don't like listening to things. I can't listen to books on tape for the same reason: I can't focus. Perhaps if I watched the show it would be better. So the other night I sat down and checked out the first three episodes of "This American Life" via Netflix OnDemand (I have to say, as a side note--that service is pretty cool. Even though not EVERY movie and show Netflix has is available OnDemand, there are enough shows to keep you busy when you are sick of watching frigging sports). I'm still not sure how I feel about it.

The idea of the show is that each episode has some kind of theme. Ira Glass sits at his desk in some random location and explains to us in nasal tones what the theme is going to be and what the stories of the day are. It appears there is usually a short intro story, and then two longer acts to follow. They're like human interest stories wrapped up in philosophical musings and broader contexts. The story of the family with the cloned bull is not just about this one family and this one bull--it's about the ethics of cloning, about the expectations involved, and about how long you should wait before you admit that something you dreamed of is not going to come true the way you thought it would. The story of the elderly assisted-living home residents who wrote and produced a movie is not just about that group, but about the question of when is it too late to start life over? When do you have to give up on your dreams and resign yourself to the downward spiral of age?

On the whole, the show was interesting (if somewhat more depressing than I would have liked). I am not sure I'd say I exactly enjoyed it, but if the conversations I had with The Boyfriend later are indication, it's certainly an informative and socially conscious show. Like peas vs. potato chips, while "This American Life" is never going to beat out "Survivor" on my DVR rankings, I definitely think it'd be good for me to watch again.

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