The Fresh York Times
June 30, 2017
The Starlets and Stripes. Fireworks. Apple pie. Podcasts?
O.K., so we don’t necessarily think of the programs that divert from our tedious commutes, that accompany us as we run errands and prepare meals, as a staple of American life. But maybe we should. After all, podcasts are a homegrown medium, one of the newest ways for Americans to share stories that define us.
Below, we’ve gathered scenes that feel thematically adequate for the Fourth of July. Some of them cover iconically American subjects, like ballgames, fried food, guns and cars. Others are historical or political, or just tell us a little bit about where we’ve been and where we may be going. Hopefully, you’ll find something on this list you can love while trapped in traffic over the holiday, whether you’re feeling stirringly patriotic or just a little bit bored.
This American Life: Guns, from one thousand nine hundred ninety seven (58:02)
This American Life: Cars, from two thousand thirteen (1:14:11)
If you accept the premise that “This American Life” succeeds in suggesting meaningful snapshots of, well, our American life, then you’ll understand why it was difficult to stick to one Fourth of July scene. We lodged on two.
The very first, “Guns,” contains several vignettes, most of which attempt to bridge the gap inbetween the feelings of love or fear that guns excite in so many people. The historian Sarah Vowell’s story of bonding with her father over building a gun is not to be missed.
The other scene, “Cars,” is almost seventy five minutes long, focused on one compelling story: a Jeep dealership that will receive a hefty cash bonus if its salesmen manage to persuade their customers to buy one hundred twenty nine cars.
Stuff You Missed in History Class: The Boston Massacre, from two thousand thirteen (28:58)
American history is packed with embellishments, exaggerations and outright fabrications. On “Stuff You Missed in History Class,” Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey take a 2nd look at an event that they say should have been called “the minor Boston kerfuffle with a few unfortunate casualties.” Just one of the many tidbits that emerge: accusations that a British soldier’s failing to pay for his wig stoked the flames that led to the fighting. The entire scene makes for a brisk history lesson that never feels dry or repetitive.
Planet Money: Peanuts and Cracker Jack, from two thousand sixteen (21:29)
Baseball, hot dogs and yelling — three quintessentially American things — merge beautifully in this “Planet Money” gig about baseball vendors, those restless souls who spend their summers hawking snacks and beer. The display introduces us to Fenway Park’s own Jose Magrass, a veteran salesman who considers himself the best of the Boston ballpark’s vendors.
His competitive strategies, and the efforts of a junior rival to catch up, make this one of many “Planet Money” gigs that go beyond the raw economics of the story to gesture at something more joyous.
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Gravy: The Fresh Old Country Store, from two thousand sixteen (26:03)
The food writer Besha Rodell, who was born in Australia but fell in love with the American South, takes a tour of the Cracker Barrel chain, which she calls “perhaps the country’s leading definer of Southern food culture.” As she points out, selling nostalgia is tricky in the region, given its long history of racial injustice, and Cracker Barrel has at times proven itself to be an emblem of the South in less-than-flattering ways. Still, she finds reasons to admire the restaurant and what it stands for, even as she takes a hard look at its flaws.
Whistlestop: Reagan’s Nashua Moment, from two thousand fifteen (13:12)
The inaugural scene of John Dickerson’s podcast contains one of the show’s better stories: the famed “Nashua Moment” in which Ronald Reagan showcased his character to voters by lashing out at a moderator at a Fresh Hampshire debate in 1980.
Mr. Dickerson, the host of “Face the Nation” on CBS, relies on firsthand accounts from the scene to grant insight into one of the more storied moments in presidential campaign history, and his enthusiasm imbues the tale of the future president’s outburst with fresh excitement.
More Flawless: The Imperfect Plaintiffs, from two thousand sixteen (1:03)
“More Perfect” is a podcast about the law, which to many people might seem like a good reason to avoid it. But the show’s selling point is its capability to trace some of the country’s most impactful Supreme Court decisions back to the human stories that informed them.
“The Imperfect Plaintiffs” tells the stories of two cases that had the potential to switch civil rights in the United States. Across, the gig avoids any hint of partisan rhetoric, letting the parties tell their own stories and, in turn, providing a window into the process through which law is shaped.
Home of the Courageous: Najibullah in America, from two thousand fifteen (21:16)
Reporting from Afghanistan in the early 2000s, the journalist Scott Carrier was assisted by a youthful translator named Najibullah Niazi, who had learned English by watching American movies over and over. Years later, when Mr. Niazi’s life was endangered by some of his work, Mr. Carrier helped him apply to Utah Valley University. In this gig, Mr. Carrier investigates Mr. Niazi’s transition to the United States, and in his subdued, almost casual storytelling, manages to stumble upon some profound insights about the nature of freedom.
Song Exploder: Mitski, from two thousand sixteen (14:42)
On “Song Exploder,” musicians take apart their songs to showcase fans how they were built. But in this gig, the indie-rock artist Mitski pays special attention to the lyrics of her two thousand sixteen anthem, “Your Best American Lady.” The track is an ode of unbelonging, a heartbreakingly emotional testament to feeling like an outsider. For many, that feeling is essential to the American practice, and Mitski’s description of the events that inspired her song make this scene feel profound, far weightier than a ordinary discussion about musical mechanics.
State of the Re:Union: Who Is This Man? from two thousand ten (52:52)
This scene of “State of the Re:Union” — a series that usually tells stories of specific locations in the United States — trains its attention on Bayard Rustin, a gay, black Quaker who helped guide the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. toward nonviolent resistance tactics. The show’s host, Al Letson, explains that he was mystified, upon learning about Mr. Rustin, that he had never before heard of such an significant figure. The demonstrate is dedicated not only to Mr. Rustin’s life but to discovering why someone so significant has remained so anonymous.
American Icons: This Land Is Your Land, from two thousand sixteen (21:27)
The journalist Kurt Andersen takes a long look at the song “This Land Is Your Land” and the story of its creator, Woody Guthrie. He finds that the hard-worn pic of the folk icon was partly self-made, that the song itself used to be far more tongue-in-cheek, and that Guthrie was not exactly famous before another folk singer named Bob Dylan embarked to take an interest in him. Mr. Andersen also tracks the spread of the song, which he finds to be “a kind of unofficial national anthem.”