San Francisco’s Spider-Man burglar was remarkable. He dropped into buildings from skylights, leapt 10 feet from one roof to another. But mostly, his talent got him into trouble. This week, his story, and stories of other undesirable talents.
Also, Zora Bikangaga is an all-American African-American who grew up in a lily-white suburb of Fresno, California. When he started college, he decided to prank his roommate by pretending to be an African immigrant, using an accent borrowed from Eddie Murphy in “Coming To America,” and stories from his parents, who are Ugandan immigrants. He figured he’d give it up after a few minutes. But the roommate bought the prank, as did the new friends he met in college, so he just kept doing it.
And ballet dancer Wendy Whelan explains the undesirable part of having a talent for dance — or athletics too for that matter. You have to give it up young.
Deep End of the Pool, This American Life: “Host Ira Glass talks to Aaryn Zhou. When she was nine, her father threw her into the deep end of pool to teach her to swim. In this classic sink-or-swim scenario, she sank.”
Also, a flamboyant Louisiana lawyer with no criminal law experience is ordered by the court to take on the defense of a man facing 20 years to life for burglary. How is this not a movie?
“This week, stories about people trying their best to turn themselves into something else—like a badger. Or a professional comedian, in a language they didn’t grow up speaking,” on the This American Life podcast.
Scientist Charles Foster wanted to get into the heads of animals, so he did it by spending weeks trying to live life as a badger, sleeping in a burrow and crawling around on the forest floor with his eyes blindfolded, getting by on just his sense of smell. And he ate what badgers eat — worms.
Also: “French comedian Gad Elmaleh is known as the Jerry Seinfeld of France. He sells out arenas. Gets recognized on the street. But he’s deciding to give all of that up to try to make it big in America. In English, which he hasn’t totally mastered. And what’s funny in French, to French people, is not the same as what’s funny in English, to Americans.”
And a New York terrier tries to rediscover his roots as a rat-hunter.
Some information is so big and so complicated that it seems impossible to talk to kids about. This week, stories about the vague and not-so-vague ways to teach children about race, death and sex – including a story about colleges responding to sexual assault by trying to teach students how to ask for consent. Also, a story about how and when to teach kids about the horrors of slavery and oppression in America.
No kidding, I had my heart in my mouth listening to the final segment. I was walking the dog in the park in the afternoon around people and I nearly had tears in my eyes for this:
About that Farm Upstate
While it’s hard to explain to kids how babies come into the world, it might be harder to explain that people leave the world too — especially to a kid whose mom or dad or brother or sister has died. There are grief counseling centers all over the U.S. that cater specifically to children. Reporter Jonathan Goldstein visited one in Salt Lake City.
Particularly beautiful and sad: Kids who learn, and learn to accept, that their father or a sibling committed suicide.
Lori Gottlieb got a little crush on a magazine writer. She never met him – just knew him from his work and photo and profile in the magazine. So she wrote him a letter and made up a story that they might have met before, at an airport years earlier. She said they’d talked about her ambitions and concerns about the future. It was the kind of intimate conversations strangers can sometimes have in public places, then part ways and never meet again. She wondered (she said in the letter) if he was the man she’d met at the airport?
She admits now that it was a dumb idea. But even back when she did it, she resolved that if he got in touch, and if they hit it off, she’d admit right away that it was a white lie.
To be clear: That conversation never happened. Not with the magazine writer, not with anyone. Gottlieb made the whole thing up.
Months later, the writer called Gottlieb. He said he was in town, wanted to meet her, that he was definitely the man she’d spoken with, and he remembered the conversation vividly.
Stories from faraway, hard-to-get-to places, where all rules are off, nefarious things happen because no one’s looking, and there’s no one to appeal to.
One segment looks at the tiny, remote island of Nauru:
Nauru is a tiny island, population 12,000, a third of the size of Manhattan and far from anywhere, yet at the center of several of the decade’s biggest global events … the bankrupting of the Russian economy, global terrorism, North Korean defectors, the end of the world, and the late 1980s theatrical flop of a London musical based on the life of Leonardo da Vinci called Leonardo, A Portrait of Love.
At the time this segment aired in 2003, the island, once a tropical paradise, had been strip-mined for phosphates, made home to hundreds of terrorism refugees living in camps worse than Guantanamo Bay.
This American Life tells stories about people who revisit past decisions, including a story it did a year ago about a groundbreaking study that was discredited, but seems to have some truth to it anyway:
A year ago, we did a story about a study that found that a simple 20-minute conversation could change someone’s mind about controversial issues like gay marriage and abortion. But a few weeks after we aired the story, the study was discredited. A couple of researchers decided to redo the experiment the right way, and released their results this week.
The initial study was done in two parts, with political canvassers gathering data about their methods and a researcher compiling it. The researcher was discredited, but the initial data is still good. A new researcher looked at the findings and determined:
… a single approximately 10-minute conversation encouraging actively taking the perspective of others can markedly reduce prejudice for at least 3 months.
This American Life played tapes of the canvassers’ work. Changing minds starts with respecting the perspective of the person who disagrees with you.
Comedian Chris Gethard has a new podcast called Beautiful Stories by Anonymous People, where people can call in to talk to him about anything for an hour. Our editor, Joel Lovell, tells us about his favorite episode thus far – featuring a man who calls in desperately seeking Chris’ guidance.
And this cringeworthily hilarious segment:
Senior Producer Brian Reed tells Ira about a book entitled “Now I Know Better,” where children write cautionary tales recounting horrific accidents they’ve endured. He also interviews one of the book’s contributors about his childhood mishap.
On July 1, “This American Life” became independent, leaving its distributor of 17 years, Public Radio International, or PRI.
That change is partly technical. The program is no longer delivered to local stations through public radio’s satellite system, but instead over the Internet through the online platform PRX, the Public Radio Exchange.
But the big impact is financial. Gone are a distributor’s financial guarantees, which in the case of “This American Life,” reached seven figures. Instead, Mr. Glass will now be responsible for the show’s marketing and distribution, as well as for finding corporate sponsors. It’s the equivalent of Radiohead’s releasing its own album “In Rainbows,” or Louis C. K.’s selling his own stand-up special — except all the time, for every show. It’s the kind of move that can signal radical changes in the public radio firmament, with National Public Radio and other distributors wondering who, if anyone, may follow suit, and whether Mr. Glass will return if he fails.