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Hello, fellow listeners!

I hope you've all having a great weekend (and likely a long one if you're in the United States). Buckle up, because today's issue is a ride, and keep an eye on those news clippings. Lots of crowdfunds and festivals happening around the world, and I highly recommend checking them out!
CASTING IT BACK - MINI-REVIEWS

Academicasaurus, Hideaway (episode 2.1): The quirky, sarcastic, and chill-inducing podcast is back for its second season, starting with every graduate assistant's dream: hiding in a closet away from students. While still highly a highly relatable gentle mocking of being an underpaid lecturer or librarian, this episode immediately gets its foot in the door with the weird and unexpected, so prepare to grapple with your feelings again, folks. [19:02]

Point Mystic, The Secret of Point Mystic, Pt. 6 (episode 2.6): The second season of magical realist horror Point Mystic has somehow been even better than the first. The sound design is deeper and richer, the stories are woven tightly together and are as intimate and revealing as they have been before, and the emotional payoff in this episode will bring tears to your eyes. [41:37]

Fan Wars: The Empire Claps Back, Wet N' Wild (episode 8): Don't be fooled by the length here; these bite-sized episodes pack a hilarious and emotional punch. This mid-season finale is The Moment in the romcom when it all goes wrong for the first time, and it does not play lightly with why. Stay tuned after the credits for a very simple sound design choice that will rip your heart out of your chest.  [5:31]

Arca-45672, Last Days on Earth & The Manu (episodes 1 & 2): If you have to pick one new space-based podcast to pick up, make it Arca-45672. A mission team is dispatched to deal with humanoid creatures and mysterious space substances on a lush, strange planet. Rich and immersive sound design, both in effects and music, brings the otherworldly nature of unexplored space to life.  [35:13 & 32:39]

Echo Protocol, The Debate (bonus episode 1): Echo Protocol is a difficult listen, not because it's a political thriller hearkening back to the 2016 United States presidential election, but because the echoes of our reality are loud and familiar and hard to grapple with. "The Debate" is a prequel, live-recorded episode of a the finale presidential debate between the Democratic incumbent and Republican candidate; it's not easy to present rhetoric about welfare and have it be just the same enough to spark recognition, but not so similar as to be unexpected. [22:54]

Everything is Alive, Chioke, Pane of Glass (episode 2.7): If you've been listening to Everything is Alive for a while, you might recognize Chioke from the first season. In his newest incarnation after being a grain of sand, interviewer Chillag and Chioke investigate what it means to be transparent, who is really watching between human and animals, and the effect of mortality and death on humanity's treatment of life decisions. This follow-up has more of Chioke's perfect deadpan, and a subtle shift in perspective.  [22:07]

Hero Club, Here There Be Monsters, Chapter 5: The Carnivore (episode 4.5): Hero Club's "Here There Be Monsters" arc is a high-seas animal pirate actual play with rousing original music and robust soundscaping. This is such a great marathon-listen that will, without fail, sweep you away on teeth-gritting adventure while a pirate crew's best score puts them in everyone's sights.  [51:05]

Exeter, The Gun in the Woods (episode 2.1): Exeter is Sundance Now's foray into fiction podcasting; their second season picks up a little after the first leaves off, with two men arrested for a rash of murders they have confessed to. The acting in Exeter is what cinches this podcast, especially the skill found in lead Jeanne Tripplehorn, who plays police detective Colleen as her investigation reveals links to an unsolved crime and her own family. Exeter is for lovers of the kind of noir that unravels in a deep, desolate environment. [33:38]

Works of Love, To My Mother, From Your Son (episode 2): The first three episodes of this new podcast are about love, possessing it and losing it. These are intimate personal meditations on different kinds of love, essays ready via the voice of a widower relaunching his wife's radio show as a way to connect with her and with his own grief. This episode hit me sharply in my memories and feelings, when a son says about his mother, "I'm certain some of my pronunciations are a byproduct of her. No matter how far I travel, how far apart we are (for now we are over 4023 kilometers apart) I carry her with me. " Oof, y'all. [10:29]

Constants, Terminal C (episode 1): Constants is an eight-part fiction anthology that opens with a haunting little nugget, voiced expertly by David Magadan, the creator and voice of Directive. Constants bills itself as stories from a "collapsing omniverse"; here, in "Terminal C", we witness on wedding photographer's memory, and his impressions of reality, collapse around him suddenly and without warning.  [20:52]

CASTING LIGHT:
SUBVERTING TROPES
a sword with a gilt gold handle sticking straight up in a field, abandoned

The word “trope” has come to indicate a literary or rhetorical device or motif in creative works, usually ones that propel plot, character development, or fictional design. This can be something as (relatively) harmless as Love At First Sight, a trope where characters instantly fall in love and have a connection in order to jumpstart a romantic plotline. They can also be actively harmful, like using Native American characters as representations of savagery (as found in Westerns or American Gothic horror, for instance).

Tropes, whether harmless or not, have a tendency to belong to the oppressive classes by their very nature. One of the vast-reaching effects of white supremacy and colonialism is the cultural embedding of toxic and dangerous stereotypes and beliefs in literary genres, usually found in "foundational" works that trickled across into their descendants and found root in their creative work. It can be seen in Lovecraft’s influential horror and how he worked his fear of Blacks, Native Americans, and “racial mixing” into the very design of his creatures. It can be witnessed  also in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, where the greedy dwarves are meant to be analogous to Jewish people and evil orcs are racialized stereotypes.

I'm not going to argue here about why it's important that we consider how literature as a sociopolitical tool impacts society and community memory (partially because I did that already). If you want to say the words "stop putting your political agenda into your fiction", this is not the essay for you. What I will say now is that subversion doesn't have to be your main goal, and sometimes it can happen by accident, just by wanting to create something that doesn't use anyone's identity as an implement of malice or by wanting to thrive in a space where you have not before. Purposefully subverting tropes and not subverting them to claim them as your own and find joy in them are both acts of rebellion; they just look different.

These days, the phrasing "subverting tropes" get thrown around with impressive frequency, both because people want to see literature they have been enmeshed in for a long time take on a new life and because things deemed "tropes" have a really bad reputation even if they are harmless. When it comes to, for instance, racist tropes: should we subvert them in the text or should we just extricate them with pencils and picks, until whatever they have infested is clear of their invasive effects?

Ruthanna Emrys, Victor La Valle, and Matt Ruff (to name only a few) have been writing in the eldritch, weird, Lovecraftian horror genre specifically to question and address the racism that is at the root of all of Lovecraft's imaginings. (You can read about Emrys' approach to Innsmouth at The Verge, or listen to La Valle talk about The Ballad of Black Tom on Fresh Air to learn more). These are all books that have, at their core, the rigorous subversion and extraction of systematically oppressive concepts. But you can find just as much of this in a podcast like Unwell, which has done so much work in writing Midwestern Gothic horror that does purposeful heavy-lifting with regards to the portrayal of Native Americans, and also tackles the Gothic's fear of racial mixing, perhaps somewhat accidentally, through casting choices and a desire for equitable representation.

We should not only laud and support works that are purposefully and consciously subverting tropes, but also works that are reclaiming them and finding power and joy in them where previously they had been denied even access. Fan Wars: The Empire Claps Back focuses on the developing relationship between two POC Star Wars nerds, one of whom is a Black woman--people who have long been and continue to be the vicious target of attack in these pop culture communities. This is a story about love, not only the romantic kind, but the love of a fictional universe and its media via both addressing its problems and engaging with it wholeheartedly. It’s also a genuinely fun romantic-comedy that plays with some of the best romcom tropes with people of color as leads in a space where they very rarely get to be leads.

The Once and Future Nerd (TOAFN) is a fantastic, long-running portal fantasy about three teenagers trapped in a high fantasy medieval world. This podcast perhaps did not start out in season one intending to make the kinds of commentary and criticism they are now making, both elegantly and intelligently, in their most current season. As noted by Wil Williams, subversion becomes a theme after some development, luring listeners in with adventure and hijinks and using that framework to root it in real world problems. For instance, in TOAFN, the treatment of orcs within the universe and plotline handles multiple familiar tropes and situations:

  • It targets the racist “othering” in fantasy, especially when creating villainous creatures and cultures — these are often coded representation of civilizations of color (for more on this, head here or here).

  • It is also a skewering of the racist messaging built into fantasy and sci-fi universes where an entire group of people is presented to a lead character as bad, violent, and irredeemable (which is often racist or otherwise prejudiced and bigoted, see above). In these situations, the character believes it without question and it turns out to be true; in other situations, it isn’t true but becomes a “noble savage” situation. Most of the time, the evil horde is just that — an evil horde of dark-skinned orcs that wear bone jewelry and have no redeeming qualities, whatsoever.

  • It speaks to the real world endemic issue of prevalent negative and stereotyped narratives against people of color, and the erasure of the genocides and other war crimes perpetrated against them.

Creating a better, more just and equitable world involves interrogating and investigating the places where these dangerous ideas have taken root, in order to heal and improve. It means passing the microphone and listening to marginalized folks who are writing in those spaces in order to take back and reframe what has been violently used against them, either as a direct critique or as a joyous reclamation. The onus of interrogating and re-examining these embedded problems should not rest solely on the backs of the victimized, but future authors should look to their words in order to inform their own. It means not being afraid to write about characters and situations that are not you own experience, doing your best to do so responsibly, and accepting criticism with both grace and an open ear.

You don’t have to start a project with the main goal being “subvert this genre’s tropes”. You can decide to write something because you have an experience you have not seen before; that, in and of itself, is a kind of subversion, this time of normative conceptions of what certain genres look like. You can decide to write something because it is a space that you love, that you’ve spent a lot of time in, and you want to explore the reaches of your imagination more. Romantic comedies, fantasy, horror, science-fiction (and so on) all need to continue to be explored; nothing has been overdone, in my opinion, because not everyone has gotten to write about it freely and from their perspective and experience. Perhaps the most important thing to do before setting out on an adventure in a genre you love is to educate yourself on what exists within your understanding of it that is rooted in colonialism and oppression, and how you can best not be an asshole. The oppressors of our past should have no further say in how we build our future, and that means both calling them out in and cutting them out from our storytelling, too.

ARTICLE HIGHLIGHTS
painting-photograph of a decaying and abandoned three-story house in the middle of a dead field.
Time Machine: Gothic Horror in "Unwell" from HarLife NFP
QUID PRO EURO in black text on white background. Above, a tiny, crooked, hand-drawn smiley face.
Last week's Podmass: I rec QUID PRO EURO
If you want to see more reviews, interviews, and other articles from me, you can support me at my Patreon, or at my ko-fi account for a one-time donation!
 
Patreon Ko-Fi
NEWS CLIPPINGS

PodTales, a festival in Boston, MA dedicated to fiction podcasts and audio fiction, has exhibitor applications open. They close May 31st! Apply to display your podcast and tell people about it.
Accession, an experiential art history podcast, is crowdfunding for season two, Homeward. The season will follow host Ponders on a road trip across America, interrogating what homes mean and how home is portrayed. Their goal is $2500--let's help them get further!
AIR Media is offering a New Voices Scholarship, which will provide funds to the winner to go to the Third Coast Festival. Applications close May 31st.
Childish: The Podcast Musical is crowdfunding for their launch. A college student wants to become a world-famous rapper, so he becomes an RA and dorm-based hijinks ensue. Their goal is $2000.
Australian festival indiepodfest is crowdfunding via Pozible. This festival in Melbourne wants to celebrate independent podcast and audio production, with panels, discussions, workshops, and live recordings. Closes June 3rd.
The podcast Cryptic has launched a Kickstarter, crowdfunding for their cryptid-imvestigating audio drama. A brother-sister team of podcast hosts have their own mysterious reasons for investigating the legends and proving them true. They're seeking $2000 to produce their first season.
RECOMMENDED READING
For those of you writing speculative fiction, I highly recommend this list of resources on the history of Blacks in speculative fiction literature. Get educated on the history!

While we're in the realm of older essays, this essay by Anjali Enjeti on conforming to the white gaze in literature and the lack of critics willing to grapple with it feels pertinent.

This critique of Broken Harts by Nafari Vanaski is a must-read, especially for anyone who wants to create true crime podcasts. There are a lot of ethical considerations that are often ignored, never mind voices and perspectives involved in cases like this one that are not that of the investigator and end up missing a huge part of the story.
BY THE WAY,

Don't forget that Podcast Movement is happening in August, and the ticket prices go up again June 12th! Wil Williams and I are curating and coordinating the inaugural fiction podcast track and y'all, it's gonna be so good. Fiction podcasts represent!

Also a huge, big, giant thank you to two people for their help with Casting Light today: Amanda McColgan for editing and Michelle Nickolaisen for content editing and providing so much valuable insight (especially in the section on Orcs for The Once and Future Nerd). You should totally check out their work:
  • McColgan's got fiction and non-fiction podcasts and web serials over at Enfield Arts, celebrating the weird and strange about life in Massachusetts. She's also got a monthly podcast curation newsletter; go sign up!
  • Nickolaisen is the creator of two podcasts Unplaced and Serendipity City. Unplaced is a creepily intimate horror story about becoming invisible and forgotten to everyone around you; Serendipity City is a raucously fun 1920's magical dieselpunk actual play.
If you'd like to ask me questions or comments, you can reply to this newsletter (it goes directly to my email!) or reach out to me on Twitter.

Happy listening,
Ely
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Copyright © 2019 Audio Dramatic, All rights reserved.


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