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Hello, fellow listeners!

I hope you've had a good weekend, that you stayed safe and sound, and that you have had a good Monday. First, an announcement and a reminder:

The Patreon has a new reward tier! For $5, you can get exclusive access to my listening blog where I post unedited reaction notes to episodes I'm listening to and potentially reviewing, moodboards, special Q&A sessions, random musics, and whatever else strikes my fancy.

No Audio Dramatic on August 19th! It's the Monday after Podcast Movement and I'll be busy recuperating.
CASTING IT BACK - MINI-REVIEWS
I mostly marathoned a bunch of things I should have absolutely finished earlier, so here's a review of two episodes and two entire podcasts.

Pax Fortuna, Through Innocence, Certainty — Part 1 (episode 1): This actual play from Definitely Human (with the same players from the wonderful podcast The Infinite Bad) is an adventure comedy following a bunch of slick merchants in a republic dedicated to the most honest goal: that of making gold. The best part of this opening episode is listening to people improvise snake oil sales pitches on the fly, while helping a young person transport a mysterious box across town; these folks lean into the ridiculousness with gusto, and it makes for seriously enjoyable listening.  [30:12]

The Ordinary Epic, Amends (episode 6): The season one finale to The Ordinary Epic is an incredible ride through fantasy and reality via a complete immersion of roleplayers into their world. This podcast has been on point for this entire season, lush with gorgeous music and sound design, and rife with tense character moments to build up a scrappy little group into a broken family you want to see succeed. This season finale might be some of the best writing of the season. [32:24] 

The Two Princes (entire series): Okay, brace yourself, I finally listened to the newest Gimlet Media podcast and... I liked it. The Two Princes is a youth-focused fantasy adventure, in support of The Trevor Project, follows two princes on a quest to defeat a curse and save their kingdoms and their developing, depending relationship. It bears a lot of resemblance to The Dragon Prince (enough resemblance that I am a little uncomfortable occasionally), but it is an enjoyable romp and the actors clearly enjoyed themselves as well. While it suffers from Gimlet's usual sound design issue--sound effects are clearly very standard, canned sound effects with somewhat unbalanced levels or disappearing in weird places--the script is tightly written and carries the perfect tone for the target audience. [~25:00]

Nym's Nebulous Notions (entire series): This is the newest project from Passer Vulpes, producers of Love and Luck; it follows Nym as she heads into space to explore an abandoned spaceship and uncover the truth behind the mysterious signal she intercepted live on her podcast that investigates government cover-ups and conspiracies. Nym's Notions is warm and enthralling and agonizing in turn, as Nym is such a great protagonist to follow: bubbly and excited, but impulsive and reckless. It's a charming variant of investigative fiction as Nym takes her listeners along with her on her journey, meeting endearing characters and getting all kinds of expectations broken.  [~10:00]
 
CASTING LIGHT: ESCAPISM/ACTIVISM
a person holding an open book looking into a red sunset over the ocean

Not only are people in the United States creating and participating in more protests, the largest protests in  American history are happening right now--in the US, and in the world, as witnessed on March 15 of this year when 1.4 million students across 123 countries walked out of school in a global strike demanding action on climate change. There’s a lot of things at play here, including the rise in authoritarian and non-democratic regimes in power and the push for using digital platforms to organize protests and disseminate information (for instance, as seen in an uneven distribution of success throughout the Arab Spring). And if there’s one refrain I hear a lot in times of political and social turmoil, even from inside myself, it is this: “why are you engaging with and creating fiction? Create real change and get your head out of the clouds!”

For those of us whom these sentences stir something angry and inconsolable inside, take a moment. I know from experience that these comments may have worked their way into our subconscious mind without meaning to. And that's okay.

Fiction has long been a leader in forging and organizing change (not always for the better, to be honest) and exploring a conversation between the privileged and the marginalized, the past and the future. Walidah Imarisha, in a powerful keynote from 2018, states “Science fiction as a genre doesn’t just allow you to throw out everything that’s possible.  It demands it!” and then goes on to describe themes such as that of empowering racial justice in the instituting of new dreams. Star Trek’s Uhura helped relieve racial tensions at least to some degree (and inspired technology such as the cell phone); 24 impacted the United States' policies on torture; the changing realites of the climate have inspired the genre of climate fiction.

These are only some of the true to life events and analyses I could cite from within the past forty or fifty years. A lot of research has been done on symbolic annihilation--a term in social science and media criticism to indicate the underrepresentation of marginalized peoples that maintains social inequality. (You can read more about it here). Essentially: the more people see themselves represented in media and the more people see positive representation of people different from themselves in that same media, the better we can do things like buck stereotypes, foster understanding, and empower oppressed groups. The power of fiction in this sense is well-documented.

But what about the activists who get told that they’re wasting their time enjoying fiction? Or the critics who are told to do something more meaningful with their skills? Or even the creators who just want to explore, dive into another world, and build beautiful things from only a thought? I honestly don’t think I would have survived into 2019 like I have without escapism, a word often associated both with extreme privilege and extreme negligence. 

These takes lack nuance.

This brilliant essay from Kelly McCullough (content warning for mentions of suicidal ideation and mental illness, including schizophrenia) discusses the role of escapism in saving lives during times of extreme stress. It says what I want to say much better than I can, so I’m just going to elaborate a little here on his (accurate) comment that criticism of the arts as “escapist” comes from a place of privilege (focusing briefly on data for the United States and the United Kingdom).

The current times in the United States are a source of significant stress for Americans; in particular, for Gen-Z and people of color and especially Black adults. In 2018, about 74% of the UK stated they had been overwhelmed or unable to cope at some point in the past year. This all probably comes as zero surprise; tell me what else is new, right? In psychology, the term minority stress refers to the stress and anxiety that accrues over time in marginalized individuals that suffer from systematic and consistent interpersonal prejudice, oppression, and discrimination; this eventually leads to poor and failing mental and physical health. (This is a well-researched field of study and honestly, the Wikipedia article is a great place to start finding references if you want to read a variety of studies.)

In what universe would you not want to escape that reality? Stress is alleviated by things like a vacation, but these same groups are often financially unable to afford a physical vacation--so they take the one that comes in a book, or a movie, or a TV show, or a podcast. It’s less expensive, and also has longevity, as there is little to no time limit on potential repeated exposure. How many of us have read the same book over and over again, or listened to the same podcast ten or fifteen times because it is a comfort? Accusing someone of being unwilling to engage in bettering society because they want to listen to a romcom podcast is not only a deeply ignorant statement, but an unkind one.

I am a language rights advocate and an activist; I work in activism-oriented academia and networking in order to help my communities. I am highly privileged in some senses, and underprivileged in others, and I still have work to do in unpacking those things. Without the escape of fiction, I would have burned out a long, long time ago. If you ever hear that voice telling you that you shouldn’t be enjoying your science-fiction sitcom in a far-off space station, tell it:

“Hey. I know you’re worried about the world, and how it will affect us and the people we love. There’s a lot to worry about. But I need some time to recharge, and I can’t do that here. Let’s talk later about making a plan, or what to tackle next.”

Be gentle with yourself, and with others. We need balance in all things--do engage actively in challenging yourself and your family and your communities to do better. But also, take the occasional vacation and go to a country that has too many apostrophes in the name. We’ll be ready to grow and fight some more when you come back.

ARTICLE HIGHLIGHTS
headphones on a dirt path with a shadow figure walking away
Archives: Escape the Garbage Fire of Reality
Podmass: The Museum at Tomorrow
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! Perks at my Patreon include a super fun Patrons-only blog!
 
Patreon Ko-Fi
NEWS CLIPPINGS

The Van is crowdfunding for their next season on IndieGoGo.
The Fall of the House of Sushine is crowdfunding their third season on Kickstarter.
CovenCast: A Disaster's Guide to Magic has a casting call out (which you can find at this link) and are specifically looking for women of color to audition. Auditions are open until July 16th.
RadioPublic's newest updates include Spanish-language support for their podcast website tools.
Radio Drama Revival is looking for a social media manager. Applications close July 15.
International Podcast Month is crowdfunding on IndieGoGo for their second year, which has blossomed in variety and quantity of audio, participants, and articles.
RECOMMENDED READING
This New York Times Opinion piece, on needing more critics of color, hit home for me.

This is a great interview with Drew Ackerman of Sleep with Me, talking about dreams of all kinds.
BY THE WAY,

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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