Tuesday, January 25, 2011

seeing what you're hearing

I've sat through a good many sermons in my life so far. I also know enough about public speaking to know there are tricks and tools for manipulating how a listener will emotionally respond to a speech or lecture.

One of the most sinister is used by lecturers, storytellers and Baptist preachers. It is the light left hand jab followed by the hard right knockout punch. You may know it better as starting off with a joke. The idea is to get the listener to let down their guard by allowing themselves to laugh and enjoy the moment and then, just when they relax, you level them with the main point of your speech. It's so cruel. And still so effective.

Though I've heard this tactic all my life (and probably used it once or twice myself) I still fall for it time and time again as a listener. Which brings us to This American Life and Ira Glass.

I think I've mentioned that my forward thinking wife bought me an iPod way back when no one really bought iPods or knew how cool they were. This was so far back in time that when I unwrapped the gift I was afraid she'd be very sad when I didn't use it at all. It had a black and white screen and only played music if that helps you date it.

But with commuting being a huge part of my life then (and now) I learned to love the iPod fast. Sure it held all my music and I didn't have to switch out CDs anymore but there was also the discovery of Podcasts. This American Life was one of the first ones I subscribed to and I've listened to it every week since.

Each week when Mr. Glass creeps out of my speakers I hope it's going to be a good one. Of course all of them are not good. I know it's helpful when they explain the economy and all that but I grew up on Sesame Street and I need my education to be entertaining. I'm mostly kidding about that, but I do love the funny ones. Molly and I agree that the "Frienemies" episode is the best ever and I laughed the entire hour that week.

I should be clear though. There are episodes that are deadly serious and very compelling at the same time. Those are good but they bum me out. And the thing that gets me is that Ira will come on with his comforting voice and he'll set you up with this goofy and light hearted introduction. I'll smile as I drive along thinking, "this is going to be a good one" and the next thing I know he's talking about something as dark as the devil's black socks. He sets me up and then he knocks me down and I fall for it every single time.

This all came to mind because you can now see 30 minute episodes of This American Life on TV for free. There's a channel called Current TV and I would guess they have a website where you can find a channel number and a schedule. These are the same ones produced by Cinemax a few years ago so if you saw those you'll be seeing them again.

I gotta be honest, I'm not sure I feel all that great about the TV shows. It may have to do with my southern resistance to change and the fact that for years now I've only known the show by ear. I've always had to picture the people and images in my mind and that's been a huge part of the experience of listening. But I still watch them. And I even still fall for the humor laden setup only to be knocked flat moments later. What can I say? People use it because it works so well.


mwise said...

oh Ira, I love him so.

Java said...

Ira's voice is deceptively comforting.