There’s a reason I don’t listen to music anymore, and that’s one simple reason: podcasts. People ask me if I listen to music when I run, especially when I run longer, 22 mile runs. I don’t listen to music. I listen to podcasts now — mostly because podcasts are so damn fascinating. When I run, I don’t want to distract myself. I do, however, want to get immersed in my thoughts, and immersed in a story.
Another appeal of podcasts is user experience. You can listen to a podcast anywhere with just a few clicks of a button. For as long as the podcast goes on, you can passively take in information and entertainment.
If I have any idle time, I’m the type of person that needs some kind of stimulation, whether it’s TV or a podcast. Lately, I’ve preferred podcasts over TV, and I listen to podcasts for all sorts of reasons: because they inform me, because they persuade me, because they fascinate me. There’s no one category, but they align with my interests in sports, religion, politics, and current events. Before I leave out the door for work, in the morning, I often download the podcast so I don’t play it on my data plan.
I often look through Apple’s chart of top 100 podcasts to see if there’s anything new and interesting to listen to. The Daily often tops the list of top podcasts, and true crime podcasts also dominate much of the field. But when you scroll through the list, especially in 2021, you’ll also realize how popular Ben Shapiro is on Apple Podcasts.
So without further ado, here are five podcasts I’m listening to right now. You may find them interesting as well, but giving these podcasts a shot might be very helpful.
1. “The Daily” by the New York Times
Every morning, I download the latest version of The Daily, which is a 20-minute podcast on a hot-button current events issue. Hosted by Michael Barbaro, The Daily consistently tops Apple’s chart of top podcasts and has recently explored the trial of Elizabeth Holmes, the situation of evacuating interpreters that worked with the U.S. military in Afghanistan, and the recent earthquake in Haiti.
Most of my friends, who are also in their early to mid-20s, also listen to The Daily on, well, a daily basis. According to Matthew Schneier at The Intelligencer, the audience of The Daily skews predominantly millennial and under 40. My friend asked me if I was your stereotypical white liberal millennial, and that certainly is the target audience of the podcast.
But even my ultra-conservative friend likes The Daily for one reason: the podcast host, Michael Barbaro. Barbaro has a very interesting and dramatic voice. He can make the most boring topics seem interesting by the Doomsday-esque feeling his voice gives to the podcast, although the content can seem depressing as well.
I am aware the podcast voice Barbaro uses might not come naturally, but Schneier says “more than one person I interviewed confessed to harboring a romantic interest in Barbaro based on his voice alone,” which is funny to me. I guess an appeal of The Daily is it makes you feel smarter, especially if you’re part of America’s liberal indoctrination factory like me (my friend’s words, not mine).
2. “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill” by Christianity Today
An underrated podcast is actually made by Christianity Today, which is a leading Christian magazine in America. I actually had low expectations for the podcast because I didn’t think Christianity Today would make a great podcast.
But The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill documents the history of the Mars Hill Church in Seattle, and predominantly the role of head pastor, Mark Driscoll, in the fall of the church. The podcast interviews many religious figures as well as people who were in the Mars Hill Church who were hurt by the church. Many interviewed are not even Christian anymore.
The podcast goes much beyond a case study. It analyzes the systemic issues behind why we gravitate towards charismatic leaders, especially in Protestant churches, and the danger of worshipping young, charismatic preachers like Driscoll before their character equips them to become effective pastors. The podcast indicts the prioritization of talent above character in the ministry.
Like The Daily, host Mike Cosper is a big part of the podcast’s success. Cosper interjects his personal perspectives and commentary in a way that is non-intrusive and is very effective. For any critic of the Church, anyone who has had bad experiences with the Church, and any Christian in general, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill presents a cultural and religious reckoning for America.
“The issues that plague Mars Hill and its founder, Mark Driscoll — dangers like money, celebrity, youth, scandal, and power — aren’t unique, and only by looking closely at what happened in Seattle will we be able to see ourselves,” the podcast’s description says.
3. “Southlake” by NBC News
If The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill presents a cultural reckoning, then Southlake does as well, only from the lens of the culture wars and our current conversation about race. After the murder of George Floyd a year ago and the subsequent protests, America’s reckoning and understanding of race changed completely.
Activists are pushing for change. But the change has come with a backlash, and in suburbs especially. In Southlake, Texas, a backlash against the perceived dangers of Critical Race Theory has manifested itself in two school board members being charged with violating Texas’s open violation law during increasingly contentious school board meetings.
The podcast only has four episodes so far, but they are gripping and fascinating. It starts with descriptions of racially charged incidents in Southlake, including a viral 2018 video of Southlake students saying the N-word and the defacing of a memorial to a Black leader in the community, Frank Cornish.
The podcast documents the experience of Black parents and students in a predominantly white suburb, as well as activists’ struggle to implement a diversity plan to change Southlake. As much energy as there was behind the diversity plan, there seems to be even more energy behind the conservative backlash. The whole situation is still very fluid but indicative of what’s going on in suburbs across America: I could very much see the same backlash happen in conservative families in the predominantly white suburb I grew up in.
Southlake is a harrowing and sobering depiction of how people see two completely different realities of America, especially on the most salient of culture war issues: race. It is well worth the listen.
4. “The Fantasy Football Podcast” by FantasyPros
On a lighter note, I play Fantasy Football with my friends and talk shit almost religiously with them on a daily basis. We follow the daily football news and tinker with our rosters, and no podcast has more in-depth and riveting analysis as the FantasyPros podcast.
I use FantasyPros not just for the podcast, but for analysis of waiver wire pickups I should make and trades I should make. I won’t get into too much detail in case you don’t play Fantasy Football, but this is the best podcast for listening to anything Fantasy Football related.
5. “Nice White Parents” by Serial Productions and the New York Times
Serial is most famous for its first season, examining the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee in Woodlawn, Baltimore County and the possible innocence of the convicted murderer, Adnan Syed.
But I found the another podcast made by journalist Chana Joffe-Walt, Nice White Parents, even more interesting. It’s an analysis of a middle-high school in New York City in a rapidly gentrifying area that gets more white students and white parents. These “nice white parents” who might seem like integrationists from the outside are seen as intruders and barriers to change from the inside.
As someone who teaches in very segregated schools where you can count the number of white students on one hand, I found this podcast very interesting and disagreed with a lot of the blame assigned in the podcast. I thought about what the journalist herself was doing to solve the problem of a lack of resources in our most segregated schools while assigning blame to white parents who send their kids to predominantly Black and Brown schools. I thought about if integration wasn’t the answer in this case, what is?
Of all the podcasts on the list, this one made me question most the solutions I took as gospel. Of course we want integration, don’t we? Well, it’s a little more complicated than that, and integration means different things to different people. The reporting on Nice White Parents is incredibly rigorous and well done, and Chana Joffe-Walt deserves credit for that.
I have disagreed and didn’t like a lot of the hot takes in these podcasts, but they gripped me nonetheless. I recommend you give a couple a listen!
Originally published on September 18, 2021 on Publishous
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