Arts & Culture

The Ira Glass Infatuation Post/ This American Life Review: See No Evil

Ira Glass talks about the 25th anniversary of Chernobyl just in time for our art director’s art show commemorating the disaster. Both are discussed. Read More

By / April 6, 2011
Jewcy loves trees! Please don't print!

Most timely is this week’s meltdown-centric TAL, See No Evil, (not only because Bambi is taking a break for a few weeks to help Jewcy’s art director Margarita Korol with her art show commemorating the 25th anniversary of Chernobyl) but in recent weeks a Japanese version of Chernobyl disastrously pulled us back to 1986 all over again. Ira focuses attention on human rights and our responsibilities to them as individuals and as political systems. When faced with a chance to stand up, is burying your head even an option?

Act 1: It’s disturbing it’s disgusting it’s horrible…but we want to talk to him.

When a mother goes missing, police do not spend resources searching for her but rather focus their case on convicting a brother of murder. Just as Soviet anger toward totalitarian leaders was tempered with deep-seated popular respect, the family of the brother who was outed for his crime cannot grasp black-and-white emotions for him. But family loyalty can only tint your glasses so pink before you realize it’s blood you are looking at.

Act 2: What would you call this, Soviet paganism? Live sacrifice?

That authorities in Fukushima went the way of covering up, briefly, the extent of radioactive devastation was the most devastating part–it showed that the people within the system were truly alone–that containing mass overreaction trumped protection of the masses–that the individuals’ choice to evacuate was taken away from them. It was, exactly, the conclusion arrived at in the USSR.

The worth of the individual in the Soviet Union was that of a cog in the system–sacrificial in the face of systematic upkeep. In this act, the TAL team provides a valuable gift in bringing us readings from Svetlana Alexievich’s Voices from Chernobyl, probably the most important account of the disaster, the one most committed to glasnost.

“The Soviet system just wasn’t set up to handle the truth.”

“There wasn’t any information–there were rumors.”

“People turned out to be worse than I thought.”

“Everyone found a justification for themselves, an explanation.”

“I found out the frightening things in life happen quietly and naturally.”

“Reading the book,” said Ira, “You realize that not acknowledging just how dangerous the plant was, just how dangerous the situation was, you realize that was just part of the Soviet system.” As personal agency is replaced by that of a higher power in this climate of totalitarian neglect, the physical deterioration that comes of radiation poisoning is mirrored in the devolution of the self. The inability to be a “good person” as described in the first excerpted reading carries heaviness sometimes, but mostly private denial that matches that of the regime.

Act 3: They are there to keep honest people honest.

It’s difficult to transition to a third, more lighthearted act on the Kennedy Center’s gift shop after that, but maybe I just like to suffer. Actually, I’m suspicious that this act about Detective Loveless and retail thievery with the moral “we are going to take things from each other when we have a chance” is in efforts not to depress listeners, aka, allow them a little denial. But hey, in the name of happiness, whatever works.