Arts & Culture

The Ira Glass Infatuation Post/This American Life Roundup: “American Limbo”

Thanks, Ira, for giving yourself to the people for hard cash and a good cause this week via particles and in your usual form over the waves. People in person at this Sunday’s Town Hall event with Rachel Maddow raved … Read More

By / September 1, 2010

Thanks, Ira, for giving yourself to the people for hard cash and a good cause this week via particles and in your usual form over the waves. People in person at this Sunday’s Town Hall event with Rachel Maddow raved about dialogue between the two that zoomed in on metajournalism, revealing tactics for choosing stories that hit Americans’ hotspots while also confirming the 2005 New York Mag article, "Ira Glass Agrees That He Looks Like Rachel Maddow." The This American Life episode on American Limbo tracks an equally niche-y perspective of American lifers that neither fit the populaces from which they derive nor those in which they reside, "Living in limbo, somewhere in between two set-out lifestyles." The cultural fugitives, however, exhibited some of the finest human qualities only found otherwise in familiar hotties with radio bodies. "America could be heaven, it could be hell," utters Ira, one of the many dichotomies harassing your surreal membranes this week. Tell me how it is, darling.


Act 1: People are basically beast.

If American Life were a brothel, this decade-old act would be the elite Madame of the house. This aged beauty reigns supreme even today as Ira brings us back a still apropos story of the West Virginia hailing Jarvis family, fugitives from their tax-free 140-acre "never-never-land" after a popo helicopter discovered their cabbage patch of reefer madness. 

After that, they immediately went on the run from their isolated haven. "We just left…we took nothing with us, the kids didn’t have shoes on their feet. We just walked out of the house and that’s it." Radio leaves much to the imagination, and I can’t help but paint liquid eyeliner à la Bonnie on the XY Jarvises. And what better place to romanticize than a sex column?

Living in limbo but with plenty of spirit, the fam cultivates enormous creative energy. From furniture-making skills Pops taught back in the sticks, the crew of eight live a rich life while packed into the hull of a boat on jacks in a lot that they were restoring as a future home. "They’re all beautiful…if there were a movie version of the story, it would be the first in which Hollywood actors were less attractive than the originals. Incredibly talented, they’re unfailingly polite, goodnatured and thoughtful, they seem to have no familiarity with adolescent angst, and that for years they emerged this way, each morning radiant and glowing, from within the hull of a half built boat on jacks in a grapple repair lot. You could see why people were impressed." It’s an American dream that is far more voluptuously successful than our status-conscious mothers would ever admit.

Eventually however, like Clyde, foxy dad was brought down by the law and arrested for two years by the FBI for his innocuous weed crop he grew for personal use for himself and his wife diagnosed with cervical cancer. After being a commendable American family raising the most emotionally intelligent children featured on public radio, the American Jarvis family was screwed harder by the American government than a wikiSwede by two Swedish broads.


The 21-year-old son of the fugitives is a lively one, with a hell of an opinion. I’ve never been so psychologically turned on by a younger man.While all the politicians, editors, and talking heads of the planet will brush off the issue as too risky to be part of their platform, Ira went ahead and did it. And for him and Mr. Jarvis, I kneel to commend the peace-loving gentlemen who "know the difference between right and wrong" in living this American life as best as they can.

Conveying a somewhat historic monologue on primitivism, and what exactly is morally right and wrong, little mister Jarvis says:

There’s not two different rights and there’s not two different wrongs…well, what I see as being wrong is what has happened to my dad. That’s what I see as being wrong. You know, they can come into your house with guns and point the guns at you and take what’s yours and do whatever they want. They can come into your house and stomp their cigarette butts out on your carpet and they can pull all your clothes out and throw it on the floor and they can go through your cabinets and dump flour and oatmeal and everything on the floor just to make a mess–it’s not like you’re hiding something in the oatmeal. Why do they need to do that? And they can kick out your doors and break out your windows and they can put anything they want in their pockets.

And for what reason? Because he grew some marijuana and smoked marijuana? Did he force anybody else to smoke this marijuana? No he didn’t. Was he shooting anybody over this marijuana? No he wasn’t. He was teaching us kids how to build furniture and how to be real men. And he had time to do all that because he smoked the marijuana and he had time to sit and think about what he had to do. So what happened to him was wrong. That’s what happened to him. The wrong thing. What he was doing was right.

I couldn’t paraphrase any better than countryboy said it, and I’m delighted Ira gave it sloppy seconds in Ep. 177.

If my Ira Glass meter hadn’t burnt out past Shvitzing already, it would definitely be on fire now like a Pinto engine at a stoplight.

Act 2: He had been born in New York, but he had no memory of it; Paris is the only home he knows.

"The trouble with mental catch is that the ball changes, in midair, into another." Expatriate Adam Gopnik living in Paris takes bedtime stories to another level. American enculturation hits the mound with bat and ball as he tries to teach his son a little something via lingual Americana, and discovers much about their differences along the way.

Telling of an underdog Rookie kicking ass in the end is so effing hot. Filled with imagery of grizzly, strong men and actual talent with a touch of trickery that wins out in the end, I have no idea how Gopnik’s son could fall asleep through that. Thinkin’ of sleeping with the man described? Not a wink. An explanation for Luke’s Z’s is a Freudian one: in Big Chief he saw his mothah.

Act 3: We had to do an ethnographic film and we decided to shoot drag queens and it was like the best thing ever.

Speaking of moms, another oldie act floats in the TAL aether with Chicago girl Silvia who trades in her mother’s expectations to live out a likely Mexicana fate as teenage suburban mom for artistic pursuits instead. "I’m not like my cousins, my cousins are 19 and pregnant, is that what you want me to do with my life?" she questions of her mother. "I’d be miserable."

Lucky girl though, who originated from "an all-ghetto school where everybody speaks Spanglish and loud music is blaring out the window 24/7," scored Ira Glass as mentor and fled to Rochester for graphic design school where, again, she felt an outsider. Of her peers she says, "It’s obvious that they went to better schools than I did. I don’t even bother telling them I was one of the top kids in my class. What are they going to say, ‘You were? What the hell happened?’" A lonely existence for sure, but sacrificing status quo and blazing one’s own trail can turn out to be the moneyshot.


"The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself." – Friedrich Nietzsche