We must acknowledge TAL for they’ve accomplished in 2012. Sine the beginning of this still-nascent year This American Life has broadcast two episodes that centered upon a particular issue that had for the most part not yet been reported or covered by mainstream media, only to have that issue become the center of the medias attention in the weeks that followed. Specifically I am referring to the Mike Daisy Apple Episode and last week’s Self Deportation episode. From CNN to Bill Maher, the mainstream media took these subjects and ran with them, but only after Ira had his way with them. In all seriousness, both these issues were of utter importance from a human rights perspective thereby proving once more that TAL is more than just a radio show.
Therefore, it was only fair that Ira and co take a break this week with a re-run from long ago. In my reverence, this weeks flashback had me feeling like a member of 30-year marriage, flipping through my wedding album, remembering the person with whom I first fell in love. Oh Ira you were even more bushy back then than you are now! This week’s re-run of this very early (August, 1997) episode served a perfect then and now comparison, reminding us how Ira and the crew have evolved over the years.
Right off the bat the difference was noticeable and the nostalgia came rushing. Within the span of the short intro to this episode, Ira cracks two jokes discussing the world of conventions with a hotel worker and it’s clear that what we’re seeing is a fresher, less confident, but more determined Ira. His voice is on the squeakier side, and the music/quality of the episode, somewhat diminished, all of which helps the atmosphere of the 90’s to just seep into your ears. It’s like watching a film from the early 90’s where just the slightly diminished picture quality, coupled with the Def Leppard music brings one right back to the time, wondering whether they’ll get enough wears out of those MC Hammer pants to make it worthwhile to splurge.
Act I wherein Ira discusses a TV show convention akin to a more authentic version of a Twilight fan gathering, again reminds us of Ira’s talent. The way he reaches out to the guest storyteller, showing utter understanding and empathy for the experience of having to reach out to strangers with whom one has only a single thing in common, this is the Ira who turned TAL into what it is now. Such is the case with ACT II where Pete The Dish Washer (who along with David Sedaris is one of the original and most beloved TAL characters) visits a convention for the Nation Restaurant Owners Association. There, Pete is a fish out of the water, not unlike if The Slice Harvester (infamous pizza-eating punk rock zinester) showed up to judge the Aspen food and Wine Festival. However, he quickly finds himself uncomfortably embraced by the institution. In Act III a man meets his one true short-lived love at a computer convention, specifically a roast for Steve Jobs.
What this episode, when compared to episodes of late reveals, is not that Ira is somehow phoning it in, or putting less effort into TAL than he used to, but that Ira has learned to take a step back and let some of the other members of TAL crew shine. Also allowed to shine are the writers or characters that the show has publicized over the years. While TAL, in the beginning, was about showcasing Ira’s talent as a broadcaster. Ira has now reached Howard Stern-like heights in that world and needn’t prove much more, but it’s nice to hear and oldie now and then to remind us of the man we first fell in love with.