Well, this week on This American Life we meet some Last Men Standing, these men–who, of course aren’t always men–find themselves going against some kind of grain.
The first and perhaps most important act this week is both topical and timeless as it deals with one juror from the recent trial of Rod Blagojevich. While it was clear that old Rod was involved in some pretty dastardly deeds, one woman on his jury did not believe that his actions were akin to a criminal conspiracy. As a result of holding steadfast to her opinion (an act which is essentially the very definition of jury service) she was intimidated by other jurors, badmouthed by other jurors and judged by the country at large. Now, of course it’s problematic that jurors in public trials come under such scrutiny as a result of the 24-hour news cycle in this country, but in the post Casey Anthony world, there seems to be a bigger problem at play.
Act I ends with the juror talking about a woman she knows who sat on the jury of a death penalty case and folded under pressure by convicting the man against her judgment, which she has regretted it ever since. In the recent plea deal of Damien Echols, the state of Arkansas offered up the actual real life equivalent of a Get Out of Jail Free Card in order to avoid hearing newly gathered evidence for Echols’ case. Among them, was an attorney’s testimony that during the trial, he received calls from a former client who was sitting on the Echols jury, telling him about the trial (which is illegal) and his perceived mission to convince all the other juror to “fry” Echols.
The problem with the post-Anthony zeitgeist is they are out for blood. A New York Times op-ed piece after the trial which dubbed us “a nation of CSI watchers who expect too much evidence in order convict,” spread like wildfire and has been adopted by many media personalities including Howard Stern. This mindset only worsens the problem. Thankfully, the system works in such a way that a lone hold out makes all the difference.
In Act II we meet a man who one day, out of nowhere decides he’s going to be the next Conan O’Brien. He creates his own series out of his own house, his wife playing his sidekick, and keeps trucking forward until he’s near destitute, and single. What’s interesting about this story, is it reminds us how often we hear the exact opposite kind of story: the lone hold out who makes it in the end. Here, we’re told the opposite, and the only reason why it’s not a spirit-crushing listen, is because this guy was so incredibly deluded to think he could become a talk show host by following none of the already blazed pathways to doing so. One cannot expect to become Al Pacino without ever intending on taking an acting lesson.
Our final act is the story of a college age Mormon girl, alienated at NYU, who becomes obsessed with aliens, specifically she becomes fascinated by the real life story that was the basis for the TV movie Fire In The Sky. If you’re between 26 and 35, you probably saw and still have nightmares about this film because it featured the most realistic alien abduction scene of all time. Elna, our Mormon friend winds up using the real life basis for the film to inform her perceived encounter with god (Joseph Smith? The Angel Moroni?) as a 14 year old girl. The thing about being an abduectee that you hear all the time is that everyone in the abductees’ life ends up thinking they are crazy, which Elna found was quite similar to growing being Mormon at NYU.