Arts & Culture

The Ira Glass Infatuation Post/This American Life Review: Contents Unknown

This episode is the junk drawer in which three acts relate to each other by way of hidden realities inaccessible to truthseekers due to lapses in history, memory, or rent. Read More

By / February 2, 2011
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Contents Unknown is the junk drawer in which three acts relate to each other by way of hidden realities inaccessible to truthseekers due to lapses in history, memory, or rent. Journalist Ron Rosenberg introduces the topic in explaining the strange British phenomenon of last resort letters. “It’s Kubrik territory–It’s Dr. Strangelove territory.” The open fact that this fail-safe exists seems to make it defunct, says Ira. Such small, safe arenas of truth are the Eden of logic that we strive toward with all our capacities.

Act 1: You’ve got to get up in there like a proctologist

This infamous act on self-storage unit auctions reveals a hoarder’s utopia. Informal bidders have their niches like specialized archaeologists, lotto-eyed dreamers who are seeking their fortunes in other people’s extras, assuming riches in lots that they are not allowed to preemptively explore. Yet, their amateur anthropological skills are impressive to say the least. “Someone’s gotta be on drugs to do this,” unabashedly concludes one auction winner of the previous owners in his makeshift dig upon seeing bicycle spokes mutated with extra limbs made of hangers protruding in ways that make the bike unusable. Meanwhile, one career-storage scoper tells the tragedy of losing his entire life as a kid when his parents chose to buy more drugs instead of paying for their storage unit, a claim that wouldn’t impress most immigrants.

Act 2: The Byzantines had sophisticated mass production techniques thousands of years before the industrial revolution

It’s the sexy story of academics fit for cinema in which Fred van Doorninck and George Bass uncover an era and even create an entirely new field in science, underwater archaeology. Jackpot. The second consecutive act engaged in truthseeking by way of archaeology, the duo discovered the Cairo Geniza of the Byzantine empire in the form of a ship that neither was enthusiastically seeking in the first place or second. And after fifty years, they had found how the ship fit in the global politics of the day, namely connections between church and army efforts and the presence of the mass-producing spirit of Henry Ford. Like Ford and the Byzantines, van Doorninck and Bass developed standards for their field, creating solutions to aquatic explorations still relevant today.

Act 3: The nurses claimed I was the most entertaining psychotic they’d ever had

One of the top TAL acts, no wonder it is on constant replay. David MacLean’s tale is the scariest of the episode, his contents unknown being personal memory caught in vaccine-induced delirium on a yearlong Fulbright in India. Best parts are assumptions made on the parts of Indian authorities, lumping him with troubled foreigners caught up in drug binges. His tabula rasa eventually begins filling in with hallucinations, propaganda, and family memories. “These names mean as much to you as they do to me” sais MacLean, producing a classic TAL mix of comedy and dysphoria that pulls the audience into the narrator’s experience.

It’s easy to relate to his head trips in the real world where Ira and TAL friend Mike Birbiglia were spotted around town by Sunday Paper the other day in the following surreal setup:
As we write this, witty comedian Mike Birbiglia is sitting in his pajamas, behind a Macy’s window, watching Ira Glass of This American Life make a balloon animal. (It’s a poodle.) And why? Because: fabric softener.