Arts & Culture

The Ira Glass Infatuation Post/This American Life Review: Say Anything

Ira Glass takes us through communication 101. Read More

By / January 5, 2011

Say Anything,” says Ira in an episode that delves into Public Communication 101. I once walked out of a comm course on the first day after the professor proclaimed that not communicating could be beneficial. How could this be? Communication puts the undisclosed on the table, allowing less unforeseen variables in difficult situations. This inability to shut the fuck up welcomes an hour pow-wow debating the subject with Ira as he asks, “What is talking good for anyway?”

The episode’s prologue features author Neil Chesanow of the now camp-worthy Please Read This Now: How to Tell the Man You Love Things You Can’t Put into Words, an early self-help book of the 80s that not only facilitated communication, it did the talking for you. Ira observes the underlying socializing factors: Getting the words right might fix something; The women for whom the book was targeted had bigger issues in their lives beyond getting the words right.  By the sounds of this dialogue, communication allows progress to thrive. Say anything? Yes.

Act 1: I should have checked out around noon I guess

In an attempt to keep his friend alive, Jake Warga’s recording is a self-edited tape with compilations of their conversations post-suicide attempt. Eerily, Brian sums up his medical records of the night he was brought in after filling himself with a near-deadly concoction. At the hospital, he said, “I was disappointed to be alive and I had passed out before I took the morphine.” Reflecting on the option of death with a nonjudgmental friend, he explains his persistently consistent logic that relentlessly points to choosing death. In high hopes for communication, Jake theorizes that sending an edited track of their convos over a soundtrack of Moby would transmit something about the world to Brian that would make him want to live. This faith in words is like a Jew testing out the waters of Buddhism at a loss for answers: abandoning unsupportive religious faith in which it is difficult to achieve moral goodness and to find happiness, they try to rationalize solace in the idea that all we have is now. Should Jake’s attempts at connecting (by way of furthering his own audio communication skills at transom.org) be judged by the fact that he did not succeed in detouring Brian’s suicide? Probably not. Say anything? Are we human or are we dancer?

Within the same act, though, especially interesting is Brian’s argument for the selfish life: Is suicide selfish? Just as selfish as therapy is: “You have a problem and you’re doing something about it,” and who else are you living or dying for anyway? The lack of a note explaining his reasons communicates this philosophy as much as his choice to not considerately clean his room before attempting death. The absence of communication is a myth in that a message exists in his censorship all the same.

Act 2: Please don’t take my Rugrats cartoon off the air because I love that cartoon.

Tom Wright’s reading puts power behind Michael Bernard Loggins’s surprisingly poetic list of fears he made at a creative center for mentally disabled individuals. It conveys the limits of a lifestyle within fears concretely, and if the conscious communication of your private limitations is good enough for This American Life, it’s good enough for us.

Act 3: Like Cheerful customer service representatives to a largely indifferent world

TALK TO ME says the sign that bright eyed Liz and Bill schlep to the streets of NYC just to get New Yorkers talking. The various convos, ranging from Jibberlands to layoffs exposes much about the tucked away personal cultures roaming the streets. “Everyone seems like he or she could just burst into a story,” observes Ira.

Act 4: Sure there’s nothing parallel about an old man getting shot in the face and a dear friend getting married…

The shortest yet most poignant act, Liz Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) analyzes a seemingly botched wedding toast for what it is. Just as the instructor announced that communication can backfire at times, Gilbert’s theorizing offers a counterpoint: despite it feeling wrong to cite death penalties after the ting-ting of a champagne glass, at that moment something untamed escaped past the ego and reflected something that is rawly human. Gilbert’s ability to assess that unlikely parallel explains her gift of writing bestselling books that star Javier Bardem and shape pop discourse.

Act 5: The one thing he doesn’t want is conversation.

Jonathan Goldstein, author of Lenny Bruce is Dead, describes a cantancerous old man whose communication skills score him no friends. In attempts to keep buoyent via phone in his lifestyle three floors below his daughter on whom he depends but in whom he does not seek companionship, he becomes a pest. Opt for no communication? In efforts to meet needs, better communication is probably the answer.

The verdict: Say anything, even if you have to do it with music.