Arts & Culture

This American Life Ira Glass Man-Fatuation Post: Adventure

Ira gets a bunch of authors to tell tales of adventure. How did it work out? Read More

By / October 12, 2011
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This week’s episode of This American Life certainly seemed like it was going to be a big barrel of fun and laughs.  What could be more jovial than an episode with “Adventure” as a theme.  In fact, it’s such so straightforward that it almost seemed too basic for TAL.  The intro took on the problem of space travel, and a contest that puts everyone to the challenge of coming up with the best way to reach the most far away stars.  Essentially it’s like that robot wars show on Comedy Central (did anyone watch that show?) but with journeys into the stars.  Turns out the most sophisticated space travel technology that’s currently being developed, works exactly the same way as a sailboat, or a schooner.

Act I completely blew the notion that this episode would be fun and light out of the water.  An American man living happily in China, accidentally head buts a guy during a soccer game and is put in jail for the crime.  I was immediately reminded of the movie Enter the Void wherein an American kid in a far away country becomes the target of the police and ends up being shot while trying to hide from the cops.  Of course, this story took place in China as opposed to Japan, and the guy in the story simply head butted a guy by accident, whereas the kid in the movie was selling ecstasy.  Nonetheless, the TAL story about life in Chinese prison was seemingly intended to be surprisingly lighthearted, but it wasn’t.  Just because you manage to make jokes and compete in a poetry slam during your time in prison (actually it was more of a haiku slam) doesn’t mean it’s a walk in the park.  Sure, they made up a fun little rhyme about the guy who was eventually executed, and laughed when our protagonist had the misfortune of wearing the underwear of one his fellow prisoners that happened to have a diseased penis, but none of this washes away the seriously poor fortune of spending eight months in jail when you could have spent 2 grand and gotten out right away.  What an adventure!  Interestingly, we learned that people in other countries don’t believe that America put a man on the moon (talk about synchronicity between acts!)

“Do you ever find yourself missing it?” Ira asks.  Turns out that he does.  Maybe we should ask Amanda Knox the same question.

Act II turned out to be a series of short appetizer style stories.  Quickly it became clear that Act II was the This American Life version of fireside camp out ghost stories, only sans ghosts.  The first story was about a girl who, while boating on a lake, hears someone knocking on the bottom of her boat.  The next story was a “pirates out for treasure” story with a hero named “Stinktooth.”  Is it me, or has the whole “dead tooth” thing feel especially de rigueur?   In the end, the pirates kindly pulled Stinktooth’s dead tooth and the entire story winds up being a mediation on French culture.

The mélange of quick stories by notable authors (Dave Eggers among them) was a definite aberration from what we expect from TAL.  Is TAL getting all meta by adventuring away from their from their format?  Until next week, bonswa mon amis.