Ira Glass and Failed Narratives

D and I went out to the university and braved the well dressed yuppies and the cold to watch Ira Glass and his one-man show. Peg and John Knoepfle were also there. The show is called Ira Glass–Broadcast Stories and Other Stories. We are both huge fans of This American Life from way back and pretty much all around NPR dorks as well. Kim believes NPR makes you smarter and Ira Glass agreed. He explained how he believed NPR makes you a better person and how he believed that is what the intimacy of radio should do. He also said how he wanted to break that open and create and expand into more of entertainment with radio–to focus what was humorous as opposed to just cold fact or meant to scare or intimidate or shock. He said that was the spark of his first few segments on NPR and then his own show out of Chicago. He also joked he wanted to do the whole live show last night in the dark with only his voice and audio clips and music to capture the intimacy of the voice over the radio as in his show.

And I thought the show would be like another episode of This American Life so I was surprised how much he spoke of narrativity and creating engaging stories to tap emotional empathy. I was surprised how he started the clips himself and added the music with a flair and timing of a maestro conducting. He Also spoke of how he developed his style of anecdote and then analysis or reflection that the show is known for–the idea of creating a suspenseful story to hook the listener. He argued it was working in his show because he gave a large number in terms of research to prove that people who tune in stay tuned in–I think he said average listening time was 44 minutes. He related how he developed this style working for NPR in Washington DC constructing his small segments and later he compared to how pastors joked with him and how this style of story telling has been used for ages in sermons and in churches. He made the point this was done because everyone couldn’t read so preachers created compelling stories with simplisitc rhetoric to capture larger emotional ideas as well as staying grounded and real.

To my enjoyment he also criticized local news and cable news for making the world appear smaller and with less wonder than what he aspires for news and journalism. I use clips from his show in my classroom from time to time and my students consistently have no idea what they are listening to–I feel they are so used to what Ira called “useless narratives” from video games and movies and tv. I hope to give them humor and compelling claims of value and policy. He said no matter the story or genre–short fiction or novels–the idea is to create empathy. He said that is what drives his work and also his interview style. To put yourself in to someone else’s shoes. Also he spoke of how radio can give you more visuals than tv–of course he was joking but that would be the idea of all text–to immerse the reader or listener into a reality or a space of true intimate experience. This is such an amazing idea and something I am sure all failed writers try to bring to fiction. This one anyway.

(Oh and I wonder if he is related to Seymour Glass?)

Published by

john paul jaramillo

John Paul Jaramillo’s debut story collection The House of Order was named a 2013 Int’l Latino Book Award Finalist, and his most recent work Little Mocos is now available from Twelve Winters Press. In 2013 Latino Boom: An Anthology of U.S. Latino Literature listed Jaramillo as one of its Top 10 New Latino Authors to Watch and Read. He is currently a professor of composition and literature at Lincoln Land College-Springfield, Illinois.

Leave a Reply