At a recent party, a mortgage-banker friend approached, asking me to come on his podcast. I politely declined. ‘What do I know about mortgage banking?’ I protested. ‘I don’t know my ARM from my Fannie Mae.’ I’ve never made my amigo for the sensitive type. His hobbies include drinking tequila like he’s in a worm-eating contest and getting in fistfights at professional sporting events. But he seemed wounded. ‘My podcast isn’t just about mortgage banking,’ he said, ‘it’s about spirituality.’
Here, I was briefly tempted, as I’m more in touch with spirituality than loan originations. (My acquaintances don’t call me ‘White Oprah’ just because I, too, have the occasional licentious thought about Gayle King.) But I stuck by my rejection. For I’ve decided I hate all podcasts, even the ones I like.
This isn’t easily copped to, since most of my friends in the journalism racket — and by ‘friends’, I mean those who’ve not yet read this piece — either have podcasts, or are perpetually on them. So I will not be invited to theirs ever again, a disinvitation I look forward to with greater relish than not being invited to tax audits or gender-reveal parties.
Much like the Great Blog Explosion of the mid-Noughties, when everyone with WordPress and a dream made the sound of one hand fapping (the average blog readership was estimated at one person — likely the blogger), podcasts have achieved such ubiquity that I might even host one or two myself, and just can’t remember what they are or where to report for duty.
The Podcast Scourge has turned the country into such a nonstop jibber-jabbering wind tunnel that there are more than 700,000 active podcasts (or one per every 471 Americans), and more than 29 million podcast episodes. This, up from 550,000 podcasts just last year. And since Serial took off in 2014, studies I’ve fabricated but that should exist show there are now more true-crime podcasts than criminals. Unless we count the crime of unoriginality — in which case, most podcasters could do true-crime podcasts on themselves, thus achieving the Podcast Singularity.
There is much to hate about podcasts. I hate that every other podcaster thinks they need to sound like Ira Glass on This American Life. If Mel Tormé was ‘The Velvet Fog’, Glass is the Nasal Smog that now pollutes our airwaves, complete with emphatic pauses, cloying uptalk and manufactured whimsy. I hate that everyone who’s already had their say feels the compulsion to say more and more. Bill Clinton has a podcast called Why Am I Telling You This? (Great question!) Rudy Giuliani is reportedly thinking about starting an impeachment podcast, when he’d probably be better served thinking about how to stay out of prison.
But mostly, I hate how long podcasts are, the average duration now being 43 minutes. (About the length of time it would take to read an 11,000-word magazine story — if magazines still existed.) I am an extremely busy person. Not with work, necessarily — who needs that kind of aggravation? But as a dutiful media consumer. My Audible books list is infinite. My Netflix queue runs to roughly 700 titles. Though I’m not on Twitter, just monitoring friends’ tweets to watch their careers implode after impolitic remarks can take the better part of an afternoon.
On top of all this, do I really need to make time for Utah Booze News: An Alcohol Policy Podcast? Or worse, do I have to listen to the Obamas’ new podcast (because their speaking gigs and multimillion dollar books and movie-producing deals weren’t enough)? Now, they are teaming with Spotify to produce podcasts that give voice to ‘under-represented’ people. Presumably the three people left who don’t have podcasts.
Just because technology makes it easy for anyone to have their say doesn’t mean that the people who have something worth saying couldn’t fit in a midsize sedan. As my old chum and former Weekly Standard colleague Tucker Carlson, who is paid to dispense his opinions five nights a week on cable news, puts it: ‘We’ve democratized punditry to the point that I honestly can’t think of anyone’s opinion that I’m interested in anymore, including my own.’
Though there is one podcast that’s recently earned my devotion. It’s called The Silent Podcast, a ‘10-minute pocket of stillness in your day.’ You can download it, and ‘listen’. For 10 minutes, nobody says anything at all. I’ve only skipped around, but it seems there have been 106 episodes of utter silence.
I can’t wait to hear what happens next.
This article is in The Spectator’s December 2019 US edition.