April 1, 2017

"You can’t tear yourself away from the results — especially from the fate of Tyler Goodson, an especially open-hearted and forthcoming subject, who you come to care about deeply..."

"'S-Town' is expertly constructed, by some of the most talented people in the podcast realm. The incidental music is an intriguing combination of strings and handclaps, urging you along, suggesting wistfulness and contemplation; episodes conclude with a lovely Zombies song, 'A Rose for Emily.' In the end, we empathize with almost every character, and find commonalities between them and ourselves. 'S-Town' helps advance the art of audio storytelling, daringly, thoughtfully, and with a journalist’s love of good details and fascinating material—but it also edges us closer to a discomfiting realm of well-intentioned voyeurism on a scale we haven’t quite experienced before. In the past four days, 'S-Town' has exceeded ten million downloads. Whether the Internet and an audience of millions will share the show’s sensitivity toward its subjects remains to be seen."

Writes Sarah Larson in The New Yorker.

You can listen to the series here. I've listened through the whole series once and am an hour away from hearing it all twice. I've thought a lot about what will happen to Tyler. It seems inevitable that less scrupulous people than the "This American Life" team will find him and want to use him for purposes that he may not competently evaluate. He's a young man and — you won't learn this listening to the podcast — unusually good looking. I can't believe there won't be offers to participate in filming a reality show. Wouldn't people love to see that house he's built out of scraps and wisteria vines and a horse trough? Wouldn't people love to hear him talk with Uncle Jimmy shouting "Goddam right!" and "Yes suh!" in the background? What is "This American Life" doing to protect him? What can they do? What should they do?

ADDED: As for the incidental music of strings and handclaps... listen closely to the difference in the music at about 36 minutes into Episode IV V, right after Cousin Rita says "Cut his nipples off — he's dead." The percussion becomes a snippy-snappy sound that — to my ear — was made with some sort of metallic clippers or loppers. [Sorry I had Episode IV, but it's Episode V. And I would begin a bit before minute 36 to hear Rita. The music I'm talking about begins around minute 37.]

18 comments:

Bill Peschel said...

All right, I'll try it. Downloading now....

Stephanie Carnes said...

If S-Town were fiction, we'd say that Tyler's last name was a bit on the nose and that John B. was an excellent facsimile of a Flannery O'Connor character, complete with elements of the grotesque and an ultimate rejection of grace.

Luke Lea said...

Inside the clubhouse is a Samuel Becket play. I've been in places like that before. In fact, my love of those kinds of people inspired me to waste my life the way I have: http://facingzionwards.blogspot.com/

gadfly said...

Althouse asks: "Wouldn't people love to see that house Tyler built out of scraps and wisteria vines and a horse trough?"

Wisteria will never make the Home Builder's Association "hot products" list.

Wisteria is such a fast and strong grower that its vines can destroy the structures on which the plant is growing. Tree trunks can sustain serious damage -- and thinner trunks under 10 inches in diameter can actually die -- from the girdling effects of wisteria growing around the trunk. Houses can be torn apart as wisteria vines creep through cracks and crevices. In an article for the U.K.’s Independent newspaper in 2007, writer Emma Townshend recounted how she’d found that the wisteria she’d planted against her house had grown underneath the roof tiles, displacing enough material to cause a roof leak. The Ohio State University Extension says wisteria vines can also clog gutters.

Pete said...

Listening to episode IV as I read your post and didn't hear the part about Cousin Rita and the nipples until later. And she didn't say it, someone else said she said something about the nipple rings being made of gold. And I didn't hear the music cue you're talking about. Are we listening to the same episode?

John said...

I finished Ep 3 today and have mixed feelings:

1) Is it real? the story seems real but I am wondering about all the conversations we hear. I know that the NPR guy supposedly recorded them but they feel more and more like actors reading a script.

2) It seems creepy as Hell for me to be listening to this, or for it to exist in the first place or for taxpayers to be supporting it. But I can't stop. Its kind of like jerking off. I know I shouldn't, it isn't all great and I know I'll regret it afterward. But I do it anyway.

John Henry

Ann Althouse said...

"Listening to episode IV as I read your post and didn't hear the part about Cousin Rita and the nipples until later. And she didn't say it, someone else said she said something about the nipple rings being made of gold. And I didn't hear the music cue you're talking about. Are we listening to the same episode?"

Thanks for the nudge. I was wrong. It's Episode 5. The talk begins just before minute 36 and the music I'm describing starts around minute 37.

Ann Althouse said...

@gadfly

He doesn't just have wisteria growing on it, I don't think. He's using it as structural material. There's some kind of treehouse, ramshackle look to it.

Ken B said...

Once again I find I am not a good judge of male beauty. But then one of my wives thought that Sharon Stone wasn't pretty.

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

I'm on episode six. I thought maybe I was applying a Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil wash over it, but I called out a gay tension angle in episode one. Given what I know about Southern culture from literature and family members, it seems not uncommon for a young troublesome rascal to have a close mentor/mentee relationship with an older man that is semi-sexual. I noticed that there was that 'ain't trying to get up his butt or nothin' comment, but that's not the same thing. I wouldn't be surprised if Tyler had been persuaded to allow John to perform oral sex on him on occasion, maybe when he was between girlfriends.

Also, I haven't finished, but I have lost my sympathy for Tyler. What a maroon! He brought all his damn trouble on himself. I sympathize with the difficulties of losing your license and having to still earn a living, etc, but come on. It's not that hard to not impregnate people. It's not that hard to call the police when someone steals from you, rather than threaten them at gunpoint with cutting off their fingers. It's not that hard to not carry a gun on you when you break down your baby mama's door.

whitney said...

I've listened to the whole thing too and I found it fascinating and I'm also concerned for the people on the show but this is the world as it is and he has moment to make some real money. Maybe it will go okay and work out for him. Despite that it seems everyone has a chance for reality TV show I still think it's rare. Though it's probably rarer still those that don't want it.

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

Also, I know I'm a fogey, but "about whom you come to deeply care;" the other way grates.

J2 said...

Thinking of "The Executioner's Song".

Linda said...

I listened to the entire podcast yesterday. I have to admit I was surprised by the 'ending' (resolution seems like a better word for the end).. I feel sorry for all the participants, especially Tyler. I realize he brought a lot of his troubles on himself, but I think this is what he knew. Life is so very different for him, or at least so different than my life.

The Cracker Emcee said...

Uncle Jimmy is the best thing about this podcast.

I don't find Tyler a sympathetic character, though. I know that guy, too. Sly shitheels with little self-control, a line of jus' folks bullshit as a substitute for a conscience, always alert to the main chance as long as it doesn't require responsibility or accountability. Like Adnan before him, don't think he can't spot a gullible NPR enabler from a mile away.

eddie willers said...

I'm halfway through Chapter three and thought I'd let people know that it is available on Tunein...at least the Tunein that is built into the Amazon Echo (Alexa) where I listen by my bedside.

Easiest to get there via the Alexa app (under Music and Books) rather than asking "her". Tunein has a podcast option and it's easy to find S-Town there.

Pete said...

Finished! I listened, not only because of Althouse but because Lileks was listening and had liked what he had heard so far. (I think he had finished episode 3.) An extraordinary piece of journalism, not without its faults. (I, like Lileks, found it hard to abide the narrator's annoying tendency to end sentences with a rise in inflection. Like he was asking a question?)

Is it art? I don't know. But I caught a glimpse of a world that's both not far from me - I live in Oklahoma, and the culture described is one a close relative of mine is a part of - and alien to me. Well worth the time to listen. (And, I, too, enjoyed the music, and The Zombies A Rose For Emily.)

Thanks, Althouse.

dbzdak said...

How did they get through the whole series without sampling this Live song called, of course, Shit Town?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4O-sqYN13SU