Sunday, April 16, 2017

S-Town | Lefsetz Letter


Have you listened to this?

I’m worried about the national consciousness. We listen to different music, watch different TV shows, many people don’t even go to the movies and we all get our news from different sources…how are we supposed to have a discussion?

It’s like we’re all speaking a different language. And even on topics we have in common, we quote different “facts.” There’s no cohesiveness, no glue. As a result, there’s no unifying factor.

The top five tracks on Spotify are by Kendrick Lamar, Future, Lil Uzi Vert, Drake and Ed Sheeran. Forget having heard them, have you even HEARD OF THEM?

We used to be unified by our art. Now we’re all siloed. And told we’re incompetent and out of it by acolytes of that which we are uninformed about. But we just shrug off our ignorance, we’re too busy in our own niches. You can criticize someone all you want for their choices, but no one cares. Used to be you were either an AM or FM person. Imagine, just two choices! You either were hip or you were not. Now you’re uninformed or you’re not. But it’s a full time job trying to keep up, and still there’s so much you don’t know.

And in case you don’t know, “S-Town” is the new podcast from the producers of “Serial” and “This American Life.” Traditional media has been hyping its success, but no one has mentioned it to me and whenever I bring it up I get blank stares. This is unlike the original iteration of “Serial,” wherein we were all addicted. But is that just the new paradigm, we care when it’s new, when you repeat the formula we tune out and move on? That’s what purveyors don’t understand, that it’s nearly impossible to keep our attention. And every time you fail the greater the chance people won’t even bother the next time. Which is why you should strive for greatness, especially if you put out product infrequently. Kinda like the new Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie track. It starts so slowly, the verse is blah, but then the chorus is a home run. Couldn’t anybody sit down with Lindsey and tell him the new rules? That you’ve got to grab us immediately, changes are key, we don’t have time to listen ten times, our lives are fast-paced, didn’t he read the Max Martin interview? I mean old farts can rarely recapture the magic, but listening to “In My World” you discover there’s still something there, if you haven’t clicked on to something new before you get to the sauce.

Kinda like the second season of “Serial,” the one about Bowe Bergdahl. How many episodes did you listen to before you moved on? Me, only two. But the reviews of “S-Town” were so good.

It’s not that good. And while you’re listening, you start to realize, like in a French film, there’s going to be no payoff, there’s going to be no a-ha moment, there’s going to be no resolution.

There, I ruined it for you. But you probably weren’t going to listen anyway. Or you’re not quite through the entire seven episodes, which were released all at once, which I give kudos to the producers for, we live in an on demand culture and there it all is.

And it’s not like it starts off strong and hooks you. It’s not boring, but your eyes don’t bug out, like with the first “Serial.”

But you want to know what happens.

We all want to know what happens.

America is hooked on story.

Meanwhile, we keep being fed ever-smaller bite-sized content, with a media falsely telling us we have a short attention span and this is what we desire.

No, we desire humanity. That’s what’s missing from the movies and so much music, there are no PEOPLE there. Especially in flicks, where it’s literally superheroes and zombies. And in music, it’s all about boasting or platitudes, nothing that soothes the soul. But in TV… There are long arcs where images are secondary to plot. We live for plot. Hell, too many film directors are into image, we live for story.

Then again, Instagram is king, can you explain that to me? Looking at pictures of people essentially bragging, what is the hook here?

I’ll tell you what it is, a desire to belong, to feel part of the club, to feel connected in a world where disconnection is king.

And when you stop listening for the smoking gun, when you stop waiting to find out what happened to the gold and focus on the characters in “S-Town” you do get rewarded. But it’s not what they’re selling in the hype.

John B. McLemore is a self-educated genius who cannot get along. Living in a backward town he wants to leave but just cannot. His is a life of failed relationships, even though he has so many admirers. But he’s his own worst enemy, he alienates those closest to him. And he gets jealous if he’s not your number one.

People are complicated.

But not online. You’re either a Democrat or a Republican. The lines are clearly drawn. But there are people who believe in abortion and not a welfare state and vice versa. Where do the chiaroscuro citizens play?

So, if you’re interested in character study, “S-Town” is genius.

And now they’re debating Mr. McLemore online.

But only if you look for it. Otherwise, you’re clueless.

So do we have an overhyped mediocrity or evidence that our national soul is hurting and we cling to anything with a shred of humanity?

I’ll tell you this, I couldn’t turn “S-Town” off, I got hooked, because in a world of obligations, where you’re made to feel inadequate every damn day, it was great to retreat to a world where people were not trying to get ahead so much as living. Where personality and upbringing had consequences. Listen to “S-Town” and see if you don’t find yourself in there somewhere.

We’re all looking to find ourselves reflected to us. We’re all lonely. We put on a brave face and try to belong but the truth is we’re looking for soul sustenance and it’s rarely evident. Don’t show any weakness, fight to get ahead in our coarse society, he who is not your friend is your enemy.

The purveyors have blinked. No one tries to make art for everyone. No one tries to unite the public consciousness. I’m not sure any one artist with any one song could grab everybody’s ears. But I do think if all the artists aligned they could. That’s what it would take, a “We Are The World” with better music and better lyrics. Because today we all are not members of the club, but we’re yearning to be. But you get no eyeballs unless you achieve greatness.

And “S-Town” is not great.

But podcasts are winning because they’re everything terrestrial radio is not. They’re not fake, playing to a theoretical audience that does not exist. They’re not brief. They’re not disconnected. When done right, podcasts are the heart and soul of America. Just talk to anybody who listens, they’ll testify! No one is wishy-washy about podcasts. There’s something happening here. A tapping into the desire of America to dig down deep and belong.


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