4 Podcasts That Will Make You Smarter
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because you could be a few dollars closer to being the smartest person in the room.
By M.D. Reynolds
Do you think everyone in a position of governmental authority is lying to you? Do you believe the world is on its ass?
Thought so. And you might not be able to trust the water, but they haven’t figured out how to control the air yet. At least, not all of it. We’ve identified some podcasts that’ll speak to your inner incredulity and need to be right, especially if that need’s cost you your friends, your job and your personal hygiene.
MAE BRUSSELL: WORLD WATCHERS INTERNATIONAL
Mae was minting tin foil hats when you were still in diapers. The original talk-radio conspiracy theorist, she got her start with a little light reading — the Warren Commission report — and a seven-year research project to debunk its central premise: that Lee Harvey Oswald killed John F. Kennedy. In 1971, she began a 25-year career on local radio, first as an occasional guest “in the know,” and then as eventual host of “Dialogue: Assassination,” planet Earth’s most exhaustively researched Kennedy exposé. Brussell’s scope gradually expanded to take in the events of the day (Iran-Contra, the Manson family, Jonestown, even an alleged spotting of John Hinckley Jr. in her backyard), and the show was accordingly rebranded “World Watchers International.”
Though she died in 1988, the entire back catalog of “World Watchers International” lives on in internet immortality. Brussell made conspiracy theories as American as apple pie, and hating the CIA a national sport for a large swath of the population. Without her, there’s no magic-bullet theory, no Kevin Costner getting sweatily self-righteous and no one loitering at secluded airfields wondering about those unregistered planes the CIA doesn’t own.
DAN CARLIN: COMMON SENSE / HARDCORE HISTORY
Carlin, a former TV journalist and radio talk show host, delivers exhaustively researched, thought-provoking mega-pods in the ponderous cadence of a man aping Paul Harvey or killing time. Though Carlin’s packaging is odd — his promo voice-over guy sounds like a porn actor kicking the tires of a Dodge Ram — Hardcore History delves into the historical and sociological background of seminal global events (World War I, the fall of Rome, the reign of Genghis Khan) with a level of detail totally unmatched in the pod-sphere. His chronicling of World War I, called “Blueprint for Armageddon,” runs nearly 26 hours, while the comparatively concise tale of Anabaptist anarchy and polygamous orgies in Münster, “Prophets of Doom,” might be the most terrifying four and half hours I’ve spent in years.
With Common Sense, Carlin approaches current events through the prism of constitutionality: He sees threats to the First and Fourth Amendments virtually everywhere, and views the American political system — its politicians, electoral rules, the growing power of the executive branch and secret police/intelligence services, politicization of the courts and overall subservience to corporate money — as fundamentally and irredeemably broken. Common Sense brings an intelligent, libertarian perspective to an arena too long dominated by media elite and the establishment politicians they seem to serve. Podcasts like Carlin’s definitely spark public interest in history, says Ruth Ben-Ghiat, professor of history and Italian studies at New York University, which she says is a good thing at a time of declining enrollments in the subject at colleges and universities. “Amateur historians like Carlin can take creative freedoms professionals can’t — which makes their material more lively and approachable, if not always totally accurate.”
DAVE EMORY: FOR THE RECORD
Emory’s For the Record argues that the higher orders of Western politics and business are run by cosseted Nazis who simply rebranded and retreated from public view after the fall of Hitler. His core concept, “The Underground Reich,” identifies German-based multinational business concerns as controlled by, well … Nazis, who have achieved Hitler’s ambitions of global domination through equal parts aggressive commerce, military intimidation and covert action by a Nazi-inspired secret police. Just as Brussell was obsessed with JFK and the CIA, so is Emory with Nazis and fascism — he sees shadows of a Thousand Year Reich in virtually every aspect of Western society, and suggests the CIA itself is little more than a re-creation of Reinhard Gehlen’s Foreign Armies East (FHO), Germany’s Eastern Front intelligence network.
Emory’s a tough listen — his lip-smacking and oddly thespian delivery, coupled with the show’s frequently baffling leaps, blur the line between earnest reporting and absurdist comedy. But he’s also a true original, trumpeting a rationalization for the world’s ills that is as riveting as it is imaginative.
- M.D. Reynolds Contact M.D. Reynolds