Another Round: Listening to the past

A few months ago, I interviewed Benjamen Walker about podcasting in the age of fake news. He used to work in radio, and we talked a bit about the way his work had changed since moving into podcasting full time. One of the things he mentioned was the pressure from radio schedulers and executives to make audio that is “evergreen”, and avoid details that pin your piece too specifically to any one moment (so that it can be repackaged and repeated subsequently as the station desires). Now, Walker said, he reacts against that by making work that is deliberately “of the moment”, so that no matter when someone listens to one of his episodes, it gives them the flavour of what it was like to have that experience at that time.

I got thinking about this again recently, because I’ve been slowly relistening to the Another Round back catalogue, and I think that show always did a very good job of conveying the political and pop cultural temperature of a particular moment. (Another Round, in case you hadn’t come across it, was a very successful Buzzfeed interview show hosted by Heben Nigatu and Tracy Clayton that focused primarily on black experience and culture in the US; it went on hiatus in December 2017 and has not yet restarted production.)

In particular, the episode called “Incognegro” with Jordan Peele feels especially rooted in the time when it was recorded. The interview was released in March 2017, early on in the promotional cycle for Peele’s directorial debut, the horror film Get Out. At that point, he was best known as one half of the sketch duo Key & Peele, and was trying to get some media traction for his first feature film.

Listening back to the interview now, knowing that his film was about to become a huge word of mouth success, one of the biggest box office hits of the year, and his route to the Oscar for best original screenplay, gives me a warm glow of vicarious pleasure. Nigatu and Clayton skilfully guide the conversation from Peele’s deep knowledge of horror and blaxploitation films, to his personal life, to his ambitions for the future. It’s funny and cheerful to listen to, not least because he seems to have little or no idea how much this film is going to change his life in the coming months.

The subject matter of Get Out makes this episode worth revisiting, too. If you somehow didn’t see the film last year, I highly recommend that you catch it now — it tells the story of a young black man who visits the family of his white girlfriend, and probably one of the most nuanced and yet entertaining explorations of racial tensions, stereotypes and prejudices I’ve ever seen on screen.

At the time of the film’s release, there was a lot of discussion of how well it represented the political climate in Trump’s America, given the endemic racially motivated shootings and police brutality happening across the country. A year and more on, what seemed like hyperbole in the film and in Peele’s interview feels laughably tame. Reality has surpassed the art, but it’s still worth listening back to remember how we felt then.