This American Life

Sounding Off As a Nation

Friday night, 7 p.m., Central time. I’m sitting in my favorite chair, anxiously staring at my radio, when those familiar words come through the air: ” From WBEZ Chicago?and Public Radio International ?it’s This American Life . I’m Ira Glass.”

Have you heard this show? I stumbled upon it accidentally, when surfing the far left end of the radio dial, and I have been laughing and musing ever since. Each week the show profiles regular Americans, just like you and me, and tells their stories. Okay, most of them are nothing like you or me (at least they’re not like me), but that doesn’t stop me from finding them fascinating.

Every TAL show has a theme and they offer several stories based on that theme. The show is basically a series of stories and profiles of people in America who make this country, well, if not great, then definitely interesting and different.

Here is an example: there’s a kid who became famous by dribbling a basketball better than anyone around. He simply spent hours in his backyard, practicing into the wee hours. Night after night. I’m not talking about playing basketball, but simply dribbling, hot-dogging, spinning the ball, Harlem Globetrotters-style. As you listen, his story comes alive, and next thing you know, he’s in a Nike commercial, meeting his basketball idols and traveling to Japan where huge posters of his image line the streets. Only in America, and only on This American Life.

Then there was the story several years ago about how a department store in New York City used actors dressed up as famous people from the 20th century (instead of Santa) for their holiday window display. The segment, “Christmas Freud,” offered one actor’s firsthand report on his Yuletide turn at playing Sigmund Freud, and people’s odd reactions to it. As for music, the show ended with a rendition of “Silver Bells” but with the words “It’s Christmas Freud in the city…” replacing the traditional lyrics.

The stories are quirky but relevant, tragic yet humorous. They are produced like the best Michael Moore guerrilla documentaries, capturing an individual’s personality with a single, simple quote. Then, an ever-so-brief musical snippet will play, as you ponder the impact of the person’s words, hanging in the air. You’ll smile as you either relate to their plight, or as is usually the case?you wonder how they could be from this planet, much less this country. But you’ll appreciate that you live in a country that allows people to be so colorful.

And you’ll fall in love with a show that brings these people to you every week. It is a fascinating exploration of the life of “real” Americans. The show brings out the richness and uniqueness in the human beings that populate this country. And if we have been divinely created in God’s image, well, that God must be quite a character.

These days, being an American is continually being refined and re-defined, based on many factors, including our response to last year’s events. That’s why it’s nice to have a friendly radio show which offers several slices of life in the U.S. and shows that as a country, we are geographically, idiosyncratically and proudly all over the map.