This American Life

This American Life is a Public Radio International show (also available as a free podcast from iTunes) and is unlike any other television or radio program I know. I’ve been listening for years and no two episodes are alike. It’s not a current events or documentary show per se; rather, each episode dives head first into the details of a situation — any situation — and gives us a perspective we’ve never had before.

When “toxic assets” were famously ruining our economy last year, This American Life and Planet Money bought one (nicknamed “Toxie”) and spoke with some of the homebuyers whose mortgages they now owned. Each had a different and unexpected reason for falling behind on their payments.

In 2009, the Princeton Review named Penn State the “#1 Party School in America” so This American Life went there to find out what it’s like for students, administrators, and residents of the surrounding community. A surprising number of drunken college students wander into strange homes at night and pass out.

Mr. President

Mr. President

And just two weeks ago the show aired what may have been its best episode to date: Kid Politics. What would the world be like if it were run by children? In one segment we hear about a simulation where students become president, press, and Navy in 1983 when something’s about to happen in Grenada. Now, Mr. President, would you like to invade? And would you like to change your plans now that the press has leaked news of your “covert” invasion?

In another segment, we visit The Brooklyn Free School: a real school where there are no traditional classes and the students are in charge. At one point a student calls a meeting of the entire school because she’s just been called a whore again. If you’re thinking that’s an overreaction, some of the other students agree. But the victim’s justification makes a lot of sense: these boys just used a very offensive word without even knowing its meaning, and she wants them to understand the severity of that action. Essentially, she’s able to react with as much force and impact as every student who’s ever been called a name has ever wanted to. And perhaps those boys will be wary of doing the same thing again.

You can listen to every episode of This American Life ever aired for free in the show’s Radio Archive and you can subscribe to new episodes through their free podcast in iTunes. Perhaps Kid Politics is a good place to start. When you’re sufficiently impressed, don’t forget to donate some money to the show (through PayPal if you want).