What makes you cringe

On this week's This American Life, the theme was "Stories that make us cringe." In it, "[host] Ira [Glass] reports on a week he spent on the set of the TV show M*A*S*H in 1979, supposedly to do a story about the program for National Public Radio. He was 20 years old. He didn't know what he was doing. He listened to the tapes for the first time in over two decades, and found much to cringe at." (That description is from the show web site.)

As is too often the case with this show, I only heard it from halfway through, so I didn't actually know what the theme was when I started listening. But I didn't have to—I figured out quickly that Ira Glass was listening to old tapes for the first time in a long time, tapes of interviews he'd one when he was really young and stupid, with the benefit of professional maturity, inevitable hindsight, and the not-negligible safety of not holding a microphone in front of Hawkeye's face expecting oneself to ask a bunch of "smart, probing" questions. It only took a few seconds for me to realize that he was looking back on something he'd done, and that was making him cringe.

I think I understood this all so immediately and profoundly, because I myself have a backlog of interview tapes—hours, way too many hours, of interviews done when I was working at MTV in my early 20s. On those tapes, I interview countless famous musicians and actors. I saved those tapes because I figured I might want to listen to them someday. Little did I know that I would probably never be able to stomach the experience of listening to them; I know how god-awfully cringeworthy it would be. Off the top of my head, and without revisiting my younger, less experienced self on the tapes, I cringe simply at the memory of my interviews with Bjork, Henry Rollins, and the Cocteau Twins. If I actually listened to the tapes, I think I'd discover many more "difficult" moments that, at the time, I thought went really well. Luckily, just as Ira Glass remembers how "nice" everyone on M*A*S*H was, how they treated him with respect even as he was asking them questions that were condescending, insensitive, meandering, even rude (case in point: asking Harry Morgan/Colonel Potter, "In all your roles, you're always there, but you're never the lead, never the center... why is that?"), I remember most of my subjects being polite and making the best out of my stupid questions. (Well, everyone except Henry Rollins, who was a complete jerk...) But I still don't have any desire to listen to those tapes.

And let's not even get into the diaries from junior high (though This American Life covered that one too, in a hilarious segment at the end of the show about a guy who wrote his diaries through high school as if they were important historical documents, because someday he just knew he was going to become the future Prime Minister of Israel). Let's just say I have volumes and volumes of diaries too, and we'll leave it at that as I silently cringe.


Unknown said...

how funny. i listened to that ira glass show this weekend and i thought of you--and all you MTV interviews. and all my interviews working for the Union, writing for the newsletter and blah blah blah. i never really saved my stuff but i know you did. i would love to listen to it with you some day.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jen
Just checking in to see what's going on on your blog. Wish you were here in NYC with me ...
Did the design of your blog change? Also did the design of Mary's blog change? And what happened to her tagline "Sanity through online journaling." I liked that one! Guess I should write and tell her that.
And why does blogspot make you do that weird word varification before posting a comment?

Jennifer said...

jfh: you're probably the only person I could stand to listen to the tapes with, because you'd figure out a way to make me feel not so mortified and find some value in the experience.

AMY: thanks for reading! I did change my template to make the font bigger... but eventually I need to do a real redesign.

Word verification is to prevent annoying automated comments, which spammers do to advertise their crappy products. It's basically a way to make sure at least it's a human being entering the comment.

I'll pass your comment along to Mary!