Sunday, June 26, 2011

Real Ira Glass

 Last night (thanks to Jenny) I got to see Ira Glass speak at Kingsbury Hall in SLC. I'm a huge This American Life fan. I love it. I think Ira Glass is funny and interesting and curious about people. I like that. The whole evening was wonderful. We started by eating In and Out on the road--a fitting beginning to any adventure. After a cursory discussion of Pottermore, Jenny asked me sincerely which Hogwarts House I thought I belonged in. Gryffindor? Ravenclaw? Hufflepuff? Slytherin? FLIGHT OR INVISIBILITY! There's a lot to talk about.

We got to Kingsbury Hall and a parking attendant gave us an insider's tip about certain parking meters right in front of the hall which are never enforced on weekends. "Is this Heaven?" I wondered. During the KUER fund drive Jenny scored an invite to a cupcake reception and photo-op with a cardboard cut-out of Ira. We were game. Cupcakes, cardboard cut-outs--who could complain? But then real Ira Glass walked in. I was totally unprepared. Such a life-like cardboard cut-out! "This iiiiiiisssssss Heaven!"

The show was funny, thought-provoking, interesting, and great. Ira was exactly what any Ira-lover would expect--genuine, smart, charming, hilarious, and able to make balloon animals. It was a genuine treat, I tell you. I was in a cool venue with like-minded people watching someone I admire talk about interesting things. It just don't get no better.

At one point Ira made some Book of Mormon the Musical jokes and played a few excerpts of songs from the actual play. He probably adds a locale-specific bit whenever he can on the road. Most good performers do. Ira did this respectfully. It didn't strike me as mean-spirited or offensive at all. The audience responded well and clapped loudly. I clapped. But not because I thought it was funny. I think I clapped to show Ira I was a good sport about the Mormon jokes. It made me think about this quote from an article in the Washington Post, "This new play will pander to our prejudices and treat our Mormon neighbors as we would never wish to be treated. Some Americans will allow it to confirm unthinking prejudice, while cowardly Mormons will applaud it hoping for crumbs of respectability." Is that what I was literally doing? I don't know. I don't think so. Maybe? I had confessed to Jenny on the way to the show that I lack the courage of a Gryffindor.

Bear with me. I want to make a point and I'm afraid it's not the point you might think, especially if you skim.

The next day I went to church. Everyone, including my son, had just gotten back from the Pioneer Trek. So the bishop randomly called on people to talk about it. The people were mostly unprepared. The talks were unpolished and not, necessarily, even that good. But they were great. And they meant something to me. Even though I think treks are kind of weird. Even though I sometimes have the thought when people tearfully recount pioneer stories that it is a genre more gruesome than zombie fiction. Even though I don't want to ever go on a pioneer trek. It was moving and beautiful and as good as This American Life. We sang "How Firm A Foundation" and I glanced at the 7th verse which we, gratefully, didn't get to. But I like the last lines because they are kind of crazy-zealoty and I often hear them in my mind, "I'll never, no never, I'll never, no never, I'll never, no never, no never forsake!" Maybe sometime? NO NEVER.

OK. So. There's more. Because here is the point I am NOT making: I would never forsake my religion and all its lamer parts for Ira Glass or anything even as cool as him. I'm not making that point. It's true that I wouldn't (no, never) but that's just really not the point I want to make. Which reminds me, when I was little I used to imagine that the time would come when I would be in a movie theater and a bad person would ask every Mormon to stand up so he could shoot them. I always wondered if I would have the courage to stand. I never pictured the gunman as Ira Glass. (Still don't!) No one ever taught me this, but it was before the cold war ended; I think we all thought something like that might happen. In case you're wondering, I wouldn't stand up--no, never.  I've got 4 kids now! What am I, crazy? (Just my luck--it would be Porter Rockwell reincarnate giving us a really unfair test of faith.)

But here is the point I want to make:

Ira Glass talked a lot about--in fact it was the whole premise of his show--the structure of each piece on This American Life: A narrative is set into motion with another story and possibly another, ending with some kind of extrapolation or even just a conversation about what the story means. It's a basic formula that works. It also instructs. Ira admitted that while he thought he invented it, priests and rabbis and a resourceful character in The Arabian Nights figured out this formula before him and have been using it to teach empathy in various forms for a while. "It's kind of neat though," said Ira, "to find a way to use it secularly on the radio."

Cue music.

As if empathy were a secular concern.

As if listening and being interested and finding common ground and considering the experiences of another person and making an effort to understand them were somehow the opposite of sacred.

Oh, Ira.


  1. We had the same morbid fantasy in our youth group! Would we STAND UP AND BE SHOT for Jesus?? WOULD WE?? I seem to remember examples of, for example, a young mother being slaughtered along with her children, because she STOOD UP FOR JESUS.

  2. I love everything about this post. Because I too love This American Life. And because it brought up so many interesting points that I want to think about for the rest of the night. But mostly I love this post for the last picture, which made me laugh right out loud.

  3. Ummm...I had almost the same fantasy(stand if you're a Mormon to be tortured and taken to a concentration camp was my variety), I'm pretty sure. And also I love Ira Glass. And also I agree that the terrible variety of pioneer stories(hello, little boy who carried his little brother through the snowstorm for hours only to collapse and die once he reached camp)are hard to take (although I secretly really like them). Oh, yes, and I'm also a big fan of empathy. So pretty much I loved this post, especially the last picture. (And apparently I use quotation marks more than any other commenter ever.)

  4. I wasn't raised Mormon so I don't believe I ever had this thought at any time in my life (is this how youth leaders played with your heads?) but here is what I know now. That if you are willing to be "shot for Jesus", then if it's not your time to go you'll not only NOT be shot (or be shot in something not important like a foot), but you'll be able to ricochet those bulletts back into the aorta of the nut shooting the gun and kill him before he can laugh at your face. And thus it is amen.

  5. I think you would be Hufflepuff. I think I am truly Hufflepuff - not everyone can be Gryffindor. So we get stuck with the Fat Friar, but we do get Cedric Diggory and that is pretty cool. I guess we will really know for sure in October. Because we might also be Ravenclaw.

  6. i have never had the "stand up if you're mormon and be shot" fantasy. does this not make me a true mormon?

  7. I would stand shoulder to shoulder with Cedric Diggory any day of the week. I think I'm Hufflepuff, too.

  8. My childhood fantasy was, would I risk my life to save Jews? Would I be good and kind if I were sent to a concentration camp? My best friend (from the age of 4, 4 generation friendship now) is Jewish and lots of her parents and grandparents relatives died in the Holocaust.
    Most (I said, most, not all) of that wretched Mormon youth propaganda went right over my head because a) my folks didn't go in for it, and b) it just sounded stupid to me. One that threw me for a while tho' was the Karl Maeser circle one (egad).
    Anyway, this is Imaginary Blog Zina's mom Betsy, and I love Ira Glass and This American Life.

  9. Kacy, best post ever. Love Ira, love the picture, love the meta. I wish someday I could be invited to a party with a cardboard picture of you, and then the ACTUAL you would show up and I could meet you and be your friend.

  10. I, too, love this post. I loved the point you were making and the one I was making in my head. I love This American Life, and I also feel confident that you, like me, are sometimes made to squirm just a little by it. Please say that has happened at least once.

  11. Anonymous8:39 AM

    Love the way you string things together in meaningful (and funny!) ways. I especially love the message about empathy (and earnest Hogwarts questions between adults make me giggle).

    Just to defend "How Firm a Foundation," though, the whole song is written from Jesus' perspective. So, it's his promise not to forsake the faithful--not a zealot's clenched-teeth declaration. But I love that the last line repeats in your head often--that cracks me up.

  12. I love this post.

    I love This American Life. (I think one of the reasons I haven't finished the Harry Potter books is because in the back of my mind I suspect I might be Ravenclaw and I don't think I want to know what that means.)

  13. This post was truly brilliant. Loved that article you linked to. Opened my eyes a bit.

    This American Life is a favorite of mine and I love Ira, but part of me does wonder if I could stand up to him in a debate on something important. I am sure I would have been clapping right along with everyone when they poke fun at Mormons and that makes me feel weird.

    The last line of that hymn always chokes me up! I think I need to repent.

  14. loved this, every whit.

    AMEN, and AMEN (especially to the never going on trek and being weirded out by pioneer stories, and of course, the Ira/TAL love).

  15. PS: @ Kerri, I watched "The Winds of War" when I was 9 (because I was Nazi-obsessed)and my mom casually mentioned, as the "Juden" with their yellow stars were being hauled off to camps, "That might happen to all the MOrmons someday, and if they ask you if you're a Mormon, you have to have the courage to say yes, even if they take you away." Scarred. For. Life.

  16. Anonymous8:37 PM

    I saw you guys tweeting about this and I would have invited myself to come on Saturday if I could have possibly torn myself away from other very important commitments like laundry. Instead I settled for seething envy.

    I have SO MANY responses to this post that I could easily make one of my post-length comments--but I won't. Maybe I'll write a response on my own blog (if I can tear myself away from laundry).

    One of my childhood fantasies was: what if someone held a gun to my head and told me he'd kill me if I didn't finish doing the dishes in 10 minutes? I was going to die for sure. (I'm pretty fast at dishes, though. And I'm just now realizing that my siblings must have had very different fantasies.)

  17. So I should really read the Harry Potter books?

  18. But must the secular the opposite of the sacred? Is that what he meant? Perhaps he just meant ( and i'm just looking at the one line you quoted, I could be way off here) that by presenting it in a non-religious (not anti-religious) way, he can reach more people.

    My childhood fantasy involved me being a secret princess being raised in middle America so I wouldn't become a spoiled brat. I practiced my ballet a lot, somehow believing that dancing was going to figure big in my future life as a national leader (or figurehead. I didn't much care which).

  19. I'm finally having the chance to comment after reading this yesterday and Beeswax beat me to my comment.
    I don't think secular does have to be the opposite of sacred, and I certainly don't think empathy is owned by the non secular.
    But I do love Ira Glass & a good burger, but not pioneer stories. I just can't believe that nobody was complaining and bitter during that whole thing, and yet that is what all the stories make you think. You can bet I would have been whining the WHOLE time.

  20. Kacy, I'm biased, but I loved this post. I know you know that because I already told you.

    I love how you talk about the points you are NOT making because those points are interesting points but not the crux of what you are trying to say.

    Here are two thoughts based on your post and the comments:

    1. The "would I stand up for Jesus" question is a silly thing that most people do in some way or another in their youth. I don't think you are making a statement about standing up or not standing up. I think you are saying that whatever you do in that situation (stand or sit) you aren't forsaking your religion because it is more than that. Applauding the Book of Mormon musical isn't forsaking your religion, but if you agree with the Washington Post article (and I do) then applauding the musical is forsaking your a bit of your dignity as a mormon who deserves to be treated as an equal. That is not to say that there isn't room for satire. There is and we are good sports about it but I still agree with you and the Washington Post.

    2. Empathy is not merely a secular concern and call it what you want, it is sacred. To label empathy as secular demeans it. Empathy is more than that. In fact, it is everything. It is the core of the atonement and I think that is the point you are making.

    But I'm just a reader. What do I know.

  21. What is the deal with trek? When I was a youth, refused to go, and I thank my lucky starts I stood firm, because there was dehydration and hospitalization involved with those who went.. I fully understand that one day I will be called in to the Young Womens and be forced to do the trek, but until that time, I think it's just pure insanity. Furthermore, if I was a pioneer living in NYC and I was asked to go to Utah, I think I would have said "Probably not. I'll stay here in my house thank you very much."

  22. Have you watched the videos? Instant on Netflix. Always a good way to kill an hour or two. I wonder if the BofM musical references were part of his act in other places too. He seems like he's genuinely interested in Mormons. I have heard (and watched) several episodes involving Mormons or ex-Mormons.

    Anyway, great post. Also I wish I had gone to see Ira when he came to GWU a few months ago but I was feeling too pregnant. Also I never had any of these morbid fantasies that apparently a lot of people had. But I guess it's good you were thinking about what you would do? It makes me think of the book "Silence" by Shusaku Endo. You might like it if you haven't read it already.

  23. Anonymous1:31 AM

    Some more of my response is here. Also, tell Carina that of course she should read Harry Potter.

  24. I'd like to thank Christian F. for his comment, because now I can just say: Yes, exactly.

    But also: Loved this post, absolutely loved it (he already said that too, but felt the need to repeat).

  25. To My Imaginary Blog:

    I promise, I wouldn't have pulled the trigger. But without some kind of dire threat, your older brother would still be standing there at the sink, making bubbles.

    - Dad

  26. I don't know. The same people that sent me forwards about the Book of Mormon play last month sent me forwards about Barack Obama's birth certificate.

    I am going to see it before I decide if I'm offended or if I should applaud them. (I liked the South Park episode about Mormons, so there is that.)

  27. I like Ira Glass too. I wonder if he's related to the Glass family? (That's a joke!)

    I read up on the Book of Mormon musical flap in case someone asked me about it, but no one has. I heard enough clips to know that I don't want to see it. But I'm ready for a "discussion!!"

  28. Heidi8:56 PM

    Great post. I also went to see Ira. I also clapped at the Mormon stuff cause he said it nicely and cutely (I had also read The Post article & was thinking about it, but it seemed different. He seemed respectful and on our side). My only question: What was up with his outfit?

  29. I am eating my heart out. Did you hear last week's episode with the prisoners and the Hamlet and the . . . oh, man. My husband and I were listening and we both cried. And we both hate Spaghetti-Os so I guess we're straight up pretentious.


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