Why so serious?
As always, I used my “best of 2021” list as a vehicle to travel back in time to revisit and catalogue the art and culture that helped me survive a difficult year.
This is an important practice for several reasons.
- It’s also a moment to take measure of how much media I guzzled, which, like alcohol consumption, is a good thing to keep an eye on. Tl;dr it was approximately 1 shit ton.
- This list is also an opportunity for me to reach out in a meaningful way to the people in my community. I like to imagine an old friend seeing my list, spotting one of their own favorites, and DM’ing me to reconnect.
- Lastly, I used this analysis to ponder why I enjoyed such an eclectic palate. How do I explain my love for Joe Rogan and Dax Shepherd? What about Laguz the Time Warrior, who also does erotic art? What about the voice of the Christian Nodal soothes me? And how did all this art and culture change the way I view myself, my country, and the world?
If you know me, you know I’m chock full of weird tastes, ideas, and strong opinions, which I try to hold loosely and exchange for new, better ones as time passes. For example, the angst of domestic life drew me for the first time to the heavy rock of Nirvana and Capstan. Next year, maybe it’ll progress to Metallica and Slayer.
Anyways, here it goes…
Holy shit. I listened to a lot of podcasts in 2021. From culture to politics to comedy and MMA, I would guess I logged at least 1 hour per day for all 365 days of the year. Normally, it would feel bad to “waste” the equivalent of 45 8-hour workdays, but podcasts accompanied me on my trivial life activities, such as working out, cleaning the kitchen, or driving to pick up the boys from school.
This was a year of unbelievable political upheaval. Oftentimes, I would read the news in the WSJ (I get the paper delivered daily like an old man) and not have the faintest idea why (a) leaders were dropping the ball, and (b) why people were acting crazy.
To be honest, I spent much of this year grieving for the idea of America that I once held so tightly. As it turns out, this is a broken country led by broken people. Many Americans would argue the replacement of “broken” with more exciting adjectives such as “evil” or “righteous”, but in my opinion we don’t have time to keep on like this. We need to mend, and it makes me sad when we choose to break instead.
Anyways, in 2021 I searched desperately for a balanced perspective. I was desperate for it. I craved it. If someone took the time to explain things from both sides, from the perspectives of my conservative and liberal fellow Americans, I was there in the front row, taking notes.
My go-to source for news was The Wall Street Journal (Website), which delivered comprehensive and reliable journalism throughout 2021, accompanied by a (usually) interesting and diverse opinion section. I read the paper every single day with my coffee, plus they have a great mobile app for sharing headlines with friends and family (though the paywall makes this virtually a waste of time, as they can’t actually read the article). Thanks to a legacy student discount, my membership is $15/month.
My go-to source of political opinions was Breaking Points (Spotify) an independent daily show hosted by Krystal Ball (left-leaning) and Saagar Enjeti (right-leaning). Each show is roughly 90 minutes, featuring analysis of yesterday’s political news followed by mostly-scripted discussion and a brief “monologue” by each host. The vibe is clean and professional – think the “People’s Fox/CNN” – and the only recurring theme I’ve detected is that a small elite with outsized influence in Washington are keeping America from fixing itself. Most of their stuff is free, but you can get the uncut version for $5/month.
My secondary source of political opinions was the Joe Rogan Experience (JRE). This makes me cringe somewhat, as the host (Joe Rogan) is an over-the-hill alpha with an identity anchored by American glory, his own masculinity, saying funny things, and deep suspicions about UFO’s. Further, it’s been painful to watch him become obsessed with COVID-19 and vaccines, his views on which have appeared to only calcify over time. Still, in spite of it all, I maintain that he’s a very good person and a relatively balanced voice in American politics. More than anything, I respect his insistence on re-attempting to answer the impossible moral questions of our day, such as the role of government and corporations in American life.
I also appreciated the politically-oriented episodes on the Lex Fridman Podcast (Spotify) and The Portal w/ Eric Weinstein (Spotify). Similar to Breaking Points, these shows are hosted by carefully-reasoned centrists who think slowly and edge on conclusions but seldom arrive. Lex is Russian AI researcher and Eric is an overly-articulate physicist, if that helps explain it. Tl;dr if you come for “hot takes”, you will leave hating both of these men.
My understanding of culture in 2021 was influenced primarily by Armchair Expert, which had a range of interesting guests, mostly from their Hollywood circles. More importantly, the hosts Dax Shepherd and Monica Padman have adorable chemistry and I could (read: did) literally listen to them chat for hours. Brene Brown with her shows, Unlocking Us and Dare to Lead. All I can say is: I will never listen to the radio again.