Remember “good conversation?” Remember what it was like to speak freely, to talk about complicated and sometimes controversial subjects with people who wouldn’t twist your words or insist that certain topics are off-limits? Remember when healthy disagreement was considered not threatening or unsafe but actually healthy?
Author, essayist and journalist Meghan Daum has spent decades giving voice—and bringing nuance, humor and surprising perspectives—to things that lots of people are thinking but are afraid to say out loud. Now, she brings her observations to the realm of conversation. In candid, free-ranging interviews, Meghan talks with artists, entertainers, journalists, scientists, scholars, and anyone else who’s willing to do the “unspeakable” and question prevailing cultural and moral assumptions.
Are MFA Programs Multi-Level Marketing Schemes? Leigh Stein Thinks So!
Leigh Stein first came on the show in the summer of 2020 to talk about her novel, Self-Care, which spoofs corporate feminism and the cult of the girl boss. Now she’s back to share her observations about the publishing industry and what she’s learned as a book coach, independent editor and consultant for other writers. She thinks that authors (and aspiring authors) need to be realistic about building social media platforms and crafting a personal brand. She also has a pet theory that MFA writing programs are tantamount to multi-level marketing schemes in that they don’t prepare students to actually publish books as much as teach them to teach writing to yet more writing students. In 2016 Leigh cofounded the feminist literary nonprofit Out of the Binders and organized BinderCon, a conference that brought in more than 2,000 attendees. She wrote about that experience in an article out this week in LitHub and spoke with Meghan about how she went broke while leading an organization designed to empower writers. Meghan also shared her own thoughts about the changing literary landscape and why she’s not as excited about publishing her work as she used to be. A video version of this conversion is up on the podcast’s YouTube Channel, The Unspeakable channel.
Leigh Stein is a writer interested in what the internet is doing to our identities, relationships, and politics. She is the author of five books, including the critically acclaimed satirical novel Self Care (Penguin, 2020) and the poetry collection What to Miss When (Soft Skull Press, 2021). She has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, Allure, ELLE, and The Cut.
How The News Went Insane: Batya Ungar-Sargon On The Social Rise and Intellectual Fall of Legacy Media
Regular listeners of this podcast are no strangers to the subject of political bias in the news media - especially the left wing, elite-driven bias that’s in heavy rotation in the opinion and culture sections of big news organizations like The New York Times, The Washington Post and NPR. But as much as we talk about the social movements driving this trend, we think less often about the practical reasons and bottom line root causes. That’s exactly Batya Ungar-Sargon explores in her new book Bad News: How Woke Media Is Undermining Democracy. In this conversation, Batya explains how journalism underwent a “status revolution,” with the job of reporter going from an almost blue collar profession to something on a par (at least socially) with lawyers and bankers. She also explains how the digital era forced a reframing of the business model of media organizations. The bills were no longer paid by advertisers but by subscribers who demanded fealty to their political values. Batya, who was formerly the opinion editor of The Forward and currently deputy opinion editor of Newsweek, considers herself not just on the left, but something of a socialist. As such, she worries that the much of the social justice posturing that dominates mainstream discourse today is distracting from the real emergency of economic inequality.
Batya Ungar-Sargon is the deputy opinion editor of Newsweek. Before that, she was the opinion editor of the Forward, the largest Jewish media outlet in America. She has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, Foreign Policy, Newsweek, the New York Review of Books Daily, and other publications. She has appeared numerous times on MSNBC, NBC, the Brian Lehrer Show, NPR, and at other media outlets. She holds a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley.
Is Nuance A Career Killer? Comedian Jamie Kilstein on Taking the High Road To Nowhere
This week Meghan welcomes comedian Jamie Kilstein. This is the audio version of a video interview they recorded for The Unspeakeasy, the new video feature of the podcast available to Patreon supporters. Meghan decided to make the conversation available as a regular podcast because in addition to talking about comedy and what Jamie’s been up to recently, they got pretty deep into some topics that are near and dear to the show, including Meghan’s signature issue, “nuance.” They ask whether trying to uphold nuance in the face of relentless group signaling and rage bait is a lost cause, not to mention a career killer. Jamie, who considers himself among the “canceled," talks about how that came to pass and about the ideological whiplash that ensued. They open the conversation by talking about how they manage professional stress: Jamie by contemplating trading in his car and Meghan by purchasing domain names for projects she’ll probably never start let alone finish.
Jamie Kilstein hosts the podcasts Rear Naked Radio and A Fuckup's Guide To The Universe. He has appeared on The Joe Rogan Experience and Late Night With Conan O’Brien.
Bitter Homes and Gardens: Larry Clarke and Fielding Edlow on Staying Afloat, Staying in Love, and Staying Insured in Hollywood
This week Meghan welcomes guests Larry Clarke and Fielding Edlow. They are actors/writers/producers and also the married couple behind the YouTube series Bitter Homes and Gardens, a comedy, doled in out short episodes, about a married couple named . . Larry and Fielding. This edition of The Unspeakable is a bit of an experiment in that it’s the audio version of a conversation recorded for The Unspeakeasy, the video series that lives on the podcast’s new YouTube channel. Even though Larry and Fielding have solid industry careers going decades, they are emblematic of the way working actors have had to shift gears to accommodate a new creative economy, all the while remaining in nonstop hustle mode. In this conversation, they talk about their show, their marriage, their health insurance struggles, and the tension between loving their work and being frustrated with the turn their industry has taken. They also reveal that Larry and Meghan were roommates in New York City back in the 1990s. Moreover, the other roommate was a struggling actor and comedian named Stephanie Courtney who is now (wait for it . . . ) Flo from Progressive. They talk about Stephanie’s guest appearances on Bitter Homes and Gardens and reminisce about the old days when Larry and Stephanie worked as cater waiters and Meghan slept in the dining room of the grimy New York apartment that’s now a co-op they could never afford.
Fielding Edlow is a writer/comedian/actress who is the creator and star of Bitter Homes and Gardens with her real life husband Larry Clarke. Her debut special “Can’t Say Slut” is now streaming on Amazon Prime and she voiced the character “Roxie” on the Netflix series Bojack Horseman.
Larry Clarke has been a steadily working character actor for the last thirty years. He has frequently collaborated with Steven Soderbergh and most recently played Meryl Streep’s lawyer in The Laundromat. He’s currently shooting a recurring on the new Starz series HEELS and also played a “Fusco brother” in the latest Twin Peaks.
What Is a “Good Mother?” Lara Bazelon on Female Ambition, Biological Realities and Going To Trial
Lara Bazelon has a decades-long career as a public defender. She worked as a trial attorney in the office of the public defender in Los Angeles for many years and is currently a law professor at the University of San Francisco, where she directs programs focusing on juvenile criminal justice and racial justice. But she’s also a journalist and novelist. This year she published A Good Mother, a legal thriller about a tireless public defender who cuts short her maternity leave to return to work to defend a client. That client, a 19-year-old mother with a baby roughly the same age, has been accused of killing her husband. For all the novel’s twists and turns, the real tension is in the subtext, which wrestles with questions like why motherhood can feel exponentially more demanding than fatherhood, whether being a “good mother” is compatible with extreme professional ambition and, most unsettling of all, what makes a “bad mother.” Lara spoke with Meghan about how these questions have embedded themselves in her own career and why romantic notions of perfect motherhood can actually hurt families.They also talked about a complicated defense case she worked on with her sister, the journalist Emily Bazelon, Lara’s controversial work defending men accused of sexual assault on college campuses, and their shared feelings about idealized depictions of the work-life balance of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
Lara Bazelon is professor of law and the director of the Criminal Juvenile Justice and Racial Justice Clinical Programs at the University of San Francisco School of Law. She has taught law at Loyola Law School, where she directed the Loyola Law School Project for the Innocent. She was a trial attorney in the federal Public Defender’s office in Los Angeles for seven years and has published journalism in Slate, Politico, The New York Times, The Washington Post and elsewhere. Her forthcoming book, Ambitious Like A Mother, will be published in April of 2022.
Seeking the Good Life In the Islamic State: Carla Power on the Journey In and Out of Violent Extremism
In 2015, journalist Carla Power published If The Oceans Were Ink: An Unlikely Friendship and Journey Into the Heart of the Quran, which chronicled her friendship with a madrasa-trained sheikh who lead her through a deep reading of the Koran. That book was a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. In her new book, Home, Land, Security: Deradicalization and the Journey Back from Extremism, Carla confronts some of the questions she hadn’t engaged with in the last book, namely what draws ordinary Muslims into violent extremist groups like Isis and Al Qaeda and how reliable are the roads back? Through dozens of interviews with ex-jihadis, their family members, and those who seek to rehabilitate them, Carla connects the dots of a constellation of reasons and motivations to join extremist groups. The patterns that emerge are both surprising (in one case an entire extended family was lured by the promise of a better life in the Islamic State) and all too familiar (social media plays a role, no surprise). Carla, an American who spent much of her youth in the middle east, spoke with Meghan about what her reporting taught her about human loneliness, cultural isolation, and youthful impressionability. Moreover, she explained how what’s commonly referred to as the “Islamic world” is in fact many worlds, each with its own characteristics and complications.
Carla Power is a journalist and the author of both Home, Land, Security and If The Oceans Were Ink, a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. She was raised in St. Louis, with years in Iran, India, Afghanistan, Egypt and Italy. She began her career as a writer and foreign correspondent at Newsweek, and subsequently contributed essays and reportage to a wide range of publications, including Time, The New York Times Magazine, Foreign Policy, Vogue, Vanity Fair and The Guardian. She lives with her family in East Sussex, England.
Brilliant! Love it!
Thoroughly enjoy the Unspeakable… Just finished listen to the Bridget Phetasy interview… so refreshing and could identify with so many of the thoughts being shared… Good Stuff
Great guests, makes me think
Really enjoy these conversations. I’m a Gen X and Meghan Daum makes observations that I relate to, like she’s in my mind!
This podcast is a breath of fresh air. Calm, rational, intelligent conversations with various experts about topics that people no longer feel comfortable discussing due to a single-minded politically correct narrative that shuts down reasonable points of view. It’s about time there was some pushback, and I feel this podcast pushes back in exactly the right way. I’m now a proud paid subscriber. Content creators such as Meghan deserve to have their efforts valued monetarily. Keep up the great work, Meghan!