A few days after interviewing President Obama on his WTF podcast, Marc Maron traveled to New York and did some press about the historic episode. In one radio interview Maron makes a point to defend the sanctity of his podcast, saying this was a rare opportunity that he couldn’t possibly pass up and it won’t open the door for more politicians to be on the show. At one point he even says he would have Hillary Clinton on “only if she becomes president.” Dude, that’s exactly the wrong attitude to have! You gotta get her on now, while it can actually matter!
Look, this isn’t about Maron (or Clinton). Obama was indeed a perfect opportunity to be the historical first president on a podcast: 1) podcasts are just kind of breaking through into mainstream consciousness thanks to Serial, etc. and 2) Obama is kind of just recently settling into this “fuck you” phase of his second term. There are no more political consequences for taking risks, so why not go on something called a “podcast”?
So in that way it was this safe, ultimately symbolic thing. But the main knock against podcasts is that they can be these boring, endless ramblings of some nobodies sitting in their garage or living room, talking about stuff that nobody could possibly ever care about. The main knock against presidential/national politics is it’s run by these high-powered elite few who tightly control every message and micro-manage every word that goes on record.
I mean, wouldn’t it be great for podcasting if more national political figures were expected to appear on them? If you have to hear somebody overshare about what they thought of the latest shitty movie, wouldn’t you rather it be Joe Biden than Joe Rogan? More people would listen to podcasts, they’d get better, more respectable. It’d definitely be good for the podcast world.
And it would also be one way to drag the world of politics into the accountability and transparency of the social media internet. When you think about it, it’s kind of bizarre that in a world where everyone gets their news from Twitter and considers CNN a joke, political campaigns are still able to control the conversation about their candidates as tightly as they do. I’ve heard probably 100 hours of Paul F. Tompkins on podcasts, but all I know about Hillary Clinton is emails and, uhh, Benghazi.
And that’s not for lack of trying, though… eh who am I trying to kid, of course it’s for a lack of trying. Politics sucks. Books about politics suck, political speeches suck, canned “town hall” discussions suck, politicians’ tweets suck. But why? How could this be? How is literally the most interesting thing possible almost without exception reduced to the driest, most hypnotically predictable bullshit?
Politics is boring because literally every message you get about any candidate has been through so many ringers it’s meaningless. Everyone knows it. At this point presidential campaigns are all this kind of weird hall-of-mirrors calculations: Barack Obama has to insist he goes to church all the time and is a Christian because that’s what presidents do. But as Bill Maher has pointed out a bunch of times, it’s pretty obvious that he doesn’t give a shit about religion either way, as most Ivy League-educated career politicians don’t. Yet it’s career suicide to even hint at this. Why? It’s silly, and it’s part and parcel of why it’s impossible for anyone to believe in politics in anything but the most cynical way.
Yet Pete Holmes goes on record hours each week picking apart and discussing with guests the minutia of his own religious beliefs. It’s this kind of over-honest reflection and contemplation that’s boring when the third guy from How I Met Your Mother is doing it, but would be incredibly helpful for everyone if the people who run the government would try it a little more.
As many have pointed out in the context of regulating online harassment, it’s important to really deliberate about these things because we’re presently establishing the guidelines and norms for the social media internet. So, let’s try and push the podcast world and the politics world together. It would kind of be killing two birds with one stone, or I guess making two birds better with one stone?
Of course, at the end of the day it’s kind of pointless to bring this up, as it will naturally happen anyways. After all, the arc of the online universe bends towards clicks, and what got more attention than Obama’s WTF? Listening to it, however, I kept waiting for the part where they’d talk about doing coke in the 80s and Maron would say he used to cut lines for Kinison. Weirdly he never brought it up? I guess that’s still a mountain (of coke) too high (ly piled on those mirror tables at the Comedy Store) for both parties. But I’m guessing the second time around they won’t have to be so formal.