Death at the Wing
Adam McKay’s Death at the Wing is a bit of a sordid recommendation. Each episode looks at a different high-profile death related to the NBA during the ’80s and early ’90s, an era when professional basketball was being radically reshaped by an explosion of wealth and everything that comes with it.
But McKay’s excellent podcast series uses the conceit in service of a bigger, more interesting enterprise: to build out a sustained, serialized critique of Reaganite policies and cultural politics, whose facilitation of extreme American excess continues to loom over the American fabric to this day. We may be four long decades away from the ’80s — separated by one forever war, a catastrophic financial crisis, ever-expanding economic inequality, and a generational global pandemic, among many other things — but those who argue that American society never really left that decade wouldn’t be wrong. After all, satanic panic–style moral freakouts still pulse in the background, and there’s a reason “Make America Great Again” was successfully recycled by the last president.
Any one subject, if unpacked deeply enough, can tell the story of an entire world. Death at the Wing makes this idea explicit, situating each individual case within a dense network of causes and effects. Len Bias’s 1986 death — the result of a cocaine overdose two days after he was drafted by the Boston Celtics — was a tragic NBA story. But it was also in part a result of greater economic dynamics fueled by American excess, and it directly contributed to the war on drugs, kicking off a cycle of violence and militarization.
In many ways, Death at the Wing is a natural extension of McKay’s recent run of work, which has taken an increasingly polemic edge over the past decade, from The Big Short, Vice, and Succession to the upcoming Bad Blood. (I think you can peg this run to McKay’s 2010 Will Ferrell–Mark Wahlberg comedy, The Other Guys, which, in the midst of all the slapstick, was about the financial crisis.) As you would expect from a man who regards Aaron Sorkin as his “conservative counterpart,” McKay wears his politics front and center in Death at the Wing, aggressively framing Reagan as the personification of pure white greed. He expresses frequent frustration with the Democrats, often returning to an argument that portrays the party as being perpetually feckless and ineffective in the face of the right wing’s largely successful campaign in the culture wars.
The overtly political nature of the podcast will probably raise a few eyebrows. But everything in a society is deeply, intimately connected to everything else. You simply can’t just stick to sports.
Great Moments in Weed History
Eh, it’s two days after 4/20, but what the hell.
Great Moments in Weed History does exactly what it says on the tin. More specifically, it features two people — David Bienenstock and Abdullah Saeed, both weed enthusiasts and multi-hyphenate media types — who spend each episode going deep on the history of a particular topic or person that’s prominent in the long, illustrious history of the beloved yet controversial herb.
The show is a little erratic with its release schedule, dropping a few episodes every few months, but the existing selection is pleasantly eclectic. There are installments on Billie Holiday and Harry J. Anslinger, pegged to the recent Lee Daniels movie; Little Women author Louisa May Alcott, whose short stories apparently featured edibles a bunch; Hunter S. Thompson, for obvious reasons; and Tom Forcade, the founder of the famed High Times magazine. There’s one about Maha Shivaratri, the Hindu festival honoring the god Shiva and the role that weed plays in it. Willie Nelson appears a few times throughout the archives.
Great Moments in Weed History makes no bones about the fact that it’s a work of weed advocacy. As Saeed told Hot Pod contributor Kevin Cortez in a recent issue, “The fact of the matter is we’re counteracting a culture that has been biased against weed for decades based on a complete lack of understanding, and that’s far more dangerous.” It’s because of this, and not in spite of it, that the podcast is so interesting — and, for that matter, so very fun.
• Cocaine & Rhinestones, a really solid audio-documentary series about the history of country music by Tyler Mahan Coe, returns with a new season this week.
• The Stoop, Leila Day and Hana Baba’s podcast telling “stories about Black life that aren’t talked about enough,” is now part of PRX. Its most recent episode, “Craving a Different World,” offers a look into the experience of HBCUs.
• I was only a casual Orphan Black watcher back in the day, but superfans should note: The audio series Orphan Black: The Next Chapter, which continues the series, is now widely available.
And that’s a wrap for 1.5x Speed! Hope you enjoyed it. We’re back next week, but in the meantime: Send podcast recommendations, feedback, or just say hello at email@example.com.
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