Maintenance Phase: “Body Mass Index”
Ah, the body mass index. It should probably come as no surprise that the concept, despite its ubiquity as a measure to evaluate whether a person is “underweight” or “overweight,” is built on questionable science and should therefore be approached with sustained skepticism. Then again, I’m predisposed to assume this, being the sort of person who regularly listens to shows like You’re Wrong About, which are powered in part by the philosophy that notions of what’s “normal” and what’s not tend to be troublesome.
Anyway, the BMI is the subject of a two-parter from Maintenance Phase, the podcast by the writer Aubrey Gordon (who wrote last year’s What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat) and the journalist Michael Hobbes (the co-host of You’re Wrong About, speaking of which) that takes a chainsaw to the junk science behind health fads, wellness gambits, and other things of a Goop-ian nature.
Maintenance Phase is in many ways a direct companion piece to You’re Wrong About. It takes on a more specific lane, but the spirit remains the same — drill deep into something broadly known but underexamined, bristle against power, insist on complexity — and the BMI is perhaps its Ur-target. So much of health-and-wellness anxiety falls from conceptions around “weight abnormality,” and by taking on the BMI, Maintenance Phase is getting to the heart of its matter.
LOUD: The History of Reggaeton
It makes a whole word of sense that Spotify has been pushing really hard into music documentaries lately, stocking up on the genre as a principal pillar of its original-podcast strategy. The move serves a cluster of overlapping incentives: These projects expose the core user base of music listeners to the company’s nonmusic offerings, deepen relationships with artists, and make use of the company’s unique position with respect to music rights.
But the challenge, not unlike everywhere else in media and entertainment these days, is the problem of abundance. Spotify has been pumping out so many of these that, frankly, it can all be a little hard to track. No Skips With Jinx and Shea, Black Girl Songbook, The Messenger, the third season of Mogul (which I wrote about a few weeks ago and very much continue to admire) … the list goes on.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It means more people are getting to make more stuff, and more people who are into the subjects of these documentaries are having their interests served. But the trade-off is that it can be hard to create a genuine moment or an unimpeachable hit. And though Spotify as a platform may benefit from the aggregate consumption of all these shows, you do have to wonder if a really good project will ever get its time in the limelight — or if it will just be swallowed up on the shelf with everything else.
All this is a long windup, but these are the things I’m thinking about as I start to keep track of LOUD, which seeks to view the history of reggaeton through the lens of its emergence from youth culture in Jamaica, Panama, and Puerto Rico, among other places. The series is hosted by Ivy Queen, the Puerto Rican musician who was a pioneer in the scene, and it comes out of a collaboration with Futuro Studios, the increasingly prolific company that’s behind the podcasts Anything for Selena and Norco 80 and the radio show “Latino USA.” I’m intrigued by what I’ve heard so far and am curious to see where it goes.
Rotten Tomatoes Is Wrong: “Constantine”
Rotten Tomatoes Is Wrong is fine. Like most film and television podcasts, any enjoyment of this show fluctuates based on the relationship you have with the artifact being discussed as well as your personal fit with the vibe of the hosting crew — in this case Jacqueline Coley and Mark Ellis, two individuals editorially affiliated with the review-aggregation site. I could tell you the podcast is largely hit-or-miss for me, but hey, you’ll probably have a different assessment of the hit rate than I do. Them’s the shakes.
In any case, I do find myself more interested in the underlying blueprint of the show than in its execution: Take a film or TV show that leans hard in one direction critically, hold it up against the Rotten Tomatoes rating achieved at the time of release, and explore that gap. There’s a lot of potential here. Plenty has been written over the years about whether Rotten Tomatoes is bad for the media it aggregates, but however you shake out on the question, there’s no denying the utility of having a consolidated repository of criticism around individual film or television shows, even if there should be genuine debate as to the way that aggregation is tabulated and communicated. I happen to believe that, much the same way The Upshot can spin interesting yarns from various data sets, one could do the same with Rotten Tomatoes’ data, though unfortunately for me, Rotten Tomatoes Is Wrong doesn’t quite take that rigorous approach, choosing instead to lean hard into the casual chat-cast format. Not that there isn’t pleasure to be had in that pursuit — there very much is. It just feels as if something’s being left on the table.
But that’s not the reason I’m plugging this episode in particular. The reason is this: Constantine is a great movie! It deserves critical reappreciation! Gavin Rossdale should get more acting gigs! What was his last credit? The Bling Ring? Come on!
• We’ve updated our Best Podcasts of 2021 (So Far) list, in case you’re trying to get a handle on the year in podcasting thus far.
• Fans of fiction podcasts, take note: Bridgewater, the Aaron Mahnke–Lauren Shippen collaboration, is out now.
• Wondery’s Dr. Death returns next week, now with 100 percent more Italian. The third season will trace the story of Paolo Macchiarini, the Italian celebrity scientist who falsely claimed successes with regenerative therapy.
• Now that Eric Adams, the presumptive successor to Bill de Blasio as New York City mayor, will likely be getting all the leverage in the world in the wake of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s resignation, this is probably a good time to … listen to him talk about his veganism on a wellness podcast?
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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