What's So Wrong With Podcasts?

The New York Times article titled “Would You Date a Podcast Bro?” caught my attention as a particularly annoying bit of journalism.

I honestly couldn’t tell if I was more offended by it as a lover of podcasts (and perpetually thinking to myself “Could I start a show about XYZ?”) or the kind of silly half-assed story judgment that let it become a story in The Gray Lady. While the former certainly came into play, the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve become secure in the knowledge that it was the latter that bothered me.

To be clear: I’m not whining about the fact that a certain subset of terrible men are getting called out on their bullshit. They should, and it’s more than deserved. Men are often terrible; this is no secret.

Nor is a secret that some of those terrible men start terrible podcasts, or worse still, really popular podcasts.

But here’s the thing: What the people in this article are actually railing against is the “shitty man with a podcast.” To which, I say, “Yeah, no duh. Nobody wants to date shitty men. If they want to publish stuff you find objectionable? Good for them, and even better for you, hearing it on your own time instead of at dinner or in six months when you’ve moved in together.”

The story doesn’t make a distinction though. Here’s the nut graf of the article:

For Ms. Roberson, it wasn’t just the content of the man’s podcast, but that he had one at all. Like many other women, she associates the form with a certain kind of man: one who is endlessly fascinated by his own opinions, loves the sound of his own voice and isn’t the least bit shy about offering unsolicited opinions on masculinity, sexuality and women. Many women have taken to social media to mock just that kind of programming and the men who make it.

I think I find it a bummer that The Paper of Record has decided to news-ify what’s simply an unnuanced viewpoint. Don’t get me wrong: There’s nothing wrong with anyone setting parameters for whom they will or won’t date. It simply doesn’t make it newsworthy.

If a Republican said “It’s a dealbreaker for me if the person is a Democrat,” we’d shrug our shoulders. If someone from Knoxville, Tennessee said, “I don’t know what to tell ya: I just couldn’t bring myself to date a Bama fan,” nobody would care that a person was letting their football allegiances drive his or her dating life. We would, however, rightly point out that a person runs the risk of missing out on any number of great potential mates when you set up such parameters, as it reduces individuals to the groups they fall into and the boxes they happen to check.

Sure, sure, sure: I get the fact that the article goes out of its way to interview lots of men who have been negatively affected by this stereotyping, asking them “Is this something you’ve dealt with?” And some of them acknowledge that the reality is yes, which honestly sucks for them. Why do we care though? Is it perhaps because podcasts are a relatively recent phenomenon, therefore we’re just now seeing this particular “red flag” pop up on first dates? Maybe.

But my bigger question is this: What did podcasts ever do to anyone? The medium is a tool to express oneself, if you’re a creator, and a source of entertainment, if you’re merely a consumer. It’s not all that different from a blog or website or social media account in that way. Some are great. Some are bad. Some provide a legitimate outlet for deeply reported news, and others provide an outlet for thoughtful communication. Many more still are bad, or offensive, or worse. But again, we already knew that.

If a person wants to treat all podcasters as deplorables, that’s her prerogative. It’s silly, but whatever. I just find it worse that the Times seems fine with perpetuating the silliness as if it makes sense.

But it’s the bros. They’re the problem. Gym bros. Film bros. Bernie bros. All of these (and dozens of other nouns to which the term could be appended) have long existed to demarcate the worst of these sub-cultures. Not gyms or people who frequent them. Not films or people who live them. Not Bernie Sanders or people who vote for him. And we’re all aware of it. Nobody need come to the defense of bros (same goes for the podcast variety), but I don’t think a story that responds to a pretty unsophisticated view of dating and human nature was quite so necessary.