Review of audio content this week: Things Fell Apart, The Queen’s Reading Room, and Who Do You Really Think You Are?
Things Fell Apart (Radio 4) | BBC Sounds
The Queen’s Reading Room The Queen’s Reading Room
Can you share your identity? (Radio 4) | BBC Sounds
Jon Ronson, the writer and host of a podcast, has returned with a new season of his acclaimed Radio 4 show, Things Fell Apart. In this series, he delves into different conflicts within the culture wars. The first season, released in 2021, explored topics such as abortion rights in the US, conservative censorship of books in schools, and the attitudes of evangelical Christians towards gay men during the Aids crisis.
I thoroughly enjoyed it, and many of the elements that made the first season so exceptional are present in this one as well. The structure is carefully crafted, with Ronson withholding just enough information to create a “No way, what!” moment in each episode. His interviewing style is amiable, with his sharp journalistic mind hidden behind a disarming and humble demeanor. There is a general theme of “Look at the strange Americans” (although Ronson is British, he has lived in the US for many years). Furthermore, there is a belief that all the bizarre and upsetting occurrences in today’s loud and trigger-happy world have a root cause. A small but significant misunderstanding or spread of misinformation can have far-reaching consequences that no one could have predicted. These are the moments that Ronson seeks out.
The eight episodes of season two, all on BBC Sounds, have their roots in the first eight weeks of lockdown (late March to May 2020). Topics covered include antifa (the US anti-fascist movement), Black Lives Matter, anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists and transgender rights. He begins in 1980s Miami, with the mysterious deaths of 32 women, mostly sex workers. I guessed where it would end up, though the episode deliberately disguises it. Still, the structural pull-back-and-reveal in no way lessens the shocking revelation at the programme’s heart.
In later episodes, Ronson travels to Chipping Norton, UK to explore the concept of 15-minute cities, which has become a popular topic among conspiracy theorists. In the final episode, he meets a man named Mikki Willis who believes his life follows the pattern of a hero’s journey. Willis describes the journey as a reluctant hero being called to adventure, overcoming obstacles, and ultimately facing and defeating a villain. This structure is commonly found in literature, film, and video games, but Willis believes it applies to his own life. He sees the events of 9/11 as his call to adventure and views everything and everyone mentioned in previous episodes as his enemies, including a well-known public figure whom Ronson chooses not to reveal in order to encourage listeners to tune in.
Having binged the entire season in one go – possibly not a good idea – I found myself feeling sad and frustrated. All these ludicrous conspiracy theorists with their ego-based misinformation, creating all this awful misery! To his credit, Ronson himself ends by listing all the lies we’ve heard. He also says this: “When untruths spread, the ripples can be devastating. It feels more important than ever to try to hold on to the truth, like driftwood in the ocean. Because if not, we might drown.” Indeed we might.
Following the thorough and insightful examination of Things Fall Apart, I would like to share with you something that lacks intelligence. Behold: The Queen’s Reading Room. However, according to our podcast host Vicki Perrin, it should be called The Queen’s Reading “Rum”. As you may have noticed, Vicki is not Queen Camilla. Queen Camilla has a book club and charity called The Queen’s Reading Room, and this show appears to be aimed at promoting reading. It may achieve this goal simply by being uninteresting enough to make us put down our electronic devices and pick up a physical book. How clever!
If you name a podcast The Queen’s Reading Room, there is an expectation from listeners to hear a) the Queen and possibly b) a description of the room. However, b) is never mentioned and a) is only brought up towards the end after a long interview with Ian Rankin about books. While Rankin is an engaging and fascinating speaker, listening to anyone talk for 20 minutes can be tedious if the only breaks in audio are some dull classical music. The producer’s questions are edited out, resulting in a lack of intimacy, and the sound quality is also poor.
Camilla makes a surprise appearance towards the end of the show, featured in a clip from 2021 where she chats with author Peter James. She asks him about his creative process for coming up with new storylines, sounding like a curious seven-year-old. We are then treated to another exclusive quote where she shares that she read Harry Potter to her children but did not use different voices for the characters. This has already been covered in various publications. And that concludes Camilla’s appearance! She leaves to go to the reading room, or the drawing room, or some other location but definitely not the recording studio. It was a pointless addition to the show.
“Who Do You Really Think You Are?” is an entertaining Radio 4 show that was first aired on New Year’s Day and was recently repeated. The show, featuring geneticist Dr. Adam Rutherford, mathematician Hannah Fry, and historian Martyn Rady, reveals that all Europeans are descendants of royalty, particularly Charlemagne, the Frankish king from the late 700s and early 800s. The method used to prove this may seem like a puzzle with a simple set of rules, but the outcome is baffling. Overall, it’s an enjoyable show and now that I am queen, I invite you to join me at my reading room. I assure you, it will be more enjoyable than the other queen’s.