If you have ever wondered what my most popular post is on this blog (that was a joke), wonder no further. It is my This American Life post from sometime last year. Here it is. This makes me very happy, as I think it is one of the more important things that I've written about. I really believe that this show has the ability to inspire change, challenge thought, and open minds. LOTS of things on the radio do that, actually. While we're at it, might I suggest The Writers' Almanac, Radio Lab, and Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me? So good!
Well, I listened to an episode of This American Life--by way of Radio Lab-- on the train this morning that tilted my world on its axis. Too dramatic? Well, YOU try listening to the second act of The Parent Trap and not be changed. It is compelling, to say the least.
(You can do so here.)
The story starts out familiar enough-- its about a chimp named Lucy raised by humans in a domestic setting. Early highlights include scientific observations, like Lucy's clear understanding of the English language. She starts inventing her own words (in sign language, clearly) like 'candy-drink' for watermelon and 'hurt-cry-food' for onion.
But THIS story goes to a completely different level, as it follows the chimp from a suburban neighborhood to the jungles of Africa. Then, as both Radio Lab and This American Life do so very well, it poses questions that get to the gut humanity. What designates a species? Where does animal end and human begin? And of course that old nature vs nurture argument.
What the story doesn't do is point fingers, as its listeners clearly will. In fact, it can easily be viewed as irresponsible storytelling, as the story goes wrong in SO MANY ways. But that isn't the point, now is it? Semantics will get you nowhere in a story distressed from its onset. The point that Ira Glass so keenly hands us is a very rare observation of The Human Condition.
And the final question-- one that you will be left wondering with a dropped jaw and tears STREAMING DOWN YOUR FACE-- is if Janis Carter was crazy, or if she was merely doing the right thing. Not bad for a Thursday morning commute.
Note: The other two stories on the episode are really good as well. The prologue story doesn't have much of a point, to be honest, but I found it endearing and entertaining as, again, human observation. And the first act is... sad. But I like sad things, apparently.