Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Inexplicable Podcast Review: Gladwell’s Revisionist History has great name, iffy debut

Scotland Forever, one of Thompson's works.

I’ve eagerly read and written about Malcolm Gladwell’s past literary efforts, so I was excited when he shared on a Bill Simmons podcast last week that his own, Revisionist History, would be launching in mid-June. And hell, that’s a great name for a podcast! My excite level was high.

Unfortunately, the first episode, “The Lady Vanishes,” was highly disappointing. While Gladwell is well-known for usage of individual stories to make larger, grander points, I didn’t think the connection established in his first show was all that strong.

The basic premise – When countries elect female leaders for the first time, or when the Royal Academy of Arts features a woman artist for the first time, this period of time is usually followed by an intense criticism of that individual. While this seems logical to me, I don’t think Gladwell did a strong enough job of illustrating the point, as his two prominent examples were the sexism faced by Julia Gillard and the Royal Academy’s tokenism in the 1800s.

Gillard definitely dealt with misogyny, and her speech on the matter in October 2012 has its own Wikipedia entry, so it was effective and prominent. However, there are shades of grey to the incident – like that Gillard’s effort served as a smokescreen for the crude comments of someone in her own party – that Gladwell kind of downplays. Yes, Gillard definitely dealt with unfair sexism, but it was self-serving of her to address these while her own party was involved in a scandal.

The Roll Call.
Likewise, I think using sexism in the painting world in 1874 didn’t create strong enough support for Gladwell’s arguments, although it was definitely a compelling yarn that left me wanting more. The segment focuses on Elizabeth Thompson, who essentially received strong attention from the Royal Academy and prominent painting placement, but was never admitted as a member. The voting block of 40 old men probably had something to do with it. Her story was interesting, but I had to hit up Wikipedia and other sources to learn more about her.

As Revisionist History goes on, I’m hoping there is more focus on the individual stories, and less tries at sweeping societal points. The basic premise of the show – a look back at incidents that are wrongly recalled – is interesting enough to stand on its own without delving deeply into psychobabble.

I’ve written about podcasts here and there, and this entry from 2014, after Serial finished, is still mostly valid. And hey, I host a podcast! If you like pre-2000s video games, check out Your Parents Basement.

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