CPE (really) rough draft


The history of podcasts is not a particularly long one. The art of podcasting has only been around since the late 90s in its base form, as a primarily audio-centric medium for dispersal of information similar to radio, but produced and distributed over the internet instead. As we know them now, they’ve been around for about half as long. Despite this, podcasting is a widespread medium. Apple estimates that last year, 550,000 podcast shows were published on iTunes, with even more than that separate from Apple’s platform entirely.

Even though they deal just as much with language as books, TV or movies, other mediums that are frequently objects of cultural studies, the scholarship that exists on them is few and far between. Language in podcasts, specifically question-and-answer podcasts, often lacks the same intentionality that other media has with respect to language use. Podcast hosts often spend more time improvising and riffing than they do writing scripts, instead putting creative energy into editing and developing the core ideas for outlines of shows. The minutiae of question-and-answer podcast speech is less written and more discovered.

But what does it take to make one of these podcasts popular? Much like Dear, Abby columns, the popularity of these shows comes from the personality of the hosts, the uniqueness of ideas and the production value. Poor editing, stiff acting and boring hosting can all lend itself to podcast failure. Rarely does a popular podcast come about in which at least two of these, if not all three, come true.

Slate’s Dear Prudence series, and the Maximum Fun series My Brother, My Brother and Me exemplify the core similarities and differences between different styles of question-and-answer podcasts. For the most part, the format is the same: hosts receive questions and give answers. The difference genre (advice and comedy respectively) mean that the overall feel and language use within these two couldn’t be more different.

Podcasts ultimately belong in a time and place, too, and the final thing that makes a podcast a success or a failure is if these work for the shows ideas. Much like failed pilots, many podcasts die out before getting anywhere. But, unlike TV, beholden to funding and the whims of higher-ups, podcasts are cheap to produce if one has the time, and so the question of popularity isn’t necessarily a one-and-done like a pilot, but instead a question of persistence and audience growth. A small podcast isn’t necessarily doomed, but a small podcast without tenacious hosts with interesting ideas and unique ways of presenting them, is.



To construct my argument and place it within a historical context, I’ll use historical data on podcasts in general and Q&A podcasts specifically. The historical situatedness of podcasting as an art form will better aid the discussion of what current podcasts are doing with language. I’ll also bring in “Dear Abby” articles as a comparison point for user-submitted, host answered question media, as this one of, if not the most, iconic version of Q&A media that we have. There are quite a few advice columns, but by using “Dear Abby,” I can set up a timeline of advice media that spans from the 50s to today, between multiple mediums.

Beyond this, I plan to use critical analysis of language and comparative analysis of the themes within the two podcasts I’ve chosen, My Brother, My Brother and Me and Slate’s Dear Prudence. In doing this, I’ll bring in clips from each show’s most popular bits/answers, and compare the quality of advice, the intention of the hosts (entertainment or genuine advice-giving?), and the language used by the hosts of each show. I’ll seek to show the ways that their intentions affect the language of the individual podcasts and the genre of Q&A as a whole. In order to do this, I’ll discuss the idea of pastiche and how it pertains to these podcasts, and how the culture affected the history of these shows’ popularity and how the current cultural value affects them now. I’ll be applying the theory of close reading (new criticism??) to reach these means.

I’m choosing to do all of this in my own recording, and will be doing this so that the form of my argument, my own audio production, matches the content of my argument. I will provide a final transcription of this audio file for accessibility and readability reasons.





Dear Prudence subsection

My Brother, My Brother and Me subsection

Link it up/comparison time



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