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(By Troy Price) TV’s ‘Abbott Elementary’ is about as popular as you can get. It has a huge following, has won many awards and its stars are household names. The topics it address are timely, insightful, and funny. I was so excited when I sat down on January 4, 2023 and watch Jacob (one of the main characters) start a Podcasting Club.
Why you may ask… Well, podcasting has been around arguably since 2004. And even then podcasters longed for the time when the medium would become mainstream. Recently there has been some good news to share in that regard.
Since those early days of podcasting, I saw my downloads gradually but steadily increase (this is true for my podcaster friends as well). More and more big personalities and businesses entered the podcasting space. I actually thought that 2018 was going to be the breakout year for podcasting when a TV show, Alex. Inc. debuted. It presented the life and times of an O.G. podcaster on a major television network (#gonetoosoon). But then, on November 18, 2019, Forbes Magazine announced that Podcasting Is Going Mainstream! I was convinced all of our podcasting dreams were coming true!
I imagined that being mainstream would allow podcasting to do everything we hoped for. By being mainstream podcasting would:
· Garner massive audiences around minority and historically underrepresented voices.
· Allow socially and geographically isolated people across the globe to create large, virtual communities of people with similar interests.
· Give creative people international outlets for expression without someone else’s critique or their own financial limitations affect the distribution of their art.
· Provide recognition for podcasters equal to other broadcasters and content creators.
Those hoped lessened as I watched the ‘Read-A-Thon’ episode of Abbot Elementary.
Podcasting was being represented on one of the most popular comedies in the world - great. But, what was being presented was not positive. Podcasting was the punchline of most of the jokes of the show.
Here is the crux of some of the jokes made at podcasting’s expense:
· Podcasts about ideas are as interesting as a bow-tie coming to life.
· Being a podcaster is not special, anyone can create a podcast.
· Nationally known podcast hosts are over-idolized.
· Sound effects are funny.
With the inclusion of podcasting on Abbot Elementary, it is hard to argue that podcasting is not mainstream. However, much of this mainstream attention seems to be maligning or belittling the medium. I should have seen it coming.
I remember one weekend when I was a kid, I read a comic book that made my head explode. All of my favorite Marvel Comic characters were called away to another world to fight each other in epic comic fashion. I read, reread and dreamed about that comic all weekend and couldn’t wait until I could get to school and share my excitement. Monday came and when I got to school everyone else was talking about the Dallas Cowboys, and the new Clint Eastwood movie, and their hand-to-hand Army combat skills. No one else was excited about my comic. Further, many jokes for many days were made about me still reading comics. Maybe that is what makes me sensitive to the current state of podcasting.
I am afraid that metaphorically we are at that same stage of podcasting’s maturity. Everybody is finally talking about this amazing thing that we are excited about. But it is not how we expected. Mainstream media (like Abbot Elementary) is positioning podcasting’s strengths as actual weaknesses.
· The ease of creating a podcast becomes “Everybody’s got a podcast.”
· The ability to distribute creative ideas internationally becomes “Look at the weirdo wanting to talk about…”
· Podcasting’s ability to serve the underrepresented becomes “Only the ‘big’ shows are worth listening to…”
We are suffering, not being bolstered from all this attention.
Will we survive this? Yes. Do the positives of podcasting that we hold dear outweigh the teasing and hazing that we are experiencing now? Yes. Is there hope for the future of podcasting? Yes. All of that doesn’t help when something you love so much is made fun of.
Hey Troy in 2005, be careful what you wish for…