Not Missing Richard Simmons

Well, my marathon podcast-listening session that took place during the thirty-two hours I spent in a car over spring break couldn’t really continue once I got home. (Although I enjoyed writing about it in my last blog). I have been listening to Serial, and like everybody else, I love it. I’m also convinced that the man convicted is indeed the murderer, and now I’m worried that I’m listening to the podcast through the lens of a serious confirmation bias. This made me think about the podcast I’m producing — my political leanings are very explicit, and I wonder how I might have approached it differently if I was instructed to deliver an ideologically neutral rendering of coal mining history in Appalachia.  Have I been selecting historical events just to make the case for unionism? Although I believe that media content is never free of political bias — and that the same is true of historical research and writing — I’m aware that it doesn’t hurt to check in with oneself about that from time to time.

I want to keep an open mind as I listen to Serial, but now that I have my own theory about it, part of what keeps me listening is that I’m looking to prove it. Having an aim or an angle with serialized/narrative historical media seems to be really key to hooking in an audience. While I don’t want to believe that there has to be some validation, resolution or relief at the end in order to make the media-consumption time worth it, that just may be the case.

Incidentally, this is not why I strongly dislike Missing Richard Simmons, but (to make a haphazard segueway) it could be! Yes, I am a member of #TeamMissingRichardSimmonsIsIckyAndExploitative.  I’ve only listened through the third episode, and I think I’m done. I did some research on it after listening to Episode 1, and I was interested to see some early criticism of it that (rightly, I think) spoke to its intrusiveness. Yes, Richard Simmons should have been aware of his impact, and he could have disappeared from the public eye more graciously — in a way that didn’t make people concerned. But it’s absurd to think that grown adults (… yes, all of his fans are adults) can’t grasp that Simmons, too, is just a darn human being. It’s not difficult to read Simmons’s over-the-top performativity, lengthy career as an exhibitionist, and even his personal connections with fans as a really extreme form of self-expression. Who can’t understand why he’d want to call it quits.? Taberski’s inquiries may have been good-natured, but Simmons was not an officially recognized missing person, nor was his health or whereabouts in question to the point of concern for his safety where authorities may have had to get involved. (Also, had that been the case, it would have been the prerogative of his family first and foremost).

Therein lies the crux of my beef with Missing Richard Simmons. Exploitation issues aside, there’s actually not much of a story there. In choosing the colorful world of Richard Simmons fans/friends as his substantive content, Taberski walked into podcast gold. These personalities practically write the production themselves. But, as I said, Simmons was never officially missing; there’s no real intrigue or mystery, just a story about an unlikely recluse. I never really thought about Richard Simmons before this podcast, and I won’t be thinking about him after. Sorry, Taberski.

Onto scripts: writing and recording will be an iterative process, I know it. Making sure my voice remains poised, confident and natural while conveying detailed information is going to require a lot of revision. My interview with my expert was over an hour long. I’ve done transcription work before, and know enough to know that I cannot transcribe the whole thing (that would be excessive, to put it mildly; I’d use speech-to-text software for a job like that)— so, sorting through that interview for the right clips to transcribe is on the agenda.

Editing and revising is the most important part of any creative work, so I’m not concerned about the amount of revision I have in front of me. I expected that.  Will my script/podcast ever “really” be done? Probably no more so than the history of coal mining in Virginia can ever be told in one piece of content. I will do my best with what I have and aim not for perfection, which is an impossible ideal, but for media that resonates with listeners and makes them care about the topic.

After so much nonfiction podcast listening, I think that’s the best evaluative criterion for this medium: did this podcast me care about its subject matter more than I did before tuning in?

I hope my listeners care just a little bit more about mining unions than they would have before hearing my work. I hope they care more than I do about Richard Simmons.

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