The Curse of a Podcast

The podcast is an effective way to communicate stories or ideas even though they lack of visual representation. Podcasts are points of interest in that aspect. They manage to fill your ears with different tones and voices of all the characters involved, yet still allowing room for your brain to imagine how everything looks. “Signs and Symbols” by Vladimir Nabokov and “The Reunion” by John Cheever are both stories that have been adapted by The New Yorker in the form of a podcast.

Alone, both texts have deep, meaningful stories with plenty of symbolism and imagery, but the podcast format added another level to this: the speaker’s voice. In “The Reunion”, read by Richard Ford, Charlie’s voice as he narrated the story is innocent and simple, while his father’s voice is stern, powerful and confident. This clearly ends up giving both characters more depth, depth that would not be achieved on paper and pen. In the end this causes the story to feel more engaging since right from the start the listener can relate to both characters on some level. The first person narrative almost feels as though it was meant to be read out and created for that sole purpose. However, this does not mean that all podcasts improve their story. Nabokov’s short “Signs and Symbols”, read by Mary Gaitskill, in contrast becomes very boring and unattractive. Throughout the entire story the reader has a monotone voice, and although it does suit the darker style of the story, it doesn’t make the podcast compelling enough to sit through. Unlike Ford’s reading, Gaitskill does not add anything new to table. There is no extra characterization or emotion felt since the story has a third person perspective. As a result, it seems as though reading the text version of the story would be a much better alternative. The New Yorker has proven that, although podcasts can be a very tempting tool to use, it can be difficult to get a successful product. Not all stories are structured in a way that a podcast is a valid medium to deliver them with. However in the cases where the combination does work, the result can be outstanding.


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