“True” Stories

In my continued obsessive listening to creative radio shows from across the land, lately I find myself stuck on Wiretap, this program outta Canada, put together by This American Life regular Jonathan Goldstein. I loved Wiretap right away when I heard it. My affection was immediate: The concept is fresh; the show’s themes–or plots, really, I should say– center largely on Goldstein’s obstensibly live-on-air phone conversations with friends. Often there are conflicts; the friends all get angry at Goldstein for some real or perceived slight and hijinks ensue.

Often, these segments work–but just as often, I find myself wondering–first, in a voice at the back of my mind that starts off quiet but which then gets increasingly loud–how real is this conflict? At the end of every show, a mechanized-sounding female voice tells listeners: “Wiretap was written and performed by Jonathan Goldstein.” For the little misunderstandings between Goldstein and his friends to be fictions somehow that takes away from the listening experience for me. It’s basically a radio play. But the thing is, it’s far less interesting as a radio play.

There are other times on the show when Goldstein or a guest will read fiction or an essay, and those segments are easier to listen to. I find myself less tense, less wondering at the truthfulness of what’s going on.

But why should degree of truthfulness matter at all if it’s entertaining? What is it about a true story that makes us perk up our ears and really pay attention? A few months ago, a friend and I started up a reading series here in Atlanta dedicated to the live reading of nonfiction,–journalistic and memoir. It was important to us that these stories be true–the series is even called “True Story!” The series has been pretty darn succcessful so far, and I think the truth, or, as Colbert would put it, the “truthiness,” or as Sedaris would put it, the “true enough“-ness, attracts people.

In some ways, now more than ever, truth matters to us. Why?

More on this later. TTFN, Henshaw. Off to work now.

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