Wednesday, April 25, 2012

V: Valentine's Day on This American Life

Valentine’s Day on This American Life
Genre: radio

Another This American Life episode for V. Rather than cover the idea of falling in love and the overwhelming emotion of it (which is normally the story we get in books or movies or when a couple’s telling us how they got together), this episode is about stories that happened to couples “decades after the moment their eyes first meet.”
In Act Two, Veronica Chater interviews her parents. They’d been married for 45 years, and in that time had never gone on vacation, and never been apart for more than two days. As her dad put it, “I detest shopping. I detest eating out. I detest motels. I detest beaches. I detest anything having to do with what most people go on vacations for. For me it’s the opposite of having fun. It’s a purgatory.”
So when Veronica’s mom decided to go off to a Mexican resort with a friend, Dad (a former cop and corporate security consultant) prepares for the vacation as if she’s going to a war zone. He’s completely convinced that “two naïve women” are just asking for trouble going to Puerto Vallarta by themselves (as they talk, it’s hard to tell whether his wife is more amused or insulted, but you can tell she’s been dealing with this quite calmly for years). He gradually works himself into a frenzy as the day gets closer and closer, even getting to the point where he invites himself along. He writes to the Mexican authorities to inform them he plans to come into their country armed, and wants to know what’s legal. When his friends tell him that was a really bad idea, he decides to stay home after all.
Mom prepares for her vacation by shopping, packing, writing out her itinerary, and preparing meals for Dad to eat while she’s gone, as he doesn’t cook. She’s more worried about how he’ll cope without her, which he thinks is ridiculous as she’s the one going off to another country. As she hands him the list of chores to do while she's gone, he's instructing her on how to jam her hotel room door shut with a chair.
I’m sure you can see where this is going. J

I’m the one in my marriage who’s super-vigilant about being safe, and it was fascinating and a bit uncomfortable hearing my viewpoint taken to such an extreme.
Act Three is about monogamy, narrated by a 39-year-old man who starts out by talking about the couple across the street, who have sex in their living room and can be heard from outside (and he’s not the only man in the neighborhood who knows and arranges to be outside at around that time).
It’s funny and thought-provoking. Somewhere in the middle he says:

That's why monogamy has such a bad reputation. It's boring. Monogamy is the habit of not acting on what you want. I even hate the word itself. It sounds so staid, so bourgeois. Monogamy, like a board game, the approximation of excitement.

Sometimes, of course, I hear about open marriages. Jung had one, Sartre had won, Henry Miller, Dickens, Freud. I hear about open marriages, and they seem like some fabulous, exotic city that I've always wanted to visit but never seem to get to. Istanbul, open marriages are like Istanbul. Some ancient, mysterious place where there are minarets and strange music, where one entire civilization suddenly ends and a whole new stranger one begins, a whole new religion even, the mysterious east. I've always wanted to go to Istanbul.”

Despite the quote, he ends up at a rather interesting conclusion, a different way of looking at monogamy than he did at the beginning. And it wasn’t the way most people look at it (whether they’re for it or not). Which is why I love This American Life. They always find new perspectives on familiar subjects. Of course, reading a transcript is not the same as listening to the story they've built using peoples' voices and music and whatever else. I highly recommend streaming This American Life online if you don't live in an area that has it on the radio.


  1. Haven't come across this show before. Sounds interesting though.

    1. I'm a huge fan. They've done some truly awesome episodes.