This American Life: One Year of Not Listening

One day last December I was busy sewing and listening to This American Life on NPR.  Even then I had a love/hate relationship with the radio program: listening to it seemed to me often like a cheap thrill and somewhat voyeuristic, but I often couldn’t resist and found myself sucked into the bizarre and heart-wrenching stories, always told with an insufferably hip soundtrack.  It was a very academic type of catharsis; it was, after all, public radio. I was a regular listener.

Until 12-19-08.

The theme for This American Life for that day was “Ruining It For the Rest of Us”. The main story was about a family in San Diego that decided not to immunize their child against measles, and how their decision made many people angry when a measles epidemic broke out in that city. The commentator was very biased against people who don’t immunize themselves or their children, and had such a strong opinion that I listened, appalled, thinking at some point there would be some balance. But there wasn’t.

I’m not completely for or against immunizations.  It’s not as simple as “belief” in a clearly effective–and life-saving– technology:  more nuanced questions are needed. What about the role of  Big Pharma and all the profit involved in  immunizations? Or, how about talking about what happens when we’re immunized against everything and anything?  Is this really healthy? Or, how about addressing the very real concerns of people permanently disabled and/or killed by immunizations? That’s not hyperbole, it happens, why do you think we have a National Vaccine Injury Compensation Fund? I recently met a nurse who travels across the country meeting people paralyzed or brain-damaged by shots; she creates federally funded, lifetime care plans for them. Sure, it’s statistically unlikely that you will be rendered a paraplegic by a flu shot; but, if it happens to you, that statistic is pretty darn personal. You probably wouldn’t have liked listening to that episode of This American Life last December, that’s for sure.

I guess that’s why I found the mocking tone of that episode so offensive that I’ve never ever been able to listen to that show, ever again. I know intelligent people who don’t get immunizations, or who get some immunizations but not all for their children; and they’re not whack jobs, either.

It was such an insensitive episode, too.  Which really shocked me; I think I almost felt betrayed, because This American Life seemed to always deal very adeptly with the gray areas in life, where what’s right and wrong is ambiguous. In this case there was no nuance: the episode focused just on stupid parents who were “ruining it for the rest of us” by not immunizing their children.

So, at the end of this year, to celebrate my one year CLEAN of This American Life and NPR in general, I donated money to some of my new favorite non-profit media: Free Speech TV, Link TV and Alternet.

Ira Glass, host of This American Life, is famous for calling public radio listeners during pledge drives who don’t financially support public radio and guilting them out about it. I found a clever blog that described this stunt. I wish Ira would call me. I’d tell him where my public radio money went this year.

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