Once again, a journalist at a major publication has taken time to write about audio drama as a podcast medium, to basically say, “I don’t enjoy this at all, but these small-minded fools seem to.” Writing for forbes.com, the article “The Audio Verse Awards Celebrates The Best In Audio Drama,” Joshua Dudley, a Forbes contributor, tells us that the quality of independent audio drama podcasts is lacking, with a tone that is condescending at best. This echoes sentiment from other major publications, such as the New York Times, where large-budget work is praised, and small-budget work is ignored or described as boring. Publications with corporate funding have a vested interest in promoting work that shares or follows a similar funding model. If the majority of consumers were to actively start creating, sharing, and consuming their own entertainment, streaming services, cable networks and media companies might lose a tiny bit of market share. Dudley’s message is not specifically capitalist; more notably, he misses his own point, by noting trends within independent audio drama podcasts. He disparages these trends, rather than examining them in order to discover something new.
He claims his article is about an annual awards show to celebrate the best in independent audio drama. Instead, Dudley focuses on the mentality behind audio drama podcast creation, using terms such as “people with narrow interests,” and “a glut of sameness.”
He name-drops two podcasts that are not eligible for the Audio Verse Awards, saying that it’s sad that they’re left out. One is funded by Marvel. The other has an international star of music, movies and cable television as its lead performer. To say it’s sad that these shows are left out is similar to asking why Krug champagne isn’t included in a small-batch brewing festival. Of course these are good. They have a lot of money making them good. Their creation doesn’t have the same process or support. Their stories may not reflect the same anxieties and experience as people who have to balance creative projects around day jobs. The challenges independent audio drama creators cope with are not something those shows cope with. Don’t put a dog in a cat show, and vice versa. Wasn’t Dudley’s article supposed to be about the Audio Verse Awards?
Dudley’s biggest complaint is the “glut of sameness” that came from listening to the nominees’ episode samples. His complaint is almost fair. “Many of the shows had a fantastical element that featured prominently in the script,” (much like the two big-budget podcasts he mentions earlier) “but only one of them felt so grounded in the reality of the world it created that it made me pay close attention and want to listen more.” Good. It flipped your switch. You liked it. I hope you voted.
Let’s take a look at this. If many of the shows to which you listened have a common element, isn’t it worth it to ask why this common element keeps coming up? First of all, in creating any kind of entertainment, when an artist chooses a medium, the artist has to ask what this medium does best, what can it do that other media can’t. No one expects an oil painting to make noise. Though film, television, live theatre and audio drama are similar means of telling stories, we don’t have the same expectations of their delivery. If audio drama allows the creator to utilize elements that can’t be done in a visual medium, why rely on realism? Secondly, to say that a show seemed not grounded in the reality of its own world, from listening to a small sample of the production, is not a big enough sample. Finally, if there’s a trend of people making audio drama podcasts with a fantastical element, and yet the work feels unfinished, why disparage? Why not say, “this work could have been good, I wanted it to be better, there needs to be more support for work like this?” Again, if there’s a common anxiety being discussed, and a common craft style being used, why not examine them to find some meaning?
Ultimately, Dudley got paid. He pitched a story to Forbes (a publication about making money), talking about an Internet-based awards show, with criteria that has nothing to do with profit. He wrote the article in a tone that congratulates readers for not listening to independently funded entertainment. It was published. Though he ends with a paragraph lauding passion and creativity, Dudley’s overall tone echoes the sentiment of other articles in major publications: isn’t your little hobby cute, too bad you’re not very good at it. Meanwhile people will continue to create media that can be shared easily, and do so without funding sources that can be tracked on the stock market. Ideas will grow without corporate gatekeepers. Journalists can either pay attention, join us, or get out of the way.
Yes, I know, I haven’t been writing here for a very long time, and I need to fix that. Or do I? Let me know. Yes, I’m on Twitter too, as @thislindsay.