Reith’s Lectures (BBC Radio 4) | Sounds of the BBC
The Cost of Happiness: Tony Hsieh (Imperative/Vespucci) | Podcasts24
Teamistry: The untold story of Concorde (Atlassian) | Apple
i-Dentity: Jungle, Garage and the birth of Grime | Apple
Ooh, a must-have Radio 4 Reith conference. Amazing. Not last week’s one, sadly, though you could use it as a comparison and contrast: last week’s one on how not to give a Reith Lecture; the previous week on how to do it right.
This year the themes are all about freedom, each with a different speaker. Weeks three and four will address freedom from want (author/musician Darren McGarvey) and freedom from fear (foreign policy expert Dr. Fiona Hill). Last week we have Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, on freedom of belief. In the opening lecture, Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie discussed freedom of speech. It is she that you should try.
But first let’s look at Williams’s and why it didn’t work. It’s too familiar, to begin with. We listened to his harmless liberal musings Thought for the day for eons. Second: He doesn’t think clearly enough. Is it right that religious B&B owners refuse to host a gay couple? “Someone who says, I don’t want to be forced to directly take an action that’s against my belief… I’m not sure that’s the same as being asked to facilitate someone else’s decision.” Third: his soothing voice from RP causes an instant nap.
Related: ‘I believe literature is in danger’: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie comes out fighting for free speech
So after you wake up, head straight back to the impressive Adichie. Dignified, honest, clear, courageous: you would give due consideration to her words if she ordered from a take-out menu. On free speech she was outstanding. He argued for not censoring topics we don’t like, for the opportunity to counter “profanity” with “more words.” She is interested in hearing ideas she disagrees with so she can demolish them.
He has gone through so many topics, including self-censorship and censorship in writing, whether through readers disliking bad characters, confusing them with the author, or editors running “sensitivity checks” on proposed manuscripts . He recalled, forcefully, the recent attack on Salman Rushdie. “Imagine the brutal, barbaric intimacy of a stranger inches away from you and forcefully thrusting a knife into your face and neck multiple times,” she said, “because you wrote a book.”
The subsequent Q&A session was also enjoyable, largely due to Adichie’s ability to go straight to the very core of the questioner. One man said he liked to test the police’s definition of hate speech by being “as antagonistic as humanly possible while staying on the right side of the law.” He called his actions “deeply childish” and wondered why he didn’t spend his time doing something he enjoyed. A woman asked about the rights of women and transgender people. Adichie replied that it’s not true that women are inferior, and it’s not true that trans people don’t exist. It may sound a little grand at times – his solution that we should get someone else to post on social media for us (he has an assistant) isn’t available to all of us – but this was such a brilliant, so relevant and courageous talk, that we can forgive her the occasional diva moment. She is extraordinary, and it is a privilege to hear her speak.
Also, Adichie’s voice is pleasant to listen to: warm, open, engaging. Journalist and presenter Nastaran Tavakoli-Far is another person with a distinctive audio tone. Although he’s from London, it always sounds a bit like he’s having a conversation in a foreign language. He reminds me – I don’t know why – of The newspaperis Michele Barbaro. I like.
Tavakoli-Far Podcast 2020, The cult of orgasm, was a huge success and had two very different new shows last week. The first, The cost of happiness, the story of billionaire tech-bro Tony Hsieh, covers a familiar area of podcast inquiry. Hsieh made his money selling shoes online and his reputation from his happy work environment (early foosball / beers in the fridge / work-hard-play-hard vibes). So he set out to create an all-new happy valley—sorry: “corporate village”—in downtown Las Vegas, with workers working, living, relaxing, and educating their kids in the same fun place. Like Bournville in Birmingham, but more alcoholic. A gripping story that will no doubt end far from happiness.
The other new Tavakoli-Far podcast, teamistry, delves into the history of the Concorde, and I really like it too, not least for his Spock-like descriptions of people: “John can be lighthearted about the more serious stuff, and always has a look on his face as if he’s going to tell a joke. He is like a hot robot. But that’s just the way of him. She gets results.
Another history lesson in identitya podcast from id youth trend magazine. One of the few things Britain does brilliantly is youth culture, and I love any media that takes it seriously, especially nightclubs. People’s lives change in those places and documenting the details, discussing them with insight, is a dutiful job. identity it does it very well.