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DemCP colloquium - HANNE NIJTMANS: "Podcasting Paranoia: The Politics of American Fictional Podcasts"

When:We 02-12-2020 16:00 - 17:00


In the past decade, the podcast—an audio-only, on-demand narrative form—has become an increasingly popular medium that draws millions of listeners, both within the U.S. and around the world. While scholars are excited about podcasts’ potential to create content that finds no place in the mainstream media, lauding podcasters’ creativity and drive for innovation, they fail to address the political nature of the content. This paper outlines a PhD project that focuses on the fictional podcasts of five American podcast producers, Night Vale Presents, The Public Radio Alliance, Gimlet Media, Kinda Evil Genius Productions, and Tim Robbins’ Bubbo Supreme, to show not only how several podcast-specific affordances promote a new form of aural storytelling, but also how these affordances have been used to deliver timely forms of ideology critique.

The argument I want to pursue is that these fictional podcasts use the paranoid style to imply state or corporate conspiracies as a means to express deep concern about the increasing power of tech companies that have come to dominate our everyday communication (even more so during the Covid-19 global health crisis) and the weaponization and exploitation of new technologies like algorithms and data by the U.S. military and government agencies, as well as large corporations. Liz Franczak of leftist conspiracy podcast TrueAnon, when talking about “techno-totalitarianism” and the role of the internet, asserts that: “[w]e need a twenty-first century Pynchon.” I want to suggest that American fictional podcasts have not only taken up that mantle, but have updated Pynchon for the internet age. The form of the podcast is especially effective in conveying paranoia: the consumption via headphones literally gives listeners voices in their head, and the long-listen on-demand format allows for complex narrative structures.

About the speaker

Hanne Nijtmans is a teacher at the American Studies department of the University of Groningen. She teaches courses on U.S. history between the 1960s and the present moment and research design. She is currently working on a PhD proposal on the politics of American fictional podcasts, which is based on the work she has done for her Research Master’s thesis titled “Who Is Listening? The Politics of American Dystopian Podcast,” which focused on how twenty-first American fictional podcasts use dystopian future scenarios to express ideological critiques of American Empire and late-stage capitalism. Beyond this project, her research explores the ways new media, including videogames, podcasts, and interactive narratives construct different, and at times illusory, forms of agency.

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