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This American Life “Getting Away With It”

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I chose to listen to the This American Life episode called “Getting Away With It.” This series introduces ordinary people telling their stories anonymously, so that they have the freedom to speak what is on their minds. I took some notes on this style of storytelling as I was listening to it last night.

At first I tried to read the story at the same time as I was listening, but this didn’t work because there was a lot of pauses and stammering between words. This wasn’t a bad thing at all; in fact I enjoyed how they used their voices to show emotion and express the character’s personalities. What’s remarkable about audio storytelling is that the story can be told effectively without any of the actors being seen. By the middle of the first story, I’d gotten so much into it that I hadn’t touched Facebook at all, and I hadn’t even noticed that my phone rang…twice (my mom wasn’t too happy.) The narrator described everything in colorful detail to help paint a mental picture for the listener.

Every sound played a huge role in the story’s structure, from the sound of clinking bottles to the transition music in between. Music choice was key in how the scene’s mood was set. Driving down the countryside was exemplified using sort of a southern guitar theme while the arrival of an antagonist prompted a much darker tone. They used pauses to convey suspense. An example of this was when the mother and narrator arrive at the checkpoint and the music died to an awkward pause. Just made you want to hold your breath and hope they wouldn’t be discovered. When the suspenseful moment was over, happy music resumed, as if to say “Okay, you can exhale now.” You could never capture this level of drama by simply reading a script! After the story, there was a cross-faded transition into the show’s bumper, where they reminded the audience of what they were listening to, then another transition into the next story by restating the theme of the episode.

I loved Molly Shannon’s story in Act 3 (Crime and Tutus) about how her and her friend were able to sneak onto an airplane! There weren’t any sound effects in this story except for the audience’s reactions. By the way that Molly relived her story, you could really tell what she was feeling at that moment, as if her situation had just happened the previous day. My favorite line was after they snuck onto the plane and Molly shouted in a fast rant, “Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women. And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen!” This story definitely had a sense of triumph; I mean sneaking onto a plane for a free trip to New York? That’s a once in a lifetime deal if if one manages to get away with that! As the end transition song said, “I’m on a plane. I cant complain!”

I tried SO hard to maintain my horrible attention span for the last story, but I just couldn’t because not only did it exclude sound effects, but, to me at least, it wasn’t as interesting as the first 2 stories because it was just government officials droning on, and it didn’t seem to lead anywhere.  This is sort of comparable to me trying to read a chapter book. If there’s no pictures, but the story is still great, I’d still be willing to read it. However, if there were no pictures and the topic was boring, there’d be no way I could focus on the words for very long.

Overall, I feel that radio shows such as these could successfully keep an audience entertained by using techniques such as Foley sounds, music tracks, and audio effects to make a story seem more realistic and fuel the listeners’ imaginations. I liked this episode (or the parts that I actually listened to) so much that, whenever I get the time, I plan to listen to a few more episodes in the series.

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