“Podcast anxiety” is little-known compared to some of its more expansive brethren; yet its presence among the wider public has been spreading to the point of great concern, quite possibly of epidemic proportions. Over the past year alone, cases of podcast anxiety have had roughly a several thousandfold increase. So steep a rise has left our leading psychiatric clinicians utterly beside themselves with helplessness, causing them onset anxiety of their own. In fact, there is much to suggest that psychiatric clinicians, whether leading or following, are just as susceptible to this very peculiar but very intense strain of anxiety. The purpose of this pamphlet is to bring awareness to and encourage action of the layman, the last line of defense against podcast anxiety.
What does podcast anxiety look like?
As more and more people become entangled in the culture of listening to podcasts, it becomes more and more difficult to determine who has succumbed to podcast anxiety. The easiest way, I think, is through self-examination. This may seem like a high order, but it is for one’s own good and the greater good that it be done. You must ask yourself a series of questions, preferably in front of a mirror, possibly naked but that is your decision:
- Do I listen to podcasts?
- Do I listen to more than three podcasts?
- Out of the three-plus podcasts, do I commit myself more fully to a single podcast? Do I listen weekly? Do I listen to an episode multiple times? Do I attend live tapings? Do I adhere to a nickname shared by other fans? Do I buy merch?
- Do I despair at not being invited onto podcasts?
- Do I feel alienated from the world by not being a regular on a podcast?
- Do I feel ashamed of not having created a podcast?
- Do I feel inadequacy that my own knowledge base is, by comparison to the hosts of my beloved podcast(s), broad and shallow? That I lack a vague sense of command or authority over any one part of their more focused knowledge? That I lack “compelling” or “impactful” “stories”?
- Am I affecting vocal fry?
Even if you answered “No” to all or just enough of these questions to evade anxiety, you now know what to look for when you turn your attentions to the mass.
How is podcast anxiety managed?
But knowing the what of podcast anxiety gets us only halfway. The how of podcast anxiety, in particular how its spread is contained and how its effects are neutralized permanently, is a much-contested matter. There are some competing methods of treatment already in application. Some favor physical and sensory isolation, though many find that both extreme in nature and not practically possible. Therefore some have proposed a softer approach: treating the anxious with kindness, compassion, and seeing their suffering with great sensitivity, and hence allowing each of the anxious to process their anxiety at their own pace; this method involves much tea, large pastel-colored candles, crying, and the music of Enya.
However effective either of those methods may be over time, in the space of this pamphlet I will propose a different and, I think, more promising avenue of treatment: discouragement.
How to discourage people from podcasts
The discouragement method is a two-tiered (or two-pronged or double-edged or bi-faceted) process. Discouragement toward people who are podcasting and people who listen to podcasts have some overlap but are overall distinct. There is no set rule as to the order in which users of this method should apply the treatment, but it stands to reason that neither podcaster nor audience should be neglected.
The seasoned discourager of podcasters need understand only one thing: podcasts are not typically created as ends in themselves. This is easy to forget when you look at their large audiences, live tours, Patreon hauls, and sponsorships; but these are mildly hoped-for outcomes, usually accepted as turns of good fortune. The podcaster who treats the podcast any other way is laughable and requires no outside intervention in being made aware of their folly. The traditional hobby podcaster is our sole point of focus.
Podcasts, whatever their style or substance, are always driven by passion. It is a most unusual and immoderate passion at that. Podcasters don’t deny this as such, but often misdirect its source. They’ll claim a passion for “knowledge” or “truth” or “free-inquiry” or “policy” or “wellness,” but in all cases it is a passion for voice. Sometimes it is the singular voice, elsewhere the voice that claims to speak for their fans. It is a sonorous, melodious passion, and it gets out of control with little help and in little time. A century ago people with such passion were dropped into institutions without much thought. And until re-institutionalization becomes fashionable, it is left to us to meet the voice of passion with the voice of reason.
While it would seem tempting to approach the podcaster or podcast aspirant and tell them point black that their idea and their voice is simply not good, this would be both lazy and disastrous. As contemporary political debate has shown us, castigating someone for their bad choices only causes those choices to be made more gleefully. It makes more sense to remind the podcaster of the banality of the world in which they function or wish to function. The strange thing about podcasts is that no one can ever make a bad one because the bar for being a good podcast is unprecedentedly low. Can you talk for hours at a time in an inoffensive timbre and with plausible but not overpowering confidence? Great! And there a podcast is born. For all the variety of the hundreds if not thousands of podcasts available, there is a crushing sameness to all of them. If you take every voice of every podcast and render them in aural mosaic, you’ll have one overwhelming mid-tempo yawn — a yawn pleading for our enlightenment.
That should pretty much leave podcasters at any point in the process sufficiently discouraged.
Discouraging podcast audiences
Discouraging podcasters is relatively easy compared to discouraging their fans. This is because our rational faculties do not allow for their existence. Fandom has long been the prime vice of the professionally lonely, but the podcast fandom is of a mold-breaking vastness. Anyone can be a podcast fan: people who are married, people with steady employment, your siblings, your parents, your lover(s). The podcast yawn is a siren song entrancing seemingly all who hear it from the cultural sea. More unusual than the generalist podcast fan is the fan of any one podcast. We cannot picture the kind of person drawn to Pod Save America above others, My Favorite Murder above others, or WTF with Marc Maron above others. The mind of a podcast listener is wracked by a tangled and alien psychology not easily penetrated.
Nevertheless, with some patience a simpler, more binding psychology emerges. Whereas podcasters are driven by passion, their listeners are attracted by devotion. It is near-religious if not totally religious, worshipping at the altar of just enough but not too much: that is, just enough but not too much information or insight or authority or narrative or helpful advice. There is an ambiguity of the podcast produced by pure charm and informed but wholly amateur enthusiasm. Its polished crankishness is not unlike that of Instagram influencers. Listeners exploit this ambiguity for finely honed thrills, which they collect like trinkets and carry wherever they go to display in all their pristine wonder, even if you had not asked to hear about them. To think of every podcast fan is to think of subway rats converging in an E train car to form a manspreading leviathan nodding to solemn inanities through his wireless earbuds.
Discouraging podcast fans requires a greater degree of subtlety. While they crave the simple and packageable, they are more sophisticated than they let on. Consider it like the breaking of a spell. You must find some proof to a suspicion, long held by me, that podcasters are at a marked remove from their fans; which is to say, podcasters do not know, acknowledge, or truly listen to their fans. They hear them, sure, but that is a different matter — that is the absolute least they can do. The podcast fan is an object; a shadow with a debit card and a Venmo. It may be that the podcast fan has internalized this, but also allowed it to corrode into a perverse affirmation. We must be cautious to lull the podcast fan out of this stupor somehow without triggering a cataclysmic breakthrough. Greater research may need doing on this relationship to better inform the method for its dismantling.
With these broadly stated proposals outlaid, I think we have the makings of a sound method for curbing not only podcast anxiety but the podcast complex as a whole. Some might take issue with a “tough love” approach to this problem; I don’t see why they would, seeing as my method is nether tough nor loving. It is simply a matter of diverting a speeding train by pointing out the brick wall at the end of the track. The method is carried out in the spirit of that great proverb of unknown origin: there is greater hope for the liberated after being [somewhat methodically] deprived of it as slaves. Then we can all do ham radio again as God intended.