This Is Not A Drill (False Alarm! part i)

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Our New ToE series on the battle between the real and the fake begins with a text alert sent out to everyone in Hawaii on a balmy Saturday morning. We also hear from the man who has written the text alert that will go out to all New Yorkers in the event of a real emergency. Artist Stan Douglas shows us how to reconstruct the future, and your host turns to fellow podcaster Jody Avirgan for advice on how to own the “real-ish” podcast genre. Plus the little boy who cried wolf meets the Emperor with no clothes!

illustration by Jordan Crane

Vacation fail

Alex and Liza went to Hawaii to relax, tune out and unplug. But one morning their phones woke them up with a message telling them they were going to die.

The TV told them to hop in a ditch, the hotel siren claimed everything was ok, and twitter said both, and then there were the people yelling in the hallways. Alex and Liza didn’t know who or what to believe.

The boy who cried wolf meets the emperor with no clothes

The little boy who cried wolf and the boy from the story about the Emperor with no clothes were both into street wear — what happens when their narratives cross?

Really, this is not a drill

Eliot Calhoun is the man responsible for writing the emergency alert that would go out to New Yorkers in the event of a nuclear attack. He’s been spending a lot of his time revising it, but he never had enough space to include “this is not a drill” in his emergency alert. He only gets 90 characters which he can’t waste on saying that it’s not a drill. He would rather explain that if you’re outside when a nuke drops, you should take off your radiation-soaked clothes as soon as you get inside.

Eliot is one of the only people on earth for whom a false alarm like Hawaii could be more scary than the real thing. Because for him, “warning fatigue” could prevent people from listening to emergency alerts like his, which can savelives.

Reconstructing the future

Photographer Stan Douglas is famous for the meticulous research he puts into his historical reenactments but for his latest series, Scenes From The Blackout he’s looking at the future.

“Solitaire” and an emergency message (written by Eliot Calhoun!) from Solitaire

Working with the future is hard. According to Stan, it has to make sense — but he also admitted that the orderly looters from his photo Queue feels more like Canada than New York.

Stranded reminds me of the 2003 blackout. In Tompkins Sq park, near where I live, men ripped off their shirts and dragged portable stoves into the park. There were new identities, new ways of being, new ways of socializing. You could feel the disappointment when the lights came back on.

I tried ask Stan Douglas if setting his blackout in the future has something to do with our present moment. In the age of fake news and alternative facts, is it better to retreat to the future rather than mixing your fictions with history or the present? You can hear his answer in the show.

I really need to figure this out because my relationship with the real and the fake has hit hard times. It seems that in 2018 no-one wants a podcast that utilizes both fact and fiction.

It’s kind of urgent that I figure this out. So I am going to be talking with some of my fellow podcasters for this series.

From live-ish to real-ish

I used to work with Jody Avirgan at WNYC, we were always scheming about a future that involved podcasts. Today he’s the host of the 538 Politics podcast (and other ESPN shows like 30 for 30) Ever since the election he’s kind of pioneered this new genre of podcast I call “Live-ish”

Here is his explanation of what he does:

I would like to pioneer a podcast genre myself! I even have a name for it: Real-ish. I hit up Jody for some advice

Jody suggested that the main problem is that I mix fiction with fact without a strong intention. He suggested that I either develop a stronger intention for my theories, a la Alex Jones; or that I explain my less nefarious intentions.

Ok, here is a detailed explanation:

I wanna know if something about our relationship with the truth has actually changed. We’ve been here before. In the 1850s, America went nuts for spiritualism — pseudoscience people regularly got together in darkened rooms to talk with their dead relatives, Jesus christ and Benjamin Franklin. And in the 1930s the whole world went nuts for the fake pseudoscience — new theories about eugenics, space ice, and magic. And things got really dark.

We are gonna hear from some folks who have some pretty good ideas about what was going on at these moments but what I really want to know is what’s going on now. What’s the driving force behind our reality blues?

Duck and uncover

But now that the alarm bells are going off, where do we seek shelter? I sent ToE’s Andrew Callaway to scout a place out.

More Podcasts!

A lot of these folks in the show have podcasts of their own. Alex Goldmark is part of NPR’s Planet Money and you can hear Eliot Calhoon sometimes on NYC Emergency Management’s podcast, “Prep Talk”. And make sure to subscribe to the 538 Politics podcast Jody Avirgan hosts.