I love a good origin story. It’s really interesting to learn how people got to where they are, formed the perspectives they have and learned to do what they do. Audio storytelling is great for this and the classic interview format practically owes this type of curiosity it’s soul. But damn if I’m not totally done with a certain type of story. I’m done because it’s either bullshit or it’s painfully true.
A person, usually a white man, is telling the story of how he got to the top of their game. We all want to know because we want to be the next prolific Broadway producer, acclaimed writer, successful CEO, beloved artist, etc. Here’s the story we get.
I decided I wanted to do something, didn’t give a shit about consequences because I had a great safety net or didn’t care because I knew I could always go back to the safe path laid out for me by my privilege. I found someone to support me even though I had no experience, continued to have one “lucky” break after another until I was finally good at what I do. Now I just work hard every day and the magic happens.
You can tell this annoys the crap out of me. I’m sorry. I’m sure this is a real honest story for many a simple white man in America and who am I to criticize his truth? But interviewers can we call this man out? It’s never that easy, it’s as if some people think projecting themselves as some sort of chosen one provides additional credibility to their work. “It was so easy to get here it must be fate that I’m here.” or they feel they are being humble, but for many of use all we hear is, the quite loud, white privilege, unearned advantage blow horn. Then our stomachs drop. If that’s the way in. I’ll never get there…<a multi-page rant about all the privilege stuff>
So. Next time you are interviewing someone don’t let them get away with this story, dig in and find the real work, or struggle, that may be there and if it’s not and those “lucky” breaks were real, get them to talk about the position in life they were so lucky to be in to be granted such a magical path. Ask them what they are doing to make the dreams of others come true. Now that will be a good story.
I was prompted to write this now, after years of yelling at my podcasts, after hearing an interview on Sampler with Max Linsky of Longform (0ne of my very favorite podcasts) He brings up this issue but Max! Dude did you really just say it’s “boring” and that’s what you don’t like about it. Doesn’t it trouble you for deeper reasons? Brittany you must have been thinking what I was thinking right? Anyway, maybe the good stuff got lost in editing. Listen to the clip here as Max describes what I’m talking about perfectly.
If you have examples please send them my way. They would make an excellent Mashup.