Reviewing a Wild Year in Art With the ‘Culture Gabfest’

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STEVENS Doing a lot of this stuff does feel like homework to us, even if it might be interesting or fun homework. Since we’ve been stuck at home, I find myself less likely to want to stuff something new into my head, because I’m never short on things to watch. In a way I dread when someone comes to me saying, “You’ve got to discover this great Swedish Vimeo series!” Someone did just recommend that to me. And it sounded amazing. But a part of me thought, that’s what I’m going to do with my spare time? More cramming of meaning and words and thoughts into my brain rather than just trying to let what’s already in there expand?

TURNER I mean, it’s such a privilege to have a job where literally anything I do culturally counts as work. [In addition to co-hosting the “Gabfest,” Turner is a deputy managing editor for The Los Angeles Times.] But I do reserve corners of my brain for culture consumption that’s harder to turn into work. We don’t do many books on the show, because it’s a lot to ask of listeners, but I’ve been leaning into either highbrow thriller mysteries or literature with strong plot elements, because I just want to be pulled into another world.

METCALF I’m kind of the opposite of Julia.

TURNER That’s our whole shtick.

METCALF I’m a human, she’s a robot.

TURNER I love the people, he’s a snob.

METCALF No, but I’m a terrific weirdo. And I’m always in danger of spinning completely off the axis of contemporary life. So doing this podcast has anchored me in what everyone is watching and talking about in ways that I’m incredibly grateful for. Because what I do now in my spare time is what I would do with all my time if I weren’t doing the podcast, which is read essay after essay on the nature and state of neoliberalism. Right now I’m reading Habermas’s 1980 lectures on the nature of modernity.

Did it ever feel strange, or uncouth, to be spending your time grappling with art, or asking other people to do the same, amid so many overlapping societal crises? Did you ever feel inessential?

TURNER I think we feel deeply inessential most of the time, so I don’t know if that was a change. A podcast is fundamentally optional listening for people who find it valuable. To me, one of the most striking things about this year, was just that it was sort of the first pan-human event. The first global event where everyone was being buffeted by the same problem at the same time and we had instantaneous communication. To the degree that art is fundamentally about reckoning with being, and the question of what does it mean to be human, it felt urgent to me. It was as relevant as it ever has been.

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