Saturday, May 24, 2008

In Our Time threatens to go mainstream

This is a bit scary. The NYT has noticed In Our Time. Is this an ominous step towards the mainstream?
Worth Listening to: Obscure BBC Radio Podcasts - The Board - Editorials - Opinion - New York Times Blog:

.... One, called “In Our Time,” with host Melvyn Bragg, bills itself as a show that “investigates the history of ideas.” That doesn’t quite do it justice.

Mr. Bragg assembles a panel of British academics, and lets them loose on topics like The Multiverse — the idea that there is not one universe, but many. The topics can get a little obscure. There was a whole show recently on the Enclosure Laws, the British laws of the late 1700s and early 1800s that cut off peasants’ access to public lands — and, the Marxists say, drove them into oppressive factory jobs in the cities.

Most of the shows are accessible to Americans, but sometimes the Britspeak becomes so over-the-top, and the subjects so arcane, that the shows can sound like Monty Python.

A recent discussion of the “Norman Yoke” — the idea that when the Normans invaded England after 1066 they imposed French ideas on the Anglo-Saxons — seemed like it was a segment from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” — sadly, without the Knights Who Say Ni.

Then Mr. Bragg will do a show on “The Four Humours — yellow bile, blood, choler, and phlegm, and the original theory of everything” — and you’ll remember why you’re listening....
I haven't heard the Norman Yoke yet, but I rarely find IOT obscure or arcane. I was a bit disappointed in the Enclosure programme, but that was because the academic historians never connected the historic enclosures act to the key role land title is thought to play in modern agricultural reform. Instead they tended to skate around obsolete arguments about Marx and the emergence of the proletariat.

Setting aside the defense of IOT, this attention from the NYT is a bit worrisome. Anything that reaches NYT editorial staff is awfully close to being ... popular.

I remember when The Economist became popular. Brrrr. That was an awfully quick fall. Today only the obituary is consistently worth reading.

On the other hand, I'm worried about the iPlayer migration and continued access to past episodes. Perhaps a bit of a larger audience isn't entirely a bad thing. Lord Bragg seems cranky enough to keep the Americans at bay, even if more of us tune in.

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