This American Life: Tribes

Ira Glass’s voice hasn’t changed in 20 years. It’s had the same nasally inquisitor’s timbre since show one. This sometimes-weekly profile of the earthling experience has a special place in my heart. I hit play, and I’m immediately sitting comfortably in the middle of a story, and, excluding the two years Glass and co. devoted to the financial crisis, I’ve never been disappointed.

Episode 491 is called Tribes. And we have the WBEZ crew doing what they do best, revealing the odds and ends of ordinary people with not-so-ordinary stories.

If you’ve listened to the show, you’re probably familiar with the format: Five acts, all loosely connected to a common theme.  We get a little intro about our history as tribal animals, and then we crack open a fresh story. The second act is typically the most literal interpretation of the title.

Bob Ross, This American Life

Bob Ross finds a legion of fans. Act 3

In this act we meet a squabbling Native American Tribe (I said it was literal) intentionally “un-enrolling” members to increase the per capita income brought in by a tribal Casino. The show is full of allegorical overtones, and certainly makes you think about how dangerous the “tribal” classification can be, and of course the listener’s left thinking about the bigger picture. It was the next story that really intrigued me, though:

Ever heard of Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR)? Me neither. Vice Magazine describes it this way:

From what I understand from conversations with ASMRers, it’s a tingle in your brain, a kind of pleasurable headache that can creep down your spine. It’s a shortcut to a blissed-out meditative state that allows you to watch long videos that for someone who doesn’t have ASMR are mind-meltingly dull.

Fascinating, right? People with ASMR have an opiate-like response to the subtle clicks in a whisperer’s voice, or the delicate presentation or manipulation of objects  (They love watching people draw or paint.) The woman profiled in the story discovered a shared trigger in Bob Ross. It seems “happy little clouds”  make a whole bunch of people happy, unironically. There are YouTube Channels devoted to it.

And in typical TAL fashion, it is revealed, through subtle story-telling cues, how alike we are to ASMRers.

Ahhhhh. It’s good to have you back, TAL. You make my brain tingle.

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