Wednesday, February 06, 2013

This American Life Tells Local Podcaster: No Whores Allowed - San Francisco - Arts - The Exhibitionist:

At first glance, Chicago Public Media's action could sound like a mundane, predictable, and maybe even reasonable request. Organizations of all kinds are required by law to protect their copyrights and trademarks or lose them to the public domain. And the name of Q's podcast certainly evokes Glass's classic show. But a closer look makes CPM's actions against Q seem specifically targeted to avoid being associated with whores, rather than part of a general strategy to protect their brand. Other podcasts with similar titles include This American Life Total, for fans of Magic the Gathering and other trading card games; This American Wife, which has over 60 episodes and directly parodies Ira Glass; and This American Horror Story, for fans of the television show. In addition, PBS airs a weekly series about the environment called This American Land. It's hard to argue that CPM and Glass have been diligent in asserting exclusive rights to use of "This American _________" in media productions.

A blog post by sex worker activist Maggie Mayhem spoke for many: "Our stories aren't often told because they're illegal to talk about and that creates the isolation that can drive you crazy over time.... We cannot access the resources that Ira Glass has to tell our banned, censored, taboo, NSFW stories, but we live and experience every moment. To hear that NPR would threaten a lawsuit to a podcast being run out of an apartment that is telling a story that is just as real and American as all the others but is literally illegal to share in the format of its namesake is disgusting."

The action against Siouxsie Q and its responses does prove the truth of that one simple insight that has made This American Life so beloved in our culture: Stories are important. In this case, the staff of This American Life have stepped out of their usual role of reporting on stories and instead become part of one. To sex workers, it's a story that is as familiar as it is ugly.

"It's less about the name," Siouxsie Q says, "and more about the narrative of people with power telling people without power how they should get their voices out there."