Transcript

17:

Name Change / No Theme
Transcript

Originally aired 03.21.1996

Note: This American Life is produced for the ear and designed to be heard, not read. We strongly encourage you to listen to the audio, which includes emotion and emphasis that's not on the page. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

Full audio: http://tal.fm/17

Prologue.

Ira Glass

From WBEZ Chicago, it's Ira Glass and His Radio Cowboys.

[MUSIC - "BONANZA" BY DAVID ROSE]

No, that is definitely not good. All right. Let's try this.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

No, not that music. How about this one?

[MUSIC PLAYING]

From WBEZ Chicago, it's Journey To Whatever. I'm Ira Glass. From WBEZ Chicago, it's Mouth Noise. I'm Ira Glass. It's Small Moment from WBEZ Chicago, documenting every little thing in this, our American lives. Hello. From WBEZ Chicago, you're listening to Chin Wag Theater.

It was when I decided that the name of our radio show should no longer be Your Radio Playhouse, a name which I loved, but many people hated. I'll just say, many people hated that title especially public radio program directors, who told me that they already had radio drama.

And we would explain, "No, no, we don't-- this isn't a radio drama show. It's 'playhouse' like Pee Wee Herman, 'playhouse' like Pee Wee Herman. It's a playhouse. It's a place where people play, but it's also a stage. It's a double meaning."

It was when I decided that the name of this show should be "American" whatever that everyone who I work with decided not only was I wrong, but I was wrong in a profound way that indicated that we could never be friends. We could never truly understand or know each other. I was wrong in a way that was incomprehensible to the people who I work with every day.

I'm not here, however, to talk about myself and our little radio show because I believe that we accidentally stumbled onto a broader, more fundamental truth about naming something. Naming a business, a restaurant, a person, a dog. Well, not a dog really. Because people don't care what you name your dog. It's true of naming everything except for naming a dog.

People are unbelievably tolerant of naming a dog. You could name your dog "Your Radio Playhouse," and nobody would think twice about it. And I would send you a free coffee mug or something just for proving me right.

What I learned is that there's something about a name. Most creative acts that one does in one's life, there's enough content to them, they are longer than the length of a name. And so when people disagree with each other, they can discuss it. There's pros and cons. There are parts of it that you can dissect.

But a name is so basic. It's so undivideable, even if it's got a lot of words in it, that all you get is this visceral, very binary response. Like it. Don't like it.

Well, from WBEZ Chicago, this is Glass Works. See, I would need German music actually. From WBEZ Chicago, Glasnost. That's the most horrifying possibility is that you would end up using your own name. Well, we did settle on a new name.

And by the way, we have a very unusual show tonight, many unusual things coming up.

In Act Three, David Isaacson with the beginning of this new project where we're having various, very unusual writers and performers give their take on our presidential campaigns.

In Act Two, I don't even want to go into it. Just stay with us here because the show's going to change a lot.

But anyway, we did settle on a new name. And to discuss the name and all the different names that led to the name, the pre-names, the discarded names, the-- oh, forget it. To discuss that, I called one of the grand old men of broadcasting. He's had the longest running talk show in the history of television. It's in New York. Joe Franklin.

[SOUND OF A TELEPHONE RINGING]

Joe Franklin

Hello?

Ira Glass

Joe Franklin?

Joe Franklin

Yeah.

Ira Glass

It's Ira Glass at the radio show in Chicago.

Joe Franklin

Right, Ira. Hold on for one second. Yeah, Jimmy? What color are they, Jimmy? Black? Give me 15 minutes, Jimmy. Yes, Ira?

Ira Glass

What kind of business are you doing there?

Joe Franklin

Oh, Ira, I sell matzo balls.

Ira Glass

And they're black?

Joe Franklin

Codfish balls. No, a man lost his eyeglasses here. Yeah, what I gotta go through. What I gotta go through. And so what do you think of changing the name?

Ira Glass

Yeah, in fact, we've announced a name change. And you were on our first program, giving me advice about having a program which would have some longevity.

Joe Franklin

Yeah, yeah. We taped that in my office here, was it? Or in the studio?

Ira Glass

We did it over the phone. So you were just sitting in your office, and you talked to me over the phone.

Joe Franklin

I remember that, yeah.

Ira Glass

And so we thought we'd have you back just to review some of these names.

Joe Franklin

I'm ready.

Ira Glass

OK, so let me run a couple of these titles by you. American Whatever.

Joe Franklin

American Whatever? Ambiguous, ambiguous.

Ira Glass

Ira Glass and His Radio Cowboys.

Joe Franklin

Well, if you want to make a play on your name, I would call it The House of Glass. And let it be a hotel in the Catskills like Grossinger's, or Concord, or--

Ira Glass

Brown's.

Joe Franklin

Or Brown's or a bungalow coloneer, what they call a kuchalane. But I would definitely call it, if you want to play on your name, The House of Glass.

Ira Glass

Actually, there were many suggestions especially from our Los Angeles affiliate. They were very strong on the idea of Glass House as the title.

Joe Franklin

Glass House, yeah. House of Glass is a little more erudite, a little more formal. But that's up to you.

Ira Glass

Other names that were suggested, Glasnost, which means "openness" because we're doing new stuff. Glass Menagerie. Splendor in the Glass. You don't seem impressed by any of these.

Joe Franklin

Keep off the Glass. Glass Has Class. No, those are good.

Ira Glass

OK, other titles. Radiolicious.

Joe Franklin

Vicious? Or licious?

Ira Glass

Licious.

Joe Franklin

Like "delicious?"

Ira Glass

Yes, sir.

Joe Franklin

Too cutsy, too cutsy.

Ira Glass

A Million Stories.

Joe Franklin

Better than the preceding one, yeah, but still not great.

Ira Glass

How about this title, This American Life?

Joe Franklin

I would say that's about the best yet. Better than Your Radio Playhouse anyhow.

Ira Glass

I'm glad you say this because that's actually the one that we chose.

Joe Franklin

Yeah, yeah, yeah. That says it all. That says it all. No, I think anything we start with the word "America"-- the word "America" was the first word?

Ira Glass

No, it's the second one actually. It's not the first one.

Joe Franklin

Well, [UNINTELLIGIBLE] "America" near the beginning. Near the beginning is good.

Ira Glass

As long as it's near the beginning.

Joe Franklin

Always, yeah.

Ira Glass

How important is a name?

Joe Franklin

I would say the name was everything. Look at Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn Monroe told me that the important thing in a name is to have a vowel sound, an ay, ee, eye, oh, or oo. Now what was that again? What was your title again? The American? Say it again.

Ira Glass

This American Life.

Joe Franklin

At least you've got one. You've got the sound "eye," "life," "life." The name is everything.

Ira Glass

Well, wait. There's an I in "This."

Joe Franklin

But not the ay, eye, oh, oo sound. It's a soft I. It's got to be a hard I like the noun "eye." You know what I'm saying? There's got to be a sound of ay, ee, eye, oh, or you.

Ira Glass

So wait, so what's a good title under this criterion?

Joe Franklin

Well, no, This American Life. At least it ends on a vowel sound. It ends on a vowel.

Ira Glass

Does The Joe Franklin Show conform to this rule?

Joe Franklin

Well, the word "Joe."

Ira Glass

Oh, I see. It's a long vowel.

Joe Franklin

"Joe" and "Show," yeah. "Tonight Show." "Late Show." You know what I'm saying? "Late." "To--" As long as it's got the ay, ee, eye, oh, or oo sound. A name like John Smith has got no hard vowel sound, and so it's not that appealing. It's always desirable to have vowels in your sounds if you can.

Ira Glass

TV talk show host Joe Franklin. He has a book out. He has nostalgic CDs everywhere.

[MUSIC - "HEY, MR. DJ, I THOUGHT YOU SAID WE HAD A DEAL" BY THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS]

Act One. Pier Pressure.

Ira Glass

Act One, Pier Pressure. Well, last week on this program, as one of our stories about the state of the nation's economy, we did a report about Chicago's Navy Pier, what it cost taxpayers, and what they got out of it. It cost-- if you did not hear our show-- $155 million in taxpayers' money and created, at most, 1,200 jobs, about half of those part-time. That's $130,000 per job.

A spokesman for the city said that we should judge the pier by the pleasure that it gives Chicagoans and the overall boost that it gives to tourism, not by the cost per job created. But in our report, we also took pains to point out that, by all accounts, the pier has been a huge, huge business success. Crowds are twice as big as anyone projected. Over 3 million people in the first six months. The stores and restaurants on the pier say that they're doing well by and large.

But two days after our broadcast, the news broke that Navy Pier is, in fact, losing money, at least the city agency that runs the pier is. And they're losing a lot of money. $9 million in the pier's first eight months of business. Because of this, Navy Pier has announced that it will lay off one-fourth of its full-time staff and do other cost cutting.

We have put in several requests over the course of this week to speak with the head of the pier, James Reilly, or another pier spokesperson. We wanted to ask what was going wrong. How could they be doing such gangbuster business and still lose money? With over 3 million visitors, the city is losing $2 to $3 per visitor. And this at a place that charges $16 to park.

All this week, the public relations office at Navy Pier has promised an interview. But in the end, this did not happen. The closest we can get to finding out why the pier is losing all this money is in Crain's Chicago Business. There, the head of the Pier Authority, Mr. Reilly, said the losses had to do with opening delays and what the paper called "first year inefficiencies." It did not go into details.

And we have one other amendment to last week's story on Navy Pier. When I came into work after the story aired, one of my fellow staffers here at Chicago's public radio station, this was Aaron Freeman, told me that in our coverage about the economics of Navy Pier, we had missed the main point of what makes the pier so worthwhile to Chicago taxpayers. And at the end of the workday, he loaded his two twin girls into their special wide-load double stroller. The radio station is located midway down Navy Pier. And we headed out into the promenade, so he could show me what he was talking about.

Aaron Freeman

If you're a parent, for families, this place is just the best place in the city of Chicago to bring your kids. Because no matter when you come down here, what time of day, your children will be amused.

Ira Glass

So how often do you bring your kids here?

Aaron Freeman

They come here at least twice a week. I work down here, so I bring them down here at least twice a week. But I tell you, a lot of times, if I can't think of anything else to do, we come down here. And they just run around. They run around from store to store.

It's colorful. They're four. So it's colorful. There's dolls. There's all kinds of fun colors.

They love the Omnimax. They had the Serengeti show. And now they got the big 3D Omnimax. We haven't seen that yet.

There's bookstores you can go-- like The Children's Museum Shop. Even if The Children's Museum is closed, The Children's Museum gift shop, you can kill off half an hour, 45 minutes just looking at the stuff in there.

Ira Glass

We headed to the atrium at the center of the pier. Aaron kept one hand on the stroller and threw the other in a broad sweep of the panorama.

Aaron Freeman

Now you look around, and there's nothing but great stuff. The Children's Museum. The Imax. The McDonald's. If you're a kid, you can't top this. There's toy stores. Just imagine. If you were a four-year-old, you look around here, is this not just a feast? If you're four. Just think back.

Ira Glass

It would be fun, sure.

Aaron Freeman

Well, OK, that's what I'm saying. Your parent, they are happy here. And there's stuff for parents to do in the museum. While the kid's running around enjoying all the primary colors, you can go drink, which is always a fun thing to do.

Ira Glass

We headed up to the Crystal Gardens, where, inside a big, glassed-in room, there are palm trees and jumping waters. Literally, streams of water which spurt out and jump from one artificial pond to another. As Aaron expounded on how wonderful all this was, I should note for the record that his two small children were not particularly enchanted. It was the end of the day. They were tired in a way that even $155 million of taxpayers' money cannot alter or change. As politicians like to say these days, there are some problems that government can't solve no matter how much money it throws at them. Diana slept, Artemis was cranky, jumping fountains or not.

Artemis

I don't want to come here.

Aaron Freeman

You don't want to be here? Where do you want to be?

Artemis

Downstairs.

Aaron Freeman

Downstairs? All right.

Ira Glass

So we headed downstairs. When we got to the food court, Artemis perked up a bit.

Artemis

You have to get food, Dad.

Aaron Freeman

Yes, we have to get food. You want to have some pizza?

Artemis

I'm going to get my own food.

Aaron Freeman

What are you going to get? I thought you wanted pizza.

Artemis

I'm going to get oatmeal.

Aaron Freeman

Oatmeal?

Ira Glass

Turns out oatmeal is not one of the fine dining options at the Navy Pier food court. Artemis hopped out of the stroller and headed over to Connie's Pizza.

Artemis

Oatmeal?

Woman Working At Connie's Pizza

Huh?

Artemis

Do you have oatmeal?

Woman Working At Connie's Pizza

What'd you say?

Ira Glass

Do you have oatmeal?

Woman Working At Connie's Pizza

Oh no, we don't have oatmeal here.

Ira Glass

Aaron ordered a pizza for the kids. And while we waited the two minutes that it takes to cook, his another daughter, Diana, made a little announcement.

Diana

I need to show you something.

Aaron Freeman

What do you need to show me? Well, I have to get food too though. OK?

Diana

But I need to show you something.

Aaron Freeman

What do you want to show me?

Diana

Well, it's really cool.

Aaron Freeman

Show me after we get food, OK?

Ira Glass

Around us, it was pretty empty. No special events were taking place at the pier. But there were other families, kids run around, it was relaxed. Diana and Artemis goofed around, got into a tiny spat or two, then played some more. When the food arrived, Aaron had them do their regular family ritual, the blessings over the food.

Aaron Freeman

Now is the crust made out of bread?

Artemis

Yes.

Aaron Freeman

So what do we say?

Artemis

I know.

[GIRLS SAYING THE JEWISH PRAYER OVER BREAD]

Aaron Freeman

Amen.

Artemis

Amen.

Ira Glass

"What's it worth," Aaron asked me, "to have a place like this for families in the city. How do you want the city to spend taxpayers' money?" After they ate, another family ritual. The kids run each piece of trash to the garbage can, one piece at a time.

Diana

Daddy.

Aaron Freeman

Are you having fun?

Diana

No.

Artemis

No.

Aaron Freeman

Good. OK, here you go. You seem to be nervous about the 20 feet, 25 feet over to the trash. Now you see, there's a closer trash can, but they like running. They're young. They haven't learned about this conservation of energy thing.

Diana

What else?

Aaron Freeman

There you go.

Ira Glass

By the time he puts them in the car, Aaron says, they'll be exhausted, ready to go to sleep, down for the night. What parent is going to complain about that? After the trash is thrown away, Aaron wants to buy them ice cream, but Diana remembers there's one bit of unfinished business.

Diana

And then you guys could go with me to see the surprise?

Aaron Freeman

What is the surprise?

Diana

If I told you, it won't be a surprise, silly.

Ira Glass

So we gather our things, and we follow Diana to the surprise. We had passed the food court and through the McDonald's, which has a special space age decor with lots of lights and colors.

Artemis

Dad says that all of these things are not the surprises.

Diana

We're not there.

Ira Glass

Diana spins around.

Diana

Hey, where did I see it? It was here somewhere. It was here somewhere.

Ira Glass

Diana runs in that rapid waddle very small children have when they run, through the McDonald's, unable to find her original surprise, when, suddenly, she hears music coming from the hall and waddle-runs toward it pointing.

Diana

Oh, look! A parade! That's the surprise I was looking for! There, look!

Ira Glass

It's not a parade, but Pier Pressure, four jazz musicians hired by the pier, playing in an otherwise empty atrium.

Diana

I see a parade! Look! That's cool! Look!

Ira Glass

She stands there pointing at the band excitedly, turning to look up at her dad, turning back to the band. It's tempting to call this a priceless moment. But of course, we know the price. $155 million, plus the $12 that Aaron's spending on food and treats, plus parking. The girls listen happily to the music for a while and then head out for ice cream and the car ride home.

Diana

Come on, buddy.

Act Two. Fan Dance.

Ira Glass

Act Two, Fan Dance. You've probably already seen the footage. There's the courtroom with that grainy, ugly lighting that courtrooms have on TV. There's the judge. There's the usual assortment of disheveled looking men and women in suits who do the business of all courtrooms, lawyers, the jurors, the press, the audience. And there, among them, a woman in a Star Trek uniform.

This was the Whitewater trial. And the woman in the uniform was on the jury, Barbara Adams is her name. She has since been removed from the jury, and people have snickered all across the country. But one of the most interesting discussions of this juror and of what we are to make of her occurred on the internet, on something called a list serve group, this one about fandom. This is fandom, as in fans of TV shows, especially science fiction shows, like Babylon 5, Star Trek, that kind of thing.

This group is devoted to the academic study of what it means to be a fan. And on it are fans and academics who post messages to each other. And the discussion kicked off with one woman who wrote in in disbelief.

"I only saw a brief bit of it on CNN, but it immediately made me want to go and hide somewhere. There was footage of the juror in ST:TNG uniform--" Star Trek, The Next Generation-- "complete with phaser and assorted gear, I believe. And upon seeing the bank of news cameras, this juror gave them the Vulcan salute. Am I getting this correctly? Can anybody fill in some of the blanks? Am I wrong for being embarrassed for Trek fandom in general? I mean, as far as providing a handy, digestible image for vast tracts of cable-watching America of the fan as crazed, detached from reality, lunatic nerd, that picture seemed worth a thousand words. Anybody else even see this? Or have I been breathing too many photocopy fumes again?"

What's so interesting is her horror. She was horrified in the way that you're horrified when you see a member of your own family do something strange in public. Other people wrote in and reassured her that, yes, this was real. Here's one.

"The woman did come fully dressed with phaser as an alternate juror. The first day, the pictures showed her as a curiosity. And a day or two later, however, the journalists could not resist asking her what it was all about. She said very politely that she was the commander of a local starship, a Star Trek group in Little Rock, that she wore her uniform to all formal occasions to remind the general public of the meaning of Star Trek.

I think the reporters were probably laughing at first. But then the last article I read said that she was an excellent juror, very serious, took copious notes. The reason she was dismissed was that the reporters had asked her outside the courthouse about the uniform. And although there was a gag order on the trial, she felt it was OK to talk since Star Trek had nothing to do with the trial. She only gave them a short, polite answer, so, she said, they'd leave her alone. The judge says that she'd violated the gag order and dismissed her. The article seemed to indicate that she got a bum deal."

I had mixed feelings reading about it. I once had a student in a group Comm class I was teaching do the exact same thing. Every class, he showed up in his uniform. At first, people sniggered. But he was very polite. And the uniform gave him self-confidence, I think.

Eventually, everyone in class accepted it, as much as they accepted African-American and religious symbols, and they even used him as an expert on a mock group exercise. They had to figure out in a group process how to equip a spaceship for a long journey.

People started to weigh in, saying that no, they should not be embarrassed at all as Star Trek fans. One wrote, "Embarrassed for Trek fandom? I was proud of the uniform-clad, Whitewater would-be juror." "She said she always wears her uniform to formal events. Frankly, I'd rather be associated with Trekkers than with the Governor of Arkansas or any of the garbage that apparently goes down in Little Rock. The juror looked a lot less stupid than two-thirds of the past and present Clinton administrations."

And a man named Henry Jenkins posted a note to the group. He is the director of film and media studies at MIT and author of two books about fandom. The latest is called Science Fiction Audiences, Watching Star Trek and Doctor Who. He says that as someone who's been a fan for 20 years, he's often thought there are strong analogies between the way that gays and lesbians deal with these kinds of issues and the way the fan community does.

He talked about the politics of cultural preference, people who feel strong attachment to certain things in the culture, as being similar to the politics of sexual preference. We asked him if he'd go into a radio studio in Boston and read some of his posting for us. And he was gracious enough to agree.

Henry Jenkins

I've often thought there are strong analogies to be drawn between the queer community's politics of sexual preference and the fan community's politics of cultural preference. From the point of view of mundane culture, both groups provoke discomfort concerning their scandalous taste and shocking behavior. One often hears people speak of "coming out" as a fan or "being closeted" at work. Fans often hide their cultural preferences, afraid of what their office mates might think about their hobbies, their friends, their creative accomplishments, or how they spend their weekends. I've known many fans who've had to hide fanzines from unsympathetic eyes or lie to their spouses about going to a convention.

And most of us have been snickered at and subjected to endless harangues in the popular media. We have our own terminological disputes, rejecting the outsider term "Trekkie," with its historic ties to groupie, for the insider term "Trekker," with its positive connotations of active participation. That's why many of us automatically cringed when we saw pictures of the Whitewater juror in her Starfleet uniform.

Ira Glass

But in his posting on the internet, Jenkins wrote that he rethought this position when he thought about his analogy to queer politics.

Henry Jenkins

It seems to me that an awful lot of what we do in the fan community has strong parallels with some of the debates that occur in the communities surrounding gays and lesbians. There's a debate going on there right now that's often labeled "the place at the table debate" because it grows out of Bruce Bowers' book A Place at the Table. The central issue is, on the gay community, on the one hand, Bower is arguing that gays should assimilate, that they should downplay transgressive behaviors.

Ira Glass

That they should mainstream themselves, that they should try to appear like other people.

Henry Jenkins

They should mainstream themselves. Exactly. They shouldn't be parading around in drag, or in leather on Gay Pride parades, and so forth. That they should try to fit in, and then they might gain acceptance that way.

The problem, of course, is that that pushes the queer community into doing the dirty work for the family values folks. You seek acceptance by policing your own ranks and by saying what's normal and what's not. And the argument goes that one's only free as a community when even the most extreme behavior is allowed to express itself. And I think if we read the fan's behavior by those standards, that is, as an expression of her cultural preferences, then we have to defend her right to wear the uniform and respect the courage in confronting the public ridicule that surrounded her action.

Her choice represents a new kind of fan identity politics, as you would, that we're tired of being told by William Shatner and others to get a life. We're tired of being stereotyped as living in our parents' basement. In fact, we are a wide variety of people who happen to believe in the cultural power of television and of all art to change the way we think about the universe.

So what's exciting about the fan's behavior is that she wasn't afraid. She didn't hide. She asserted very publicly who she was and what her commitments were. And I see it as striking a blow for the dignity of fans, particularly given how thoughtful, moderate, and articulate she happened to be.

Ira Glass

Did you cringe a little bit when you saw her?

Henry Jenkins

When I first saw it, I did. But as I started to think through this issue, I started to think, "Why am I cringing? Why am I ashamed?" I've written two books on Star Trek fan culture. I have a very strong commitment to the idea that it is one of the important participatory cultures of our time, that it is one way people have of talking back to television, of taking control of their own lives, and creating their own culture from the materials they borrow from the mass media. So I shouldn't be ashamed, in fact, to see it projected even in the most public and political of spaces.

Ira Glass

What does it mean to be a fan?

Henry Jenkins

Well, I think increasingly it means what it is to be an American in this digital age, that is, if we look at-- Harris tells us that more than 53% of the American public consider themselves to be Star Trek fans. That means an awful lot of those are not people who wear rubber Spock ears and overly tight velour uniforms, that they are people who represent the full range of American life. And as we begin to move online as a society, it seems abundantly clear that television fandom becomes a central motivation that gets people to participate in the digital realm, that is, what are we going to talk about when we go online and have the possibility of talking to people from around the country and around the world?

We're not going to talk about my aunt Agatha who you and the people in Chicago have never heard of before. We're going to talk about people, and images, and stories that we share in common. And those images, in all likelihood, are going to come from national or even internationally circulated shows like Star Trek. So the point is that national media provides the fan community with a way of telling its own stories, of framing its own identities which allows it to speak to each other across all kinds of isolation we face as a society.

Ira Glass

Henry Jenkins is director of film and media studies at MIT. He spoke with us from WBUR in Boston. And we close our virtual visit with him with one last reading from his internet posting.

Henry Jenkins

Now the most interesting aspect of the story is not that she wore her uniform to the court, but that she got selected despite, or perhaps even because, she wore the uniform. Jury selection in a high-profile case like Whitewater has become an increasingly exact science. Experts make recommendations to lawyers based on a body of stereotypes about how different social groups are likely to respond to certain kinds of cases or arguments. Blacks are good for the defense, white men are good for the prosecution, and so forth.

But there probably never needed to be a grid for fans as a social group before. So what stereotypes of fans did the experts draw upon in assessing this particular juror? When I first saw her picture in the paper, as she was awaiting jury selection, my immediate response was that she'd never get picked. Neither the prosecution nor the defense would find her acceptable because, as a Trekker, she would be seen as too aberrant, too unpredictable, too abnormal and excessive. Instead, I suspect a different stereotype clicked into place, the notion that fans are gullible, easily led, easily manipulated. Both sets of lawyers probably thought that they could control her with their rhetoric. After all, if she can't tell the difference between a TV show and real life, she's a pushover for whatever arguments they wanted to make.

The woman we saw interviewed on television news, however, fits neither stereotype. She was thoughtful, moderate, and articulate. She also happens to be a Star Trek fan. Get used to it. The whole case is, as Mr. Spock would say, fascinating.

Ira Glass

Well, we move on to another kind of fandom when our program continues.

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Act Two continues. So let's say it's not Star Trek that shapes your identity. Let's say it's G.I. Joe.

When Cindy Patton was nine, after lots of hinting around to her family, she was given a G.I. Joe Christmas. Next to her collection of incredibly detailed Matchbox cars, it was her favorite toy. But after three idyllic years with G.I. Joe, her mother started to get worried about certain tendencies she was noticing in Cindy. And at Christmas, Cindy only got clothes, only dresses in fact.

Cindy Patton

My mother and my sister, at one point, looked at me. And my mother said in this tone that now seems-- I can just hear it. "This year, we're going to make you into a little lady." But my response at the time-- I was a very calculating little child-- my response at the time was, "I can outlast this." And I figured about six more years and I would be off to college, and then I could do whatever I wanted.

Ira Glass

In college, Cindy came out as gay. Now she's a professor at Temple University, writes a lot about gay issues. But at some point in her mid-20s, she became sort of obsessed with getting her favorite toys back from her parents.

Cindy Patton

I describe it as this quest to get them back because my parents kept, on varying pretexts, preventing me from taking these toys. Now I had taken a few other stuffed animals and things like that. So it wasn't like they were trying to prevent me from taking toys in general. But these particular toys seemed to be unable to leave my parents' home.

I flew down at one point. And that time, I think, my mother said, "Oh, the planes are really crowded, and you can only take so many things on. And so you can't take these toys. We'll come visit you and bring them." And of course, when they came to visit, they had forgotten to bring them. And this went on for several years. And I finally sent this very no-ifs-ands-or-buts letter, basically saying, "Send me my toys."

My nephews were given various toys of mine to play with. And they were not very careful. And so I'd become alarmed, and I felt intruded upon or betrayed in some way by having these toys of mine given to my nephews. It was, of course, under the guise of, "Your sister doesn't have very much money. And you have these toys. They might as well get used."

But I think it was also about-- or at least in my mind anyway, there was something about the toys finding their way into the appropriate gender's hands. That somehow, as a girl child, that I had not used these toys in the appropriate way or something, that there had been something wrong about my relation to them that would be recuperated by them having boy children having them, and using them, and playing with them.

Ira Glass

At some point, Cindy Patton noticed how urgently she wanted those toys back from her parents. And she started to remember things about the toys that she had forgotten, how she'd cared for them meticulously, always returning G.I. Joe to his box after playing with him, keeping track of every accessory, every instruction sheet. Her Matchbox cars were like new after years of playing with them. The doors still worked, steering wheels still turned.

Cindy Patton

I think in a way, though I keep calling it obsessive compulsive, it's less about some sort of obsessive compulsive desire than it is about a kind of ritual of preservation. I wonder whether when I was a kid, I realized that I wasn't going to get away with this, this not really being a girl. And so that I was very, very careful to keep very, very good care of these particular toys. I generally took good care of my toys, but I was especially detailed in taking care of these toys. It was almost like a kind of meditation. The toys themselves and this particular obsession I had for retrieving them from my family really made me recognize the complexity of my own gender structure and probably gender structures in general.

Ira Glass

What she realized was that she wanted this part of her past that was "boy," where she was like a boy. And the reason why this was such a revelation was that she was of the generation of lesbians who came of age in the 1970s. The so-called lesbian feminists, who wanted to do away with the old lesbian order in which some women were more butch, more like men, and some were femme, more like women. They wanted to move towards a neutral non-gender.

This idea is actually out of fashion now among younger lesbians. Butch and femme are back and back with a vengeance. But seeing then how much she wanted G.I. Joe, her old G.I. Joe, and her Matchbox cars was what made Cindy Patton realize she thought that she wasn't this neutral, non-gender person. She realized that she thought of herself more as a boy. Finally, the package came.

Cindy Patton

I was in shock. I couldn't believe that it had finally come. My heart was beating. And I think I was driving to work or something, and I picked them up at the post office on the way. And I think I might have waited until lunch and then gone back out to the car, and surreptitiously opened the package, and found these things in it. I was quite moved. It was like recovering a piece of my childhood or my childhood as a boy.

Act Three. Fan, Not Fan.

Ira Glass

Act Three, Fan, Not Fan. We begin a little radio experiment today on our program to have non-journalists cover aspects of the presidential campaign, commission original work from these non-journalists. We begin with Chicago playwright David Isaacson, whose done many plays here in Chicago for Theater Oobleck. He prepared this about Pat Buchanan.

David Isaacson

I had a dream last night, which is an odd thing in and of itself because I am not prone to dreaming especially lately, exhausted after very full days campaigning, Galesburg, Peoria, South Side Chicago. Why don't I dream at night? Well, Herr Sigismund Freud and his cabal of Austrio-atheist mind doctors say that dreams are the nocturnal expressions of all that is repressed during the day. But the thing is I don't repress. If it pops into my head, I let it pop right out of my mouth. That's the source of my pop, pop, popularity.

While the Clintons and Doles check the contingencies and polls before every public utterance, I'm utterly straight with my public. I don't repress, so I don't dream. Except last night. It was the oddest thing. I dreamt of myself, but myself in the past, and in the present, and in the future.

The first part, it was very green. Green grass everywhere, green grasses, rushes, and ferns. Puffins flying overhead. Druids leaned against dolmens, fashioning wreaths of mistletoe. I stood in front of an enormous electrified chain-link fence that went on and on, disappearing into the cloud-filled horizons both north and south. Apparently, I was the border guard in ancient Celtic Ireland.

And lo, who should appear on the other side of this mass of barbed wire and steel, but my namesake, Saint Patrick. "Saint Patrick," I cried out. "Well, this is a fine how-do-you do. They were just booing me at your parade in Chicago the other day, hissing and--" And then old Saint Patrick interrupted me. "I have come to be the bishop of your land." "Well, I don't know, Saint," I replied. "Where were you born?" "Britain. In Britain."

"Oh, no, well, Mr. Rick, we got laws, constitutional amendments preventing aliens like yourself, your saintship, from becoming citizens or getting any of King MacNeil's handouts to the peasantry. You see, we got too many foreigners coming in, taking our jobs, choice jobs, like that bishopry you're angling for."

"You don't understand. I was named, ordained by Saint Germanus himself to lead the Irish people."

"Oh now, well, that's the problem. We don't want the Germanesses telling us what to do, Germanist generals under the UN flag, directing our soldiers in some Bosnian quagmire half a world away. We built up the factories and infrastructures of the Germanesses and the Yamomotos And now what are we looking at? $200 billion trade deficit."

"You don't understand. I bring with me the Latin Bible."

"That's not going to win you points. Gaelic's the official language of this country, sir. Constitutional amendment."

"I bring the shamrock clover, whose three leaves represent the Holy Trinity."

"Trinity? We don't want trilaterialism here, Senor Saint. You're talking new world order, IMF, World Court, World Bank, Goldman Sachs with their sacks of gold. This here is a sovereign nation under God."

"But it is God who has sent me here," replied poor Saint Patrick in my dream, "to chase the snakes from your land."

"Oh no," I replied, "chase the snakes? Heavens to Betsy. If you banish the snakes, they'll just show up in repressed forms in our dreams. Why, here's one crawling up my leg now." And at this point, just when my phantasm was threatening to become a goofy metadream, the action suddenly shifted in that crazy way dreams go, shifted to the present. And I heard the strains of my campaign theme song.

[MUSIC - "WE WILL ROCK YOU" BY QUEEN]

David Isaacson

There I was, sitting with my friends and advisers, Larry Pratt, and Samuel Francis, and John Lofton, and the Reverend Donald Wildmon, talking about where my campaign should go from here, which is funny that it was those guys in the dream. Because those are the ones that have gotten me into hot water with the media because-- well, let's just say those fellas don't repress their beliefs. If they talked to some local militias about a war against the white race, or how the TV industry is made up of people raised in Jewish homes, or about promiscuous homosexuals literally hell-bent on Satanism and suicide, well, they're just being frank, which is a lot more than we can expect from Beltway insiders like that parrot the Bobster or Bill Clinton chasing issues like a blind dog in a meat market.

Anyway, in the dream, we were talking about my options, the boys and I, the three paths diverging in a red, white, and blue wood. To be the good party boy, like I was in '92, support the leading candidate? To swoop down like a B-2 Bombardier on San Diego in August with a whooping religious war cry against the murder of the unborn? Or to go the Wallace way, bolt the party that made me, and make my own?

But this being a dream, things started to metamorphize. Lofton's head split open, and the head of my old boss, Richard Nixon, sprouted from his shoulders in a bloody bloom of scatological curses. "Never leave the expletive deleted party, Patty Joe." His jowls flapped like sails in a squall. "I stood by Ike. I stood by Barry." But I was distracted as my other three friends burst from their own bodies like soggy-winged gypsy moths from their crystalline, becoming animatronic incarnations of my father's trio of heroes, General MacArthur, Joe McCarthy, and Francisco Franco. "I couldn't beat Ike in '52," thundered MacArthur, "but I gave him hell at the Convention." Franco, of course, was for his militant, third-party approach. Senator Joe was checking under my sofa for Reds.

But the whole architecture of the dream transmuted then, and I was in the future. About 2010 or so, touring college campuses and '90s nostalgia theme parks in some virtual entertainment called "The Three Pats," which was me, Pat Robertson, and Pat Boone. My buddy Robertson recited various apocalyptic folk tales of his own devising, all of which involved earthquakes, tidal waves, and neo-liberal Democratic presidents with bisexual wives, whose stints as Peace Corps volunteers in India made them acolytes of Shiva and eventually transformed them into the anti-Christ. And Pat Boone.

This being a virtual entertainment of the future, I'm not sure if Pat Boone was alive or merely a hologramistic image existing within the light-emitting diodes rubber cemented to the undersides of my eyelids. But there he was, clean cut in white bucks, singing a rendition of his 1956 chart topper, "I Almost Lost My Mind," along with a smattering of selections from his fine Gospel albums. And then I came on, the main act, sounding all the themes I've been sounding in this here campaign, issues I feel deeply about.

I think of my father raised in poverty, but who, through hard work, was able to provide for his family. Now men like my father are finding no outlet for their hard work, their ideals, their faith in America. I told them how the Ruth Ginsburgs Bader Jose to keep leipzigging our fences and gutentagging our buildings with his Symbionese gang symbology, tacoing handouts and living off welfare, yum yum chow, giving birth to Young Phat [? Taht ?] at taxpayer expense, sashiming his way into our high techamaki jobs, while our boys in the military have to strap on the Helmut Kohl of the United heathen Nations and fight for the Turkish delight of Rabin hoods and radical sheiks.

As my futuristic audience chortled and hiccuped derision into the biogenically filtered air of the campus mediatorium, I realized that I had become a parody of myself. Our act, The Three Pats, was being presented with the same camp intentions as when they were trotting out Timothy Leary and Gordon Liddy in mock debates a few years back. Now I am not a man who's prone to self-doubt. I am my own catechism.

But maybe it's the beating I've been taking lately even from men who I considered to be my friends, Bill Buckley, Bill Sapphire, George Will. They make the doubts pile up and spill over into dreams. Heck, I'm the only one left in this campaign with firm beliefs and true convictions. And yet I fear becoming some comic footnote in the history of man's struggle to lift his world up closer to the Kingdom of God. My futuristic dream self gamely thundered on. But somehow, the honest Christian faith of three men named Patrick had become the 21st century's equivalent of The Brady Bunch movie today, a farce, a way of feeling superior to our former and better selves.

I think I woke up then. I'm not sure. I'm well into my third cup of coffee now, and it's high time to board that bus and move on to the next crowd, the next speech, the next state, the next primary. I suppose I should dwell on my dream a little more, analyze it, plumb its depths. But I'll leave interpretation to those ranks of young Reichians who twist every God-fearing thought to prove that we're all homosexuals, that God is dead, that the racist teachings of Eldridge Cleaver should be taught in our schools while the psalms of Jesus are banned. You see, I can't waste too much time on my own soul search. I've got to get out there with my posse and fight for the soul of America.

Ira Glass

Playwright David Isaacson.

Credits.

Ira Glass

Today's program was produced by Peter Clowney and by myself with Alix Spiegel, Nancy Updike, and Dolores Wilber. Contributing editors Jack Hitt, Margy Rochlin, and Paul Tough. WBEZ management oversight by Torey Malatia.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

If you want to buy a tape of this or others of our programs, call us at WBEZ 312-832-3800. Or you can email us. Our address, radio@well.com. We do answer our email. We broadcast proudly from WBEZ Chicago. We'll be back next week with more stories of This American Life.