The Appeal of UFO Narratives: Investigative Journalist Paul Beban Visits Pretty Much Pop #14

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TV news reporter Paul Beban (ABC, Al Jazeera, Yahoo, and now featured on the Discovery Network's Contact) joins your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt to discuss the public fascination with UFOs, both at the peak of their popularity in the 50s and in the current resurgence. Do accounts of sightings necessarily make for good TV? Do you have to believe to be entertained? Is belief in UFOs related to religious belief? To beliefs in conspiracy theories and anti-government venom? To humor?

We get into the mechanics of Contact, the Area 51 hubbub,and also touch on the show Project Blue Book, films like Arrival (2016) and UFO (2018), the documentary Unacknowledged (2017), the short story "Roadside Picnic," and more. To learn more about UFO lore in America, check out some of these podcasts.

Some of the resources we used for this episode included:

Plus, here are some stats from Gallup about UFO sightings and belief, you might want to pick up the book Nostalgia for the Absolute that Paul refers to, and here's the 2014 talk by Robbie Graham that Brian referred to describing "hyper-reality" and the Hollywood UFO conspiracy. Here's a list of UFO documentary series.

This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

Is It Really Ever a Good Idea to Revive an Old TV Show? Pretty Much Pop #13 Considers

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An appalling number of shows are now being continued long after their deaths. Revivals (not to be confused with reboots) bring us back to the comfort of old friends, who are now really old. What can a revival's success tell us about why the show was appealing in the first place? Wouldn't you rather see a new work by the same creative team than more of the same? Mark, Erica, and Brian consider some successes, failures, and hypotheticals.

We consider Arrested Development, The Twilight Zone, X-Files, Twin Peaks, Will & Grace, Deadwood, Full House, Gilmore Girls, Queer Eye, Doctor Who, Veronica Mars, and talk too much about The Brady Bunch and Alf.

Some articles we looked at:

This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood Examined on Pretty Much Pop #12

Wes Alwan, who co-hosts The Partially Examined Life philosophy podcast with PMP host Mark Linsenmayer, joins the discussion along with PMP co-hosts Erica Spyres and Brian Hirt to discuss Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood in the context of Tarantino’s other films.

Wes thinks the film is brilliant, even though he’s not otherwise a Tarantino fan. How is this film different? We consider T’s strange sense of pacing, his comic violence, his historical revisionism, and casting choices. Is this a brilliant film or a fundamentally misguided idea badly in need of an editor?

Some articles we drew on:

Wes is working on a very long essay on this film that isn't yet complete, but he’s written plenty of other long essays about the media and has recorded several episodes of his own PEL spin-off show, (sub)Text: Get it all here.

This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

Is the Live Music Experience Irreplaceable? Pretty Much Pop #11

Surely technological advances have made it unnecessary to ever leave the house, right? Is there still a point in seeing live people actually doing things right in front of you?

Dave Hamilton (Host of Gig GabMac Geek Gab) joins Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt to discuss what’s so damn cool about live music (and theater), the alternatives (live-streamed-to-theaters or devices, recorded for TV, VR), why tickets are so expensive, whether tribute bands fulfill our needs, the connection between live music and drugs, singing along to the band, and more.

We touch on Rush (and their tribute Lotus Land), Damien Rice, Todd Rundgren, The Who, Cop RockBat out of Hell: The MusicalHedwig and the Angry Inch, the filmed Shrek The Musical, and Rifftrax Live.

We used some articles to feed this episode, though we didn’t really bring them up:

You know Mark also runs a music podcast, right? Check out Erica doin’ her fiddlin’ and singin’. Listen to Mark’s mass of tunes. Here’s Dave singing and drumming some Badfinger live with his band Fling, and here’s Mark live singing “The Grinch.”

This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

The Wisdom of Ram Dass Is Now Online: Stream 150 of His Enlightened Spiritual Talks as Free Podcasts

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“Over the course of his life, it would appear that Ram Dass has led two vastly different lives,” writes Katie Serena in an All That’s Interesting profile of the man formerly known as Richard Alpert. By embodying two distinct, but equally influential, beings in one lifetime, he has also embodied the fusion, and division, of two significant cultural inheritances from the 60s: the psychedelic drug culture and the hippie syncretism of Eastern religion Christianity, Yoga, etc.

These strains did not always come together in the healthiest of ways. But Ram Dass is a unique individual. As Alpert, the Massachusetts-born Harvard psychology professor, he began controlled experiments with LSD at Harvard with Timothy Leary.




When both were dismissed, they continued their famous sessions in Millbrook, New York, from 1963 to 1967, in essence creating the laboratory conditions for the counterculture, in research that has since been validated once again as holding keys that might unlock depression, anxiety, and addiction.

Then, Alpert travelled to India in 1967 with a friend who called himself “Bhagavan Das,” beginning an epic spiritual journey that rivals the legends of the Buddha, as he describes it in the trailer below for the new documentary Becoming Nobody. He transformed from the infamous Richard Alpert to the soon-to-be-world-famous Ram Dass (which means "servant of god"), a guide for Western seekers who encourages people not to leave it all behind and do as he did, but to find their path in the middle of whatever lives they happen to be living.

“I think that the spiritual trip in this moment,” he said in one of his hundreds of talks, “is not necessarily a cave in the Himalayas, but it’s in relation to the technology that’s existing, it’s in relation to where we’re at.” It might sound like a friendly message to the status quo. But Ram Dass is a true subversive, who asked us, through all of the religious, academic, and psychedelic trappings he picked up, put down, and picked up again at various times, to take a good hard look at who we’re trying to be and why.

Ram Dass’ moment has come again, “as the parallels between today’s fraught political environment and that of the Vietnam era multiply,” writes Will Welch at GQ. “Yoga, organic foods, the Grateful Dead,” and psychedelics—“all of them are back in fashion,” and so are Ram Dass’ talks about how we might find clarity, authenticity, and connection in a distracted, technocratic, polarizing, power- and personality-mad society.

There are 150 of those talks now on the podcast Ram Dass Here and Now, with introductions from Raghu Markus of Ram Dass’ Love Serve Remember Foundation. You can stream or download them at Apple Podcasts or at the Be Here Now Network, named for the teacher’s radical 1971 book that gave the counterculture its mantra. Ram Dass is still teaching, over fifty years after his transformation from acid guru to… well, actual guru.

In a recent interview with The New York Times, he described “nostalgia for the ‘60s and ‘70s” as a younger generation showing “they’re tired of our culture. They’re interested in cultivating their minds and their soul.” How do we do that? The journey does resemble his in one way, he says. If we want to change the culture, we first have to change ourselves. Figure out who we've been pretending to be, then drop the act. “Once you have become somebody,” he says in the talk further up from 1976, “then you are ready to start the journey to becoming nobody.”

Learn much more about Ram Dass’ journey and hear many more of his inspiring talks at the Be Here Now Network.

Related Content:

Meditation for Beginners: Buddhist Monks & Teachers Explain the Basics

The Wisdom of Alan Watts in Four Thought-Provoking Animations

The Historic LSD Debate at MIT: Timothy Leary v. Professor Jerome Lettvin (1967)

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Voice Actor Dee Bradley Baker (Clone Wars,American Dad) Defends Cartoons on Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #9

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Are cartoons an inherently juvenile art form? Even animation aimed at adults is still typically considered genre fiction--a guilty pleasure--and the form enables tones and approaches that might simply be considered awful if presented as traditional live action. So what's the appeal?

Dee's voice can be heard in substantial portion of today's cartoons, especially for animal or monster noises, like Boots in the new big-screen adaptation of Dora the Explorer, Momo and Appa in The Last Airbender, Animal in the new Muppet Babies, etc. He's also a deep thinker who proudly defends cartoons as providing primal delights of humor, justice, and narrative meaning.

Mark, Erica, and Brian engage Dee about his experience as a voice actor (e.g. as Klaus German fish in a Seth MacFarlane sit-com, figuring out what Adventure Time was actually about, doing all the similar-but-distinct voices of the various clones in Clone Wars, coming up with a language for The Boxtrolls, and recreating Mel Blanc's voices in Space Jamand other Looney Tunes projects), his role in collaborative creation,  the connection between cartoons and vaudeville, how live-action films can be made "cartoonish," graphic novels, cartoon music, and more. We also touch on Love & Robots, A Scanner Darkly, Larva, the documentary I Know That Voice, and the 1972 film What's Up, Doc? Introduction by Chickie.

We did read a few articles in preparation for this about the phenomenon of adults watching kid cartoons:

There's also a lengthy reddit thread that we mined for perspectives.

This episode includes bonus content that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #8 Discusses Spider-Man: Far From Home and the Function of Super-Hero Films

Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt finally cover a current film, and of course use it as an entry point in discussing the social function of super-hero films more generally, how much realism or grittiness is needed in such stories, whether to repeat or bypass the origin story, everlasting franchises, the use of multi-verses as a storytelling device, exaggerating the potential in a story of new technologies that the audience doesn’t really understand, and more.

We touch on other bits of the Marvel Universe and the other Spider-Man films, the original Amazing Spider-Man #13 comic that introduced Mysterio, The Lion KingWatchmenThe BoysStar TrekElectric Dreams, the Rob Lowe “John Smith’s Bachelor Party” scene in Austin Powersthe recurring henchman in Spider-Man (actually Peter Billingsley, i.e. Ralphie in A Christmas Story), and the Exiles comic (a Marvel team that travels between multi-verses).

Some articles we looked at for this episode include:

This episode includes bonus content that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

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