Ra-Tan Lines: The Anthropocene Reviewed

Posted on: October 27, 2019

Hello, and welcome to Ra-Tan Lines, a column where we review podcasts freely available on the internet without the use of a numeric scale. My name is Ratan Varghese, and in today’s article I’ll be reviewing The Anthropocene Reviewed, a review series with a much broader scope hosted by John Green.

So let’s begin with John Green himself, the man, the legend. I haven’t actually read his novels, though I remember the days when The Fault in Our Stars was all over the place. He has numerous video and podcast series that I have also not consumed, this article’s topic being the exception. I did see a video where he collaborated with Lindsay Ellis to explain the literary concept of “the death of the author”. In the spirit of the extremes of that strain of criticism, I’ll blithely ignore the rest of Green’s life and focus on the persona presented in The Anthropocene Reviewed.
Green’s voice remains comprehensible even at nearly double the intended speed. Then again, so do many voices. He has an American accent, or as an American might describe it, “a normal voice.” He is neither especially calming nor especially annoying to listen to. It is his word choice and storytelling skill that really makes the podcast interesting.
Green can vary from the robotic tone popular in nerd humor (“partly because I love you and partly because of evolutionary imperatives baked into my biology”) to a more graceful, more poetic manner of speech (“just as the silence seems ready to take off its coat and stay a while”). He can be academic or casual, serious or joking, and all these changes can manifest in the space of a moment. This keeps things engaging even when discussing the rather mundane topics that dominate the podcast.
In case you’re still wondering, the Anthropocene is a geological era defined, not by the furry fandom, but by human influence on the environment. By the standards of geological eras it is still quite short, however it is hard to pinpoint a particular year or even century where the Anthropocene truly began. Apart from the title, the relation to the Anthropocene to the podcast can sometimes feel quite vague. Trends that started in the last century, last millennium, and from before the dawn of civilization are all fair fodder for analysis. The Lascaux Paintings were made 17000 years ago, while googling strangers is a relatively recent practice. The most interesting twist on relating a topic to the Anthropocene was the review of velociraptor. Velociraptors died millions of years before humans even evolved, but they loom large in our culture. Thus, the cultural roles of the velociraptor are Anthropocene phenomena.
The Anthropocene Reviewed is a somewhat educational podcast, given that there are long descriptions about the origins of various aspects of modern life. However, even in rather focused episodes, the Anthropocene Reviewed is much more opinionated and subjective than other podcasts providing interesting facts about the mundane. Freakonomics Radio and 99% Invisible both lean heavily on expert guests who provide nuanced, or even contradicting, points of view on a topic. In The Anthropocene Reviewed the only speaker is Green himself. He is definitely capable of nuance, but he is also very willing to throw in personal anecdotes and viewpoints. This is a good thing, because the anecdotes and viewpoints are generally entertaining to listen to. Furthermore non-neutrality is the explicit goal of the podcast.
While most of the reviews in the podcast are descriptions of a topic followed by a star rating, other episodes are a bit more convoluted. A minority of reviews start with something deeply important to the human experience, or at least important to Green’s experience, only to segue towards the end into a quick discussion of the actual topic title. My favorite example is the review of Sycamore Trees, which starts with over 8 minutes describing existential angst which is finally interrupted by noticing one of the titular plants.
After all this description, Green rates the topic on a 5 star scale. There are two topics per episode, and if for some strange reason you only care about the ratings, those can be found on the podcast’s Wikipedia article. The minimum score is one star, not zero, which suggests that Piggly Wiggly is worth 2 pennies, and Super Mario Kart is worth 4 choleras. The narrative and educational parts of the podcast don’t seem to mesh well with the parody of product reviews. This is my least favorite part of The Anthropocene Reviewed, a 2-star practice in a 4 star podcast. Perhaps Green should edit out the star ratings and rename the podcast to “The AnthropoGreen”.
Episodes of The Anthropocene Reviewed range from 15 to 26 minutes, except for “A Word from John” which doesn’t really count. There is an intro chime, and there are credits near the end. There is roughly one episode per month. Much like Freakonomics Radio and 99 Percent Invisible, The Anthropocene Reviewed has transcripts of each episode on its official website. The site also has original “cover images” for recent episodes, which attempt to include both topics under review. It’s an all-around good podcast, definitely check it out, and also big thanks to Gabrielle for suggesting it to me. I’d like to dedicate this article to my brother’s dead pet fish from middle school: rest in pieces. We’ll close the article with the sound of someone twiddling their thumbs while claiming they have nothing to say…

Okay, I’ll confess, I am a BIT sour about how Hawaiian Pizza got a measly two stars.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *