Performative Podcast Subscriptions (and Other Attempts at Justification)

Here Is A Confession: I Often Don’t Like These Podcasts. So What Gives?

Connor Gwin / 9.8.20

I have a number of behavior patterns that have been with me for many years. One of the joys of getting older is realizing that all the cycles and habits you thought you would outgrow are still with you and will most likely be with you forever. 

One of my behavior patterns is a cycle of fits and starts of enthusiasm for various subjects. Nowhere does this show up more clearly than in my podcast subscriptions. 

There are a handful of podcasts that I consistently enjoy and listen to — like, two or three (including The Mockingcast). Then there are these slates of podcasts on various topics that I will subscribe to when I am feeling the pull of the subject matter. Because I suffer from alcoholic, all-or-nothing thinking, when I read an interesting piece or hear an interview with an expert, I will buy books and subscribe to podcasts on that subject because I can never quite differentiate between interest and obsession. 

If I read a piece about the climate emergency, I will go and subscribe to five podcasts on climate and environmental policy. If I am feeling fired up by a poem I just read or wrote, I will subscribe to every podcast with poetry in the title. 

Here is a confession: I often don’t like these podcasts. I often don’t even listen to them. I always end up unsubscribing a week or so later. Like, always, without fail. 

So what gives?

I trace this performative subscription habit to my deep desire (and need) to be seen as smart, connected, in the know, and enough. I want to be able to say in a conversation that “I just listened to this fascinating podcast.” I don’t actually want to know the information or listen to the podcast but I want to be seen as the type of person who listens to that podcast. 

Another example is my strategic placement of books on my desk. As with podcasts, I have a habit of buying books whenever I am interested in a topic. My bookshelves at home and in my office are swollen with books that I bought in a fury but haven’t read and will probably never read. I bought them either because I wanted to know the information or, as is more often the case, because I want to be seen as the type of person that has that book on their bookshelf. 

I want so badly to be seen as smart (read: enough) that I will put a book on my desk so that people who come into my office (superiors, in particular) can see an interesting book and mention it. I’m generally not reading the book, but I want people to *think* that I am. 

How crazy is that? Y’all, I have done this for a long time.

It started in high school when I would strategically put CD jewel cases on the passenger seat before picking up a friend so they would see the cool new album I bought at Sam Goody. Or when I would play a song with the windows down as I pulled out of the student parking lot at school.

No, I didn’t like the song! Silly question! It didn’t matter if I liked the song; I wanted people to hear it and know that I was the type of person that listened to that song. (I played a lot of Grateful Dead in my high school Jetta just so people would hear it. I didn’t and still don’t really like the Dead.)

The podcasts subscriptions may be a new evolution of this drive, but it comes from the same root. No one can see my podcast subscriptions. No one is walking into my office in the midst of a pandemic to see what books I casually have sitting on my desk. I am no longer picking people up in my old Jetta.

What I am left with is the tension between the person I project myself to be and the person I really am. Our social media age has made us all believe that we have a brand to promote and so we curate our follows, subscriptions, and circles to show the type of person we hope to be. Of course, this isn’t a new phenomenon. Amplified in our current zeitgeist, this desire to be something other than the thing we actually are goes all the way back to the Garden. 

The Christian life is about being reminded, sometimes painfully, that we are not who we wish we were or who we project ourselves to be. We are creatures of God’s creating; sinners of Christ’s redeeming. 

In the light of this fact, we can laugh at our misplaced though earnest attempts to be justified by anything other than Christ. We can finally stop performing.

I am not justified by the podcasts I subscribe to. 

I am not justified by the books I read or keep on my shelf. 

I am not justified by the music my peers hear as I peel out of the student parking lot. 

I am not justified by all the ways I try so desperately to justify myself because I cannot justify myself. I cannot work hard enough or be cool enough or know enough to fill the gap in my heart.

Only Christ can do that and he has done it already. 

I can rest and listen to the podcasts I actually want to listen to, read the books I actually want to read, and listen to the music I actually want to listen to. I can finally and fully be myself, just as I am. 

That is enough.