Episode 309: Why is This Podcast Different from All Other Podcasts?

The Overthinking It Podcast answers questions about Back to the Future, Sharktopus, and the meaning of the word “Dayenu.”

Pete Fenzel, Mark Lee, Shana Mlawski and Matthew Wrather tackle Listener Feedback. Thanks to Mary, Bob, Agam, Daniel E & Fran, Robin, Logue, and Stephen DeBow!

→ Download Episode 308 (MP3)

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7 Comments on “Episode 309: Why is This Podcast Different from All Other Podcasts?”

  1. fenzel OTI Staff #

    Hey Folks,

    I’d just like to say I really value our positive community, which respects each other and also the beliefs of people who might be different from them.

    No reason I’m saying that now. Just wanted to say it’s a great feature of this site, and I’m really glad that mean-spirited folks generally choose to go elsewhere.


    P.S. — Also, I’d just like to hypothetically let commenters know that if they have a feeling or thought they’d like to express, they’re always welcome to express it. If the tone of your post gets abusive or troll-baity or flame-war-ey or any of that stuff, and it happens to get removed, you’re welcome to take a moment, maybe get a good night’s sleep, compose yourself, and then come back, apologize, and restate your thoughts in a way that provokes conversation, but maybe is not as nasty, so that other people also get to participate in the discussion.


  2. Adrian #

    LOVED the Defenders of The Well interpretation of the Back To The Future photo. Well done.

    I’ve always loved how Back To The Future is basically the tragedy of Oedipus, turned inside out and reversed into a comedy.

    While Oedipus kills King Laius in an altercation on the road then subsequently takes his place in his kingdom and his marriage, Marty’s troubles begin when he SAVES his father from an altercation on the road by taking his place. (His father is peeping from a position on a giant tree limb, by the way. So there’s some more imagery for you guys.)

    The Oedipus/Tiresias dynamic is reversed also, as Marty is the one with future knowledge–being from there–and Doc Brown, the wise old man, is skeptical of the things he says, at least at first. Marty still depends on Doc’s scientific knowledge to get the Delorean working again though, so the dynamic of the original reasserts itself, though not the antagonism.

    Finally, the fact that time travel exists means that the initial tragedy is able to be reversed, the inevitable is able to be undone, and the story can be given a happy ending. Depending on your view of the ethics and effects of time travel, it offers the possibility of a happy ending to any tragedy. Back To The Future is an optimistic fantasy, so it goes that route. I’ve found that the majority of time travel stories tend to be much more cynical.


  3. Buonopane #

    Pete, would you consider Star Wars as beginning in medias res? When I was first introduced to the concept, that was used as the most notable modern example, but it doesn’t return to the beginning via any callback or flashback type-devices (unless you include the prequels, of course).


    • Ben Adams OTI Staff #

      Before Pete can answer, I think your parenthetical actually raises a really interesting question. Once they are done with Episodes VII-IX, the Star Wars series will have a classic in medias res structure: middle, beginning, end. Can you create an in medias res opening after the fact by writing a prequel?


      • Buonopane #

        In the words of my theology professor, the answer is nes. Yes from the perspective of the Star Wars Saga as a whole, if you follow the machete order of viewing the six films (4-5-2-3-6). No from the perspective of the original film alone. No subsequent work can change the fact that it is a self-contained narrative, contrasted with Fellowship of the Ring, for instance, which doesn’t really have an ending, because it was conceived and written as the first part of a single, epic novel. You could make the argument that Star Wars Ep. IV was conceived as part of a larger work, but it was filmed and released as a standalone work, from what I understand. Taken as a complete narrative, it doesn’t seem to have a “classic” in medias res beginning, but taken as the first episode of a larger saga, it does. Taken as the fourth episode, it’s not even a beginning at all, it’s just a plain old middle.


        • fenzel OTI Staff #

          The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics described the concept of in medias res evolving over time — different poets at different times who were each influential on everything that came after had different notions of what it accomplished and how it was structured.

          I definitely learned it in school the way I described it on this podcast — starting in the middle, going back to the beginning, catching back up to the middle, and then proceeding from there.

          But I think Shana’s take also has validity — a very loose definition that “starts in the middle of the action.”

          Although I wouldn’t go so far as to include everything that starts with an “action sequence” as starting in the middle of “the action.”

          I’m reminded of _An Evening with Kevin Smith_, which I think we’ve mentioned a few times on the podcast before. In that talk, Smith spends a lot of time on the story of the Superman movie he wrote for John Peters that was never made. One of the things John Peters insisted on and Kevin Smith resisted was that, at the beginning of the movie, Superman was going to be flying around the arctic, and he was going to run into and fight some polar bears.

          (The end of the story, by the way, is that remnants of this movie eventually became _Wild Wild West_ with Jaden Smith’s and Frankie Cosmos’s dads.)

          But the point of course is that Superman fighting the polar bears has nothing to do with anything, it’s just action for the sake of action. So, yes, it’s action, but no, it’s not “the action.”

          Another concept that comes to mind is developing an intuitive sense for what beginnings, middles and ends look and feel like in literature. How do you structure a line of poetry so that it really feels like an end — and is it the end of a stanza, a canto, a book, an epic, an entire collection, etc…

          At any rate, there’s one scene in Star Wars that really jumps out at me for the purpose of this discussion.

          It’s pretty obvious that IV-V-VI-I-II-III-VII-VIII-IX would technically be “in medias res,” but which scene in the whole series feels most like the “beginning” of the series?

          Most people would probably say the star destroyer appearing over Princess Leia’s Corellian Corvette — but I’d say that probably even more to that is the sequence of Luke Skywalker looking out over the dual suns of Tatooine and dreaming of adventure.

          To me, that scene just screams “THIS IS THE BEGINNING OF A STORY.”

          And while there’s a possible way to string together the events involving Anakin and Darth Vader to where that scene is in the middle of a story, I don’t think the movies actually do this. It does sort of feel like the movies that supposedly take place earlier in time than this moment actually do happen considerably after it. This is the moment that feels most “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”

          Now that I say it — that’s really the beginning of the story: those words. And those words definitely don’t feel like they’re coming in “the middle of the action.”

          So, yeah, with all that in mind, and broadening my own consideration of what in medias res is (and perhaps expanding it based on taste and judgement, looking at what it _accomplishes_ as much as how it can be _recognized_), I’d say that, whatever else it manages to do on its long and winding path toward the Jub Jub Song, Star Wars starts at the beginning, at the beginning of Star Wars.


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