Jessie Thorn’s “The Sound of Young America” and The New Sincerity
For me, one of the most exciting aspects of discovering the work of creative entrepreneurs is the jolt of enthusiasm I usually experience as a result. Whether I’m reading about a particularly inspirational person’s life, or about their business, or about the creative process that took that person from the place they used to be to the place they are today, I find that I almost always walk away having learned something new. It seems that every time I read a story about how a so-called “regular” person went about the process of creating the life of his dreams, I come away from the experience with a huge jolt of psychological pep — a renewed sense of energy, you might say.
And that’s exactly how I felt last night, after discovering The Sound of Young America, a radio program hosted by Jesse Thorn, a fairly fascianting 25-year-old writer who also performs with a sketch comedy troupe known as Prank the Dean. The Sound of Young America, which is only broadcast on five national radio stations, but can be accessed free-of-charge as a downloadable iTunes podcast, has apparently been around for quite some time. Indeed, a handful of both mainstream and independent media outlets have already documented the brilliance of Thorn’s show, which the host himself describes as “a public radio show about things that are awesome.” On the program’s website, Thorn also encourages potential listeners to think of his show “like … Fresh Air but more fun.”
As someone who overwhelming respects the interviewing skills of Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross, I’m afraid I have to disagree with Thorn’s comparison to that show. Although I will say this: Thorn’s show certainly is a massive breath of fresh air, in and of itself. And that’s not only because of its quite often unexpected guests. (Last night, for instace, I listened to a conversation between Thorn and the underground publishing maverick V. Vale, who founded San Francisco’s legendary RE/Search Publications company.) It’s also due to the attitude of sincerity that The Sound of Young America seems to purposefully convey. Or to put it in simpler terms: Thorn’s show is not meant to be any sort of an insider joke, appreciated only by an exclusive coterie of wannbe hipsters who spend their days making fun of the world at large on internet message boards.
Earlier this morning I came across an especially interesting print inteview with Thorn on Gothamist, a New York-based web magazine. The piece begins with Thorn being asked about something called The New Sincerity; apparently this is a new cultural movement founded by Thorn, along with his former radio co-host and a handful of friends. Here’s a short excerpt from that interview:
What is The New Sincerity?
It’s a new cultural movement founded by yours truly with a lot of help from various folks, including Jordan Morris, my former co-host. At its core, it’s a rejection of what we called The Old Irony, which ruled the cultural roost, or at least the hipster part of the cultural roost, for the past fifteen years or so. It’s not the same as the Old Sincerity in the sense that it is bigger and better. Things that wouldn’t necessarily fit into the Old Sincerity, like Bootsy Collins, do fit into the New Sincerity. Part of what the New Sincerity is, is being larger than life, and the acknowledgment that the coolest stuff comes from being completely unafraid of being seen as uncool. It encompasses everything from small things like high-fiving and flying a kite to bigger things like being Evil Knievel.
What is the Old Sincerity?
Regular, boring sincerity.
Wow. How true that is. Regardless of the fact that Dave Eggers — known in some circles as the former Prime Minister of Irony — proclaimed some years back that irony was indeed dead, the sad reality is that irony seems to remain something of an everyday attitude among smart people of a certain age. I’m personally fascinated by Thorn’s New Sincerity model, and if I happen to dig up any more useful information surrounding it, I’ll be sure to mention it here.