Reviewing a Wild Year in Art With the ‘Culture Gabfest’


STEVENS Doing a lot of these things feels like homework to us, even if it could be interesting or fun homework. Since we’re stuck at home, it’s less likely that I will want to stuff something new into my head because I never run out of things to see. In a way, I’m scared if someone comes up to me and says, “You have to discover this great Swedish Vimeo series!” Somebody just recommended it to me. And it sounded amazing. But part of me thought I was doing this with my free time? Putting more meaning, words and thoughts into my brain than just trying to expand what’s already inside?

TURNER I mean, it’s such a privilege to have a job where literally everything I do culturally counts as work. [In addition to co-hosting the “Gabfest,” Turner is a deputy managing editor for The Los Angeles Times.] But I reserve corners of my brain for culture consumption, which is harder to turn into work. We don’t do a lot of books on the show because there’s a lot of listening to it, but I’ve relied on either high-profile thriller mysteries or literature with strong plot elements because I just want to be drawn into another world.

METCALF I am the opposite of Julia.

TURNER That’s our whole shtick.

METCALF I am human, she is a robot.

TURNER I love people, he’s a snob.

METCALF No, but I am a great madman. And I am always in danger of completely detaching myself from the axis of contemporary life. This podcast anchored me in what everyone is incredibly grateful for. Because what I do now in my spare time is what I would do with all my time if I didn’t do the podcast, which is read essay by essay on the nature and state of neoliberalism. At the moment I’m reading Habermas’ 1980 lectures on the nature of modernity.

Has it ever felt strange or rude to deal with art or ask other people to do the same in the midst of so many overlapping social crises? Have you ever felt insubstantial?

TURNER I think we feel deeply immaterial most of the time, so I don’t know if that has changed. A podcast is basically optional for people who find it valuable. For me, one of the most noticeable things about this year was that it was sort of a first pan-human event. The first global event where everyone was affected by the same problem at the same time and we immediately communicated with each other. To the extent that art is essentially about reckoning with being and what it means to be human, I felt urgent. It was more relevant than ever.