Doppelgängers

Episode 484

Fred Armisen does a mean Ira Glass impersonation. The former Saturday Night Light star, and co-creator of the AMC show Portlandia, guest hosted This American Life last spring, impersonating Glass, the regular host. If you didn’t listen to is, check it out here. It’s really good. (It also re-aired this past weekend…I sear we didn’t plan it that way)

The episode also marked the beginning of this Blog, The Acts of This American Life, when I wrote about the Armisens’ impersonation in my blog, Shepshire. In it, I wrote the following:

“I’ve often used these stories in my preaching, and am always a little bothered that I have to explain This American Life to congregations. It’s a great show! I mean really great! And it’s full of images and stories that relate directly to the Gospel, like redemption, forgiveness, transformation, prophetic voice, etc. I could go on and on and on…and you, after reading this, should go and listen to every episode they’ve recorded.”

Eventually, what emerged was this blog, which takes an episode from This American Life and brings it to bear on one of that weeks lectionary readings.

The Armisen episode makes for a great launch for this project. A Doppelgängers is, by definition, “someone who looks like someone else.” Like how this blog kind of looks like This American Life….if you squint really hard, and momentarily suspend belief for a few moments.

Another reason why this episode is so great for describing this blog is the story in the first act, in which Ben Calhoun, led by a tip from an Oklahoma farmer, sets out to discover the truth behind “artificial calamari.”

Here’s the basic rundown:

The show begins with the search for the “truth” of artificial calamari, which, according to the tip, is actually made out of bung (pig rectum). They interview farmers, reports, government officials…and slowly come to the realization, without certain proof, that the assertion may actually be true.

But that’s where the show shifts, where their search takes a turn. Rather than trying to figure out if artificial calamari is actually made out of pig rectum, Calhoun starts to wonder: what if it doesn’t matter? What if pig rectum, deep fried, actually tastes good as a substitute for calamari? Calhoun explains

“I started to root for the bung. I realized that this is not a story about fraud. It’s not a bait and switch story. It’s a story about possibility. It’s classic rags to riches. It’s about whether a cut of meat– perhaps the lowliest, most malignable cut of meat in America– might somehow, in at least one place on the planet, be dipped in the redemptive oils of the great culinary equalizer that is the deep fryer.”

All of this questioning leads to a challenge: once deep-fried, can a person actually taste the difference between actual calamari and artificial calamari, or bung?

Recruiting the help of fellow This American Life producers Brian Reed and Seth Lind, along with his chef sister, Laura, Calhoun creates a taste-test challenge: after deep frying, can a taste difference be detected between bung and calamari?

The answer: not really.

Calhoun summarizes his search with this:

“Just to repeat one last time, I have no proof that anyone, anywhere, has ever tried to pass off pork bung as calamari in a restaurant. All I know is if you wanted to do it, it would be easy. And I’m choosing to believe that it’s happening somewhere. Because at some point in working on this story, I stopped identifying with Brian and anyone who might feel ripped off or grossed out by getting imitation instead of the real thing. Now I identify with the bung. And I’d like to think that somewhere out there, right now, under a heat lamp, a platter is sitting. It’s warm and it’s full of promise and transformation and redemption. That’s the world that I’ll choose to live in. For me, for you, for the bung, for the bung in all of us.”

This is where this blog begins: what if truth isn’t what we expect? What if it comes from somewhere we don’t associate with truth, or if the gospel emerges from surprise stories of redemption, or if an NPR radio show can provide the world with wisdom, or if the scriptures can be read through the lens of contemporary American life?

What if, in the stories of This American Life a kind of wisdom emerges, one which makes sense to those who also know the gospel?

This is our task.

Join us every week as we explore The Acts of This American Life.

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