If you haven't already listened to the new podcast S-Town, a joint production from This American Life and Serial, stop reading this and go listen to the seven-hour run in its entirety. The show follows the story of John B. McLemore, who emails journalist Brian Reed to come investigate a small town murder and subsequent cover-up into which nobody else will look. Though the murder didn't happen, a body appears early during the show's run. The death isn't really the story; what the story is is a study of the life and world of McLemore, legitimately one of the most complicated and fascinating characters we've ever encountered. There's a reason S-Town is breaking records.
While many would say that they didn't have much to learn from McLemore — he's a very specific personality — creator Brian Reed tells The Guardian that he picked up quite a bit from the backwoods horologist.
"[I learned m]any things," Reed says. "Two come to mind. I learned that it’s important for us to kick each other in the ass, in terms of the shit that’s going on in the world. It is easy to fall into apathy. John made me feel more outraged, worried and dismayed at the ease with which we retreat into ourselves and become convinced that we can’t fix things."
Reed also says that we shouldn't reject the lessons of S-Town because of their untraditional source.
"And being with John, and the people he hung out with, you’d feel like you’d stepped through the looking glass a little bit. Like you were off the grid, a place where the normal rules of society didn’t quite apply, especially being on his property. He forces a new perception of reality on anyone who is around him. That’s so special, people who are able to do that, even if the rest of normal society bristles against them sometimes. It’s a 'fuck it' attitude. I don’t care, I’m gonna be me, follow my passions and curiosities. And John has found all sorts of people to come along with him, who are, in their own ways, of that mindset."