A photo of Sarah Marshall looking at the camera

Embracing Wrongness with Sarah Marshall

What was the last thing you were wrong about? How did you come to know you were wrong? And how did it feel to come to know this? This episode of The Detour explores these questions with Sarah Marshall, who for several years has hosted a podcast called You're Wrong About. Sarah and her guests often talk about pop culture: Britney Spears, Tonya Harding, O.J. Simpson, satanic panics. Here, we explore what's underneath those stories, and why they matter. And what it means to be wrong or right on our own and especially together.

Show Notes

Sarah Marshall is a writer, podcaster, and media critic focused on setting straight our collective memory—or at least getting to the bottom of why we believe and in turn define ourselves by popular narrative and myth. Why is the maligned woman a staple of our news media? Why do we believe that serial killers are brilliant? How do we keep stumbling into all these moral panics? These are some of the questions that propel Sarah forward. She is the host of the popular modern history podcast You’re Wrong About, which has been highlighted in the New Yorker, the Guardian and Time Magazine. Her writing has appeared in the Believer, Buzzfeed and the true crime collection Unspeakable Acts.


Adam Davis: Hey, this is Adam Davis with The Detour. A couple of questions for you here at the start. First, What was the last thing you were wrong about? How did you come to know you were wrong? And how did it feel to come to know this? Second, when did you last change your mind? And again, how did this happen? And how did it feel? And when do you think you'll change your mind next? I'm not asking how you told someone else that they were wrong, or how you changed someone else's mind, or when you'll next get someone to revise what they believe. I'm asking about another look at your own beliefs and ideas: your own sense of what's right and true.Your own openness to fresh thinking, especially about something that matters, like how just our communities are or are not, or someone else's dignity,or who we demonize, or welcome. This episode of The Detour explores these questions with Sarah Marshall, who for several years has hosted a podcast called You're Wrong About. This is a fairly intense and possibly accusatory name for a show, but the show itself, as Sarah says during our conversation, is gentle. The more Sarah talked about what it means to be wrong, the more we started to explore harmonious conversation, and emotional geography, and moving from caricatures and disembodied extreme positions to real people, real stories, and multiple perspectives among people who are, despite their different perspectives, on the same team. On her show, Sarah and her guests often talk about pop culture: Britney Spears, Tonya Harding, O.J. Simpson, satanic panics. Here, we explore what's underneath those stories, and why they matter. And what it means to be wrong or right on our own and especially together. So, Sarah, thanks for joining us for a conversation for The Detour. I guess I want to start by asking, given that you've been working for years on a show called You're Wrong About. I want to start with a kind of general question of, of what it means to say "wrong." 

Sarah Marshall: This is a great question. I feel like our title is one of the most divisive things about the show.

Thank you, by the way. Thanks for having me in the basement. I always knew I'd make it someday. I love to be, I've never been able to be interviewed in a basement or at least a self identified basement. 

Adam Davis: We can check that off. 

Yeah, it's so good. but yeah, in terms of wrongness, I mean, we started doing that show in 2018, me and Michael Hobbes, that's who I started it with, and that was at a time that—I think I say 2018 now and to us, today, that feels like long ago in the past, and yet, you know, in the past few years, every period has felt unprecedented. And so what we were in at the time felt unprecedented. It's easy to remember, I'm sure, in terms of the kind of sheer rejection of fact that was going into sort of creating the American worldview. And I think people like Mike and me, who I think it's fair to say both of us historically have clung to fact and to our ability to research a topic and find the real story as a way to have a sense of control. And so I think the show started off as a way of looking specifically at something that has always fascinated me, which is how the story that we remember is the story as it gets reported or remembered in the first few days of something happening and how, inevitably, because of how information works and how imperfect fact finding is and how, you know, so many things we know about a situation only come out years after the event that gets our attention in the first place, once we know where the bodies are buried. It felt like in the beginning, the point of the show was this idea of correcting the record and showing how we misremembered the truth, but here's what really happened. And then over time, I think it became less about the idea of correcting people's incorrect memories of the past and more about really examining the question of, what power does the truth intrinsically have over a human being? And what does it take for us to admit the way something feels to us isn't necessarily the last word on what's going on? What does it take to get outside of our own perceptions and how that feels like maybe the bigger problem behind what we've been talking about? Yeah, you said a few things that caught me already. One was just at the end about how it feels, and there's something about that word wrong. And even in the short title, You're Wrong About, which feels like, what I like about it is it can feel like it's letting me know that I'm wrong about something, which can feel kind of intense.

Sarah Marshall: I don't think the show feels intensely confrontational though, but if someone on the street or someone in my home says, "you're wrong about," it can feel a certain way. I'm wondering how that word wrong or even that phrase like taken out of the title has felt to you. Right. Cause it is a very scary word, right? And the idea of someone saying, and this relates to my upbringing because my dad was from New Zealand, so we kept ketchup in the cupboard, which is insane to Americans. Americans keep ketchup in the fridge. And yet I survived, you know, and I'm a big, strapping grown-up lady now, but the way sort of wrongness, I think, functions within social norms.

Normally, I think I would associate with someone saying, "You're wrong about ketchup. You should be keeping it in the refrigerator," and this idea that we are probably all walking around with the fear that we're being a person incorrectly to some extent. And I think I'm sure that it's a title that felt right to me from the beginning because maybe it is my biggest fear, because I'm obsessed with knowing the truth and I'm a perfectionist and I can't let anything go. And so embracing wrongness feels like one of the hardest projects for us to undertake together. 

Adam Davis: And you just said, I loved how you went from, like, where the ketchup goes to being a person in a correct way. I mean, that's a clear and short line between where the ketchup goes and being a person. 

Sarah Marshall: Yeah. And yet, why else would we argue about it so much? You know? 

Adam Davis: Yeah. I guess that's part of what I've been wanting to ask you a little bit about is the relationship between what we think when we seem to be right or have a hold on the truth and sort of how we are. So ketchup's an interesting example to take for starters because in a way it's like, well, either the ketchup is room temperature or it's whatever the fridge temperature is, but there's something about my being wrong that feels more intense than that. And as you say, today, maybe especially, although maybe also in 2018, like, why do you think it matters so much when we're wrong? 

Sarah Marshall: I mean, I think, you know, what first comes to mind is the way we're taught in schools, at least in the United States, which is, you know, you know something or you don't know something, and if you don't know something people are mad at you, and they're like, "Why didn't you know this? You should have known it," and you're like, "You're right. I should have been able to know more things." So from the beginning, we're kind of on the wrong track with this, this idea that learning should be happening at the same speed in the same way for everybody. And then if you can't do it the same way everybody else's, then, you must be defective in this in some way. And the idea of equating what somebody knows with your willingness to entertain the idea of their humanity, I guess, looking back more historically, and so it feels like there is there's so much baggage with the idea and it feels so hard, you know, for us both, I suspect, in the way we're programmed as organisms, but in the culture we've made for ourselves as well to say in public either, you know, "I don't know, because I don't know, factually," or "I don't know, because I don't have an opinion about that yet."

Adam Davis: Yeah. I mean, there are some things that I'm totally comfortable saying, I don't know about, that don't feel like they, that I'll be really judged in a significant way for, or judge myself significantly for. And then there's some things that, like, if I'm wrong about them, maybe things related to justice.

Sarah Marshall: Mm hmm. 

Adam Davis: Things related to how to live in the world. Do you feel like with now six years of doing this show, can I ask, like, when you're working on a story on or a show on George Michael, or JonBenét Ramsey, or O.J. Simpson, or Anita Hill. Do you feel like, here's why this is the thing we're looking at? This is what it meant? 

Sarah Marshall: I think that that's what I like to get to in the course of an episode, you know? And if I choose a topic that someone else pitches to come on and talk about, it'll be based on my sense that this is something I'm excited to learn about, and I feel like it connects to the audience, kind of the bigger picture of history that we're trying to get. And then, you know, if things kind of reach the correct boiling point, then like somewhere in that conversation, it's like the picture widens or something, you know, it's like Dorothy steps out of the door and into Oz and suddenly, you know. I just did an episode with, Alejandro Oliva that isn't out yet, but we just recorded it, about kind of how immigration policy has been shaped in the past few presidential administrations and sort of what the world looks like today being very recently constructed by not that many individuals for predictably not good reasons. And suddenly within there, there became this conversation that I couldn't have guessed would be there at the time about, you know, not just that subject matter, which is so important, but this question of what would it look like if our laws were being used to imagine the world as it could be, by which I mean more specifically the question of how are human beings best equipped to live in a society, and if you're running a society as a judge or as a corporation or as a border patrol officer. Like from a, like truly asking in an interesting way the ethical question of what our duty is to each other as human beings outside of questions of citizenship or, you know, when this paperwork got filed and the idea of, you know, not just defending yourself against the law being used as a blunt instrument, but daring to imagine it as something that functions, you know, as a tool, not of punishment, but of actively trying to envision a world that understands the human more deeply. Like that became, that was a moment when I was like, yes, this is why we're, this is another reason why we're talking about this. So in that example of the show that you're working on, the explicit subject was immigration policy. And ethical questions are very close to the surface. I guess I want to ask you a little bit about like, a series of shows on Britney Spears. Where I think there are ethical questions that are clearly there. But as you said a minute ago, it seems like it takes a little time to unearth. Or to, to feel what's really going on. So, I want to ask you about the pop culture part of this.That, that that seems in many cases to be the entry point into Why pop culture? Why Britney Spears and a streaker at the Oscars? Well, because that's what I understand, and that's how I got my worldview. You know, I grew up watching VH1 and just anything that was on cable. And, you know, as a millennial, I grew up in the, you know, the era of Tonya Harding and Princess Diana and leaked celebrity sex tapes, but only on VHS at the time, you know, and just, you know, And the '90s kind of, I think, in retrospect as this moment of, you know, the 24-hour news cycle was born kind of at the end of the '80s, beginning of the '90s.

We saw in the early '90s with Pam Smart and OJ Simpson, how much people would drop everything to watch a trial as it unfolded, even the boring parts, which is most of it. And, you know, the '90s, I think were so fascinating to me, as a time to grow up and form an idea of media literacy, because tabloid media and sort of TV cable news media and infotainment were at peak saturation, and yet you couldn't really talk back to any of it yet, or you could, but the tools you had were so incredibly crude and slow. And so the moment of sort of watching the internet gradually be able to allow people to connect about what we were seeing and what we thought about it and to create countervailing narratives, I think, as I grew into adulthood, was so incredibly exciting to me. And I think in early episodes of the show, I'm so much more optimistic than I am now about the, you know, the internet as a tool for putting pressure on toxic media narratives, because I think that's certainly true, but there's also, you know, the current power of misinformation and of conspiracy theorists to, to find each other. I don't know how that balances, also all the wonderful complexity that we have the ability to address. But, but yeah, I mean, the answer to your question is that these were the characters that I was really thinking about as I was thinking about my place in the world and learning to understand narratives and the way we tell stories and what it means about us. And so that was just made the most sense is, where the passion was. 

Adam Davis: Do you argue with people about, or did you argue with people about Britney Spears? 

Sarah Marshall: Brittany is, was never in my wheelhouse, but I would really like sit someone down and lecture them about Tonya Harding. And I still will, but I now have a link to send to them.

Adam Davis: Why would you sit them down and lecture them? What hung on that for you? 

Sarah Marshall: I think that, I mean, I was like 23, 22, 23 at the time that she became my passion. So I was another young woman with a bushy ponytail who didn't quite understand femininity, right. And understood that I was, by learning about her story, you know, we're very different from each other in many ways, but I think that I, you know, we probably, everybody who becomes obsessed with somebody else as a subject, you know, as a journalist, as a historian, as an artist, in whatever way that kind of leads them to create some kind of work about their life that allows them to process maybe something they didn't realize they were processing about themselves. I think I probably saw myself in her in ways that I didn't realize, but I also felt this great sense of, you know, and you know, this is about 2010 when this fixation began for me. So the narrative was not. complicated at all around her.

It was just that, oh, wasn't she this, didn't she assault her rival so she could win at the Olympics? And the idea that, you know, at the time hiding in plain sight was the clear fact that she was barely out of an abusive marriage and in this incredibly antagonistic relationship with her sport couldn't articulate how she was doing things wrong except that she just was and she had to lose style points for it. I think that I've had a, Just a real sense of frustration about no like the the information is right here. Like, this is easy, you guys. We should be able to get this. 

Adam Davis: Mm hmm It's easy and we should be able to get this feels different from what I hear culturally a lot right now, which is most of the loud arguments oversimplify. They put us in two camps where they make it sound like it's either the border is fenced or not. And then, so then it often sounds like people who I think I tend to agree with are saying it's more complicated. We need to make space for us to recognize more complexity. There's something very encouraging about what you just said, which is, well, it's actually, it's easy, but we still, there's more that we need to do to recognize.

Can you say a little more about the easy that you're seeing there? 

Sarah Marshall: Yeah. I mean, I think some things are simpler than we make them. And I think I theorize personally, I don't, you know, I don't study children at all, but I think that this might be why children have such a better sense of justice than a lot of adults. Right? 

Becausewe get used to things and we get trained into professions, you know, and you look at people who, you know, somebody who works in corrections is a prison guard. You know, people who work in prisons in a guard capacity, I think, have a similar rate of PTSD to people who have done active tours in Iraq. And so the amount of trauma that you experience in that kind of a job doesn't, it, none of that is going to make you treat anyone around you better, you know? And I think, in many cases, the kinds of abuses that we start to see is just part of the wallpaper or something that has, you know, been introduced, been trained into a population in that way.

I mean, in talking about the immigration episode too. I mean, I think the the idea of individual evil does a lot of work and I wouldn't unless I was under, unless I was talking about a friend's boyfriend, and that's in my own personal life when I can, you know, have more free reign, I would never call any individual person evil, but I would call an entity evil, right?

Adam Davis: And a tangent that I went on in this episode that I, in the immigration episode, that I don't know if we'll keep in, but something that's a fixation of mine how a lot of mistreatment of inmates in American prisons also comes down to the kind of private contractors who work with them and who put in the lowest bid possible and then who do terrible work, in terms of, you know, recognizing the human rights of the people that they're feeding and clothing and whatever else. And that's something that people can justify not because they wake up and see themselves as evil, but because the stockholders are antsy and they want to buy a condo and the first condo didn't satisfy them, so they want a second condo, you know, and that's, you know condos are a fairly evil motive, but they're really not that bad. It's not like being a cackling skeleton kind of a thing. How much when you're thinking about an episode the subject of an episode? I mean, you just used the word evil a couple of times. How much are you thinking about things like good and evil that show up in this story or justice and injustice? 

Sarah Marshall: I think that, before we had a pandemic, I enjoyed thinking about ethical questions more recreationally. And it's only lately that I've started being like, yeah, let's talk about justice and good and evil. 

Adam Davis: Why that change with the pandemic? 

Sarah Marshall: I think that I really had some kind of a deep belief that we would not behave the way we did. And I think it just hollowed me out inside. And I think also, I guess the way that people lived and the amount of death that we witnessed either far up far away or up close for so many people, you know, that we, we all suffered a shared trauma that I think we're not ready to deal with directly as a culture. And that is just going to come out in drips and drabs for the rest of our lives. 

And that's just what I think is the situation. You asked me about me, though. But yeah, I really, I'm so dumb, because the pandemic happened and I was like, "Oh my gosh, it's a real threat. Anyone could admit this is a real threat. It's a virus. We all know what those are, right? So we're all going to band together. We're just going to set our quarreling aside, hands across America, a thousand points of light." Didn't happen, right? It didn't happen that way. And the amount of political conviction that people put into defending their human right to kill people by giving them a virus. 

I think that it's, it is that kind of classic argument of a conservative is a liberal who gets mugged and a liberal is a conservative who gets indicted, you know, that I was making the show, I think out of some kind of faith in the basic, goodness of humanity that got really shaken. And I think that I still, I have that faith in one way or another. It's kind of a faith that got burned down and had to grow back, in kind of a new configuration. But I have it, I think, not because I think I'm right, but just because it doesn't feel good to live the other way. 

Adam Davis: You just used the phrases liberal and conservative. Do you feel like you have a sense of divisions or hopes with the listeners or those you hope to reach?

Sarah Marshall: Yeah, it's a, I mean, it's a good question because I, when I make the show, I imagine, you know, If I'm imagining anyone listening to it, it's somebody who is where I am, or probably farther to the left, or, you know, opening the door to sort of being in a poorly defined, but generally sort of softly anarchistic, homegrown Pacific Northwest, will grudgingly vote Democrat, you know, fills in potholes with your anarchist friends for fun, or is one of their parents, kind of a demographic. And, but I also know plenty of people as, as most of us do, who don't fit that mold at all, and who I love, and I know thatthe world isn't full of people like me for a reason. And thank God. 

I think the political thing, like we did an episode, we don't get into current events that much, but I brought Mike back to do an episode last summer on Sound of Freedom, which is the horrible human trafficking centered sort of QAnon movie that was in theaters for quite a while last summer and, you know, the air conditioning was faultless, so I'll give it that. But that was a movie that we talked about, I think, with the attitude that the misinformation represented in it, you know, that we could kind of focus on debunking it and talking about, this is why this isn't true, this is why that isn't true, and also brought up an episode we'd done a few years ago on the false ways that human trafficking is represented politically and how, you know, that term, the numbers that people bring in to defend the idea that we have this problem of White women being kidnapped in Target parking lots. That's not a problem. But wage theft for undocumented workers is, but that's not the problem that conservatives are being encouraged to imagine by that movie. And so that's the kind of topic where, you know, we can talk about something that's being used in contemporary politics in a very weaponized way and kind of make something with an intent to give it to a listener who, if they have, you know, someone who they want to bring the facts to, they can do that.

But I think so many people do that kind of work better than I do. And I think that where I feel most comfortable and where I feel like I have the most to offer is just in trying to think about, you know, we believe such different things and yet we all want the same things, basically. I think we all want safety, and we all want security, and we all want some way, even if we don't think we want it, to heal from the inevitable traumas of being a human being, to say nothing of whatever gets added on top of that. And so I think the show does spend a lot of time looking at people who have made very bad, sometimes very harmful decisions. And when it does come down to a case of individual behavior, you know, something, somebody like O.J. Simpson really trying to look at that person and say, "Hey, how could somebody get here? How could, how could I get here? How could you get here?" And, you know, to create a broader framework for thinking about justice that includes at least the willingness to entertain the idea that people generally do great harm not because they have sat down and made a plan and decided it's their best idea, but because one thing leads to another. 

Adam Davis: It makes me want to come back to the Question about the question that you explore with listeners in at least one episode maybe a couple that is how we change our mind How do you think people change their minds?

Sarah Marshall: I think you have to just like swaddle them real tight and then maybe they feel secure enough to do it. You know, not literally, but something like that, right? 

Adam Davis: Swaddle them with what? 

Sarah Marshall: I don't know. That's the thing. That's where the metaphor gets complicated, but I think of the times when like I have felt confronted, especially with my own bad behavior and have been able to own up to it.

And it's, I think that part of it is a feeling of security and a feeling of, I am in the presence of, of a real person or in the presence of kind of the idea, at least, of me kind of conjuring my knowledge that people do exist in the world and in my life, even if they're not in front of me right now, who welcome my growth and aren't just mad at me for not getting it right the first time

Adam Davis: You're listening to The Detour with Sarah Marshall.

I mean, I love the idea of encountering people who have consequential and different opinions from me And the idea of growth being welcomed, if I'm being honest with myself, it's probably the case that what I want is their growth more than my growth. Part of it has to be kind of listening to what the ego says in the moment, being like, okay, you know, and being like, you can say that, and I can hear that, but we, I just don't have to do that. While we're talking about this, it's put me back to the title and the you. Which can be an intense word sometimes. You're Wrong About

Sarah Marshall: It. Totally. Yeah. It's the second person is very powerful. And I think It's funny because, when Mike and I were coming up with the title, he maintains that this title was my idea. And if it was my idea, I don't remember thinking of it. So it's just this title without a parent. And then that way it's truly, you know, both of ours, I guess. but it does feel like both as combative as you want to get. And if you, you know, you can have a combative title, so you can have a gentle show. And also kind of, you know, as the topics that I've been able to look at have broadened it's become more of an attempt for me to create a coherent view of American history. And I think, you know, in that sense, maybe the title also has broadened to be more about the idea that we don't really know anything, and it's okay that we don't. Even the things I think I know, I don't know, because I can't remember them anymore. My mind is not as good on details as it was even ten years ago. and I think maybe we define ourselves by knowledge in a way that gets hard as our brains get less elastic and we can learn less quickly. We might get a little bit less sharp.

Adam Davis: I've got you on all of those. I think I've got you on all of those.

Sarah Marshall: Right? So like if we're going to become slower learners, then, you know, maybe we have to counter that by just, you know, there's something I think about a lot. That's like this old, it's from like a Henry Rollins spoken word album that's like from twenty years ago, that's about just the random phrases that he and his bandmates would cling to when they were on tour. And one of them is, I think they were in a Japanese hotel room or something where there was a sign in the bathroom that said, "be drinkable." It had something to do with the tap water. But whenever someone was getting heated about something, they would just be like, "Hey man, be drinkable," you know? So I guess like being flexible, going with it. And I think it also, I mean, this is something I'm just figuring out kind of in my journey to—I hate the word journey—but figuring out in my quest to become a real grownup is just like having strong boundaries, because I think one of the reasons the show is so important to me and one of the things I try to emphasize in it is that I am fairly easily fooled and manipulated and influenced into thinking things that, when I kind of come out of the fog, I think, wait, did I think that? Or was I just trying to make that person happy? And so looking at people whose folly was kind of going along with the crowd, having, you know, just being kind of medium at a time that called for being great.

Adam Davis: It's, our need to be great is, it's not, it's not the right thing. Right. I just said, right, while I'm thinking about wrong and right, and I'm thinking about different kinds of wrong and right, and even different kinds of details. And of course, what you said about age and the elasticity of the mind is landing as I find myself actually, like, getting older in ways that are not only recognizable to me. I think I'm pretty comfortable when I can't remember the details of the JonBenét Ramsey case. 

Sarah Marshall: Yeah, that's a good one to forget. 

 But there are things about sports I never want to forget, which are even less important than that, it, that bothers me a little, but it's not concerning. I don't lose sleep over it. What concerns me is if I'm wrong about how I'm living and that doesn't feel light. Well, so the show, the first episode and kind of the soup it was born out of was, me researching the satanic panic and that's, you know, I stayed with that interest to this point because it, you know, you can learn about the satanic panic your whole life. I feel about it the way Bubba felt about shrimp, I guess.

And there's something, you know, to me, so central about that story, about the danger of people appointing themselves, you know, the hero role and then never worrying about it again. So you have cult cops of the era, moral entrepreneurs who have the job of going from town to town, holding training sessions, sometimes charging quite hefty prices, like $200 or $300 per person to train local cops to look for clues of satanic cults in their area, which often is just, you know, a pentagram spray painted on a railroad trestle. It couldn't just be teenagers. It has to be, you know, teenagers could never spray paint like this. There are so many fronts across which the panic unfold, but a lot of it involves therapists and social workers, you know, working with either vulnerable adults in therapy or with minors, including very young children, and kind of accusing them of victimhood, saying, "you were abused by Satanists" and the kid or the patient is like, "No, I wasn't." And they're like, "No, you were." What's both horrifying and in a way reassuring about seeing the way people function in those roles is seeing how once they felt like they had a very short list of rules of the trade of how to be a cult cop or how to diagnose somebody who's just walked into your office with satanic abuse, they just did not worry about it again. I think then the things that make us prone to not question our behavior, we have to think about that and sort of why do we, you know, the whole question of sunk cost fallacy and why people stay in cults and terrible marriages and, and all of that, but that it feels like just the willingness to take in new information is enough. 

Like I have known so many people and encountered so many people, you know, through this work, who reject knowledge, right? And who don't want to hear it. And I grew up with, with a dad who would actually talk over you if you were saying something he didn't want to hear and would walk out of the room, rather than hearing what you had to say. And I know that that made a big impression on me, and Trump has always,hopefully someone who is going to become less and less relevant with every passing day—but he has always seemed to me like somebody who, there are some things that he would simply rather cease to exist than hear, you know. And the sense of sort of needing to protect yourself from knowledge feels like something that drives people deeper and deeper into themselves.

And so I feel like if you wake up in the morning and you don't see yourself as the hero of a grand story, and you don't imagine that other people are getting up and seeing themselves as the villain of the story you're in, then I think that's a really good sign. 

Adam Davis: Yeah. That first episode that you talk about in 2018, about satanic panics and how that story continues to stay with you. I mean, a certain way, that is like the story of the cultural divide that we're in right now. And I say right now, which is an understatement, because it feels like we've been saying right now about that for a while. 

Sarah Marshall: Yeah. 

But it feels like a combination of certainty about the devil out there, it may also include certainty about the almost angel in here. Yeah, I think so. And I think, I mean, The Sound of Freedom is such an interesting kind of case study in this because since we did that episode, so much more has come out unsurprisingly about, you know, misconduct within the organization that this guy played as a very cheesy hero by Jim Caviezel in this movie. How he needed to have all these female staffers pretend to be in a couple with him so that they could catch the sex traffickers that way. And they needed to practice being a couple so that they wouldn't get caught when they were, etc. Stuff like that. And then of course, a lack of of busting up actual crimes the way that he said he was, which is kind of the main thing. It feels like, you know, kind of getting back to what we were talking about, what I see at least as some kind of innate sense of justice that we unlearn as we get older and find ourselves deeper and deeper and in a culture that wants us to unlearn it. It feels like clinging to a role and rejecting any knowledge that might contradict your worldview is something that that comes from some kind of a sense that, you know, you need to hide from from the real wrong that is happening very visibly if you could open your eyes to look at it, because I think that, you know, that the idea of inventing these Democratic Party devil worshiping people who are making children's skin and tissues, which is my favorite QAnon myth is, it feels like a great way to distract from the fact that the Republican Party, which if you're in a position that you feel like you have, you can't disown because because of your religion or because of your stance on abortion or whatever topic, is being used to keep you stuck to something that's destroying you economically, then it feels like, you know, in order to keep believing the story you feel you need to believe, then there has to be something someplace to put all these unpleasant facts and, you know, some kind of shield to use. And that's where that hero role comes in. Maybe. 

Adam Davis: Do you, I'm just going to ask the flip of that question. Are there, are there parts of a story that you feel like you hold on too tight? Are there certainties that you hold without knowing for sure that they're warranting that certainty?

Sarah Marshall: I mean, I think that I see in myself the kind of solipsism that I think a lot of human beings are just kind of, for whatever reason, prone to to behave with, where when the pandemic hit, I was like, "But I was making good choices in my life. My personal narrative was on an upswing. How could this have happened? Why is this my fault?" Right? And of course, it wasn't my fault. It happened to all of us. But for that moment, as you lose your footing, and you're starting to free fall, You can feel in control by thinking that it was your fault somehow we had a pandemic or, you know, when Trump won, I was like, "I should have sent in my mail in ballot earlier. That could have swung this. Oregon really carries elections."

but yeah, I think that I know that I am, I'm convinced that if I am good, then I will be rewarded. And that doesn't mean I believe in God. It means I believe in mommy. You know, and I know that the way I think about my life, it's completely illogical and I have the wind knocked out of me all the time.

Adam Davis: I think I can see it more clearly when other people are doing it, but I think I do that because I'm trying to, you know, teach myself through some kind of exposure therapy that things just happened and you can't control it by Obsessing over every decision that you make. I was thinking about what you said about the name of the show and how you and Mike both have a story about maybe the other person coming up with a title or at least not knowing in a way that's a story about responsibility.

Sarah Marshall: Yeah, that's true. 

Adam Davis: That's a good laugh. I want to ask you what's... 

Sarah Marshall: Yeah, because I mean, it's so funny. Talking about the show is making me think about. You know, because the most comfortable way for me to make it, I think, is to think of it as here I am, and I get to have these conversations with people who tell me about the world, and we try and, you know, and really that it's as much for me as it is for anybody else, because I like making a show and I like talking to people and I like getting to be kind of told information that I don't have to read with my own eyeballs, you know, and to learn about things that way, and then to kind of think about how to inhabit this world yet again, and how to kind of wake up and not get overwhelmed.

And, you know, the stuff that I come back to a lot is, you know, just very basic, just that we find joy within our community. And when things are overwhelming, you have to look to, you know, who's closest to you, either geographically or just in terms of who's in your community, however you define it. And that whatever love you put into the world will come back to you. And that's all just kind of me, I don't know, just doing my little support group in my own, you know, house that I get to have more people at. But then it's like, by creating something that goes out into the world without you, and that goes around with people and keeps them company and helps them to, to change their minds sometimes.

I mean, the thing I love most is when people say that the show has helped them to go easier on themselves, you know, and that that is one of the message that has come through year by year is just this idea that we're all doing our best, which I really believe. And it's disheartening that our best, you know, has produced, for example, many of the entrepreneurial ideas of Elon Musk, but once you accept that every other single person in the world is doing their best, then I think you are the last person who you have to believe that about, and it's easier that way.

Adam Davis: I guess I have two thoughts, and maybe we'll move towards closing. One is, I was thinking about two weeks ago, one of the things Oregon Humanities does is we, we sometimes run these trainings where we work with groups of people to help them develop more skills, feel more confidence in leading challenging conversations, call them facilitation trainings and reflective discussion. And this happened to be with a group of mostly rural librarians, and they were a great group. They were able to talk about heavy stuff like equality and difference and all these heavy things. And they were able to laugh with each other and even disagree with each other pretty well, like pretty directly say, yeah, that's not what I think. And then talk about it. 

But there were moments when especially a little bit of difference in political belief kind of emerged, but very quietly. And the group that was in the minority politically, I think really, they were the ones that didn't end up speaking up as much. And it was, it was interesting to watch. And I've been thinking about it as we've been talking, because I've been thinking about who, like, who in that room was thinking and willing to say, here's what you're wrong about, you know, here. I don't know if that story lands in any particular way. 

Sarah Marshall: Well, yeah, I mean, what it makes me think about is how much time, and I wonder how much of this is, you know, why things seem so hard lately, how much time we spend not interacting with being with real people, but being shown, you know, this is what everyone else is doing, and this is what everyone thinks of you, and this is America, right?

And being shown You know, the most extreme positions, on TikTok or, or whatever, whatever you use to get your extreme positions, right? But having the sense of, you know, the rest of the country being filled with people who, you know, especially if you're queer or trans in America, just want your blood and want to grind your bones to make their bread.

And, and, and you can't deny the fact that the Republican party has chosen to define itself on a platform, you know, of among other things, grinding trans bones to make their bread. And yet there are so many people who are not. being represented by the people speaking for them. I do believe that there are people, you know, many of them, the relatives of, of the millennial librarians who I know and love, who are in kind of the same position of kind of, well, I vote Republican and I'm being told all these terrifying inflammatory things that all come back to the idea that children's lives are in danger.

I mean, I would never force anyone to have a conversation that they don't want to, or to try and bridge a conversation with somebody who they don't feel safe around or respected by. But I suspect that a lot of the people who are genuinely at each other's throats are doing it for economic reasons, and that then we have a lot of people who are fairly peaceful and are simply being represented by somebody who doesn't act like them. While you were talking, I thought back to what you said before about swaddling, which I think you could make an economic, that, that is, that if we, if we were a little better at swaddling economically, maybe it would make more room for the kind of movement around ideas and understanding. Yeah. Well, or just like the, the amount of insecurity that we sort of, court in people and kind of the way that we create day to day life and how so much we, you know, trained people to see public debate as something that happens in a very loud, fast, antagonistic way, and if you can't get your thoughts, your thoughts together in a split second, then you have been proven wrong. And we aren't debating an issue now, but we could be, and we could be doing it in the way that we're talking now, where I feel I'm able to actually put my thoughts together because I don't feel like running away.

Yeah, I, I think that's, like, wouldn't it be great if it was actually a gift to hear that I was wrong? If, if I could be hearing that I was wrong in circumstances where I, I would hear that and feel like that's the best possible thing someone could tell me. Right? Or, you know, and so many of, you know, just to speak of conservative worldviews, so many of them are focused on the idea that the world must be scarier than it is, right? I feel so scared all the time. It must be because, you know, or that the world is scary in a different way than it is, right, because the streets are filled with human traffickers and there, and there are serial killers on my ring camera every night, and I have to buy more guns because everyone wants to steal my Precious Moments figurines, you know, and that part of the trouble and kind of sharing a country is that we're trying to share it with, you know, with people who I think as part of the conservative media agenda have been trained to live in fear of basically nothing, not the things they should be afraid of, which are, you know, the state of medical insurance in this country, for example. But, you know, that so much energy is put into terrifying people, you know, and I've heard anecdotally, at least one senior citizen who was told by their doctor to stop watching Fox News because it was so bad for their heart health.

And just the, the question of sort of, yeah, what would, what kind of a personality would people exhibit if they felt like people actually wanted to hear what they had to say? You know, and I think that that's, I mean, that's what I like about doing You're Wrong About. One of the main things is that some of the things that people say they like about it, I think, you know, I love that I'm able to do that, but I feel like there should be more of it.

And part of it is just the, you know, that people like hearing conversations between people who are enjoying each other's company, you know, and I agree. And that's what I set out to do. I remember the feeling of my parents having guests over and falling asleep, listening to them, telling stories around the table and laughing. And that feeling like part of the purpose of audio as a medium is that you can capture moods, you can change sort of the emotional geography somebody is inside of. And that's one of the places you can put them, you know, you can make them feel like they're listening, that they're kind of safe and listening to a really good conversation in the next room that they can just enjoy, and they can enjoy people kind of being in harmony with each other.

Adam Davis: And I don't know, the fact that we love that and want that so much and respond so positively to it, you know, it's clear to me that that's what we really want. And that's what feels good to us. And it makes me, you know,I'm very lucky. I have parents who never got radicalized by Fox News. Like they have their own issues. But I always knew that I was in the same world as them. We all basically agreed on what was going on. And so I never felt like I had to try and bring them back to reality in that way. But I think I find it unbelievably sad to think of people who are kind of trapped, who have been trapped, I think, by their political world in this kind of perpetual state of hypervigilance and are calling it patriotism. The idea of hearing the joy we get from hearing people in harmonious conversation with each other, I agree with you. I also feel like when you said in harmony, that's different from, or at least potentially different from, unanimity in the kind of, like in a way, actually a harmonious conversation probably means multiple perspectives. Yeah, I mean, and even when you listen to people telling a story, right? Like, you don't want a unanimous story. You want someone to be like, "Alright, so we left the hotel at 9:00," and then someone's like, "We left at 9:15. I'll tell it." And then someone's like, "You forgot about the umbrella, right?" That, like, there's such a joy and kind of, It almost feels like one of the scenes in like a musical or an opera where you're like introducing like the street vendors and everybody has something to sell and they're singing over each other. Yeah, and I guess the question that you've been really pointing towards is, when does it become unharmonious? When is it that the perspectives actually threaten? 

Sarah Marshall: I think it's when we feel like we're not on the same team. And right, the idea, like if we're telling a story together and we're trying to remember it together, then it's like we agree that there was a story. We were there. It happened. The earth is round. And so it's like we're on the same team because we have something to convey and we want to convey it the best we can to our audience. And I think probably, yeah, that that's what happens when I have someone on to interview because I'm not, I'm not doing the type of show where I'm trying to get one over anybody.

It'll be interesting if that day ever comes, but yeah, the goal is kind of, you have a story to tell and I want to bring my life experience such as it is into it and bring in my questions and be a little bit of a proxy for the audience and just a little bit myself. And, you know, for us to have this shared goal of having a great conversation for people to listen to.

And so I think, yeah, if we were arguing about something to do with worldview, like, I do believe we could still be on the same side. And in the past, I think people who argue have been on the same side more than they are now, right? Because arguing, In many families as a pastime, you know? 

Adam Davis: Absolutely. 

And this idea of that, yeah, that we're on the same general team, not in terms of what we think, but in terms of we both want to get closer to the truth. You just mentioned questions. And I think I want to close by asking if, over the past few weeks or period of time, you feel like there's a question that is for you in your head. I mean, I think the thing I've been thinking about the last few weeks and before that too, is really kind of the question of what does it take for humans to have good day to day life, what are our needs? And thinking of it, kind of testing the theory that happiness does come from community, right, and having lots of relationships, and I have been noticing in my own life that I have a lot of great relationships with a lot of people who I love who are kind of scattered over the world and yet the last few years, it's been difficult, especially when you can't travel, because if you're tending to all these individual relationships that don't connect to each other, really, then it can still feel sort of there's a sense of isolation that comes from that. And yet, if you are in a community of people who you can see taking care of each other as well as you, then is that I think I'm testing my theory that that's, that that's what we we need more than we realize. I want to say thank you. Thank you for this conversation. Thank you for the conversations on You're Wrong About. Thank you for your writing, and thank you for the questions that you're putting into the world through that and the community you're creating through that. Really appreciate it. 

Sarah Marshall: Thank you so much for this conversation and, and, for your community.

Adam Davis: This is lovely. You can find links to Sarah's work in our show notes at oregonhumanities.org. If you liked this episode, let us know. The Detour at oregonhumanities.org. The Detour is produced by Keiran Bond. Kyle Gilmer is our editor. Ben Waterhouse, Karina Briski, and Alexandra Silvester are our assistant producers. I'm Adam Davis. See you next time. 


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