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Marathon To The Mall And Other Public/Private Partnerships, With Adam Conover

The Los Angeles Marathon making its way down Hollywood Boulevard in 2021.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

The state is all around us, and also very hard to see. Where it is visible, it is mostly punitive—blustering or checked-out or raging cops, elected officials dealing in weepy smarm or leering sadism, overmatched and under-resourced officials in various capacities, all of them explaining in various tones why something is impossible. It is almost unimaginably vast and busy, but it is invisible in large part by design. The federal government is essential to not just the function but the basic viability of daily life in these United States, and yet the resting state of public opinion on the government, in its specifics and in general, is negative. Some of this is cultural conditioning—the rugged cowboy faith that every man can, should, and would just as soon test his own meat for ptomaine contamination rather than leave it up to some pencil-necked fed—and some of it is simply a matter of assessing the facts. The police really do soak up a ton of public money and really are terrible at the most important facets of their job; a reactionary movement led by rich men over generations has made sure that many vital public institutions are either actively militating against their supposed goals or grand edifices concealing empty and mildew-smelling spaces in which work is supposed to be happening. None of it really qualifies as “what you want” if we’re being honest.

The question of what the federal government actually does every day, and how and how well it actually does it, is a subject that gets taken up periodically as people try to figure out why everything is so “fucked up” and “bullshit” all the time. In Netflix’s The G Word, the comedian (and Defector contributor, and host of the Factually! podcast) Adam Conover takes on that challenge; on our podcast, this week, we asked him about it—about the show, about what the government does, and also about the thing from before about how everything is fucked up and bullshit.

Because Conover is a smart, funny guy who knows a lot, he had a lot of illuminating and amusing things to say. Because he had to say them on our podcast, he also had to navigate around all the obstacles that Drew and I and our respective and mutual idiocies tend to throw in the way of illuminating and amusing conversations. The conversation covered his experiences in the McCourt-warped Los Angeles Marathon and working with and for the Obamas in producing The G Word, but thanks to my insistent/perseverating hand, we kept turning back to towards the central question of his show—what about our government is really ours, and what does it do for us, and how and why are the same interests that always seek to make private money off public things scheming to do that, here. Longtime listeners will likely not be surprised to learn that I have some opinions on this matter, and also that I was somehow able to bring the previous owners of the New York Mets into it, albeit briefly. (Similarly, people familiar with Conover’s work will not be surprised to learn that he did a good job of identifying and explaining how all this is both more complicated and more infuriating than my usual fulminations would suggest.)

This sounds serious, and it is serious, but it was all lighthearted given the heaviness of the whole thing, to the point that when the episode pivoted, as it invariably does, to the Remembering Some Guys and Questions About Taking Baths As An Adult portion of the proceedings, the energy level remained about the same. We were joined for the guy-remembering/bathtub-colloquy portion of the podcast by Defector accomplice Sri, and the four of us landed this plane together, in good fellowship—just four people, abandoned or underserved by the state in various ways, talking about what makes some losing teams lovable and some less so and the last time we took a bath.

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