16 Aug Podcast Recommendation: Maintenance Phase with Aubrey Gordon and Michael Hobbes
|Maintenance Phase was released in the Winter of 2020 and is a fortnightly podcast that “debunks the junk science behind health fads, wellness scams and nonsensical nutrition advice”. That’s the official tagline of the podcast, and there’s an additional tagline every episode, improvised either by host Aubrey Gordon, author of What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat and contributor to Self Magazine or host Michael Hobbes, reporter for the Huffington Post and author of the 2018 article “Everything You Know About Obesity is Wrong”. These improvised intros are wonderful and just some of the many moments in the podcast when the hosts delight in each other. The rapport between Gordon and Hobbes is gorgeous – two friends on the same page and riffing off one another. Those riffs range from salty exclamations to facepalming cringes to deep unbridled laughter (Gordon’s laugh is the BEST). Episodes are released every fortnight and the hosts take turns to break down a topic. When one leads the research and presents it, the other allows themselves to release all their surprise and rage at an unknown fact, or else adds to the conversation with their own previous research or lived experience. The topics most often relate to a specific historical-cultural moment. The lens is very American-centred but I’ve been surprised by how familiar the Americanisms have been. Foodstuffs, medications, TV shows, and icons like Oprah come under journalistic back-storying and fact-checking. The Dr Oz episode is delicious, the Celery Juice episode is a master-class in debunking nonsense and the Weight Watchers episode brilliantly highlights how the diet industry has morphed over time. There are three episodes I want to signpost: the Biggest Loser episode (19th January 2021), The Wellness to QAnon Pipeline episode (11th May 2021) and Anti-Fat Bias (24th November 2020)|
The Biggest Loser episode is systematic in its analysis of why this 17 season reality TV show was so problematic. They describe it as “one of America’s most harmful TV experiments” and in 50 minutes they dissect everything from public fat-shaming and bullying to neoliberalism, from metabolism to reality television, and from weight-loss science to trauma.
The Wellness to QAnon Pipeline episode is a deep-dive into conspiracy theories and how wellness culture and mommy culture can sow seeds of doubt that radicalise quickly into anti-science and anti-vax thinking. The targeting-for-the-purpose-of-radicalising via social media is not a new conversation and was the subject of much analysis in 2015 and 2016 with the WTF-trifecta of Brexit, Trump, and Cambridge Analytica. The targeting-for- the-purpose-of-radicalising via social media we are seeing in 2020/21 during the pandemic is definitely a moment for pause.
Finally, as an intro to Aubrey Gordon’s work, I highly recommend the Anti- Fat Bias episode (24 November 2020). Gordon is an incredible writer and her 2020 book What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat is one of those resources to which you keep returning. She discusses anti-fat bias in such a layered way, drawing on politics, sociology and pop culture. Yet it is her lived experience that creates a layer of immediacy to her writing. This isn’t theory for Gordon. I should say it isn’t ONLY theory for Gordon, as it’s the mix of theory and experience that makes her writing so deeply educational and important.