Alice Isn’t Dead is a fictional serial podcast narrated by a lesbian woman of color (voiced by Jasika Nicole) in search of her wife while driving across the U.S.A in a commercial truck. During her journey, the unnamed narrator encounters surreal horrors such as a factory aging a man to death, a nonexistent small town on fire, and, most importantly, an almost human monster called the Thistle Man trailing her every move. As fantastical as all of this sounds, this world seems frighteningly real.
With the year old fictional thriller podcast nearing its second season finale on August 8th, it’s important to recognize how it’s gotten so popular. It’s a truly captivating story, but more than that, it answers a lot of questions that much of the audience is asking. How did America let Trump happen? Why does everything seem so horrible now? Why do we, as a nation, feel more far apart now than ever before?
The podcast’s timing seems almost perfect. The first episode aired on March, 8, 2016. While campaign buses were traveling across the country leading up to one of the most devastating elections in recent history, our narrator was making her own journey, visiting the locations that the politicians ignored, small towns torn apart or left behind by industry.
“The world is teetering”
– Alice, Episode 10: Thistle
It wasn’t until I listened to the podcast for a second time that I realized what it was conveying: the Thistle Man, a monster who will consume anything in his path, is not just a fictional creature. He is a monster devouring all of us.
He represents over-consumption, but more than that, a lack of empathy. In the podcast, he devours someone without feeling or remorse. The Thistle Man was demonstrating what a world without empathy looks like and what the “terrible freedom” that the narrator discusses later in the podcast really means. In America, sometimes freedom does not mean the absence of repression, but the freedom from guilt, feeling, and responsibility.
When thinking about freedom as being the freedom from responsibility and feeling itself, events like police brutality, gun violence, the refugee crisis, and poverty, make a little more sense. As a nation that prides itself on its freedom, a sense of responsibility for the nation’s many tragedies goes by the wayside. So when asking yourself how Trump got elected despite his hate speech it’s because he was able to trick people into believing that “freedom of speech” means the same things as a lack of liability.
This is not to say freedom is a bad thing. Freedom is an essential part of American life, but it is important not to confuse the freedom to live and thrive for the freedom from accountability.
“We are a country defined as much by distance as by culture”
-Keisha, Episode 8: The Other Town
Trump didn’t win the election by “speaking his mind” alone, however. Another important aspect of the podcast’s commentary comes in its descriptions of the areas of America that got left behind: rural areas that got hit harder by the recession and never fully recovered.
There’s a lack of empathy. Politicians on both sides of the aisle have ignored the working class and focused instead on corporate interests. This is not a solely Republican issue. Both parties were guilty of this. Thus, Trump, despite not actually being an outsider or a member of the working class, answered the call of many people for a political outsider who may possibly pay attention to the rural towns that thought they had been forgotten (spoiler: he didn’t).
This lack of empathy is far reaching. It appears in the podcast over and over again. The narrator, however, resists against it. Through her long dialogues she continues to humanize and empathize with the people she meets. She actively seeks out her missing wife, remembering that feeling, however awful the emotion, is always better than the alternative. She refuses to let apathy sink in and lets herself feel. This is what separates her from the Thistle Man.
Alice Isn’t Dead is not simply a piece of political commentary. It is, at it’s core, a story for entertainment. This being said, the podcast itself is so important because it explains highly complex societal issues through a story many can enjoy. The second season has, so far, not let me down with its continued critique of American society, and I have high hopes for the season finale. If you have not listened to the podcast, consider catching up with the first two seasons before next March, when it (hopefully) returns for its third season!