Why Are We Here?

When confronted recently with that vexed question, a starkly unphilosophical 7-year-old replied: “We’re not here for any reason. We’re here because we’re here. We evolved from monkeys and that’s why we’re here.” Guess you never heard of sugar-coating, huh kid? Now run along and stare into the void.

Unlike our reportedly pointless species, Booksmart Studios is here for a reason. We, too, have been shaken these past several years in our proverbial house, divided as it is against itself. We, too, are left wondering whether the long arc of a moral America is now breaking on its journey toward justice. And we, too, suspect that our vaunted democratic institutions are crumbling alongside the parchment on which they were built.

But hold that thought! We’re not nearly as nihilistic as, say, a certain 2nd-grader we know. As faithful devotees to the power of words and ideas, we believe that discourse—earnest, truth-seeking and reality-based—is the only path to understanding. What’s our alternative, another bloody civil war? Podcasting may be risky business but at least nobody dies from bayonet wounds. Or did that happen to Joe Rogan?

Mr. Rogan will be just fine, but America, fractured and brittle, may not. Booksmart Studios will lay down its musket and launch this summer with three podcasts—Bully Pulpit, Banished and Lexicon Valley—each with a brilliant, engaging host known for questioning conventional wisdom. Here, in their own words, are brief explanations of their respective shows.

Bob Garfield, former co-host of public radio’s On the Media:

Bully Pulpit will examine politics, society and culture through interviews and commentary, with all of the Bobospherics you’ve come to expect. Plus, it’ll have a catchy jingle and guaranteed there there. In pretty much every medium for 44 years, my work has always been about something beyond the particulars at hand, and has always had a beginning, middle and end. But I don't much like the label opinion—because opinions are like assholes and good arguments are like ships-in-a-bottle. Not everybody can make one.

Amna Khalid, associate professor in the Department of History at Carleton College:

Persecuting those deemed witches or lepers may be a bygone practice, but banishment is alive and well today. Social death at the hands of Twitter mobs and pressure groups, after all, is far too familiar. In fact, the phenomenon of cancelling is arguably baked into communal living and even central to our origins—where would we be had Adam and Eve not been cast out of Eden? So what can we learn about our present obsession with cancel culture by examining history, and what might it mean for freedom of expression? Banished is about our reassessment of the many people, ideas, objects and even works of art that conflict with modern sensibilities.

John McWhorter, associate professor of linguistics at Columbia University:

Under Booksmart Studios, Lexicon Valley will continue its tradition of dissecting this messy, maddening and thoroughly wonderful thing we call language. While retaining the show’s trademark nerdery and eccentricity, I’ll redirect it considerably to take on issues from the current headlines and discuss our weekly reality through the spoken and written word. Longtime listeners will know that I’ve always had a mantra of sorts as host: Everything is happy here in the Valley. No more. From now on, I’ll be stepping outside of that amiability at times to address how language rankles as well as assuages—in other words, all of what language actually is.

We hope you’ll consider supporting Booksmart Studios and our hard-working staff. Joining now will ensure that you don’t miss any of our considerable subscriber-only content, including extra podcast episodes, full transcripts of the shows and an opportunity to engage directly with our esteemed hosts.

So please click the button! In the meantime, we’ll let that 7-year-old know that we actually evolved from apes.