review

Review: Bloggingheads

I’ve been faintly aware of Bloggingheads.tv for about 18 months, and a loyal “viewer”–more on those quotation marks in a minute–for about six months. Bloggingheads is a talk show with little production value but constantly compelling guests. Most episodes are about an hour long from end-to-end and features little more than two heads presented side-by-side talking to each other. The most movement you generally see on screen is heads bobbing during the course of the conversation, and some holding of books. There are no graphics, and rarely anything interesting to see.

But talk shows shouldn’t be about production quality and really shouldn’t rely on eye-candy. Dedication to those ideals makes Bloggingheads a place dedicated to interesting conversations about relevant (and interesting) topics. Surely those turned off by politics will be mostly bored by Bloggingheads, but most of the commentators are interesting and thoroughly knowledgeable about the topic they discuss.

As you may reasonably expect from the name, most Bloggingheads contributors are bloggers, and many are of the political variety. If one has spent much time in the political blogosphere at least a few names and faces will be familiar. If you’re unfamiliar with the personalities, take my word that they’re mostly interesting and intelligent.

To the “viewing” question: one could legitimately ask why–other than it’s inspiration as an alternative to cable news channels’ talk shows–Bloggingheads does video at all. As was noted, rarely is much of interest presented by the conversants’ faces, and almost never are the visuals necessary for comprehension of what’s going on. After all, the show is produced by two people taping themselves talking on the phone, with neither able to see the other. Acknowledging that reality, the show is available as an audio-only MP3 podcast, my preferred method of “viewing.”

It’s hard to address the contents of the show themselves, as so many episodes are produced in a week, with such a variety of topics and tones. There are some standards however. On Fridays, a left-leaning blogger and a right-leaning blogger discuss the topics that have lit up that “sphere”  in the past week. On Saturdays, two science personality–usually journalists, but sometimes scientists or even philosophers–will discuss topics including their latest writings or experiments. On Sundays, Mark Goldberg discusses UN-focused international affairs topics with everyone from activists, to ambassadors, and reporters. On Mondays, Will Wilkerson usually discusses new books with their authors on the libertarian-leaning “Free Will.” And recently, the sites founders, Mickey Kaus and Bob Wright, have gotten back into the habit of talking to–and yelling at–each other about mostly-mainstream political topics, usually on Thursdays.

That’s a small sampling of the content available. And there’s no doubt that it’s a lot of content. In a given week at least five hours content will be posted. And some of it will contain little more than “the narcissism of small differences.” And some will be punctuated primarily by two people hurling invective across massive divides of misunderstanding. And some will be dedicated to other minutia about which I simply don’t care. It can sometimes be too much for even the most time-rich viewers to watch loyally.

But these problems are minor compared the to unique qualities of the project. It’s certainly better–if less up-to-the-minute–than anything you’re likely to encounter on CNN, MSNBC, or Fox News. A show that features intelligent people having civil discussions about interesting topics? I’ll do my best to find time for that.

Standard