MJ Bailey reviews the Imaginary Worlds podcast, by Eric Molinsky
As an enthusiastic storyteller and avid story-consumer, I’ve always been fascinated by our relationship to the stories we surround ourselves with. And I can’t imagine I’m the only one who has thought this way. Narratives have been part of the human experience from the very beginning, and after all this time, we still use stories as a means to relate to each other and the world around us.
If one wants to go beyond that, one must turn to a novel approach or the right podcast. I have a go-to show for this occasion: Imaginary Worlds. Beyond the services it provides to its audience, it holds the coveted status of ‘go-to recommendation’ because of a design and style that make it a podcast within the reach of any fan, no matter where in their fandom journey they are.
Eric Molinsky Takes You Beyond The Story
Eric Molinsky hosts this bi-weekly show that examines various properties within the science fiction and fantasy genres. Molinsky interviews various creative professionals about their experience of creating fictional worlds. In a way, this podcast then features the story behind the story, although that description is a bit reductive. More accurately, the audience can view this subject from a new angle. This would typically be out of the reach of the fans who love these properties so much.
The appeal of Imaginary Worlds is, then, somewhat obvious. When you love a piece of media–be it a novel, comic book, movie, or podcast–the urge to hold onto it can manifest itself as the urge for further engagement. This could come in the form of constant rereads or rewatches. Some turn to fan fiction or less connected works that they hope are similar. Imaginary Worlds, however, offers a third option: a deeper dive.
This approach is unique. For one, I would say it has the lowest barriers or the fewest kept gates. Rereads and rewatches can be limited by the availability of the media in question and then can be easily gamified. There’s a certain culture to fan fiction sites that can be hard to adapt to, and fan fiction adapted into original content for publication does not often reflect well on the genre as a whole. But unlike these other options for further engagement, Imaginary Worlds is accessible. Besides not having its own culture or language, it presumes nothing but an eagerness to learn. Even familiarity with the episode’s topic is not an issue if one is okay with spoilers. If not, listeners can return to episodes at a later date once they’ve experienced the media in question for themselves.
Imaginary Worlds Has Public Radio Experience, and Humility
Imaginary Worlds is for fans, but there’s no litmus test for entry. It's perhaps one of the purest celebrations of media a fan could have. It may seem like a simple or inevitable approach to the subject. There is something remarkable about Imaginary Worlds that traces back to Molinsky’s style. Or, should I say, his experience in public radio makes this podcast possible.
As I said, Molinsky is both host and interviewer. He brings individuals onto his podcast who are far more familiar with these topics than he is. Not only does Molinsky ask the right questions, but he relishes letting his guests speak about what only they know. Now, that may not seem impressive considering that is the absolute bare minimum that should be expected of an interviewer. But, there is some nuance to this type of interaction that can easily be overlooked. He lands on the right side of the line. While Molinsky has the background knowledge required to ask interesting and thought-provoking questions, he carries humility into each interview. He does not get the participants to say certain things nor is he searching for the answers he expects. Instead, he wants to get to the truth of the matter, whatever he may find.
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Exploring A Sanctuary for The Marginalized
This approach feels particularly appropriate when it comes to the genres Imaginary Worlds focuses on. The science fiction and fantasy landscapes have been sanctuaries for marginalized individuals. Consequently, you could never truly understand these worlds without the acknowledgment that there are things you won’t truly understand. There are experiences that you, as an outsider to that subculture, have no reference for. However, those topics still deserve representation and inclusion, lest one only double down on the pre-existing problem. Molinsky does cover these topics. During these episodes, this humility and respect are apparent. He never falls into the perceptions and traps that others take as gospel.
Brevity is The Soul of Wit
It's easier to do with episodes as concise as these. The episodes are brief. This narrow focus makes for good content, but it does often leave me wondering what more is out there. This is, perhaps, the other side of the double-edged sword. Brevity makes the subject more approachable, but for someone who loves to lean into the minutia, the ride is short.
Obviously, one cannot satisfy everyone, and I agree with Molinsky’s priorities. He creates a space where one does not need to have all the trivia answers and where not knowing is acceptable. From this lack of expectation comes the ability to properly and authentically reflect on oneself and one’s relationship with the topics featured on this podcast. It is, unfortunately, a rare thing, particularly online where being wrong is fraught with mockery. But in my opinion, from this resulting scarcity, Imaginary Worlds takes on a certain value if not importance. This is a perennial question, and its relevance will likely always remain.
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