On Friday, May 1, West Virginia Public Broadcasting debuts its new podcast, Us & Them. The program, hosted by Peabody Award-winner and Charleston native Trey Kay, seeks to explore the issues that create vast cultural divides.
We spoke with Kay about the origins of the podcast, as well as the dialogue he hopes to create between people of widely different ideological beliefs.
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On the Origins of Us & Them
Kay says his interest in the culture wars began when he produced a radio documentary on a conflict over textbooks in Kanawaha County.
"It just put me in this world at looking at people--on each side of the culture wars--people who have very different fundamental beliefs are just constantly at odds. And I looked at the world we live in, especially with so much bitter long-jams in Congress and how one side just thinks the other side is evil. And I just thought 'this is just a fertile territory for me to explore in my journalism work but, also, it's something that probably could be great fodder for a podcast."
On the Mission of the Podcast
"I don't think that we are doing well with regard to [finding common ground]. I think that we have a media culture that has made it so that people can reinforce their own beliefs, whether they're right or wrong. People kind of lock into echo chambers--and that's a phrase that we use quite often, and we use on some of the Us & Them episodes."
Instead, Kay says the goal is to keep one side of the ideological spectrum from shouting at or ridiculing the other. He maintains that, while people's beliefs are deeply held, some sort of rational conversation could still be had when addressing intensely divisive issues.
On West Virginia's Role in Us & Them
"I was not really interested in making something that was all about West Virginia. But, I wanted to make a program that would feature a lot of West Virginia stories that would open up into a national issue. The culture wars are alive and well in West Virginia, just as they are in so many other parts of the country. There are going to be some Us & Them programs that have nothing to do with West Virginia. But, there are going to be many that open up and show how West Virginia relates to the rest of the country, if not the rest of the world."
An Excerpt: Changing Attitudes Towards West Virginia's LGBT Population
One of the first episodes of the podcast looks at how attitudes toward gay men and lesbians are changing in West Virginia. Here’s an excerpt from that program, when host Trey Kay interviews one of Charleston’s more colorful figures: Ted Brightwell.
Brightwell is nationally known for his impersonations of Cher and Barbra Streisand. He’s been performing in drag for decades, and Trey asked him what led him to be so out back when homosexuality was much more closeted in West Virginia.