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Sara Brenes-Akerman
A Likely Story

Credit: Sara Brenes-Akerman , Sara Brenes-Akerman

I’m having an affair. I never thought I would be the type to engage in such pitiful behavior but then, unexpectedly, I found myself in the middle of a whirlwind romance that I couldn’t put an end to.

Let me explain. This American Life is kind of like my husband. The Ira Glass-hosted public radio staple is undeniably wonderful. The show boasts 1.8 million listeners per week, is often the most downloaded podcast in the country and has an impressive 48-minute average listening time.

And no wonder, it delivers engaging and often tear-jerking stories on a weekly basis. There’s the episode about a guy grappling with depression — on the verge of suicide — and the friend who is trying to save him, the one about the daughter who finds out about her mother’s adultery and the painful aftermath of the transgression, the episode about the wannabe actor and Princeton grad who ends up making a living as the “Cuervo Man” and the one about a mother leaving a particularly funny and profanity-ridden message on her son’s answering machine. The list goes on.

I’ve been immensely happy during our time together. This American Life is always there for me, offering reliably stunning narratives as a symbol of its love. It is just so beautiful in the way it allows you to invest in people whose stories you would otherwise never hear — people who are real and exist in the world.

But then Gossip Girl happened, a show so contrived that New York Magazine makes its weekly review of the show a “reality index,” occasionally judging it to be “faker than waving around the cash you accepted for attempted murder in the street.”

All I can say for myself is that the moment I betrayed This American Life was quick and unforeseen. One minute I was faithful, the next my hands were all over the unashamedly extravagant teenage soap. The reasons behind my impulses, however, were unclear.

Perhaps it is the simplicity in Gossip Girl that is especially gratifying. There is something pleasurable about knowing what is going to happen and seeing it play out just like you imagined it would. Most romances end well and no character pretty enough will die. Every Monday night at 8 p.m., I suspend my disbelief in exchange for forty minutes of golden escapism.

A College senior who wished to remain anonymous because of the embarrassing nature of her guilty pleasure, says she sacrifices “everything else that’s good” to watch weekly episodes of the ABC drama Switched at Birth.

“I know what I’m getting, I know it’s gonna be cheesy and I don’t have to think about it a lot,” she said. When asked whether she ever felt remorse after watching, she replied, “Every time.”

There is a price to pay for giving in. Like many other guilt-inducing shows, Gossip Girl sacrifices internal logic and authenticity for the quick rewards of fiery romance and capital-D drama. We receive instant gratification only to wake up later with our most basal desires fulfilled but our consciences dirtied.

This American Life, on the other hand, is never easy. It isn’t there to give you what you want or carry you away but, rather, to bring you back a little more curious. It’s not so much about escaping as it is about discovering new ways of seeing through the eyes of others. What you get at the end is far more valuable than anything Gossip Girl could offer but it demands so much more from you along the way.

With a limited amount of time to devote to either, choosing between the two often means sacrificing one. The morally sound choice is clear, but I’m not ready to give up either. All I can hope for is that This American Life will still have me when I’m ready to commit.

Sara Brenes-Akerman is a College senior from Costa Rica. Her email address is A Likely Story appears every other Thursday.

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