Drag queens, ag-gag laws and ex-felons' right to vote: Censorship podcast 'Bleeped' is proof that there are things stranger than true crime
'Bleeped' is a new documentary podcast about censorship and those who firmly stand up to it. The podcast comes from award-winning podcaster Matthew Billy, who is the man behind 'Between the Liner Notes' — the first podcast ever to win the Newhouse School of Public Communications’ Mirror Award
Even if you've never had the patience to sit through a podcast, you'd probably know what 'Serial' is. You'd know 'Hometown', 'Dirty John' and 'Crimetown' too if you are just a tiny bit curious about podcasts and have an eye for crime. Conmen, drugs, the whole nine yards — but, as grizzly as these true crime stories are, you'd be surprised by what you'd find when you dig into censorship.
'Bleeped' is a new documentary podcast about censorship and those who firmly stand up to it. The podcast comes from award-winning podcaster Matthew Billy, who is the man behind 'Between the Liner Notes' — the first podcast ever to win the Newhouse School of Public Communications’ Mirror Award. He's also the same guy who beat the likes of the New York Times and CNN to win the title.
He had been completely shocked, he tells MEA WorldWide (MEAWW). He had never thought he would beat NYT or CNN. Infact, he even turned down a plus one because he thought he would lose. "They seated me at the furthest table from the stage. My table consisted of people who bought tickets to the network," he recalls, "I was the only person nominated. When they called my name it took me so long to walk up on stage, the presenter thought I didn’t hear and said my name a second and third time," he says.
"Most people in the audience worked for prestigious print news outlets like the New York Times or CNN and probably viewed podcasts as something their kids made in their bedrooms," he recalls thinking when no one applauded after his speech. "But regardless of how they felt about it at the time, they must have taken my words to heart because they now both have podcasts," he says.
And if you think Billy is uncensored, wait till you listen to the podcast — 'Bleeped' deserves your ear.
The episodes are not just exciting and dramatic - they are also educational. Billy's soft and raspy voice talks very simply — stating the facts, giving you little details of the story so you can almost picture the rooms and hallways. The podcast isn't overly complicated and bleeped out — it is as worked up as it can get. In the calmest way, of course.
He covers stories about Facebook forcing drag queens to use their legal names, about an online retailer who destroyed a man’s credit after he left a negative review and a cigarette company who harassed a whistleblower. There are also some really bizarre stories. His picks include Sharkey, the Seal's radio censorship. "One day I was reading a book that had this weird footnote about a seal who was banned from the radio during the songwriters' radio boycott of 1941. He could only play one song on a weird homemade instrument, and that song was part of the boycott, so he was censored from the radio," he narrates.
When he dug deeper, he found out that Sharkey was famous and he had starred in both Broadway musicals and Hollywood movies, including Abbott and Costello’s 'Pardon My Sarong'. This story gets a lot more intense when Billy follows the trail to the seal's trainer that also led to a book.
You also want to look out for two episodes — 'The Drag Queen Story Hour' and 'Felon Disenfranchisement'. The first one explores the story of Santana Pilar Andrews who received incessant hared on Facebook calling her "a faggot", "pedophile" and an "it" but she fought her fight in spite of the suppression. The second one will leave you with a different perspective. "Many states don’t allow ex-felons to vote. This episode traces the practice all the way back to its racist roots. I promise you'll never view this issue the same way after listening," he says.
"Many times the main character's life is turned upside down by an act of censorship," Billy tells us. Some faced the threat of imprisonment, some had their credit destroyed, and others had their homes taken away, he explains. But no matter how censorship impacted their lives, they all chose to fight back, and the battles are engaging. "Many times the censorship featured on 'Bleeped' flies under the radar, so people don’t know it's happening. Topics like ag-gag laws and anti-SLAPP laws are not well known," he shares.
But how did a music podcast host go on to talk about gag laws? He found out just how much of it was applicable in art. "I’d covered a few musicians who had been censored and quickly found that these stories really excited me," he says, "You don’t get much more dramatic than a cop arresting a rapper just for performing their songs," he says. Plus, there were too many true crime podcasts anyway, but none about censorship. "I think those stories are just as important for people to hear. My hope is that people listen to 'Bleeped' and feel empowered to fight back," he says.
Catch the podcast here.