This week in audio: Fat Leonard; Harsh Reality: The Story of Miriam Rivera; Postfaces: Stuart Hall | Podcasts


Fat Leonard | Brass project
The Harsh Reality: The Story of Miriam Rivera | Marvellous
Sunday functionality: Postfaces: Stuart Hall (Radio 3) | BBC sounds

A few juicy investigative podcasts from last week: Fat Leonard, which exposes the United States Navy’s taste for drugs, alcohol, luxury hotels, prostitutes, and life on the high seas in general. And The Harsh Reality: The Story of Miriam Rivera, which exposes the British taste for … cheesy reality TV shows.

Fat Leonard, as a show, is already causing a sensation in the USA. In it, British investigative journalist Tom Wright interviews Malaysian businessman Leonard Francis at length and detail about the special services (see above) Francis provided to senior US Navy officers when his ships docked in Singapore. These services weren’t cheap (Francis used them to bribe officers into awarding his company multi-million pound contracts with the Navy), and he has previously pleaded guilty to fraud and corruption and helps investigators. Now suffering from kidney cancer, Francis is under house arrest in San Diego, pending his conviction. Meanwhile, 33 people have been charged with felony charges and nine naval officers, including a rear admiral who eventually worked in the Pentagon, have been charged with bribery and corruption. They are about to be judged; their defense attorney tried to subpoena the Wright tapes, but he said no.

So, a work in progress, a lot of lip-smacking raw material, and the podcast puts it to good use. Wright, who smuggled a microphone into Francis’ home, did a good job of bringing out the outrageous details. A guy familiar to anyone who has rubbed shoulders with rock stars, Francis is the fun-fixer: the bully, the larger-than-life friend who blames everyone as a VIP, gets the strongest drugs, the flashiest, most beautiful and, who would have thought, female restaurants available. His stories may be salacious, but they ring true. He has video evidence. He took notes.

What raises the podcast the most is that Wright, while enjoying the ride, isn’t totally swept away. At first, he wonders why Francis is being honest and assumes it’s because he feels trapped by the Navy. “I’ve done a lot of things over the past 30 years, supporting hundreds if not thousands of ships, sailors and marines,” says Francis. “I never did any harm in the United States… No one was hurt.” Wright never takes Francis completely at face value: he is blunt in his storytelling and interviews other sources as well.

It creates an interesting thrill that comes to a head in episode six, when Wright questions Morena Galvizio de Jesus, who has two children with Francis and accuses him of mistreating her (he won’t let her see the children). “I think you are misogynist,” Wright tells Francis, who is unresponsive. Wright also interviews other women: Paula, a former Navy helicopter pilot who exposed a previous scandal, and Marcy, the wife of a sea captain who was bribed by Francis. The establishment did not give them a second thought.

In Hard reality the stakes are lower, but no less human. In four episodes, it tells the story and fallout of a 2004 Sky reality TV show, There is something about Miriam, which sold as a dating show with a twist: Model Miriam Rivera, whose hearts young male contestants were trying to win, was a transgender woman. I know: exploitation to the max! But it’s a pleasant listening: dynamic, with excellent interviews of the actors. Plus, host Trace Lysette is American, which leads to some hilarious descriptions of the UK.

“Disrespectful and used as a punchline”: Miriam Rivera, pictured in 2004. Photograph: Andrew Carlile / EPA / Shutterstock

Still, there’s no denying the cruel approach of the reality TV tabloids of the day, how silly young men were tricked into signing contracts and taking part in a TV montage without understanding what was going on. And how Rivera, queen of the New York City ballroom scene, was disrespectful and used as a punchline. Treating trans people, especially trans women, like freaks was all too common, and There is something about Miriam, while claiming to be a celebration of transgender life, was, in the end, just another circus.

Stuart Hall.
Stuart Hall. Photograph: Eamonn McCabe / The Guardian

The strength of both Fat Leonard and Hard reality is in their recognition that for every person who is having fun and for every person who makes money with this wild time, there are others who are being exploited. Someone who understood this treatment from a colonized perspective was the late cultural intellectual superstar Stuart Hall.

Born in Jamaica in 1932, Hall spent his adult life in the UK and on Radio 3 broadcasts. Sunday functionality: Postfaces, which opened up to a lovely soundscape of voices, we heard about his academic approach. The combination of Hall’s scholarship with personal experience – studies of cultural identity – seems almost commonplace now, but still has an effect. It was nice to hear one of the younger speakers say that Hall inspires him today.

About Elaine Morales

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