SAM SANDERS, HOST:
I was talking to my therapist this week.
MADDIE SOFIA, BYLINE: Sure.
SANDERS: And I was like, yeah, coronavirus is crazy. I'm seeing folks who are, like, making little coronavirus pods and, like, hanging out with people.
SANDERS: And he was like, you know, Sam, people need that.
SOFIA: People need people.
SANDERS: So I get it. Like, no one can be perfect in this. I think at the start of the pandemic, everyone was like, never leave your house; never do anything; do not breathe, and drink Lysol. That's it. And, like...
SOFIA: Sam, do not bring up that Lysol with me right now. You know how I feel about it.
AUNT BETTY: Hey, y'all. This is Sam's Aunt Betty. This week on the show, we answer your everyday questions about coronavirus. All right, let's start the show.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SANDERS: Hey, y'all. You're listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR. I'm Sam Sanders. And this week on the show, we are keeping calm and carrying on in the midst of this pandemic. It is - what? - like, week a million of this thing. And just getting through life every day, it can be a lot. Even just going out for a walk or going to the grocery store can be extremely anxiety-inducing. So we asked a bunch of you, our listeners, to send me your everyday coronavirus questions, the kind of questions that in any other context might seem mundane. To help us out, we called up a friend of the show, Maddie Sofia.
SOFIA: Am I just - I'm, like, Short Wave host. That's the role I'm playing right here, right now. OK.
SANDERS: I think your answers will be more important if you say that you have a Ph.D.
SOFIA: (Laughter) Honestly, in my own family, I've found that that is not the case, Sam. But, yeah, let's try. Let's see if people listen to it.
SANDERS: I'm joined by CDC chief Maddie Sofia.
SANDERS: All right, Maddie is not the CDC chief, but she is the host of NPR's daily science podcast Short Wave. And also, as you heard, she has a Ph.D. in microbiology. So clearly, we put your questions to the best of the best.
So in the spirit of public service and answering those questions, we're bringing you on this episode. And so we're going to toss some of those to you. But we should set some ground rules before we begin.
SOFIA: Yes, absolutely.
SANDERS: Like, how much can we really answer every question? I don't know. You know more. You're a Ph.D.
SOFIA: (Laughter) Well, I mean, I think any time that you're talking about coronavirus, there are some, like, general ground rules that you've got to think about - any decision you're going to make. Because what you're doing is deciding between different levels of risk, and that's going to be different for every person and what they need.
So one thing you always have to pay attention to is the amount of coronavirus in your community, right? So right now, there are different amounts of risk in different places. So you want to really keep an eye on that.
And then the other thing you have to keep in mind is your health status and the health status of the people around you that you're sharing spaces with. So if I'm a person that's immunocompromised - maybe I'm undergoing treatment for cancer or I'm, like, my 88-year-old grandmother - the risks are different. So you got to keep that in mind.
And then the last thing to think about, Sam, is, like, what is the risk of the activity you're going to do, and then one thing that people think about less, which is how much payoff do you get from that activity? You know what I mean? So if you're alone and you haven't seen anybody for weeks and you're feeling depressed maybe, a little isolated, there's a big payoff to spending time with somebody. So those are kind of the general ground rules to get us started before we give advice for any of these questions.
SANDERS: All right. With that, let's get to the questions. We got so many from our listeners.
SOFIA: I know it. I know it.
SANDERS: Yeah. We picked a few and showed them to you, so we're going to have you answer them right now. And I'll provide color commentary throughout. You're welcome.
SOFIA: Yeah, sure. Absolutely.
SANDERS: All right, first question - what's the deal with running? I've heard conflicting things. What's the likelihood of it being spread if someone runs past me?
SOFIA: OK. So this question makes total sense to me because I think there were some scary kind of initial studies around this.
SANDERS: I remember there was one...
SOFIA: Yeah, yeah.
SANDERS: ...Where it said, like, runners could spread it for 20 feet and they were these vectors.
SOFIA: Yeah, yeah.
SANDERS: But that was kind of mildly debunked.
SOFIA: Yeah. It was kind of dismissed. I mean, there were parts of it that made sense, but it wasn't considered to be, like, actually a real-world scenario that was tested. And it's really hard to test that. So, you know, when I think about running, of course, it depends on what space you're in, right? So outside in fresh air, you're going to have a lower risk. If you're somebody - if you're wearing a mask, if that person's wearing a mask - all of those things kind of factor in.
And as best we can tell, Sam, as, you know, somewhat a general rule, the majority of transmission happens in close, indoor situations where you're spending a good bit of time together. That is why it is absolutely essential to be wearing a mask, especially inside. It doesn't mean that there's no risk if you're outside and there's, you know, only a brief encounter, but it's reduced. So if you're running and you pass somebody for a second, I'm not super worried about that situation.
Now, if they cough and sneeze and you just slam right into it, Sam, that's a different scenario. You know, go home, wash your face, wash your hands. But the - you know, the experts that I'm talking to are not super worried about that situation.
SANDERS: All right, follow-up question for you on this topic - as a runner, I have heard mixed messaging about wearing a mask when you run. Some folks say, well, you're outside. You're moving fast. Just dodge and weave and stay away from people.
SOFIA: Yeah, yeah.
SANDERS: Others are like, you have to have it on all the time. When I - I've done both. But when I've tried to run with a mask on my entire 5 miles, I end up with a wet mask, and it's like I'm waterboarding myself.
SOFIA: (Laughter) Yeah, absolutely. I mean, of course, wearing a mask, if you can, is a good situation. And if you're in a really, really busy city and you can't get away from people, if you're, like, constantly dodging people, I actually do think it's probably a good idea. But if you're in an area where it's a little bit more open, I would say it's probably OK not to wear a mask when you're running. Again, anytime you have a choice between them, a mask is going to be a safer bet. But if you can get up really early before somebody's out there or go somewhere else and it's, you know, like, either I'm not going to run or I'm going to run without a mask, then I think that's a decision you have to make.
SANDERS: So you're saying we should be doing 3 a.m. runs in cemeteries.
SOFIA: I'm saying, Sam, stop phoning it in. Get up at 3 a.m. and get this done.
SANDERS: Get it done. Get it done, yes. Next question from a listener about animals - can I say hi to other people's dogs? Oh, yeah. Good question.
SOFIA: Sam, is this question from a listener, or is this question from email@example.com (ph)?
SANDERS: This question is from my heart because I need to talk to the doggies and make sure they're OK.
SOFIA: OK. So I looked this up because I wasn't sure, and the CDC has weirdly complicated guidance on this. So...
SOFIA: ...Some pets, like dogs or cats, have caught COVID from humans. But the CDC also says the risk of dogs then giving COVID to people is considered low. Like, there's no evidence that you can get it from the fur or the hair of other pets. But...
SANDERS: But if you're one of those owners that kisses your dog on the mouth.
SOFIA: Well, I was just about to say. So - because the CDC still says you should not interact with dogs outside their household, so I'm like, man, I guess the CDC is worried about people getting pet saliva in their mouths. But you shouldn't be macking on somebody else's dog anyway, Sam. You know what I mean? Don't...
SANDERS: Listen; if you see a dog and the dog is really, really, really cute...
SOFIA: Oh, my gosh.
SANDERS: ...You've got to kiss.
SOFIA: You're part of the problem, Sam.
SANDERS: I cannot miss the kiss. I cannot miss the kiss.
SOFIA: You are going to have to definitely miss the kiss for a while, Sam. But - so - but I will say, honestly, you know, briefly, a dog has come up to me in the dog park. Its owner is far away. I've pet it. I'll say it. I have pet it.
SANDERS: I pet that dog.
SOFIA: But this is - you know, official guidance is leave those dogs alone, Sam.
SANDERS: OK, understood, understood. All right. OK, this is one that gives me so much - I think about this question every day, and I get mad about it 'cause no one can tell me what the right deal is.
SANDERS: What is the deal with wiping down groceries, and should anyone actually be doing this?
SOFIA: OK, so this is a great question. And, again, Sam, it's not, you know - like, it's a level of risk that you're trying to decide here. So I like this question 'cause it really gets to the question about picking up the virus from surfaces, right? So I would say, generally speaking, the contaminated surfaces that I'm worried about most are those, like, at surfaces at hospitals or in small, enclosed spaces without much airflow that a person has been in for a really long time or surfaces that come in contact with your face or mouth a lot, like a cellphone. Those are surfaces that I'm going to wipe down most of the time. I'm not as worried about a package of Oreos, double-stuffed specifically, to be clear, from the grocery. Like, I'm not that worried about it.
So what I do is I wear a mask. I hand sanitize when I'm shopping, certainly after interacting with the cashier. I get home. I unload the groceries. I'll wash my hands. But, you know, again, this is a decision that I'm making as a healthy human. So if you're particularly worried or you have a condition that makes you susceptible, there's no harm in being extra safe.
SANDERS: OK. Well, this is also - like, this gets to a larger question, which I still ask a lot, is like, how long can this thing really just live on a surface? And I'm still not sure we know, and I think it varies by surface and by condition.
SOFIA: It does. It does.
SOFIA: And another thing to think about is just because some virus is on a surface doesn't mean it's still infectious. You know, it doesn't mean there's enough of it to get you sick, necessarily. It's all kind of a numbers game. So, you know, surfaces are not something to be totally dismissed. I'm not saying that. But generally speaking, with groceries, that kind of stuff, you can wipe them down if you want to, but that's not the highest-risk scenario I'm worried about.
SANDERS: Gotcha, gotcha. You should just avoid making out with the cashier's dog at the grocery store.
SOFIA: I mean, Sam, if you can. It sounds like it's going to be a struggle for you.
SANDERS: (Laughter) I don't want people writing in thinking weird things about me and dogs. I am totally aboveboard, OK? OK? All right, next question - how often should I disinfect my phone?
SOFIA: Oh, yes. Yeah. You know this is a nasty surface, Sam.
SANDERS: Phones are so nasty.
SOFIA: They're so nasty.
SANDERS: Phones are like the toilet seats of public life.
SOFIA: I mean, Sam, do you bring your phone into the bathroom with you? Be honest.
SANDERS: You know, if I'm going to be there a while (laughter).
SOFIA: This is what I'm saying. So you've got to be wiping that surface. Like, it's next to your face. It's next to your mouth. We think with coronavirus, if you're getting it from a surface, it's from touching that surface and then touching your hands or mouth. And there's nothing that I put closer to my face than my phone. So I disinfect my phone a lot. I try to do it when I wash my hands 'cause I wash my hands, then I'm going to touch this dirty phone again? I don't think so. So I have put hand sanitizer directly on my phone in a pinch, which...
SANDERS: Same. Oh, yeah.
SOFIA: It's not the best way. Like, a little bleach wipe will do you good. But it's definitely something you want to be doing.
SANDERS: Yeah, yeah. All right, does alcohol lower my ability to fight COVID?
SOFIA: Sam, it does. It does.
SANDERS: Don't give me - don't depress me with this answer.
SOFIA: I will say, you will be devastated to know that alcohol does suppress the immune response as a general rule, especially if you're drinking a lot. And the NIH even put out this statement that says, if you're drinking when you're exposed to coronavirus, it hampers your immediate ability to stave off infection.
SANDERS: OK, OK.
SOFIA: I know. I know. And the other thing to think about here, Sam, though, is when you're drunk, you're also making decisions that you might not make when you're sober, Sam. I mean, this accounts for my entire junior year of college. You know what I mean? Like, there are decisions that I wish I could undo.
SANDERS: (Laughter) You know?
SOFIA: So it's not just about your immune system. It's also about how close are you going to get to somebody. How loud are you going to talk? So unfortunately, Sam, for you - I can hear it in your voice you're sad - but there are a lot of good reasons not to be drinking in a large group of people right now, at least excessively.
SANDERS: OK. All right, next question - if I get a piece of hair stuck in my mouth while wearing my mask, it feels like an existential dilemma. What should I do? All right, sorry. Just sidebar real quick - I'm the guy in the restaurant where if I see a piece of hair in my food, I'm like, well, the hair got cooked; we're good. And I just eat it.
SOFIA: Yeah (laughter).
SANDERS: I really - like, I don't care.
SOFIA: Well, I'm glad you have - honestly, for this answer, I'm glad you have a pro-eating-hair mentality because I will say, as a person who has worked in a lab with infectious pathogens, when I'm trying not to touch my face and, like, one little, tiny stray hair gets out of my hair tie, I will say you learn to eat that hair, Sam.
SANDERS: Eat the hair.
SOFIA: It's part of the journey. It's part of the journey. But I do think, you know, it depends on where you are. If you have a safe space to take your mask off, deal with the hair, wash, hand sanitize, put that mask back on - I don't have time for all that, so you just eat that hair and you be strong, you know?
SANDERS: Eat that hair. Also, let's be real here. Most hair is cleaner than your cellphone 'cause a lot of folks out here wash their hair more than their phones.
SOFIA: (Laughter) Ew, that's true (laughter).
SANDERS: I speak truth. I know y'all don't want to hear it, but you need to.
SANDERS: OK. Next question - can you contract COVID from a swimming pool?
SOFIA: Well, well, well - finally I have some good news, Sam Sanders.
SANDERS: Thank you - about time.
SOFIA: (Laughter) So according to the CDC, there's no evidence that you could pick up COVID from pool water - like, just from being in a pool with somebody who had COVID...
SANDERS: Because there's chlorine in it - I know how this works.
SOFIA: Well, there's a lot of situations going on. And one of them is that it's diluted, right? So it's...
SOFIA: ...Like, diluted in a bunch of other - I mean, a bunch of other stuff. Let's be honest. But - so what I would say is that, like, I would never go to an indoor pool right now.
SOFIA: You know, I would be really careful about social distancing outside the pool, around the pool. Like, as soon as I get back to my little chair, I'm putting my mask on for sure around all these people that I don't know. And I wouldn't be getting closer to 6 feet. So you still have to keep yourself kind of away from people while you're in the pool. Like, I wouldn't go into a supercrowded pool. But the water itself should not get you sick.
SANDERS: OK - good to know. Last question, actually - oh...
SANDERS: ...A heart-wrenching question - how do I smile at people while wearing a mask? Aw.
SOFIA: Honestly, Sam - yeah, wow. These - I mean, the emotional range of these questions...
SANDERS: It's a lot. It's a lot.
SOFIA: ...They're killing me. It's a good question, Sam - I guess with your eyes. I don't know. I've also found scientifically that waving works.
SOFIA: But you know, smile with your eyes, scream inside your heart #2020. This is where we are, you know?
SANDERS: Wow. Wow.
SANDERS: Can we make T-shirts that say that?
SANDERS: Smile with your eyes. Scream inside your heart.
SANDERS: I love it.
SANDERS: Thank you for answering my and other listeners' COVID questions. And thanks to those listeners for sending the questions in...
SOFIA: Yeah, thank you.
SANDERS: ...Jessie (ph), Hannah (ph), Katherine (ph), Sarah (ph), Marisol (ph), Natalie (ph), Alissa (ph) and Annie (ph). I will add one last follow-up question based on seeing all these questions come in. A lot of people have so much anxiety around coronavirus and this pandemic, it's approaching, like, OCD.
SANDERS: How can people throughout their day take care of their anxiety around this pandemic?
SOFIA: Yeah. I mean, Sam, this is a big question, right? Like, there's something to be said about us knowing that we're going to be in this for a while. Right?
SOFIA: And that's pretty scary. But I think one thing that gives me a little bit of solace and a little bit of hope is that we're not helpless in this situation. You know what I mean? There are things we can do to minimize our risks. There are things we can do to take care of our essential workers who are keeping this country afloat right now. And that is trying to take care of each other, trying to take care of your mental health, you know, trying to exercise outside when you can. And know that we do have some agency here. We can make changes that can help us get to the other side of this, however long that will be. And so sometimes, that's something that I hang onto.
SANDERS: Yeah. Pet your dog. Don't kiss your dog.
SANDERS: And go outside.
SOFIA: I mean, don't - certainly don't be kissing other people's dogs, Sam.
SOFIA: We need to have a talk on the way home in the car about this.
SANDERS: But they're so cute.
SOFIA: Oh, my God, Sam.
SANDERS: So cute.
SOFIA: Get your mouth off these dogs.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SANDERS: We are back. You're listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR. I'm Sam Sanders, joined this episode by dear friend and colleague Maddie Sofia. A lot of you know Maddie from her hosting duties on NPR's Short Wave podcast, a daily podcast all about science. But Maddie, I'm so glad to have you here for this next segment because it's really not about science.
SOFIA: Oh, yeah. All right (laughter).
SANDERS: You sound so excited.
SOFIA: Sam, this is all I do, Sam. This is all I've got. This is my whole life...
SOFIA: Here we go.
SANDERS: Well, we're going to play my favorite game right now. It's called Who Said That?
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE REAL HOUSEWIVES OF ATLANTA")
KANDI BURRUSS: Who had been saying that?
PORSHA WILLIAMS: Who said that?
KENYA MOORE: Who said that?
SANDERS: I'll share a quote from the week. You've got to guess who said it or guess the story that I'm talking about. The winner gets nothing. The loser gets nothing. But either way, you'll kind of be a winner 'cause your opponent...
SOFIA: Either way, I get embarrassed...
SANDERS: ...Is yourself.
SOFIA: ...Is how I'm imagining this going.
SANDERS: Either way, you get embarrassed.
SOFIA: Here we go. Here we go.
SANDERS: You're going to be fine.
SOFIA: I pop culture with the rest of the kids. I am on the Twitters.
SOFIA: Here we go.
SANDERS: Hello, fellow youths.
SANDERS: All right. First quote - tell me what big company said this. Here's the quote. "We want to be clear. We disagree that any of these labels are racist. We do not make decisions based on petitions." Who said that?
SOFIA: Big company that - wow. Sam, that's a wide berth. I could see a lot of big companies saying (laughter) that right now.
SANDERS: Let me give you a hint.
SANDERS: One of my favorite grocery stores, probably one of your favorite grocery stores.
SOFIA: It can't be Wegmans.
(SOUNDBITE OF BUZZER)
SANDERS: Wow - high-brow. (Laughter).
SOFIA: Is it Wegmans?
SANDERS: No, this is a grocery store everyone shops at in college because they have the best snacks, and they're cheap.
SOFIA: Grocery store (muttering) grocery store...
SANDERS: And they had, like, different ethnic names for their different varieties of ethnic food.
SOFIA: Oh, this is Trader Joe's with that...
(SOUNDBITE OF VICTORY TUNE)
SOFIA: ...All that nonsense they have on their packages.
SANDERS: Yes. Yes. Trader Joe's - because 2020 is coming for everyone.
SOFIA: I mean, honestly.
SANDERS: They're under pressure to change some of the names they use for their food.
SOFIA: Yes. Yes. I mean, I've seen that. And I'm like, why - are you - what is this? What are you doing?
SANDERS: I didn't know how widespread it was. So I knew that they were using Trader Jose for their Mexican foods. But they also use Trader Ming's to brand their Chinese foods, Arabian Joe for their Middle Eastern foods...
SOFIA: Absolutely not.
SANDERS: ...Trader Giotto's for Italian food. And this one I had never heard before - they call their Japanese cuisine - the brand name for that is Trader Joe-san.
SOFIA: Absolutely not.
SOFIA: Sam, I don't even like you - I don't even like hearing you say them.
SANDERS: Right? It's weird.
SOFIA: It's weird.
SANDERS: So there was a petition to have them stop doing that. And Trader Joe's said this week, we might change some, but we're not bowing to pressure.
SANDERS: And that comment they gave was to USA Today. They were kind of defensive.
SOFIA: Weird move, Trader Joe's.
SANDERS: Whenever someone starts a statement with, we want to be clear...
SOFIA: Yeah. Oh, that's true.
SANDERS: ...It's like, OK.
SOFIA: There's never been a good conversation after that.
SANDERS: That's like when your mother calls you by your full name. They're not playing around.
SOFIA: No, absolutely not. Do better, Trader Joe's.
SANDERS: All right. You got that one.
SANDERS: Congratulations. Next quote - tell me - this was a viral craze that swept the Internet this week. Tell me what I'm talking about. "Do people not know you can just post a hot selfie for no reason?"
SOFIA: Oh, is this the black-and-white vibe, that challenge?
(SOUNDBITE OF VICTORY TUNE)
SANDERS: Yeah, the black-and-white challenge. All right. Maybe you know more about it than I do. I'm still confused as to what it actually is.
SOFIA: No idea.
SANDERS: A lot of listeners - you may have seen in recent days, a lot of women that you follow on Instagram, famous or not, have been posting black-and-white selfies under the hashtag #ChallengeAccepted. It's a black-and-white portrait of herself with the caption that gestures at the idea of women supporting one another. And at first it was cute. But because the Internet, within like a day or two, everyone was like, this is stupid; we don't like it; it's not real empowerment. But everyone did it - Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Lopez, Ivanka Trump, this girl I used to date in college. Like, everyone did it. And I don't...
SOFIA: Ivanka Trump, this girl I used to date in college, everybody...
SANDERS: (Laughter) Everybody. Did you see it a lot this week?
SOFIA: I saw it. I did see it. And I have been invited, as well. But as a person that is very much offline, I was like hm - sounds hard, sounds difficult. I can't be having 65 selfies trying to get the right one right now. You know what I mean?
SANDERS: True, true. All right. Last quote - I think we're just going to play the song for you, and you have to guess who said it.
SOFIA: Oh, no. This is...
SANDERS: It's a pretty famous actor.
SOFIA: Oh, no.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ANTIBODIES (DO YOU HAVE THE)")
NICHOLAS BRAUN: (Singing) If you come within 6 feet, it's mask on, mask on, mask on, mask on. But if you've got antibodies, it's pants off, pants off, pants off, pants off. Do you...
SOFIA: Wow. This is some immunology-based music. I'm trying to think. OK. First of all, I'm a little concerned with them saying if you have the antibodies, it's pants off because we don't necessarily know how antibodies correlate to - but fine.
SANDERS: Well, this guy knows.
SOFIA: But fine. You're right. You're right. That's not the point. I don't know. God, I have, like...
SANDERS: Do you watch "Succession" on HBO?
SOFIA: No, but I have heard things.
SANDERS: It's one of the characters from "Succession."
SOFIA: Imagine Dragons? Do they have...
(SOUNDBITE OF BUZZER)
SOFIA: I don't know.
SANDERS: Ma'am, this is not 2015.
SOFIA: Wait. Wait. It's not a band, it's a person. OK. Wait. Strike that.
SANDERS: It's an actor who made a song.
SOFIA: Oh, an actor who made a song. OK.
SANDERS: An actor from HBO's "Succession," which you have not watched, so that hint is not helping you.
SOFIA: No. I feel bad about this.
SOFIA: I've got nothing.
SANDERS: This song is written and performed by Nicholas Braun, who plays cousin Greg on HBO's "Succession."
SOFIA: All right. OK.
SANDERS: So this whole thing is a joke. It's a joke single. The song is called "Antibodies (Do You Have The)." And it's all about the desperate search for love in the COVID era. And so Braun had teased the concept for the song on Instagram just being funny. And an A & R person from Atlantic Records sent him a DM being like, you should actually make this a song. And so they made it a song. They made an absurd music video for it. And now it's going to be a benefit for Partners in Health and the COPE Program.
SOFIA: Huh. OK.
SANDERS: Thanks, cousin Greg. It is a catchy song though not scientifically and medically sound.
SOFIA: I'm just a little nervous about it. You know what I mean? That's what my job is - being a little bit nervous for all of you.
SANDERS: Shall we sing ourselves to break?
SOFIA: (Laughter) Absolutely.
SANDERS: If you come within six - no, we have to sing an Imagine Dragons song to (inaudible) break.
SOFIA: Just leave me alone. I thought it was a band.
SANDERS: I like them.
SOFIA: I know. That's kind of why I guessed.
SANDERS: What's their biggest song?
SOFIA: Yeah. It's doppa, doppa, doo day (ph) for sure.
SANDERS: (Singing) I'm waking up.
Well, I know they say I'm waking up. And then they say (singing) I may never vocalizing).
SOFIA: Yeah. No, I think we got it.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RADIOACTVE")
ARCADE FIRE: (Singing) I'm ready to rock you, ready to rock you.
SANDERS: The sound of my voice singing Imagine Dragons will actually expel coronavirus from anyone's body.
SANDERS: Maddie, you won the game.
SOFIA: I definitely won the game kind of, right?
SANDERS: You definitely won the game. Congratu-freaking-lations (ph). Thank you, Maddie, for your time this episode.
SOFIA: Absolutely, Sam. It's always fun to be with you.
SANDERS: All right. Time for a break. When we come back, we talk about my favorite new show - "Indian Matchmaking." BRB.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SANDERS: We are back. You're listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR. I'm Sam Sanders.
All right. So a lot of you probably know by now, I watch a lot of Netflix - sometimes for work, most of the time just for me. Anywho, last week, just like every other week, yet another new show popped up on my Netflix that I could not ignore.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "INDIAN MATCHMAKING")
SIMA TAPARIA: I'm Sima Taparia. I'm Mumbai's top matchmaker.
SANDERS: That show is called "Indian Matchmaking," and it stars that woman you just heard, Sima Taparia from Mumbai. She's this matchmaker on the show with a bunch of her clients. This show - it is so much fun. But it's also, in some ways, very problematic. I had a lot of questions about that conflict, and to talk it out, I knew just who to call.
Hafsa, hello. How are you?
HAFSA FATHIMA: Hi, Sam. I'm good. How are you?
SANDERS: I'm good. I miss you. It's been how many weeks since you stopped interning for us?
FATHIMA: IT'S BEEN A MINUTE - ha, ha, ha, ha.
SANDERS: Oh, my God. Oh, my God.
That is Hafsa Fathima. Until recently, she was our intern here at IT'S BEEN A MINUTE, and I've noticed that she has been tweeting all about "Indian Matchmaking" since that show dropped. So I will let her tell you what the show is all about.
FATHIMA: It's an Indian reality show that kind of details the way that arranged marriages happen, not just in the U.S. but also back home in India. And it kind of walks you through the process that a lot of, I guess, younger Indian millennials are going through, like how, like, they're navigating this cultural tradition that has been, you know, embedded in Indian culture for so long. They're following it, and they're kind of exploring how it's turning into, like, this new almost kind of a dating situation. So I find that really interesting.
SANDERS: Yeah. And I was surprised by how much of a business this is. So the main character is this woman called Sima Auntie, and her job is just to be a matchmaker.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "INDIAN MATCHMAKING")
TAPARIA: In India, marriage is a very big industry, a very big, fat industry.
SANDERS: And it is a business. She goes out to find clients. She works with the families to help them find matches. She consults astrologists to see if these things will work. And there's a whole regimented process. You know, she will send potential mates what's called biodata, where it's, like, a one-page rundown of who this person is. And then you pick and see if you like them or not. It is much more intricate of a process than I think I assumed before watching it.
FATHIMA: Oh, yeah - for sure, for sure. And like, that definitely - like, I know, like, a lot of my cousins, like, went through that process of, like, you guys, like, swap biodatas. And I think someone actually, like, described it as manual Tinder on the show, which is a very good description because it essentially is that, right? Like, you have this one person who is, like, the medium between these two families, which, in India, is really important because the families also connect. It's not just those two people, which can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on, you know, what your preference is. But yeah, I was in awe, but I was also really scared of Sima Auntie. I was like, oh, my God, she reminds me of every auntie that I left back home.
SANDERS: Yeah. I mean, I found it fascinating, and I think my biggest question with this show after having watched it is I'm not sure how to feel about it. So I binged it when I finally began to watch it, and I loved it. It was just - it was hilarious. It was sweet. I liked all of the characters. The pacing kept me involved. But then, as soon as I was done binging the show, I began to read all the think pieces about it. And a lot of folks were saying, this show is problematic. They were saying, you know, it favors light-skinned people. It puts more of the burden on women. It's very classist.
SANDERS: It's just, like, all of these bad parts of finding a partner are on display. And throughout the whole show, no one checks that. And so I wondered, should I have been offended more watching this show? Like, Hafsa, am I a bad person for just not caring about those bad parts of the show and just enjoying "Indian Matchmaking"?
FATHIMA: Sam, you are a terrible person. You need to go repent immediately.
FATHIMA: You're canceled.
SANDERS: Repent to Sima Auntie.
FATHIMA: 2020 is the year that we cancel Sam Sanders, and I regret to say that to you. No - but it is true. I mean, so like - OK, so there's good, and there's the bad, right? And my, like, brother and I were actually talking about this yesterday. So we spent the last 10 years in India. Like, I moved back when I was in high school. I lived in a city called Chennai, which is a city in southern India, in Tamil Nadu. So like, being from India, like, is definitely a big, formative part of who I am. You know, I think that Western media has a tendency to portray India in a very condescending way, and I didn't see that here. So that was one of the positives, right? Like, oftentimes in Western media, you see India kind of reduced - or Indians kind of reduced to a stereotype. So I think, like, that's why I loved the character of Ankita so much. Like, she...
SANDERS: She was the fashion designer, right?
FATHIMA: Yeah. So she was the one who had the denim, like, fashionwear brand. And she was the one who was constantly told, like, oh, you have to lose weight. You have to be more adjusting. Like, you should, like, drop your life to go live with this man that you don't even know. And like, she pushed back. And I'm like, yeah, like, that's like my mom. Like, those are my aunts. Like, these are my friends.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "INDIAN MATCHMAKING")
ANKITA BANSAL: I can look after myself.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: A man's support is a man's support.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: But in this case...
BANSAL: But partners need to be equal, equally strong.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Yeah. It could be.
FATHIMA: These are the women that I know in India that I rarely ever see represented on something as global and big as Netflix, so I think kind of, like, just seeing her push back and saying, like, I'm going to stand my ground was, I think, one of the best positives of the show. And I really appreciated that.
SANDERS: But - so like, there's positives like that. Like, we are seeing fully formed, independent young Indians...
SANDERS: ...Who are their own people and are just as smart and global and worldly as anybody else. But on the other hand, you know, by showing these characters in that realness, we see this dark underbelly of "Indian Matchmaking."
FATHIMA: Yeah. For sure.
SANDERS: You know, all of these couples are thinking about skin tone. And Sima Auntie, the matchmaker, is matching fair-skinned people with other fair-skinned people and talking about that candidly. And so some of that stuff was problematic. How do you take in that good stuff you're talking about as well as that bad stuff?
FATHIMA: No, I definitely think that, like, you need to push back. And I think that was one of the things that really, like, bothered me about the show - just, like, the blatant colorism, especially in the last episode, I think. There was the young woman from San Diego - and I don't want to name her - but she is, like, rattling off...
SANDERS: You can name her. Why not?
FATHIMA: OK, her name was Richa. Sorry, Richa. I have to call you out on NPR. But like, she is rattling off, like, her expectations.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "INDIAN MATCHMAKER")
RICHA: I don't want a fly on the wall - likes to go to the gym, likes to stay fit, somebody, maybe, that I can cook with.
FATHIMA: And she just blatantly says it. She's like...
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "INDIAN MATCHMAKER")
RICHA: ...Not too dark, you know? Like, fair-skinned - and then someone...
FATHIMA: I don't want someone who's, like, dark-skinned. I want someone who's light-skinned, right? And I understand that reality shows are not there to moralize or, you know, tell us what's bad or good. "Love Is Blind" is proof of that. But like, how do we continue to give these things a pass - right? - under the guise of culture? Like, at some point, it is something that we need to have a really serious conversation about.
SANDERS: Yeah, yeah. Do you think, overall, that the show itself, "Indian Matchmaking," is a vote in favor of arranged marriage or actually a funny indictment of arranged marriage?
FATHIMA: So I think it is a humorous criticism of some of the aspects of an arranged marriage. Like, there are expectations, like Aparna, like, wanting someone who knows where the Bolivian salt flats are.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "INDIAN MATCHMAKER")
APARNA: You know, when I told him I wanted to go to Bolivia during the wet season to see the flamingos in the red lake, he looked at me blankly. He didn't know Bolivia had salt flats.
FATHIMA: Like, there are all of, like, these small things that the show is making fun of. But I think I will give them props for kind of emphasizing how important consent and how important, you know, autonomy is when it comes to these marriages. So it is kind of showing you how the system is evolving and how people who, you know, even if they're raised abroad, even if they're raised here in America - they're educated; they're working - you know, like they have the choice between a so-called love marriage and arranged marriage. But for some reason, like, they're still choosing this institution that their parents went into, and they're redefining it for themselves.
So I mean, this definitely is a system that can work, I think, depending on the people who are in the marriage because I've been married for five years, and I've realized that, like, it doesn't really matter how you meet. It matters what follows after.
SANDERS: Hafsa Auntie...
FATHIMA: Stop (laughter).
SANDERS: ...Perfect matchmaker (laughter).
FATHIMA: And that's Season 2 of "Indian Matchmaking." I'm going to be the matchmaker. I wasn't going to reveal it so callously. But you know, there we are.
SANDERS: There you go. People need to know.
FATHIMA: That's my new job.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SANDERS: Thanks again to Hafsa Fathima for joining us today. She is a journalist and our beloved former intern. We miss you, Hafsa. Come back.
AUNT BETTY: Now it's time to end the show as we always do. Every week, listeners share the best thing that happened to them all week. We encourage folks to brag, and they do. Let's hear a few of those submissions.
BARBARA: Hi, Sam. This is Barbara (ph) in Urbana, Ill. The best part of my week was spending my birthday with our son, Sam (ph), and having our 2-year-old grandson, Henry (ph), lead us in a burping contest while we ate my birthday cake.
TIM: Hey, Sam. It's Tim (ph) and...
JULIAN: ...Julian (ph).
TIM: We're making our yearly call to tell you and your team about what a great week we had. It's actually more of a month. But Julian turned 4. And what'd you get for your birthday?
JULIAN: A robot Superman and a rainbow sloth and all that kind of stuff (ph).
CLAUDIA: Hey, Sam. It's Claudia (ph) from Lincoln, Neb., and the best part of my week was getting a new double bass. And yes, of course, I had to name the bass. So this is Clarence (ph).
(SOUND OF BASS PLAYING)
SHANA: Hi, Sam. My name is Shana (ph) in Portland, Ore., and the best part of my week was going out night after night. I'm protesting for Black lives in the Portland protests.
RYAN: I actually was let go at my job about a week ago, and the best thing that happened to me this week is that I've been reached out to by nearly 50 of my co-workers providing me and sending me love and support and offering me any guidance, and I feel like I am on cloud nine.
AARTI: Hi, Sam. This is Aarti in Philadelphia. The best part of my week happened when my two kids spontaneously decided to go for a walk in a passing thunderstorm. Our family has been recovering from COVID-19 we all got in the spring, and seeing my kids in this everyday act of joy gave me a profound sense of relief.
MEGAN ALDERMAN: Hi, Sam. This is Megan Alderman (ph) in Indianapolis, Ind., and the best part of my week was one day after work, I got home, and my 4-year-old and my 2-year-old dragged me outside in the rain. And we jumped and danced in puddles for about an hour, and it was just a magical experience, especially during this crazy, crazy COVID time. Hope you have a great week. Thanks.
BARBARA: Thanks, Sam.
TIM: You want to say goodbye to Sam?
JULIAN: Bye, Sam.
TIM: Bye, Sam and team. Love the show. Keep it up.
JULIAN: Hey, look at Nom Nom (ph).
TIM: Ooh, Nom Nom's having a good time.
SANDERS: Thanks to all those listeners you heard there - Megan, Aarti, Ryan, Shana, Claudia, Tim and Julian and Barbara. Listeners, don't forget you can be a part of this segment as well. Send your best things to us at any time throughout the week. Just record yourself on your phone, and send the audio file to me at firstname.lastname@example.org - email@example.com.
All right. This week the show was produced by Jinae West, Anjuli Sastry and Andrea Gutierrez. Our fearless editor is Jordana Hochman. Our director of programming and Steve Nelson. Our big boss is NPR's senior VP of programming, Anya Grundmann. Listeners, till next time. I'm Sam Sanders. We'll talk soon.
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