I sat down with Tony Pacitti and Matt Ferrara at the What Cheer Writer’s Club podcasting studio, right before they were about to record their latest episode of “What Did We Miss?,” A pop-culture podcast that’s smart and well-researched, and takes a much-needed optimistic approach to art and culture in a time where people will haze each other over the accuracy of superhero costumes.
Mark Fogarty (Motif): For the uninitiated, what is the podcast about?
Tony Pacitti: The idea of “What Did We Miss?” is for us to have an excuse to visit pop culture, whether it is books, TV, movies, music, comics, video games — things that we are familiar with but have not engaged with ourselves. Or something that we have pre-conceived notions about. To go through our pop-culture blindspots and check them off one at a time.
Matt Ferrara: It’s also a way for us to hold ourselves accountable for what we’re consuming.
It’s easy to say these are the things I like, and stay in that tunnel vision. But for the podcast, it’s a way for us to branch out and force ourselves to say, “This is something I’ve thought about but have put off because I’m lazy.” It puts your feet to the fire to say, “No, I’m gonna read this book, I’m gonna watch this movie that maybe we wouldn’t have given a chance otherwise.”
Fogarty: What are your big cultural blindspots?
Pacitti: Music in general is a big blindspot. I’m guilty of settling into my comfort zone and sticking with a band or genre. On one of our latest episodes, we went through the best music of the 2010s. Matt compiled a best-of list, and the consensus was these are the best five albums of the decade and I hadn’t heard any of them. We’re talking Beyonce’s Lemonade, Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar — names I know, but I have no frame of reference for the music.
Ferrara: The assumption when you hear the premise of the podcast is that we’re going to cover big things like The Godfather or Gone With The Wind, but we’ve also used it to do things that have a cult following, like Penelope Spheeris or Bitch Planet, which is a comic we just did an episode on.
Pacitti: Also some big stuff, you had never played Doom.
Ferrara: We did Purple Rain.
Pacitti: We had the hosts of the podcast “You can do it, do it” on and did an episode on The Beatles. They had never really gotten into The Beatles. And so after the episode, they said, “Yeah, The Beatles are really good.” Of course they are.
Ferrara: We like pushing what the show can be.
Fogarty: Was there a particular episode where you introduced yourself to something you really fell in love with?
Ferrara: I really fell in love with “The Venture Bros.” Where has this show been my whole life? It’s at this cross-section of everything I love. From Hanna-Barbera to Fantastic Four to dopey ’70s Marvel villains. This is my show.
Pacitti: I had never seen The Texas Chainsaw Massacre before we did our Halloween run of episodes. I was surprised at how much was left to the imagination, which makes it scarier. That led me to the sequel, which is just insane.
Ferrara: We like doing episodes where one of us is familiar with it but the other isn’t and gets to introduce something they love to the other. I love Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Even editing the episode I thought, man this guy needs to calm down. Take it down a couple notches.
Fogarty: Was there any work of art that you earnestly tried to enjoy, but just couldn’t get into?
Ferrara & Pacitti in unison: Cats.
Ferrara: We didn’t watch the movie, we watched a direct to DVD filming of the stage production from 1998. It’s tough to watch.
Pacitti: It’s not designed to be a movie, so you are losing the impact of seeing all this amazing choreography. That athleticism is missing when there are these quick cuts to weird close-ups of background people making dumb cat faces.
Ferrara: It’s clear that these people are great dancers.
Pacitti: I can recognize a good performance, but for the most part it is gibberish nonsense.
Ferrara: I watched it once, then I watched it a second time to take notes, and I thought, “Why am I doing this to myself?”
Pacitti: None of our questions were answered, we left it only with more questions.
Fogarty: Have you come to any revelations doing a specific episode of the podcast?
Pacitti: We did an episode on Phish. And that was a case of us having an opinion prior to having engaged with it ourselves. Which is, in general, a shitty way to operate.
I realized there’s a lot of good stuff here, and while it might not be for me, I got a peek into why people are so fanatical about that band and that music.
I don’t think either one of us walked away a convert, but we walked away with an appreciation for something neither one of us thought we would appreciate.
Ferrara: That speaks to what, hopefully, we would like people to take away from the podcast — this is someone’s experience, so it is not always good to come at people’s pop culture opinions with a hot take or an intensity.
Pacitti: We’re in a moment, and we have been for a while now, where a lot of fan communities are particularly loud and obnoxious and there’s a seeming disconnect from the fact that this is all subjective. Your opinion is not a fact. It’s hard to have a reasoned discussion with someone who doesn’t agree with you, And we’re talking about things that at the end of the day are small potatoes, we’re not talking about politics…
Ferrara: It’s carrying over into politics.
Pacitti: Yeah, but we’re talking about cartoons and shit. I’d like to think we’re open-minded with something like Phish. We’re trying to correct some of our close-mindedness.
My opinion on Phish was based solely on the people who liked it, maybe people I knew when I was younger. So, I’m basing my opinion on a band that has existed for decades off of people I knew for a very short period who I may not have liked. That’s dumb.
Ferrara: It’s harder to speak passionately about something you love and not sound super earnest or dorky. It’s easier to attack something. It’s easier to be critical, so that’s the defacto.
New episodes are released every other Wednesday. You can find “What Did We Miss?” on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and Google Play. Or follow them on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram at WhatDidWeMiss? Upcoming episode feature: The video game Doom, HBO’s “Succession” and the comic Bitch Planet.