Invisibilia: A Fearless Podcast

Close your eyes. Sit back. Enter a voice that weaves together a story smooth as silk. Now picture something terrifying and imagine if you could “disappear fear” and all the consequences that come with it.

Invisibilia hosts Alix Spiegel and Lulu Miller. Photo courtesy of John W. Poole/NPR.
Invisibilia hosts Alix Spiegel and Lulu Miller. Photo courtesy of John W. Poole/NPR.

Invisibilia hosts Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel, not so ironically, approach this without fear in Fearless, a two-part feature exploring the origins of fear and what happens without it.

“World with No Fear,” the first half, masterfully incorporates natural sounds like fart noises (children who don’t yet know fear), dramatic piano, gunshots and news headlines to make a point. It immerses within us (even bombards) the idea we almost can’t escape fear. We are exposed to an unusual amount of it that makes no logical sense. Add in the occasional chilling music and you certainly feel a little uneasy.

Appropriate for an episode on fear, isn’t it?

The art for Invisibilia's episode Fearless. Image by Daniel Horowitz/NPR.
The art for Fearless, one of Invisibilia’s earlier shows. Image by Daniel Horowitz/NPR.

As with any good story, both in print or in broadcast, the soundbites are kept short and sweet. Sometimes it’s simple as “No, not really” when asked if someone felt fear. Other times, it was an explanation from a neuroscientist simplified. A lot could be read simply from how something was read, too. It was approachable for someone who has taken almost no science courses in their college life.

The podcast certainly has a novelty factor. Only 400 people in the entire world are completely incapable of feeling fear, due to the calcification in an almond sized part of the brain. Their heart doesn’t race. The adrenaline doesn’t go. But traumatic events aren’t traumatic either, because intense fear isn’t assigned to the memory, meaning said person could find themselves in more danger than most. The fact they could speak with someone with this condition speaks to the credibility of Invisibilia as a whole.

While the sound and interviews help tell stories, so does the verbal imagery. There were “puffs of smoke” from gunshots and “people falling and not getting up” on the day of America’s first mass shooting. It was certainly powerful enough to understand the tragedy. Meanwhile, metaphors and similes like “in a sea of emotions” and “fear is as basic as blood” make the script all the more rich.

But the hosts are also conversational, adding to the ease factor. After being bombarded by dark news headlines, they say “[fear is] not exactly novel,” for example. And at the end of the first podcast when previewing part two, they joke that the founders of NPR would be screaming about what they plan to do next.

It was “Disappearing Fear,” part two, that shined in the casual aspect. Fear becomes an even more approachable topic. At one point, Russian music plays in the background when a Russian grandmother using rejection therapy is mentioned. At another, when one is asked if their fear of snakes is cured (after a long explanation on why we fear them), the reply is completely bleeped out.

While at one point the hosts joke they are straying from professional journalism into the realm of “wild fact-based speculation” as a joke and laugh a bit on air, the topic as a whole is so very human. Fearless- both “Disappearing Fear” and “World with No Fear”- have encouraged me to listen to Invisibilia more. It’s still journalistic, telling a story and informing the masses.

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