On May 1, 2017, a strange, funny, and uncomfortable man, by the name of Dan Smotz, released the first official episode of his new podcast The System Is Down, a lovely show that discusses politics, conspiracy theories, and religion. Its tagline is ‘Question everything, and stay uncomfortable’. Today, it has a total of 21 episodes, with the 21st having come out today. Right off the bat, this sounds like a passion project of yet another crazy conspiracy theorist with the intention of scaring the crap out of people with stories of evil government plots, potential prologues to a third world war, and chemicals in your Oreos to make you compliant. I’m happy to say that this is not the case.
I happen to know Dan personally (or at least I think I do), but that fact will in no way make me biased in the way I write this review. What I will say however, is that Dan has something good going on here, whether I know him personally or not. His unapologetic and sometimes humorous approach to sensitive and uncomfortable material makes him one of a special few, and his desire to listen to the opinions of other people and take them all into account rather than lashing out is undeniably refreshing and sometimes even amusing to listen to. He recently succeeded in doing what’s considered almost impossible these days: putting a Democrat, Libertarian, and Republican together in one place and having them discuss their sides and where they stand politically, making for a surprisingly civil conversation that at times was even inspiring.
The use of the word ‘inspiring’ leads me to my next point, which is this: Dan does not do his discussions to feed you fear or get you paranoid (God knows we have enough of that already). He does the discussions to make you think. He wants you to listen and then debate different uncomfortable topics so that they’re not blissfully ignored, and he kicks that trend off in a handful of episodes by taking a step back and allowing his guests to chat, some of whom have never talked to each other before and are now being given the opportunity to. He doesn’t claim that he’s right about anything he says concerning different topics, and though he has no problem admitting that he disagrees with certain things, he doesn’t tell his guests that they’re wrong but instead encourages them to keep going. By the time I’m done listening to each episode, I’m usually anxious to hear what he does next. It can really feel like a breath of fresh air at times.
As I’ve said before, just because I know Dan personally doesn’t mean I’m going to be biased, and that will be proven through a few negatives I have to throw out there concerning this podcast. Thankfully, there are very few and, in my opinion, aren’t deal breakers to drive you away from listening. This is Dan’s first go at a long-term podcast, so a few hiccups aren’t surprising to run into along the way. It’s pretty clear throughout the first couple episodes that he was trying to find his footing and figure out how exactly he wanted it to pan out, so the topics don’t feel as thoroughly pre-planned or organized as they get later. Granted, when it all comes down to it, this is a podcast with people having discussions like any ordinary discussion would be, so it’s inevitable that conversations will go off in random directions, but in the end I couldn’t help but ask what the point was half of the time. Thankfully, Dan does find his footing before he even reaches the tenth episode. He not only manages to organize the discussions better, but also brings in people with more defined platforms (the producers of the upcoming film ‘Generational Sins’ for example), making the discussions a cleaner back-and-forth than a group of people talking over each other.
This is more of a fact than a negative trait about the series, but the last thing I should note is that this podcast is not for everybody. If listening to conspiracy theories makes you feel anxious and edgy and perhaps even depressed, then this probably isn’t for you. This show is not a ‘conspiracy’ podcast as Dan states in his latest episode, but conspiracy theories are brought up from time to time and they’re often not pretty to listen to, and Dan doesn’t try to sugarcoat them to make them pretty. To my knowledge, he doesn’t want to depress anyone either, but discussing topics that many would consider to be uncomfortable means being raw and honest about reality, and being raw and honest are two things Dan encourages for in this podcast.
All in all, this is a solid podcast that talks (mostly) about uncomfortable things but has good intent behind it. While it’s not the most perfect podcast out there, it displays a lot of promise for even better things to come, and I applaud Dan for his efforts. Dan, I forgive you for your Rogue One: A Star Wars Story review.
You can visit the podcast’s website to read about it, listen to it, and even look through some of Dan’s merchandise at http://www.tsidpod.com/. Or you can check out the podcast’s forum on Facebook at ‘The System Is Down Forum’. Remember, question everything and stay uncomfortable.