Brian Reed’s S-Town is an extraordinary podcast that delves into the complicated story of John B. and the community. As someone who is not a frequent listener of podcasts, S-Town was an interesting starting point in the realm of podcasts. I have to admit that I was shocked when I started listening to the first episode because I always thought podcasts were more like talk shows where a few people sit down in a room and discuss a topic for a period of time. However, Brian Reed took a different approach to what I was expecting and took the listeners on a journey to this so-called “Shittown” in rural Alabama and the story of John B.
The first few episodes of the seven-episode series focus on Brian Reed chasing the rumor of murder that John has been informing Brian Reed about. Brian Reed takes you on a journey in uncovering the truth and the twists in this murder, which leads to one event after another. These events are somewhat like small stories of life in this town and in a broader scope, life in the rural south. However, all these events seem to stray away from each other as the episodes progressed going from the murder to a treasure hunt, to interviews of John’s friends, and so on. They never seem to connect and the ending never had a proper conclusion. It feels like Brian Reed never found the conclusion to his story and just threw together all his work to fit as best as possible to make an entertaining podcast.
Despite this, the true beauty of this podcast doesn’t come events that unfolded but the message it sent. Through these various events, S-Town dove into controversial topics such as sexual repression, the collapse of society due to climate change, and most importantly mental health. The story of John B brings up heartbreaking truths about isolation and struggles of mental health that ultimately led to his suicide. He constantly discussed with Brian Reed about the effect’s climate change will have on society and how the world is collapsing. He would constantly talk about committing suicide because of the worldly changes and the depressing nature of his community. More is learned about his life after his suicide and about his sexual orientation and his relationship mishaps that contributed to his deteriorating mental health.
Instead of a crime podcast like his previous works, I would say S-Town is more about the issue of mental health. Brian Reed controversially discusses the mental health of John B, but doing this, he sends a message and brings more awareness to this growing issue. Despite the ethical questions and lawsuits Reed has faced in regards to how he conducted his research for this podcast, he creates a marvelous podcast that touches on major contemporary issues facing the world right now. The podcast is a bit disappointing that there never really is a proper conclusion to the story, but the message it sends makes up for this inconvenience and overall highlights the desire of one man to better his community regardless of the issues he was experiencing.