In the depths of an unforgiving winter, the reliable mayhem of the Dateline podcast kept me afloat
A daily dose of true crime has kept Jessica Antony from spiralling into a Winnipeg winter's frozen despair
Warm Blanket is a series of personal essays from Canadian writers and artists reflecting on the pop culture that has brought them comfort and coziness during one year of the pandemic.
It's January in Winnipeg. The wind rattles the window panes as I get out of bed and slip downstairs to brew a pot of coffee, the warmth of which provides a stark contrast to the cold kitchen floor. I check the weather app. It is comically cold today, the kind of cold that's only good for bragging about how resilient you are because you live in a place where it gets comically cold. I'm 10 weeks into the second pandemic lockdown and nearly a year past my last experience of "normal" life. So little is certain as I and everyone else in Winnipeg go through the motions of each day, isolated in our homes and, as Dateline's Keith Morrison would say, "sentenced to sorrow."
So, when faced with a long, unforgiving winter without human connection, what keeps a freelance writer and editor from spiralling down a rabbit hole of anxiety, fear, and isolation-based madness?
Storytelling, of course — specifically, the spellbinding tales woven by the critically acclaimed journalists of the Dateline podcast.
Ok, so you might be thinking, "Wow, a single woman in her 30s who spends her time listening to a true crime podcast. How original." And ... fair enough. It isn't original — in fact, a 2018 study found that 73% of true crime podcast listeners are female. Fans of the genre also listen to an additional two hours more of their favourite sordid tales per day than the average podcast listener. And, let's face it, true crime's popularity reaches beyond women tuning in for the escapism, practical advice, or fascination with criminal motives; that same 2018 study found that "judges have cited podcasts such as Serial and Breakdown in their decisions to grant motions or new trials." So, if anyone asks, listening to true crime is basically a legal education.
But it's not just any true crime podcast that has enveloped me like a plush blanket fresh from the dryer through this arctic hellscape. I'm particular about what I pipe directly into my eardrums each day, and for me it's the velvety smooth voices, outrageous writing, and predictable tropes presented in each gripping Dateline story. As correspondent Dennis Murphy so aptly states, "If the intersection of blood and money interests you, pull up a chair and stay a while."
Unlike podcast journalists who take themselves either too seriously or not seriously enough, the Dateline cast navigates that balance with the precision of a tightrope walker. Keith Morrison will in one breath gently ask about the discovery of a gruesome murder, and in the next, with his affable charm, clarify: "So, he had multiple stab wounds and his throat was slit — it was a murder, alright!" Morrison is no stranger to the industry; a fellow Canadian, he attended the University of Saskatchewan and hosted at both CTV and CBC. One might assume his comedic takes are unintentionally hilarious — one of my favourites is "central to the murder was simple high school geometry: a love triangle" — but Morrison once had Brian Mulroney cancel an interview with him because he referred to the PM as "whathisname." The man knows his way around a quip.
Where else will you find the story of a man named Tex and his sister Dixie who are wrapped up in a murder for insurance money? Where will you hear about former CIA agent Private Investigator Savage, who uncovers an assassination plot? Only Dateline, the podcast where you learn that you can delete a Word document but if you used spell-check while you were writing your ransom note, it will be stored somewhere deep within your laptop and accessible by forensic experts. The podcast where you quickly become a pro in identifying shady alibis and suspicious 911 calls. Where you scoff at the perp who makes the rookie mistake of bringing his cellphone with him to the crime scene. Where you're no longer fooled by a sob story mysteriously devoid of actual tears.
In a word, Dateline is reliable. You can count on three new episodes each week in which Keith Morrison, Andrea Canning, Lester Holt, Josh Mankiewicz, and Dennis Murphy narrate expertly crafted stories. While there's always breadmaking, home renos, and Netflix-binging, I've found no better way to get through a pandemic in the dead of winter than taking a deep dive into captivating tales of greed, lust, and mayhem.
Read all 12 essays from the Warm Blanket series here.