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Tough love for literature

Fall of Failure Episode 2: Bechdel and Betamax

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Welcome back to the Fall of Failure! This week we’re looking at an excerpt from Fun Home, the 2006 graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel, who just a couple weeks ago was awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant. So: definitely not a failure. But you know what was a failure? Betamax. Such a failure, in fact, that people still use “betamax” as slang for failed products, or the verb form as the act of failing. Which is, in a weird way, a kind of success? The Fall of Failure is only a couple weeks old and already it’s full of conundrums.


The bit we chose from the Bechdel book was excerpted in the 2007 edition of The Best American Nonrequired Reading, edited by Dave Eggers. That edition also contains a couple Barrelhouse pieces: Lee Klein’s essay “All Aboard the Bloated Boat,” about Barry Bonds and steroids, and a few Ed Asner poems by Greg Ames, one of which you can read here.

We talk about the ethics involved in writing about family: Who gets to tell your family’s story? What stories belong to you? Should you worry about the repercussions of portraying family members in your work? Should you honor family members’ requests that you keep certain things private? Mike talks about his own family’s reaction to a recent essay about his grandfather, which appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of The North American Review. And Tom talks about a former bully’s reaction to hearing that Tom had written about him in his memoir.

Also: Betamax. Why did it lose out to VHS, despite evidence that it was the superior technology? What did Sony do wrong, and JVC do right? And did pornography have anything to do with it?


As always, you can stream the episode right here on our site, or download the mp3 file to listen to whenever you want. You can also visit us in the iTunes store, where you can find back episodes and subscribe (for free) to never miss another installment.

Thanks for listening! We’re always interested in hearing your thoughts on what we talked about. You can send us an email, tweet at us, or just leave a comment on this here post.


Download Fall of Failures Episode 2 (right-click, save-as)

Author: mikeingram25

writer, editor

One thought on “Fall of Failure Episode 2: Bechdel and Betamax

  1. Wish you would have talked about Fun House more, but the Beta discussion was quite interesting. Having been five right around the time VCRs started coming out, I have lots of memories of spending ages in stupid video stores while my parents browsed for movies. The system they used was empty boxes on the shelf with a little card in a sleeve on the big, signifying they had a copy of the movie available. I think it was PINK for VHS and BLUE for BETA. Every time I saw a movie I wanted, I’d flip it over only to find a PINK slip. Always a major disappointment. Since my father shelled out so much for our BETA player, it wasn’t until nearly the 90s when we got a VHS player and we could finally rent exciting new releases instead of picking up whatever BETA movies happened to be in stock (I recall renting POPEYE and PETE’s DRAGON an awful lot.)

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