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Radio review: The Moral Maze, Off Menu, and The Diary of a CEO

20 October 2023


Michael Buerk, the presenter of Radio 4’s The Moral Maze, which last week considered the question “How should we think about our enemies?”

Michael Buerk, the presenter of Radio 4’s The Moral Maze, which last week considered the question “How should we think about our enemies?”

IN THE midst of a chaotic geo-political and ethical crisis, it feels, at best, futile and, at worst, glib to be pondering abstract moral questions. From those questions that might evince something vaguely helpful, The Moral Maze (Radio 4, Wednesday of last week) chose one with promise: “How should we think about our enemies?” — a question that encompasses that proxy war fought between battalions of social-media commentators. But it was too early for some to be pondering such niceties. Righteous rage and justified violence were on the lips, and this was not the time to offer philosophical dialectic.

Of the guest contributors, Gabrielle Rifkind — a specialist in international conflict-resolution — was the only apparent neutral, and it was her responsibility to remind us of the tired truths of reconciliation and, in particular, of time. Even in the case of the Israeli-Palestinian friends, who came on as joint witnesses to the possibility of healing, we could discern an agenda that crucially undermined their message — although Rami Elhanan’s Beckettian pronouncement at the end of their interview might have served as a summary of the entire show: “We are doomed to live together. . . we must get along.”

The Moral Maze is to be commended for keeping its cool. This was a topic that it could not dodge, even though the tools at its disposal are — at this stage in the narrative of the conflict — wholly inadequate. Indeed, on one thing all seemed to agree: that enemies are constructed rather than inevitable. But, it turns out, this platitude gets us not very far at all.

A recent study by Edison Research tells us that, of the 20 most popular podcasts in the UK, almost all are home-grown. Topping the list is an import from the United States, The Joe Rogan Experience, but, after that, a dozen and more shows line up, in which British presenters talk about British life. Should we be proud of this unexpected display of national self-belief?

At No. 3 in the chart we find Off Menu (Plosive Productions, released Wednesdays), a fantasy cooking show in which a guest of the presenters, Ed Gamble and James Acaster, devises the meal of their dreams. In the case of last week’s guest — the astronomer Maggie Aderin-Pocock — this was necessarily fantastical, since a dairy intolerance prevents her eating any of the courses. But the show is all about the journey; and, if you like hearing people laugh a lot, especially at their own fart jokes, this is surely the podcast for you.

The Diary of a CEO (New Frame Productions, released Mondays and Thursdays) is altogether more serious, offering self-help for aspiring plutocrats. Last week, Brian Chesky, the founder of Airbnb, revealed to the presenter, Steven Bartlett, something of his “inner Brian”: the sensitive child that he had been, and how it helped to make him gazillions. Nothing practical, like: invest all your savings in pork bellies. Instead, we must all find our own inner Brian.

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