This week’s interview is chock full of content, and we wouldn’t have it any other way! Join Ely and our guest Cole Burkhardt, creator of Null/Void, as they talk about the evil of legalese and corporations, supporting indie creators, data privacy, and making Explicitly Black Queer Art.
Like what you hear? Us too. You can learn more about Null/Void on Cole’s website.
Content Warnings: Discussions about capitalism and all that it touches, climate change and pollution, racism, and queerphobia.
Null/Void and Radio Drama Revival would like you to donate and support The Trevor Project, a national US organization providing crisis and suicide intervention to LGBTQ+ youth under twenty-five. You can donate to them or become a fundraiser at give.thetrevorproject.com.
Learn more about how to support Radio Drama Revival on our website.
This episode of Radio Drama Revival was recorded in the unceded territory of the Kalapuya people, the Clatskanie Indian Tribe, the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, and the Atfalati tribe. Colonizers named this place Beaverton, Oregon.
If you are looking for ways to support or donate to Native communities, the Kamloops Aboriginal Friendship Society are seeking donations to build a new center. KAFS offers many services and programs for urban-located Indigenous people, such as healthcare initiatives, outreach programs for children and youths, childcare, food hamper and nutrition programs. You can support them at https://charity.gofundme.com/o/en/campaign/newfriendshipcentre.
ELENA: Cole Burkhardt is a prolific and experienced podcaster, having run the gamut of jobs: voice actor, audio editor, sound designer, and now writer-creator. Null/Void put all that knowledge to use and then some, as you’ll find out right here, on Radio Drama Revival.
[theme music – smooth, jazzy horns playing a mellow, sultry tune that fades out gradually as Elena speaks]
ELENA: Hello, and welcome to Radio Drama Revival, the podcast that showcases the diversity and vitality of modern audio fiction. I’m your host, Elena Fernandez Collins. Today, join us in our interview with Cole Burkhardt, creator of Null/Void, the fiction podcast we showcased last week.
Null/Void is about corporate capitalism’s effect on everything from the individual to families, from communities to society. Burkhardt has experienced the grind just like us, working soul-sucking jobs that left behind frustration and a fuller understanding of just how corporations pit marginalized people against each other. Human Resources is there to protect the company, not the humans they employ. Working conditions that are equitable and humane are few and far between. Corporations will mine you for data, and use it to benefit their bottom line.
And all while convincing us that we are each, individually, at fault for not trying hard enough to prevent the evils of this world we share.
Burkhardt’s story is one of rebellion and found family, banding together to protect whatever they and their town have left. It’s about humanity, and who or what gets to be human–people, or corporations?
Null/Void and Radio Drama Revival would like to ask you to donate and support The Trevor Project, a national US organization providing crisis and suicide intervention to LGBTQ+ youth under twenty-five. You can donate to them or become a fundraiser at give.thetrevorproject.com, or donate at the link in our episode description.
Please be aware that the following interview contains discussions about capitalism and all that it touches, climate change and pollution, racism, and queerphobia.
[begin interview audio]
ELENA: Thank you so much for coming on Radio Drama Revival, Cole! We’re really excited to get to talk to you about Null/Void.
COLE: Yeah, thanks for having me.
ELENA: We love a good, good anticapitalist show. [laugh] Just so that everybody knows where this is, going to broadcast it right there. [laugh] But to start with, right, you’re a very prolific voice actor and sound designer/audio editor.
ELENA: Yeah, very prolific. You honed these skills across many shows before you started creating and showrunning Null/Void. So what would you say you learned from those experiences that you implemented in your running of this podcast?
COLE: Ah, make sure you have everything written before you start casting. Make sure that you have your shit together before you start casting. [laugh]
ELENA: [knowing laugh]
COLE: And if something is going to go wrong, it’s going to, so give yourself a little wiggle room.
ELENA: Yeah, always give yourself wiggle room. Such a good, just general life advice, honestly.
COLE: Uh-huh! Yeah.
ELENA: [laugh] Yeah, I don’t have a ton of experiences as a voice actor. But one of the things that I appreciate with the shows that I am voice acting in is that they write everything before we start.
COLE: Yeah, so I have had so many shows fall apart because they write episode by episode. And then they’ll write themselves into a plothole or they’ll peter out. And then just, Oops, sorry, can’t add that to my resume. Can’t hear that come to life. It’s — as a voice actor, it’s frustrating.
And I feel also as a creator, it is frustrating because [exasperated noise] I don’t understand people who will write an episode and then just want to put it out there without going through just so many editing process, I feel really bad for my editors — we went through Null/Void three times to make sure everything made sense. And for my next show, we went through half a — maybe a dozen times to make sure everything — but that one is a little more convoluted. It’s a time jump one, but we can get into that later.
But just make sure you have all of your eggs in a basket before you start chucking them at people. [laugh] And just give people time to breathe. We don’t exist in a vacuum. People have lives outside of the internet. You can’t expect your voice actors to give you a three day turnaround time to do stuff. If something goes wrong, or if something happens, and . . . just give people room to breathe, and it’s gonna make everything a lot easier. Your story’s still gonna be there, your audience is still probably gonna be there. Just take your time. I know it’s always exciting to jump headfirst into something. But-
ELENA: Yeah, absolutely. This is one of the things that I teach my — that I teach people whenever I’m asked to talk about this kind of thing, is that, Don’t jump to the last steps. You need to start at the beginning and go through it. It’s kind of how, like in physics, you know, time — there’s always a middle point. It doesn’t skip. I know it feels like it does, but it doesn’t. And so, you know, you have to go through the process step by step and so don’t jump to the end. I think a lot of people are always just really interested in asking questions about marketing, which honestly, you should be doing the whole time. So yeah, but things like IP and things like How do I get an audience? And all this stuff is like, yes, those are great questions to ask. However! Also!
COLE: Yeah. So you know what’s, you know, what’s a great way to have a consistent audience? Have a consistent show. If you’re releasing every two weeks until your show is done, you’re gonna have more listeners than if you release two weeks here, and then you wait three months, and then you do two episodes there. If you just are consistent with your flow and your episode release, you’re gonna gain much more of an audience.
ELENA: Yep, absolutely.
COLE: And they will do the marketing for you for a little bit. Word of mouth is great.
ELENA: Word of mouth is great, especially in podcasting. Alas, uh . . . there’s only so far it can go.
COLE: Which is fine. I feel — I always feel a little pretentious saying this. But regardless of how many downloads I get, I’m still going to continue to make podcasts. Even if no one listened to Null/Void, I was still gonna — I was still gonna make it and put it on. Even if no one listens to the shows. It’s a fun creative process for me. Sure, I would love 30 million downloads. [laugh] But, you know, again, I’m still gonna keep creating, regardless.
ELENA: So, the episode descriptions of Null/Void are in adapted lines of Python. Yes. Which I could recognize only because I took one single computational linguistics class about Python in grad school.
COLE: Well, you took more than me.
ELENA: [laugh] Talk to me about your process with the person credited as your master coder. Yeah, Ayla, and what was involved in this?
COLE: Oh, God. So, I was blessed to meet Ayla at Podcast Movement in 2019. Yeah, yes. Because they skipped last — yes, 2019. Because we live in a hellscape. Yeah, in 2019, they were — they’re very cool. They’re very cool. Please go listen to Tides. Good show, great show. And they had mentioned — I explained the premise of Null/Void. And they had mentioned that they did some coding in terms of AI and we got discussing about some cool stuff that happens in the series, and yada, yada, yada. And I was like, Hey, I had an idea for episode descriptions. But also I am an idiot, please, please help. [laugh]
And I gave them like a whole bunch of ideas of what I wanted the code to say, and what properties I wanted it to be able to relay back to our audience who may or may not be able to understand it, and also help them understand it, not make it super complicated. And we worked and workshopped and I think we hopped on a call one night for it. We were there for two hours of just going through code and talking about like, Oh, this is what I’m looking for.
And as they helped me through the episodes, and as I started to learn more about Python myself, I gave a shot at it. And those last couple of episodes was where they’re a little shoddy? Compared to the first ones. And then worked with them to be like, okay, does this make sense? But it was very much about crafting a code that could theoretically work, as well as incorporating elements of fiction into said code. Yeah.
ELENA: I think that’s basically the coolest shit. It’s fascinating the ways that you can, you know, interpret story through code.
COLE: Yeah. A lot of that — so a lot of the codes are — sorry, I’ve just made a connection in my mind, a lot of that code of — the concept of taking something that is generally inaccessible to a general audience, like Python. Also, within the show, the legalese you read in contracts, the et al, hereforth, whenceforth, if you do this within 14 days time, and then just all that legal jargon, and then being able to shift that into something that the basic person can understand.
Because there’s a lot of — there’s a lot of inaccessibility in terms of, not only coding, but also within a capitalist society that also has government contracts and business contracts, and just pages upon pages of contracts that you, a basic person, wouldn’t have any idea of where to start deciphering and figuring out if you’re getting a good deal or not.
I worked for about three years for a leasing office. And we lease out these mega condos. And we also had another property that worked with low income folks, and the amount of — not bartering, but the amount of back-and-forth of contracts between people who would be renting these high rise condos, and the amount of just “roll over and take it” that I would see from folks in the low income housing, because they just — they, you, you can’t know. That kind of shit makes my eyes gloss over. And it’s really easy to exploit people who don’t have the means to decipher. And this is a really long rant to say that-
ELENA: No, no, no, you’re fine!
COLE: Just, there are so many different ways that we bar marginalized folks and low income and anyone who is not an ultra rich, probably cishet white man.
COLE: And a lot of them — a lot of — an unseen part of that is through the legal contracts and the legal world that we have to deal with.
COLE: Being a part of that was half of the reason I wrote Null/Void. Just frustration.
ELENA: Yeah! Knowing that you- [indistinct, overlapping with Cole]
COLE: [indistinct] or through spite.
ELENA: [breathless laugh] That’s been a lot of people on this [laughing while speaking] season of RDR!
No, yeah, knowing that now, that you worked with real estate, serving both very high income, ultra privileged people — probably also ultra educated, right? Like high privileged education versus low income, not as accessible, marginalized folks, suddenly makes a lot of Null/Void make sense. Like in new ways.
ELENA: Yeah. So tell me a little bit more about how those experiences with real estate and-
COLE: I also — I worked for an HOA for a while, which also feeds into-
ELENA: Wowwwwwww, talk about racism! I hate HOAs.
COLE: There was — okay, but this doesn’t answer your question but fun, fun storytime.
ELENA: I love fun storytime!
COLE: When I worked for the HOA, it was a small five person office. Which means that they are not legally required to have an HR. We would have board meetings and all of the board members were old, white guys, and they would not let us go digital. Every two weeks, we would have to print off, per board member, 150 pages. Front and back, 150 pages, and they would not let us go digital.
ELENA: [dryly] It’s fine. Climate change isn’t real anyway.
COLE: Yeah, half of my job was shredding paper. I would do events-
ELENA: That would radicalize anyone.
COLE: Yeah! I would go work for two hours a day — I would go and plan the events for the neighborhood. And then I would go and shred paper.
ELENA: Yeah, I hate that. The worst actually. Well, that explains more things.
COLE: Yeah. Boy Howdy. It definitely played into themes of — ‘cause I was an — it was like a nothing job. It was a do nothing job. And it really fed into the feeling of “I am wasting my degree”. I am technically in my field, but I’m not doing what — I’m not doing what makes me happy within my field. I very quickly realized it was the depression and the fact that I hate people and not necessarily just my job. But you know! But you know–
ELENA: Ya gotta go through a process to get a conclusion.
COLE: Yeah. And then even when I changed jobs and went to go work for this leasing company, it still persisted. I was a year into working for the leasing company and it kind of just — it hit me.
I listened to — I was listening to Dreamboy. And that opened — that gorgeous opening monologue of that Dreamboy, and it was just kind of like, I have been in podcasts for at least two years by then. I was mostly on the actual play side but it was like, I listened — I heard Dreamboy and it was like, Oh, I want to do that. Oh, I want to do this.
And just sat down and started writing and then started building on that and then bullying my friends into editing my work for me and being like “give me feedback” and then it just — it made so much sense and when I was done with it, I had — I felt so much better! It didn’t magically cure my depression but I was like, Oh, I worked through the trauma that is being out of college and still hating life. And like I ended up getting let go from that job because of COVID. Three, three years and nothing to fuckin’ show for it, I swear to fucking god.
Anyways, and just, people don’t really talk about in terms of the job market, how traumatizing it is to have an extremely shitty job or an extremely shitty job situation and not being able to do anything about it. Because people are always like, oh, if you don’t like it just get another job. Oh, get another job.
ELENA: Yeah, I’m sure that’s very easy. Oh, Oh Ha. I have job offers. Yeah, I have job offers. It’s raining down on me.
COLE: Yeah, there’s a reason it lasted, why I put up with that bullshit for three months. And not three minutes like I would have. And I was in medical debt. I was in college debt. I was in — I was a newly freshened adult with a — barely making a living wage, or barely being able to do anything because I was working too much and not making enough. I applied for food stamps. And they told me I was making too much. But I also couldn’t afford to pay rent if I bought food. And, yeah right. I was making too much money. And it was by like — it was by like $100 and I was like, if I asked my boss for less hours, I won’t be able to make rent overall much less eat than if I just didn’t eat.
ELENA: So one of the things that you mentioned here is this, you know, should the shredding of paper and printing 150 pages per board member?
COLE: I’m so angry. It’s been five years.
ELENA: Yeah, no, I would literally be angry for the rest of my life. So let’s talk about exploitation of the land and environmental pollution. [laugh]
In Episode Three, there’s a brief mention by one of the characters that they can’t stargaze any longer because Void Networks has installed a blinking light which of course puts me in mind of Elon Musk and his Starlink satellites.
[as an aside] Noted enemy of the pod.
COLE: Yeah, fuck — fuck off, Elon Musk. [chuckle] Yeah, so originally, the blinking light was an homage to Welcome to Night Vale, which is one of the first podcasts that I actually started listening to way back in . . . oh god, like soph-, freshman, sophomore year at college. And, and then I was thinking about it, like, they’re there. It’s this small town. There is a giant fuck-off skyscraper of a building that’s already probably blocking half the view. And the other half is this giant blinking light. So planes don’t hit it. Of course, it’s gonna blot out part of the sun and cause this insane amount of light pollution, especially just as a building itself. And I imagine they’re the type of assholes who leave the lights on because they still have people working overnight. Or, you know, working late into the hours and-
ELENA: -and refuse to let them or work remotely. It’s fine.
COLE: [faux cheery tone masking anger] Yeah! Uh-huh! Uh-huhhhhh.
And just like, a lot of that. I am — I grew up in a relatively suburban area but went camping a lot and worked at a summer camp for a large portion of my childhood and teen years, worked and basically lived at this summer camp all year. And just the stark difference between being able to see the stars there and just even a densely populated town was ridiculous. And I just — I imagine the idea of this small, kind of Middle of Nowhere town that suddenly gets like a big city. A big city Corporation dropped in the middle of it. And then they become so reliant on this corporation, and just the damage that would do to this town.
ELENA: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, we — there’s a lot of — there’s a lot of problems regarding water rights in Oregon right now. Because, yeah, and as you can imagine, the indigenous — the indigenous communities are getting fucked over.
COLE: Oh, uh-huhhh!
ELENA: As per freaking usual. But it’s this wild, like the problem in Klamath, where there is actually not enough water for any one person, or any one interest group, rather, for the things that they need. So it’s literally just like you’re fighting over an amount of water that will not do what it is that you want it to do. Like, for no one. It’s just like, like — and it’s also such a ridiculous problem, because it’s also in one of the counties that wants to leave Oregon and become part of Idaho.
COLE: Oh, I saw that. Like what the-??
ELENA: And listen, I’m gonna just go briefly on a slight tangent here. And just to let y’all know, Eastern Oregon is where — is where people grow the majority of the weed. They make a lot of farmers in Eastern Oregon make a lot of money from their growing weed business.
You know, what’s not legal in Idaho? At all? It’s weed. It’s their income. I — what — huh?
So yeah, so yeah, I know I have a lot of strong opinions about corporations muscling in and taking over environmental — among many other things, right, but environmental concerns and rights. The buying of land that Dasani does — literally all Dasani spends their money on is buying land and lawsuits. And manufacturing plastic bottles.
COLE: Originally, when I was plotting out the course of the season, Dodger lives on a plot of land called the Lavender Hotel, I believe, is what I’ve named it.
ELENA: Lavender Hill Hotel.
COLE: Lavender Hill Hotel, thank you. I know my story. [laugh] It’s been like two years since I’ve written it. Originally, when I was plotting it out, I was going to have the big baddies of the season actually destroy the hotel. And then I realized it’s not where I wanted to go and things shifted and it was gonna play a much bigger part. But I still wanted to keep the hotel in just because I think that — I think it said a lot about who Dodger was as a person being able to entomb themselves in this hotel.
ELENA: Yeah, absolutely. And just like, big idea, when it’s described, we get that description of a bunch of people protecting it when the yeah in the city and therefore because of the corporation wanted to bring it down.
COLE: Yeah. And it was going to be very much like Dodger chaining themselves to the outside of this hotel kind of thing. Of a, Yeah, we need to save our home from being destroyed by this shitty, shitty corporation.
ELENA: I think that will dovetail very nicely into a discussion yet more about this a lot of Null/Void’s key themes, which is capitalism, corporate overreach, and exploitation.
COLE: Uh huh.
ELENA: Strap in, buckaroos. [laugh] Just called everybody in the audience “buckaroos”. I’m sorry, sorry, I-
COLE: Wil, edit that out!
ELENA: [laugh] Wil will not edit it out.
EDITING WIL: [spooky, echoing, ethereal laughter]
ELENA: What are some of the more insidious ways that corporations exploit us for their own capitalistic benefit that we don’t know about or don’t notice that you learned either in your work or in the process of writing this story?
COLE: Yeah. They will convince the dude making 40,000 a year that the dude making 20,000 a year is his enemy, when they, in fact, make 100,000 a year. There are so many things that corporations do to pit class and gender and race against each other. It is not — it is not just the shitty white people. Well, it is not just shitty, racist, white people that pit people against each other. It is the people you are buying food from and clothes and the people that are marketing movies, and the people that are designing the fashion that we wear. There are so many ways that we are pitted against one another and it’s very hard to take a step back and realize what is happening.
Also, this idea of a 40 hour workweek is slowly killing our labor force. And they cannot do the work without us. They would not have a job without us. Elon Musk wouldn’t be able to send a fucking car to the moon. If he didn’t have people to build the fucking rocket for him.
ELENA: I hate that man.
COLE: I hate that man so fucking much. Like, I — I’m very tired of — I’m very tired of.
ELENA: I’m very tired of!! Full stop! I thought you were going to stop there, which is why I went “mhmm.”
COLE: Oh god, I’m very tired. [laugh]
ELENA: No, it’s insidious. It’s very — and it’s very much one of these things also that they do with union busting.
COLE: Yes. Yeah, yeah. Like we just saw with fuckin’ Amazon!
COLE: Of — they threatened union — people who are going to be voting on unions. They said Oh, if you do, if you do vote yes for this union, we’re going to take away your health care, or you’re going to be out of a job, you’re gonna be fired. Even though it is literally something that they’re not allowed to do.
ELENA: [whispered] Not allowed.
COLE: And people saw them doing it. And there’s evidence of them doing it. They’re gonna get away with it.
And that union fell through! Now, who knows? And like, and that that kind of sentiment is everywhere.
I was arguing with my dad, who is the inspiration for Chris, because he literally went through a war and back, and then came back and had trouble adjusting. I was arguing with my dad, of like — my dad was saying that, Oh, unions should not be a thing. Because corporations were built to take care of its people. And I’m like-
ELENA: Damn. Literally the opposite.
COLE: [shouting] Dad, you’re disabled!! You’re literally disabled!
ELENA: Literally the opposite, actually.
COLE: Excuse me for screaming that. I know that audio peaked. Wil, I apologize.
ELENA: Wil probably screamed with you — don’t worry. Yeah. Like-
EDITING WIL: [in an echoing, ethereal voice] I did scream. That’s truuue!
COLE: It is so ingrained into the generation before us, of, They are doing the work for the betterment of the company, and the company, in turn, will reward them. But we as a generation, and the generations after us are not seeing those wheels turn and it’s incredibly frustrating. Where is — not “where is our due?” Because I — not to get into that. I don’t feel that we’re due anything but where is the? Where is the-
ELENA: – the respect? Empathy? Yeah.
COLE: The respect and the empathy? And the, If we put forward this, how are you going to put forward that same amount of effort or care? Or are you going to — if we, if we work your company, are you going to give us the ability to work? Whether it be through a living wage, or — and/or through health care or mental health? Are you going to be giving us — are we gonna be able to take days off without fearing for missing rent? Am I going to be able to — not that I want to, but would I be able to have a kid and be able to take care of that kid? Would I be able to, you know, do the things that make me feel human while also contributing to this workforce?
ELENA: Yeah. And also be in a workforce where I feel valued and respected? A very large concern.
COLE: Yes. 100% valued, respected, and safe.
ELENA: Will we have an HR department to start with? And then, you know, HR is only so useful.
COLE: I looked into it, and Virginia law says that you have to have at least 12 employees before you get an HR.
ELENA: Yeah, well, that explains a lot. One, I hate that. Two, HR mostly exists to protect the corporation or company that you work for.
COLE: Yes, yes. I technically went to college for human resources. It got shuffled into basically my major. I went to school for tourism and events management with a focus in hospitality and a minor in sustainability policy and planning. And part of that means that I had to go through a bunch of HR classes, because you are going to be a public facing person running events, and you have to make sure that your ass is covered. You also have to make sure that the people you are representing’s ass is covered. And there is a — there’s a lot of that. And there’s not a lot of that within audio drama. If I get sexually harassed by my showrunner, there’s no HR for me to talk to. I just either have to deal with it or get the fuck out. Yeah,
ELENA: Yeah, yeah. May I recommend that people look up Unwell’s policies that they adapted from “Not In Our House”. Not In Our House Chicago Theater Community. It was a — it’s a big . . . whatchamacallit. Collective-
COLE: Theater collective?
ELENA: Yeah. Yeah, they made theater standards to protect people and be part — in part because of the fact that, Hartlife adapted these for podcasts, and then, you know, produce them and were like, give credit to Not In Our House, but like, use these.
A bunch of people, like Null/Void, started using them and hopefully, also following them.
COLE: Yes. I mean, Null/Void, hopefully everyone else too.
ELENA: Obviously, yes, Null/Void. But everyone else that I don’t know about? I hope — I hope it’s going okay.
Well, since we’re talking about these things that we can do as individuals and as smaller communities, what role can regular individuals and small independent communities play in combating the detrimental effects capitalism has on said communities?
COLE: “Make art, pay rent, help others do the same.” That is not mine. I do not remember the original creator, but I’m going to direct you to Austin Walker of Friends at the Table who introduced me to that phrase. Also, great show. Go listen to that show.
In that, be creative. Because the process of being creative is going to open your mind to other possibilities and other ways to view life. Pay rent, because you need a place in which to make art, and help others do the same. Support marginalized creators. Support smaller independent creators. Support people who are not people like Amazon, or are not Walmart. Buy from small stores, because it’s going to give them the opportunity to do the same thing of “make art, pay rent, help others do the same”. It is a cycle that builds upon itself. And it is a cycle that will eventually, with time and a little bit more legwork, start to heal communities and bring them closer together.
ELENA: And hopefully we’ll also stop passing the same $20 bill back and forth.
COLE: Yeah, and hopefully we can stop passing the same $20 bill back and forth. [laugh] Jesus Christ.
ELENA: Very good. I love that. Thank you for bringing it up. And yeah, shout out to Austin Walker for always being great. I love Austin Walker’s work very much. Since we’re talking about these things that people can do and capitalism and its horrible effects on you know, everything Null/Void made me think a lot about the societal premises about activism and who we call an activist or an organizer: terms that are often usually loaded with a huge sense of importance right.
So what do you think about activism, and in particular about activism is how social artistic communities apply the term activist and activism?
COLE: [sigh] There are — boy, how do I say this? There are people who will, under the guise of activism, do more harm than good. They will take it upon themselves to be the voice of some community without actually talking or taking lessons from said community. They can . . . boy. I know what character but that — I can’t talk about that character. Of, like, you can do a lot of good. You can donate to the — I’ve actually — I’ve had this discussion three times in the past week, all just independently, but it’s-
ELENA: It’s very relevant right now.
COLE: Yeah! You can — so let’s talk about charity. Charity is good, it’s great, you can give money to a cause. You hopefully kind of know where that cause is going and where those funds are going.
Charity is not the only thing you can do. You can volunteer your time, you can help run events and coordinate activities. You can sit in and talk with people and build relationships and trust and become a dependent member of the community. Or you can do none of that. And just give all of your money to charity. Don’t get me wrong, charity’s great. I love charity, just please, yes, money — go do — sometimes throwing money in a problem does work.
Other times you have to start from the ground up, you have to make sure that you are building these pillars of the community that give people someone you can rely on or someone you can go to for resources or even just developing resources for the community. Instead of being the person who speaks over others, and shouts about things that may not necessarily be relevant or helpful. And sometimes you can use it for your own gain. We talked a lot about parasocial relationships. But that can also be used to exploit the community that you’re building yourself off of, of that if you smile and act buddy-buddy, and take advantage of the people within your community and they build you up. And then you turn around and break the ladder off behind you, what the fuck are you doing? You have to constantly be working to support others around you, that way, you can build everyone up together and not just you up the ladder.
ELENA: Yeah, absolutely. And one other, I think, salient point to this description is also being careful who you want to call an activist?
ELENA: Because a Black artist existing and making art does not make them an activist.
COLE: No, no. Let people live! Let people live. And someone who is a self-proclaimed activist, I probably wouldn’t trust much either. I feel like activist is — it’s a verb. It’s not a noun.
ELENA: Yeah, it’s, yeah. It is a sort of, it’s a thing that you do. And you have to actively — yeah, it’s literally active-ism.
COLE: So you can’t really call yourself an activist if you aren’t doing what it means to be an activist. And I feel like — I honestly feel like “activist” should be a title given to you by a community, and not necessarily one you take on your own.
ELENA: Yeah. But I also like — one of the things that I also want to tell people, right, who might feel discouraged by this or something is, one, don’t be discouraged — is that-
COLE: I’m an asshole — it’s okay!
ELENA: No, we’re both assholes here.
-is that, Yes, this is true. And you need to keep this in mind, you know, when you go forth, like on the internet or in person in your local communities, but that there are different ways to do activism because an organization and a movement — a movement for something can’t succeed without having people doing multiple roles, different roles, not someone doing all of the hats, but multiple people wearing a hat.
COLE: They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, it takes a village to raise a village.
ELENA: Yup. Pretty much.
COLE: Yeah! Everyone is doing their part somehow. As long as you’re doing good with good intentions, I think you’ll be fine.
ELENA: And when you find out that you’re not doing good, and you fix that, that’s good.
COLE: Yeah. Be better, do better.
ELENA: Yeah, do better. Listen to people.
COLE: Listen to people when they call you out for some shitty things you might have done.
ELENA: Yeah, maybe all the way wrapping back to the beginning of your answer, right. This? Yeah, you know, if you’re purporting to support a community and you break off the ladder behind you, you’re probably not listening to people.
COLE: Yeah, yep.
ELENA: One of the highlights of Null/Void, for me, is the way that we get to hear Piper’s inner voice and her very complicated deep struggles with depression and anxiety. So what was it about Null/Void‘s premise that made it critical for us to live inside Piper’s head this way?
COLE: It was honestly a sort of — I mentioned that, when I started when I started listening to Dreambound — It’s not Dreambound.
COLE: Dreamboy, excuse me. Dreambound is also another great podcast. Go listen to that. I started listening to Dreamboy. And there was that opening intro in that opening monologue. And originally, when I started writing Null/Void, it was going to be just a single narrator. And then as I started writing, I was like, oh, oh, no, hold on, this doesn’t work for the story I want to tell. Because there are so many different characters already, and so many different personalities, that would be very hard to do with just a single person. And so it evolved from there, but I still wanted to keep that because I find it’s very — it’s very hard to talk about the struggle with — at least for me — the struggle with like an internal depression and, or an internal struggle, within a third person view. without it being extremely cheesy, or without there being a weird voiceover or, or something like that-
ELENA: Or even just like a gap in the message that you want to send that you just can’t bridge without the inner voice.
COLE: Exactly. And so it made sense, as a way for me to set up what I wanted the episode to be, and to ease the audience into the themes that they would be seeing throughout the ep, the next couple of episodes. And also just give an update to Piper, see how she’s doing?
ELENA: How’s it going, Piper? You ok there??
COLE: How you doing? Not great? No!
ELENA: Not great? Well, me too. That’s fine!
Talk to me about narrative conventions that are — that are set by the fiction podcast medium, and by storytelling mediums in general, and your thoughts on experimenting with them, or playing around with them and why that’s important.
COLE: So the big one within audio dramas is the use of the recorder, as a way to set the universe, you see it in things like The Bright Sessions, or The Black Tapes in that or in The Magnus Archives, in that they’re speaking to you, the listener, through a recording device, which is the framework for their show. And that is how you will experience the universe.
And that’s great. I’m glad we have moved away from that. But it is very good, in that it sets interesting limitations and parameters for how you design the world and how people listen to it. But that also means that you’ve set parameters on how you’ve designed this world and how people listen to it. And sometimes hearing something through a tape recorder doesn’t sound as satisfying as hearing multiple people all all within one big scene and hearing every aspect of that scene, and expanding outside of just what a tape recorder can hear or sound like to your listener.
We also did a lot of just first person narration which has its good and its bad, and things like that, but being able to expand and even switch through different styles is very good as well. It creates something new for the audience that they may not be used to. Which is why I — not which is why, but partly why I think the narration opening monologue into the actual third person experience of these scenes was a nice switch. Instead of just all of one or all of the other. It was a gentle mix of both. And I hope I did that well.
ELENA: Yeah, you did.
COLE: We’ll see!
ELENA: We’ll soon be entering into a season break, where we take some time off to recuperate and pull together new material. I would love and appreciate it if you could support us so that the team, who does so much for this show, can get paid!
One way you can do that is becoming a Patron, at patreon.com/radiodramarevival. We have a special secret Discord server for everyone. We organize digital parties involving powerpoint presentations, relaxed chatting, playing podcasts for everyone, and more. If you can’t come, you can see the content later when we upload it to Patreon!
I’d love to see you there, and talk about podcasts with you. And yes, you can find out what weird noises I make on mic when I’m recording this that get cut out and saved as bloopers.
Let’s return to our interview with Cole Burkhardt
[resume interview audio]
ELENA: So first, Null/Void is a Black, queer show. It is described as such in crowdfunding and press materials. This is, you know, part of the description that people are aware of, when they come into it. We have — both of us have talked at length on various platforms about the lack of support for artists of color. Talk to me, tell me about your experiences, as much as you feel comfortable, with identity and representation, politics and art creation and how it impacted the creation and publication of Null/Void.
COLE: [heavy sigh] Yeahhh, boy howdy, there is a big idea or belief within the straight cishet community that there’s only one way to be something. And that — and a big emphasis just in general within the queer community on labels, that you have to be a cookie cutter set within that label, or you are not a part of that label. There’s one way to be this type of queer person or there’s one way that you can be a lesbian or things like that.
But labels, while they are important for finding community and putting a label to a set of symptoms or experiences are not the be-all end-all of queerness. And you kind of have to accept that. You also have to accept that people who are marginalized, be it by race or by gender, are going to make mistakes. There’s a big emphasis within respectability politics of, if you are a minority person, you have to be perfect. Otherwise, you are giving a bad rep to people of that other race, sexuality, identity, etc.
But it’s not fucking true! We’re just — we’re people, we’re gonna make mistakes. To err is human and to fuck about is to find out!
ELENA: [shocked, delighted laughter]
COLE: You have to understand that people of color and marg– and other — people of color, and queer people haven’t had the same amount of time to explore themselves within an artistic setting, as long of a time as cishet white people have. There — with people of color, there were literal laws that prevented us from being on screen. There were literal laws that prevented us from being in the same spaces as white people. And we didn’t have that room to explore and create. We had to make our own and even when we did make our own, they were heavily policed and then invaded and and taken over by people who were not of our community originally. And we haven’t had the time to sit down and write messy stories, we haven’t had the time to be messy in a way that is — in a way that people are going to accept and support in the same way that their messy white creators could. We can’t be like a model token, as they like to say, for, especially for Asian folks. But we don’t need to be a model. We just need to live, we just need to breathe and have the space to explore and create. And I know I’m gonna circle this back around to Null/Void, I promise.
Null/Void, a lot of the way that my identity within the corporate world was explored was through hate. Anytime I brought up a partner, I would face some sort of homophobia or sexism. This is a mild spoiler for a scene that happens later in this series.
But Piper gets asked, What are you? in terms of her skin color. And that is a question I get regularly. It’s kind of a fun countdown when I start a new job, of How long will it take someone to ask, What are you? And then I like to do this fun, Oh, I’m human. Oh, well, I’m the event manager. Oh, no, I’m a Scorpio. Okay, well, then they’ll go. Alright, well, well, no, no, no. Where are you from? Oh, well, I’m from you know this area. But you know, I’m a military brat. So we hopped around a lot. No, no. Where are your parents from? Oh, well, my dad’s from New Jersey. My mom’s from New York. No, no. grandparents. Yeah. My grandparents are from New Jersey. My grandparents. My grandparents on my mom’s side are from New York. No, no, no. What? And then And then finally, finally, if you still have not gotten it yet, I don’t. Do you mean to ask me what my ethnicity is?
Because white people are afraid to say the word ethnicity or race. If you want to know what I am just fucking asked. You don’t have to be What are you? Do you know how dehumanizing that is? What do you mean, “what am I”? I am a complex, complex being full of multitudes. I am more than just exactly what you see on my fucking skintone. I am more than the partner that I have or don’t have or may never have, or, or there’s so much more to me than just my skintone, and my queer identity and I-
Don’t get me fucking wrong. I love being gay. I love being mixed and Black and proud of that bullshit. But all of my trauma regarding that comes from outside. It comes from the things I get from other people and from the interactions I have with people who don’t view me as a mixed Black trans man but as a vaguely ethnic, I don’t know. I get clocked as — I’ve gotten clocked as Latina, I’ve gotten from being from Afghanistan or Hispanic. I don’t — people like to have made it a guessing game to figure out what race I am and it is the most.
ELENA: [frustrated sound that resembles the wheeze of a deflating balloon]
COLE: Good god I hate it so fucking much.
Anyways, I wanted to create a show that was both loud in its queerness and loud in its Blackness. I established right up fucking front that Adelaide was a Black woman. And that Piper, later on in the series, is confirmed canon as a Black woman because I realized I didn’t do that. And I was like, wait, no, I need to have my main character but I fuckin established it. And I didn’t — because I knew if there was fan art, if there ever is fan art people were going to make them white women. Yeah, I could not have that. I made sure that it was as canon as I fucking could that every character, except for Chris, is a person of color. Chris was specifically my white guy. He was my token white man.
ELENA: [laugh] Yeah!
COLE: Diversity win — we have a token white man. I know. Yeah. And then also made fucking sure that they knew that the Royals were white as well because goddamnit why wouldn’t they be?
And just, boy, I’m not a huge fan of labels. But I needed to make those explicit. Because otherwise people are going to take my work. And they were going to make it into something that it was not.
ELENA: Yep. Absolutely. No, yeah. This is I mean, this is a very common problem. Right. And and, and, you know, the other side of this is that, you know, when you were talking about letting us be messy, it was also, you know, this, this idea of like, we need to write the stories that are messy, that we need to write the stories that are about the toxicity or the abuse-
COLE: Because when we do and we finally get all of that toxicity and abuse out of our fucking literary system, it can pave the way for kids who are like me, who can then go on to write, not messy work-
I want to be able to write stories. I want to be able to write messy, queer and Black stories for queer and Black kids to then go and write their own perfect, queer and Black stories.
ELENA: Hell yeah. Yeah. I think you did a great job with Null/Void. And so that we can talk about those futures for you. Tell us about this new show that you teased like at the beginning of this conversation, like, what?
COLE: An hour and fifteen minutes ago? Yeah, I am writing a show called Ritual Six. It is — I hate elevator pitches. It is like Groundhog Day, but with cults and magic. It is a — now you see why I had — my writers had to go through it a lot. Because there’s a lot to keep track of. It is a story about a young man living out in a remote community who finds himself reliving the worst day of his life over and over and over again. And he and a small group of others have to fight to break the curse that has been placed upon them.
ELENA: Yeah, that sounds dope. Yeah.
COLE: It is a horror thriller. If I can get my shit together in time, we’ll be doing crowdfunding for it in October with the series set to release in the New Year of 2022.
ELENA: Give the Twitter account handles so-
COLE: Yes, follow. You can find us on Twitter at RitualSix and you can find our website at ritual six dot carrd dot c o. And that’s carrd with two R’s.
ELENA: Excellent. Yeah, everyone sign up and stay tuned for crowdfunding so that we can get this amazing show off the ground. Because I’m ready. I need it.
Actually, let’s actually do this.
So we’re gonna transition briefly into a section called the spoiler zone. If you are entering the zone, you need to have listened to the season.
COLE: Full, don’t, just stop this interview. Go.
ELENA: Stop now. Go listen to the full season and then come back. I will wait for you to stop. Yes. Okay. You’ve stopped? Good.
All right, for the rest of you that remain. Let’s talk a little bit here about the characters and their chemistry. So Piper and Adelaide immediately have an incredible chemistry. Right, something that seems to also resonate in the characters of Dodger, Chris, and Nikki right to varying degrees and stuff. And especially in the beginning, these relationships are complicated. Pedestal like. Probably parasocial, even, to both negative and positive degrees. So what is it about Adelaide that empowers them, but can also be a detriment?
COLE: Yeah. Adelaide is a powerful positive force. Adelaide from the very moment is like, you’ve got this, I believe in you. And belief is a very powerful thing, especially when you have a mysterious, seemingly all-knowing omnipresent force of Oh, this person who has their head on their shoulders and knows what they’re doing believes that I know what I’m doing. And that is, oftentimes, a really great thing. But sometimes you can be confidently incorrect.
ELENA: I love that phrase! Extremely good.
COLE: And it’s almost — it can almost become kind of, I’m hesitant to say “cult like”, but of — you becoming too reliant on a charismatic, all-smiling leader sometimes doesn’t work because we are human and humans make mistakes and sometimes will lead you astray. And as much as Adelaide likes to say she isn’t, she is still human in the end. Yeah, she’s still made of human bits.
ELENA: And I’m going to ask you one very spoilery question here that will build on your answer here about what it means to be human.
ELENA: So Adelaide, Adelaide is an AI and many other things. Yeah, putting it mildly. So this show is also very much not just about capitalism, right, but specifically humanity. And its relationship to capitalism. So, talk to me a little bit about the place of artificial intelligence in our future. And, and, and the concept of humanity as we go forward.
COLE: Yeah, of course. So, let’s see, um, I’d mentioned earlier on that people don’t realize how traumatic it is to be within a shitty work experience. But it’s also very inhumanizing to be within — to be within a capitalist workforce, because they don’t really see — they don’t see you as people, they see you as a workforce, ants within a moving anthill that they lord over. Who knows! Maybe some of them — maybe “not all capitalists”, but we still fucking — we live in a society. Fuck off.
And so it was very, it was very interesting to me to take this concept of, Oh, depression and capitalism makes me feel inhuman. And I’ve lost that spark inside me that makes me feel human. And then going to Adelaide who is such a spark of joy and such a blip of delightful humanity, that I just love that contrast of being able to take the remains of someone’s dying neural synapses and being able to craft and create, almost artificially, something that can still reflect and feel and act and think and verbalize and rationalize like a human, even if they are just numbers that think they are.
I love that concept of AI that can pass a Turing test. Turning? [multiple different pronunciation guesses of “Turing”] and just the — who knows. You know what I mean? The test that tells me if a robot is human or not, yeah, of, Yeah, yes, you can pass that test and yes, you can rationalize but can a rob-
God, not to get into I, Robot but can a robot love? Can a robot paint a masterpiece? Can you? What would it take to take this code and these numbers and make them have that spark of life? And the answer to that was, put it on the internet. [laugh] Put it on the internet and let it see life for itself. There are so many cool things on the internet, and so many mixing of ideas and beliefs and, and Google map and, and different ways to get all of that human experience just out there on the web.
When I was in college, we studied a lot about globalization and the process of ideas and how ideas are transferred. And one of the big ways was through the creation and spread of the internet and how it became more of a household name across the the world and how that begin to influence more and more ideas and how we divide into like spread and share and create from that and there’s so much joy and hope out there on the internet — there’s also a lot of shitty stuff on the internet but there’s also a lot of like great joy and honest experiences through like you know YouTube and America’s Funniest Home Videos and there’s so much great stuff out there that the only way to see it is to see it for yourself and the only way an AI can see it is through the internet.
ELENA: If you’re — if you’re thinking right now of Leeloo from the Fifth Element, you’re not wrong.
ELENA: Yeah, the whole bit of the end where Leeloo is going through all of the — has been going all through this giant encyclopedia of stuff of the Earth and humanity and gets to all — it gets to war, right? And loses her mind and loses her hope. And then having to see love in action for herself. Right. The movie has its own problems, but I love the Fifth Element. And it is, I think, a really good sort of minor, smaller encapsulation of this. Yeah, I think you’re totally right.
COLE: Marcus did, I think, one of the smartest things he could have done and hooked her up to the internet. Yeah. And just that small bit was enough.
ELENA: So, I might sometimes say that technology was a mistake, but I’m obviously exaggerating.
COLE: Yeah! Technology is great. Asterisk.
ELENA: Asterisk, technol-, well, let’s get into the asterisk actually.
COLE: It’s things like with, like the algorithm. Technically, an algorithm can’t be racist, but people who had designed the algorithms can be! Both consciously and unconsciously. There are so many ways that people can exploit technology, even if the technical machine in and of itself isn’t something that is inherently good or evil. It is how it is used in the hands of people who have made it, and people who have distributed it, and people who own it.
ELENA: Yep. Yep. And also, good for the spoiler section here, we’ve had a lot of guests on –we’ve had a lot of guests to talk about data privacy on RDR. And here’s our latest entry. So I hope you all are ready for more data privacy.
COLE: Mark! Zuckerberg! Mark! Fuckin’! Zuckerberg!
ELENA: [wheezing laugh] This is a callout!!
COLE: There was an interview with him once and people were like, how’d you do Facebook? And he was like, I don’t know. People just give me their information. [helpless, horrified laughter] Oh my God, we have like, we have like smart refrigerators and like smart can openers-
ELENA: -and toasters!
COLE: And smart toasters!
ELENA: I just tried to buy a toaster oven. They’re like, you want one that connects to Alexa? And I’m like, no. Wanna toast bread.
COLE: I don’t mean to scream but like, I don’t need a toaster that also plays fucking jazz. I just need something that makes BREAD. I just need something that’s not gonna make me connect to Facebook or to fuckin’ MySpace or Twitter in order to use it. I am. I am terminally allergic to creating social media accounts. I got forced to create a Twitter because I cannot make a living without one. Yeah, and I’m done. I will not use LinkedIn, I have finally deleted and deactivated my Facebook account.
ELENA: Hi, welcome to the club.
COLE: God, thank god.
ELENA: I love it here!
COLE: It’s so bullshit, and stop giving people your information. Stop giving them this power over you. It’s bad enough that we have to have this information. I don’t want to be seen. I certainly don’t want Facebook being able to see me. I hate the fact that my phone knows where I’m going 24/7, but I can’t buy a phone that doesn’t have that. Because I need that technology in order to live in this fucking society. Because we live in a society!!
ELENA: Welcome to the horrors of data privacy with Cole ‘n’ Ely. We’re having a good time here. [laugh] If I could break out the wine I would. It is after five.
So yeah. Yeah. So if anyone’s listened to Flash Forward with Rose Eveleth, right. Rose Eveleth talks a lot about data privacy. And of course, we love that show here at RDR because it does this magnificent blend between fiction and nonfiction. And I’ve learned a lot and one of the things that I’ve learned is this, this idea that — there is this idea that we have failed, right? At data privacy. That we have lost the war on data privacy. And it’s like No, we haven’t. No.
COLE: We struck down that net neutrality ban. We’re working on the one where we apparently don’t own the songs we buy. Thanks, Apple. We are working under fighting back and eventually we will be able to reclaim the privacy we had. I said 20 but that was still early 2000s — 30 years ago. And stop giving these major corporations any more sway over us than they already have. They don’t deserve it.
ELENA: Yep. Absolutely. Thank you so much for talking with me, Cole.
COLE: Yeah. Thank you for sitting and listening.
ELENA: No, it’s exactly what this show is for. Yeah.
[end interview audio]
ELENA: If you liked what you heard, you can learn more about Cole’s work and how to support or hire him at coleburkhardt.carrd.co. That’s carrd with two Rs. Come back next week for our final episode of this half of the season, a special deep dive interview into digital privacy and responsibilities for artists.
Radio Drama Revival runs on half-filled oxygen tanks and the dubloons at the bottom of the ocean. If you’d like to help keep us afloat and featuring new, diverse, unique fiction podcasts and their creators, you can support us on Patreon, at patreon.com/radiodramarevival.
And now we bring you our Moment of Anne.
ANNE: I am here, humbly asking you for your best fantasy novel recommendation. Specifically for novels about pirates. Please send them to me on the RDR twitter. It’s “@RadioDrama”. Thank you.
ELENA: That means it’s time for the credits.
This episode was recorded in the unceded territory of the Kalapuya people, the Clatskanie Indian Tribe, the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, and the Atfalati tribe. Colonizers named this place Beaverton, Oregon.
If you are looking for ways to support or donate to Native communities, the Kamloops Aboriginal Friendship Society are seeking donations to build a new center. KAFS offers many services and programs for urban-located Indigenous people, such as healthcare initiatives, outreach programs for children and adults, childcare, and food hamper and nutrition programs. You can support them at https://charity.gofundme.com/o/en/campaign/newfriendshipcentre, which is linked in the episode description.
Our theme music is Reunion of the Spaceducks by the band KieLoKaz. You can find their music on Free Music Archive.
Our audio producer is Wil Williams.
Our marketing manager and line producer is Anne Baird.
Our researcher is Heather Cohen.
Our submissions editor is Rashika Rao.
Our associate marketing manager is Jillian Schraeger.
Our transcriptionist is Katie Youmans.
Our audio consultant is Eli Hamada McIlveen
Our associate producer is Sean Howard.
Our executive producers are Fred Greenhalgh and David Rheinstrom.
Our mascot is Tickertape, the goat.
I’m your host, Elena Fernandez Collins. This has been Radio Drama Revival: all storytellers welcome.