Equipment for Judging

Clip and images from the episode: Gesundfight from the podcast Judge John Hodgman

Curator's Note

The Judge John Hodgman podcast solicits disputes from an audience that is made of fans of his work in print, television, and film, and other listeners to the podcast. Everyday life is the content of the disputes submitted, and the podcast’s formal rules facilitate the exercise of critical judgment [krisis] by Hodgman, but perhaps more so, by his participants. The judgments concern the ethics of the moment to moment that otherwise go hidden in plain sight.

The disputes have ranged from disagreements over pest control methods (Episode 54, "Die Flederhaus"; Episode 424, "Law Cucaracha"), to teenagers upset with a parent’s repartee with waitstaff at restaurants (Episode 265: "Dad Nauseum"), and plenty of other episodes that focus on the inevitable conflicts brought about by couples cohabiting. All arguments get a fair hearing in the fake internet courtroom, and these arguments are grasped in the act of dialogue between Hodgman, the litigants, and Bailiff Jesse Thorn.

In Gesundfight (Episode 415), Becca and Bridgett are at odds over Bridgett’s sneezes, and what might seem like fussing over minutiae becomes more significant as we learn that Bridgett is trans and sneezing for her is a performative gesture that she has cultivated to sound more feminine. Conversely, Becca suggests that her wife’s sneeze is exaggerated, loud, attention-seeking, and could be toned down. Ultimately, Hodgman declares that he cannot rule over someone’s bodily processes, but he suggests Bridgett conduct more workshopping for the sneeze that Becca claims is outrageous. As such, a serious principle is forwarded [bodily autonomy] and delivered with a humorous aside accompanied with the affection necessary to make good fun out of willing participants; a rhetorical achievement wherein interlocutors can artfully speak across difference and generate pragmatic suggestions for how people—different from themselves—ought to act. 

Hodgman’s own pronouncements are only a small part of the appeal, as the podcast requires its participants to voice their own positions repeatedly so that Judge and Bailiff can facilitate a “crux-finding.” Their model is more nonjudgmental therapy than anything else, and it makes for therapeutic listening. And here is the turn: Judge John Hodgman becomes part of everyday life as it stitches itself into the habits of its listeners. Every Wednesday afternoon, the metaphor of the courtroom is applied to the fine grain of the quotidian, and gives voice to the banal, the uncanny, and the weird that constitutes an excess that cannot be structured out of existence.

And why should listeners be attracted to ethical quandaries in their leisure time, in the workplace, or when doing their domestic labor? Because ethical resolution is hard to come by in the national U.S. political scene of 2019 and focusing on the everyday is potentially more transformative. The everyday will outlast Presidential tenures and may even influence people to act more humanely toward each other, regardless of who occupies the seats of power.


This is so interesting, Harry. Your post and the audio clip have me thinking about how Hodgman's performance of judgment exists alongside someone like Judge Judy whose popularity seems in part to come through the performative combination of spectacle and absolute moral clarity. But Hodgman eschews that, as you point out, because he delves into the complexities of the banal. Do you see Hodgman's performance of this kind of judgment figure into other texts? How much do you think it figures into his overall star/celebrity image? 

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