The Quick Bite series consists of slightly shorter reviews with a one-two punch of the good parts and improvements suggested for podcasts of which I’ve heard at least five episodes.
What’s the show about?
Sold in America is a podcast released in Fall 2018 from host Noor Tagouri, a young Libyan-American journalist, about the sex trade in the United States. I first heard about the show on another podcast where Tagouri was interviewed, and I initially thought it was about sex trafficking, but it’s more about the sex work industry and forced prostitution (which are not the same thing). Each of the eight episodes of the show is between 30-45 minutes long and the final episode is a question-and-answer call-in show. Sold in America gambled with an audience engagement technique by asking people to text a specific number if they wanted to see pictures of the people being profiled. It’s easy to feel empathy for most of the subjects, who share deeply private things about their lives – from being forced into prostitution, to being homeless, to owning their role in sex work.
What’s great about it?
Tagouri did a good job of getting the sex workers to open up, and they are people whose stories should be heard. Similarly, while Dennis Hof may not have been someone you’d want to have over to dinner, Tagouri did well to interview him about legal prostitution (at his “bunny ranches” in Nevada) and was lucky to record before he died this fall. I also felt for the people in the industry and the people who love them – I especially liked the episode where Tagouri talked to a mother of a child who had been coerced into prostitution.
A small helping of constructive feedback …
Tagouri’s lack of presentation and journalism experience shows at times. A weighty subject like sex work or sex trafficking doesn’t feel like it should be explained by a 24 year-old. That doesn’t mean she can’t do it, it means (for me) she has to make sure she sounds authoritative by doing an incredible amount of research, getting the tough interviews, and pushing back on people who give an obvious answer. For example, in episode six, Tagouri says she wanted to interview lawmakers who sponsored FOSTA-SESTA, but “none were available.” Then she shares audio of her discussing the bill with Rob Portman, one of the sponsors – why even add the comment that none of the sponsors would comment on the bill, when in fact she did talk to someone? And in this episode in particular, I don’t think the show drove the point home about whether FOSTA-SESTA was good or bad for sex workers and sex trafficking.
There’s too much Noor Tagouri in the show. She makes several comments about her personal life – I don’t understand why she mentioned who she was married to early in the show, because she didn’t explain why she was mentioning it. I’m never a fan of the podcast logo being the host’s face, either. It’s a beautiful photo, but it’s not what the show is about. The personal asides detract from the main content.
But my biggest issue with the show is that I don’t know what it is trying to prove. I believe this is because of the marketing I heard about the show, but I started listening thinking I was going to hear about sex trafficking in the United States. However, shortly into the show, I wasn’t sure if it was really about sex work instead of forced prostitution – and aren’t there sex workers who want to be in the profession? The show ping-ponged back and forth between telling the audience that forced prostitution is bad (yep) and introducing us to people who voluntarily do sex work. But then I kept thinking, is Tagouri trying to tell me that no one voluntarily does sex work? Because I haven’t exactly heard that argument in the show, not a compelling argument at least. With the direction and message all over the map, I had a hard time concentrating and identifying the goal of the podcast.
I did binge listen to the show, so there was enough there to keep me listening for a few hours. These are stories that need to be told and I love the effort to do that. Look, I applaud Tagouri for tackling a huge issue. However, I would have preferred hearing this story as told from the perspective of a different person each episode – no mention of the host fasting for Ramadan (not relevant to the story at all), no distracting music, and no deviation from what that specific episode is about. I think Tagouri has potential as a journalist – she did spend a lot of time traveling the U.S. trying to find different angles and talking to people whose stories aren’t often heard. Perhaps the sophomore effort either from Tagouri or the show (or both) will be a little more refined.
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Audible Feast Ratings
Educational Value (3 / 5)
There was an opportunity to spend a great deal of time talking about law and policy and how it impacts the sex work industry. That was not done until several episodes in.
Pop Culture Value (3 / 5)
Host Listen-ability (2 / 5)
I struggled a bit with a very young person sharing perspective on sex work and sex trafficking. There was also some “laughing” as she was saying certain things – in the end of episode six I heard it a lot. In a podcast about sex trafficking, there should be absolutely no uncomfortable giggling. Edit it out to sound much more professional.
Flow & Production Value (1 / 5)
The music (especially the piano music) is too overpowering, distracting, and unnecessary. I also really, really disliked the nine to ten minute “intro” before hearing the actual intro to the show on some episodes. And I was not a fan of the production choice to have people text a word to a (very long) number to get a photo. Why not just put the pictures on a website? Why do you need my phone number? Finally, the overall story arc was way off. In the final episode it is even discussed that the show set out to talk about sex trafficking but really became something else. Wasn’t that known when the show was being marketed? The comment is even made that “sex trafficking” is a click-bait-y, media-friendly term, but talking about sex work isn’t as flashy. And that’s exactly what this show did to the audience.
Humor (0 / 5)
Investigation (4 / 5)
I definitely appreciate the travel Tagouri did to talk to different people for the story, including going to Capitol Hill. I think she genuinely tried to share multiple angles with the audience, and I think this subject needs a lot more investigation and air time.
Storytelling (2 / 5)
Makes Me a Better Person (2 / 5)
Overall Audible Feast Rating: (2 / 5)
Start with These Episodes:
This is a serial show, so you’ll need to start with episode one.
You May Also Like …
Embedded, Caliphate, The Uncertain Hour, Reveal, BBC Documentary, The Doc Project
Sold in America website