Episode 12 - Groupthink United

Janet and Loaf tackle accidental co-parenting, omnipotent teens, lonely planets, a space cult, and gets some help from everyone's favorite time agent.

Announcer: This is IFM 2

Computer Voice: You’re listening to a program on IFM 2 Subspace Radio. The time is now half past irrelevant. Coming up next is Solutions to Problems.

Theme Song plays.

Loaf: Greetings, sentients. I - I feel like that’s sort of become my signature, but I’m wondering if it might be offensive to non-sentient or non-sapient beings?

Janet: Well, I think our assumption is that non-sentient and non-sapient beings don’t listen to radio as they lack a general awareness of almost everything? If we’re wrong though, please e-mail us at the e-mail I say almost every episode! But only mention Loaf’s name. I’m on thin ice right now. Thanks!

Loaf: Now, Janet, not everyone needs to know about the inner workings of our little radio show.

Janet: Well, Mr. Xorfus said- well he said that the more trashy personal strife we have on the show the more our ratings go up actually, because humans actively seek out schadenfreude.

Loaf: Really? I guess that does fit in with my experience of humans. Good to know. Alright then. Greetings sentients, I am your host Loaf, and this is my self-obsessed, attention-seeking co-host, Janet!

Janet: Oh! Well. So- when I said that I meant more, ah, like humans really love watching reality tv and gameshows where people are forced to be nonsensical for a camera? Like, you pretend it’s real but you sort of really enjoy these glimpses into the train wrecks of other people’s lives even though you know on some level every level of drama is completely manufactured. It’s not uh, just like insulting your cohosts? But, you know. You’re uh, you’re trying. And that’s great. That’s great for you.

Loaf: I’m sorry, we should discuss this off the air. But do you want to say something mean about me first?

Janet: Oh, Loaf. You never want me to be mean to you. It would ruin you! Also, I consider myself to be more selves-obsessed than self obsessed. But that’s really just semantics.

Loaf: ...And welcome to another episode of Solutions to Problems, where we try to untangle the Gordian knots of your relationships until we give up and slice through them with a plasma cutter. If you have an issue that you think we can assist with, feel free to e-mail us at problemsrequiringsolutions@gmail.com, or … why even do anything else? That’s honestly really convenient. If you don’t have e-mail, just ask someone else to do it for you. If you don’t know anyone else, how do you have relationship problems?

Janet: Maybe their problem is that they don’t have relationship problems, but they really want them? Actually, I think we do have a letter like that in the pile, but we’re going to kick off today’s show with a classic “Humans are incapable of doing any kind of cultural competency research” letter! My favorite. Let’s play the first tape.

Dear Loaf and Janet,

I have a big problem. See, my best friend is an Arpinian. We've only known each other for about three years, but during that time we’ve really bonded. A few months ago, he told me he was going to have a baby and asked me if I wanted to be the father. I assumed it was some kind of translation mistake and he wanted me to be the godfather and of course I said yes. He has a long term Arpinian girlfriend and I assumed she would be the mother. As the baby grew and preparations continued he started asking me to be more and more involved- coming to the ultrasound, helping him paint the nursery. Then he starts talking about when we're going to move in together.

Apparently Arpinian children are always raised by their biological father and his closest male friend. Arpinian women give birth to the child and then consider their work done. Apparently hat's just how it is in their culture. My friend assumed I knew this and I was agreeing to move in with him and raise a child with him until it grows up! I thought I was signing up to do something more like just being an uncle. I don't know how to tell him I misunderstood. I feel like I can't back out now, but I really don't want to spend the next 18 years of my life raising an alien kid. I mean I don’t know anything about his culture or his religion - I was raised Orange Catholic and he’s something called “Groupthink United” I think it was- anyway, that’s beside the point. What can I do? Is there any way out of this?

Sincerely,

Unexpectedly expecting

Janet: Well, Unexpectedly, this wouldn’t be so unexpected if you just bothered to look up anything about the culture of your friends before they ask you to raise a child with them. This is a super common Arpinian familial structure, regardless of what weird cult they’re in. Most Arpinians leave the raising of children to platonic partners. Which biological parent ends up with the kid, of course, depends on which moon you’re on. Um. By the way, thank you to Frankie for doing the research for this episode.

Loaf: I’m surprised you actually read Frankie’s show prep e-mails this time. Mr. Xorfus must really have freaked you out.

Janet: IT’S NOT- I mean, I just decided to start this season with a New Commitment to Good Old Solid Radio.

Loaf: Strictly speaking, Radio is a wave, not a solid. That would be print media. Print media is solid. Or it used to be.

Janet: It’s an Earth expression. “Good old” referring to - you know what, I don’t care. You can look it up later.

Loaf: Parenthood is definitely not something a being should undertake for the wrong reasons. The broodling deserves two parents who are completely committed to its well-being. If you go into this thinking you’ve been hoodwinked, the child will realize this, and it may have a profound psychological effect. I think you need to tell your friend the truth. This misunderstanding may be entirely your fault, but if he’s going to be your co-parent you need to be honest with him, and if he’s not going to be your co-parent, he needs to know that as soon as possible.

Janet: Ugh, this is so boring and sad. Listeners, if you are asking someone to raise a baby with you, always double check that they know you’re asking them to raise a baby with you. This is only funny in sitcoms, and that’s assuming you exist in a universe where sitcoms are funny.

Loaf: It is unfortunately a deeply unfunny situation. I’m sorry if you were expecting us to have a simple solution for you, Expecting. There just isn’t one. It’s either a very, very awkward conversation which will quite possibly destroy your friendship, or you commit to being a father, which it sounds like you really don’t want to do. I don’t understand why so many species focus on two as the ideal number of parents. It really needlessly increases the pressure on each one.

Janet: Loaf, not to be ruder than usual, but do you even parent your kids at all? I mean you live here all the time.

Loaf: I’ll have you know I raised all… 13? 12? something like that-

Janet: YOU DON’T KNOW HOW MANY? DO YOU EVEN KNOW THEIR NAMES?

Loaf: I’m the third demi-husband! We fertilize eggs, we sit on them for a bit, and we send presents on even-numbered hatching days. It's not like I’m a second proto-wife.

Janet: Loaf. Loaf! I know the names of all the kids of at least 14 alternate versions of myself. They’re not even like my children - Well they’re kind of my children in like a very technical sense. I mean they’re not my children but they’re the children of a me. I would probably know more than that, but after a while Janets become less Janety, especially Janets who are stable enough to have families or whatever, and they don’t want to be part of our group chat anymore. But anyway. They’re not this me’s children! I’m sorry are you even keeping track of their hatching days?

Loaf: I’ll have you know I have a very detailed spreadsheet.

Janet: How old are they? Or do you need to check your spreadsheet?

Loaf: Four of them are… do you want this in human years, or equivalent development? We age a bit slower than you.

Janet: Equivalent development, I guess for our human listeners.

Loaf: In that case, four of them are eight and eight of them are four. Twelve! I have twelve broodlings. I’m quite sure now.

Janet: So glad you figured that out. You don’t broadcast the English version of this show to your home planet, right? Just the *dolphin noise* version?

Loaf: We don’t broadcast live to Armulus Four Zeta Zombort, no. I like to have time to edit things…

Janet: Oh, Armulus four Zeta Zombort? I don’t think you’ve ever said that before! For some reason I totally thought you were from Armulus Two. sighs

Loaf: The Armulus Four Zeta Zombort tourism board sent me an e-mail recently asking if I could drop the name in an episode. I think they’re hoping it will bring people in? Not sure why though, I mean humans can’t really survive there for longer than a few minutes.

Janet: Humans love doing things they can’t really survive. Jumping from extreme heights, for instance, is a major form of Earth recreation even though we’re mostly sacks of water. And- ugh. I can’t believe like, all the things you make my mother listen to, and you edit the show first before it goes to your family. Shame on you!

Loaf: Janet, you could also just… say fewer horrible things.

Janet: That’s what people keep saying to me? Like its that easy! Anyway, I think we’ve said all we’re going to say about co-parenting, or lack thereof. Let’s just play the next letter. Let’s move on.

Dear Janet and Whatever your name is in this reality like seriously I can’t even keep track,

So, um, I like, wrote you guys a letter a few months ago, but like, not in this timeline, so apparently I exist outside of time now which is like super confusing and annoying. Anyway, I wrote to you when I was first starting to develop my God-like powers or whatever? And like, they’re okay I guess, it’s cool to be able to make stuff or like destroy stuff. But this whole being able to perceive changes to the timestream thing totally blows. Like last week I bought this *amazing* dress and I was going to wear it on a date with this super cute microgravity tennis player, but like, Thursday rolls around and some loser altered the timeline so my dress is like this totally gross shade of purple and microgravity tennis isn’t even a thing. Like, in this universe, Kevin plays hockey! Can you imagine dating a hockey player? Gross.

Anyway I don’t know what to do. I keep remembering different versions of reality than everyone else, and I don’t even know which one is “real” or “right” I just, like want the brands of yogurt that existed when I packed my lunch this morning to still exist when I’m ready to eat it. Jk, I materialize my lunch out of thin air, but, like, you know what I mean. Anyway I hope you still exist when you get this.

SIncerely,

Like so over this alternate timeline thing

Loaf: I’m sorry we don’t remember your previous letter, Like So Over This Alternate Timeline Thing. But I promise we’ll do our best to answer this one. Janet, do you think we could get Officer Nassif on the line for this question? It seems up his alley, to borrow a human expression from pre-teleportation days.

Janet: You even used it correctly! Great job. I think we should totally call him! Let’s see if he’s available right now.

Phone noises

Nassif: Officer Nassif speaking who may I ask is-

Janet: Hi Armin!

Nassif: - oh god it’s you again.

Janet: Look, you’re the one who signed the contract! You can’t sound upset about it when no one was making you sign the contract. Anyway~~~ We need advice for a young sapient omnipotent being who keeps remembering things from multiple timelines.

Nassif: To be fair, I only signed the contract because not signing it would have created a paradox and possibly destabilized time itself.

Janet: Yeah, like I was saying, you didn’t have to sign it.

Nassif: Fortunately I do have some experience in this matter. Thanks to temporal shielding, the future I return to is not always exactly the one I left.

Loaf: So what can you tell our letter-writer about coping with this… difficulty?

Nassif: Sometimes, it’s best to be honest with people. This is easier for me as all of my.. Acquaintances know what my job is. Explain that your memories are from a different timeline.

Weird sparkling noise.

Samantha: Okay, so like, I didn’t ask how to talk to people about it. I want it to stop, you know?

Janet: O hm  y GOD WHY ARE YOU HERE. Wh y  y are you here?

Loaf: Listeners, an adolescent humanoid being has… materialized in the studio. This is highly irregular.

Samantha: Whatever. You’re answering my question, and, like, I can be wherever I want to be whenever I want to be, so now I’m here. It’s cool.

Nassif: … Right. To answer your question - if we could stop people like Ms. Clarke-

Janet: I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Nassif: - from messing with the timeline, I wouldn’t have a job. However, there are things you, in particular, can do to make sure that you remain within one timeline, regardless of interference from outside parties.

Samantha: Dude, do you want to be here too? Like, I could just pick you up from wherever you are and bring you to the studio. If you want.

Janet and Nassif at the same time: NO.

Samantha: (sigh) Fine. Whatever.

Janet: Personally, major timeline shifts don’t really bother me. I’m still me, after all, but sometimes it’s super embarrassing, because I like get TV show names wrong and things like that. Apparently presidents exist which- what?

Loaf: Ms.. uh..

Samantha: Samantha. Just call me Sam.

Loaf: Sam, your powers seem fairly extensive. Are you telling us you can’t simply will this problem away?

Samantha: Duh. If I could do that, why would I be here? Usually if I want to do something, I just, you know,  *snaps fingers*. Mostly it works. Sometimes, it doesn’t.

Janet: … Um, anyway you could try to force timeline regulation with a NR10-19. They’re not always reliable, but they’re the easiest to find since they’re legal in most sectors.

Nassif: Personally, we use a BX69-12 for our agency, which is a much higher quality instrument.

Janet: Yeah, but those are expensive and are better for individual regulation instead of universal syncing. The NR10-19 is way better for her particular issue.

Nassif: It’s not approved for universal syncing. That’s a jailbreak on the device that voids the warranty. The BX69-12 is-

Janet: Really not relevant! It’s continued existence on the market despite it’s notorious lack of flexibility is only because time agencies prefer them over more innovative models.

Loaf: Sam, I might have an idea that’s a little more in line with the kind of advice we usually give on this show. Um, are your parents the same, uh, species as you?

Samantha: I’m a human, Loaf. My parents are human.

Loaf: But, your, um…

Samantha: My powers. Yeah. I don’t know where they’re from. My parents are like, super weird about it too, but they’re like, super weird anyway. They’re always busy with their stupid space cult. They just keep telling me, Samantha, don’t do this, don’t do that, stop altering reality because you’re bored.

Loaf: So you don’t know anyone else with similar abilities who could help you cope?

Samantha: If I did, I would have asked them instead of you? Ugh, why did I think you guys could help me. You don’t understand anything.

Janet: Wait wait wait, can we go back to the space cult thing? I think we should talk about the space cult thing.

Loaf: Janet, space cults are a normal and natural part of life in the greater expanse of the universe. I’m not sure it is a wise use of our time to -

Janet: Please explain the space cult thing.

Samantha: Ugh, I don’t know. It’s just like, this thing they’re always doing. They go to all these meetings where they like, meditate and talk about waxing stuff, and then they’ve been trying to get me to go and use my powers to pass out brochures, and it’s just like, a lot, you know? Like, I don’t care if you can think things into existence or whatever if I have to wear those dumb outfits. Why we are talking about this? I don’t see how this has anything to do with my problem.

Nassif: Ah…I think I’ve seen this before. Samantha, forgive me for asking, but what are your earliest memories?

Samantha: Like, I don’t know, normal.. kid.. stuff? I like, went to school or something. I don’t know. Am I supposed to remember things before my first Homecoming dance, because I really don’t think anything before that was important.

Janet: Oh my god, I feel sooooo much better now. You’re just not a real teenager. I was like, freaking out, because you know, teenagers these days are busy forming new non profits and taking down totalitarian governments in between their early entry college classes, and I was really worried something worse was wrong with you, but you’re just not real!
Samantha: Are you f**king kidding me?

Nassif: What… Ms. Clarke, is trying to say, is that perhaps you were a result of your parents’ space cult thinking things into existence, so, in effect, you’re not a teenager so much as a cult’s collective idea of a teenager, likely cultivated less by their own personal experiences and more from classic pop culture images of the youth.

Loaf: I admit I have less experience dealing with human adolescents than the two of you- by which I mean I’ve never actually interacted with one prior to today - but this all seems a little - uh, I mean, are you sure this is the most logical explanation for any perceived deviation in her behavior?

Nassif: Typically, no, but Groupthink United has been well documented by organizations related to my own. We no longer investigate them because we established they’re only interested in altering the present, not the past or future, but in the process we encountered one or two similar beings. Samantha is an extreme example in terms of the amount of power she’s demonstrated, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

Samantha: Hang on. How did you know it was Groupthink United?

Nassif: Literally no one else in the universe uses the term waxing except for them, unless referring to lunar cycles, and almost no one does.

Janet: Wax used to be this um, stuff, you put on things. Bees made it? For reasons. Anyway, we have much better polymers now, and no bees.

Loaf: Um, thank you for that.. Human factoid, Janet, but does any of this explain her powers?

Nassif: So, Groupthink United can only think things into existence with many entities working together at once to conceptualize the same goal. However, with that many people, each one has their own idea of what something should be, and you end up with the average of all of those concepts. As for her powers, I suspect that it was an accident. It’s very difficult to create sapient beings out of nothing. Perhaps they used more people to fuel their groupthoughts than normal and she just… still has all of that groupthink energy inside her? This is moving outside my expertise, unfortunately.

Samantha: You can’t just say that I’m like, not real! That’s just…...ugh, so uncool.

Janet: Look, real is an arbitrary, meaningless definition. But you’re not a normal teenager, for sure, which I should’ve guessed because you don’t have any pins supporting campaigns for radical political change.

Samantha: YOU KNOW WHAT. I don’t care, I still have a problem, and you guys like, aren’t going to solve it. Ugh, you guys don’t know anything.

Nassif: I think perhaps you’ve gotten so used to being able to snap your fingers and solve most problems that anything you can’t solve that way becomes… even more frustrating than it might otherwise have been.

Samantha: Are you seriously calling me spoiled?

Janet: Absolutely! But that’s not unique. It’s actually super weird and interesting, regardless of your powers, that you’re so aware of timeline changes at all, seeing as they’re- Well, anyway. Maybe ask a physicist instead.

Loaf: And in the meantime, I’m not sure which form of human competitive ritual they engage in is a good criterion for choosing a boyfriend. If Kevin makes you happy, why does it matter if he plays Hockey or Fribblesbee?

Janet: That’s a really good point, Loaf. Everyone you ever date will do at least one thing that you typically wouldn’t find attractive or interesting, but the hope is that eventually their other qualities force you to find that endearing. Or you dump them. But anyway.

Samantha: HUUNGHHH. You guys so don’t get it. But whatever. Like, you were in high school like a million years ago, or like, in the future, or like, your planet doesn’t have high schools cause they just roll you in slime until you learn stuff. But you don’t know what it’s like, okay? I don’t know why I even came here.

Loaf: We do have more traditional schooling in addition to the slime-rolling.

Samantha: OMG I was making stuff up. Jeez.

Janet: Oh, yeah, you can’t really do jokes about that, but - it’s fine. We’ve all tried. Being a teenager is really, really hard. It doesn’t quite make sense that it’s so hard. High school is when we figure out that the world is actually horrible, if we didn’t already know that is, and we figure that out when we’re still mostly powerless to change it. Except, like, clearly you do have the power to change it, and actually it turns out so do most young people if they just mobilize in an organized fashion but anYWAY. People are terrible. Classes and homework are terrible. It’s terrible to have to interact with people and fall in love with them or not fall in love with them or it’s terrible to spend all your time on chatrooms with AIs instead of doing that because now you don’t know how to talk to people in person. You never know what the right thing to do is until way later and there are no right choices, but there’s also. Well, there are a lot of wrong choices, actually? Like, there’s a bunch of stuff you shouldn’t do? Or if you’re going to do it be safe? What was I talking about.

Loaf: This is awkward because you’re here in the studio with us and could probably turn us into delicious snails if you wanted to, but we are running a little low on time and we do have another letter.

Samantha: Fine, whatever. That’s cool.

Nassif: Do you need me for this?

Loaf: I don’t believe so. Our last letter is from a planet I’m not familiar with, but it does not involve time travel.

The phone hangs up. He doesn’t say goodbye.

Loaf: Are you going to go back to wherever..?

Samantha: Nah, I’m good.

Loaf: Okay then. Um. Next Letter.

Janet: Wait. We can’t do that yet. We haven’t read the sponsor message yet.

Samantha: OMG can I read it? I wanna read it!

Janet: … You know what, sure! This one’s all you.

Samantha reads the sponsor message by alternating between singing and speaking

Samantha: If you’re like me, you spend a lot of time in your skin. Maybe all of your time. Maybe you shed it a few flakes at a time, or maybe you shed the whole thing in one go. Either way, your skin should look nice. Your skin should feel nice. You should get SCRANDISCON’S [tries to say it over and over again]

Loaf: Scrandiscon’s.

Sam: SCRANDISCON’S SKIN POLISH. SKIN POLISH is like scale polish, but for creatures with skin instead of scales. Creatures like you. Because you deserve to feel fabulous, even if you have gross, soft skin instead of beautiful, shiny scales. You’ll still be gross, but you’ll feel fabulous!

That was fun. I should go into advertising.

Janet: Follow your dreams or whatever. Let’s play the next tape.
Dear Sapient Beings,

My name is Anitski from the planet Anitski. For generations, the tiny island I grew up on was the only place on the planet that received any sunlight, and hence, it was the only area that evolved intelligent life. Last month, a cosmic quake shook us to a new orbit directly in the path of the sun. I found a radio transmitter in some of the quake debris that landed here. I’m excited that there will soon be more sentient beings on this planet, considering I am currently the only one, but it’s been both boring and interminable waiting around for it to happen. How can I speed up the process of evolution? How much should I influence our new civilization? Can you give me some tips on coping with a life of solitude in the meantime?

Signed,

An Echo Chamber The Size Of A Planet

Samantha: Oh, hey I fixed it.

Janet: What do you mean, you fixed it?

Samantha: I sped up the process of evolution on that planet. It was really easy, actually. Now we can go back to talking about my problems.

Janet: Um. Okay, sure.

Samantha: That’s what you guys do, right? Solve people’s problems?

Loaf: Well, yes, but, we also exist to, uh, entertain our listeners. If you just snap your fingers and solve the problem, it doesn’t really help anyone who might be listening and facing a similar dilemma.

Janet: Yeah, I actually have no idea what our solving problems rate is. People don’t always call us back to tell us if our advice worked or not. Also, most problems are just solved by people talking to each other, not like, making a planet evolve, so I don’t think the finger snapping thing would actually be useful most of the time.

Samantha: So you’re saying if I had a show where I actually solved people’s problems, it wouldn’t be as successful as your show where you tell people how to solve their problems but you don’t even know if your advice is any good?

Janet: Absolutely! People don’t really care about having their problems solved so much as they care about having problems to complain about or other people’s problems to feel superior over. Wow! I feel like we’ve sure gone over time today. Mr. Xorfus is… signing something with his arms. His many, many arms.  I’m going to ignore that.

Samantha: So like, what’s the point of you, then?

Janet: There isn’t one, except to generate profits for bosses I’ll never meet. Understanding a problem isn’t the same as being able to solve it. I could say something like, if our advice helps one person, then it’s all worth it, but there’s no guarantee of that, and there may never be. But there is a guarantee of being able to pay my rent.  I hope you figure out your timeline thing, Samantha. Right now though, we have to wrap up our little, pointless show.

Loaf: I feel like I should refute this premise for the sake of Mr. Xorfus and our advertisers, but I’m having trouble articulating a response. Listeners, maybe if you’ve found our show to not be a complete waste of time and processing power, maybe drop us a line? I’m somewhat depressed now.

Janet: Really? You know, they make neurotransmitter regulators for that, and it’s like totally fine to get them.  I have, whoo boy, I have a few of those. Anyway, listeners, please let our bosses know we’re useful. It would be really swell, apparently!

Loaf: Until next week, try not to think too hard about what you’re actually contributing to the universe!

Solutions to Problems is written by and features the voices of Austin Hendricks and Nathan Comstock. It is produced and musically scored by Michael F. Gill. Season two was written by Austin, Nathan and Michael. The voice of Officer Nassif is Ramy Abdelghani. The voice of Samantha is Phoenix Bunke.  This episode’s letters were read by Arturo Fernandez and Patricia A. Gill. There’s more information about us at stppodcast.com, where you can find full transcripts of each episode and links to support us through PayPal and/or RadioPublic. You can also rate and review us on Apple Podcasts or tag us on social media - our handle is stp_podcast. We’ll be back again in two weeks- see you then.

Loaf: Do the timeline shifts really not bother you?

Janet: Oh, well, to some extent, waking up in a world that seems identical with a few key differences every day is just a part of human experience. We don’t ever really know anybody, or anything. Science is constantly revising itself. New technologies cause new paradigms. The particular details of any one timeline or person are irrelevant because even the most stable timeline is inherently dynamic! Our need for consistency is just based on the lie that consistency is possible! So everything is ultimately fine.


Loaf: I’m… really glad we don’t think the same way. I think I need to be impaired by a commonly available liquid substance now.