Containers is an 8-part documentary series that begins at the Port of Oakland and reaches all over the world. It’s all about how global trade has transformed the economy and ourselves. We traveled aboard ships and tugboats, met longshoremen and robots, investigated cranes and trucking.
Nine months of reporting went into this project. But this wasn’t a mystery show or a true-crime thriller. The subject under investigation was the nature of the economic world around us. In a world where so many podcasts follow the same formats, Containers carved out new terrain, taking a relatively unknown phenomenon and blowing it out over eight episodes to show all the lives tied into the flow of goods around the world.
The nominal subject of inquiry is how goods came to be stuffed in the big boxes known as containers, and all the consequences of that seemingly trivial idea. Because it turns out that that containerization is one of the most significant economic forces of the last 100 years. Suddenly, it made corporate sense to make things where the labor was cheap and simply ship them to the rich places. Containerization was a necessary component of the globalization we know now.
EPISODE 1 tells the gripping story of how a new way of shipping stuff across the ocean fed the Vietnam War, destroyed America’s great port cities, and brought an artist’s parents together. It’s a portrait of capitalism at work.
EPISODE 2 brings us into the lives of two Filipino sailors as they shop at Target, talk sports, and work to feed their families back home. It’s an intimate look at being a cog inside the global machine
EPISODE 3 shows how the brutal competition among shipping companies is threatening the small businesses that make the Bay maritime economy work. It’s a case study in how globalization works.
EPISODE 4 goes on a tour of the hidden stops of the coffee supply chain. We’re guided by the green coffee buyer for San Francisco’s legendary roaster Ritual Coffee. It’s a primer in how importing stuff really works.
EPISODE 5 considers the waning days of American shipping as told through two boats: one that sunk and one that still plies the water.
EPISODE 6 looks at the water, the land, and the air, focusing on Margaret Gordon, an environmental activist who has successfully pushed the Port and the state of California to reduce pollution by vast amounts. It’s a probing and triumphant look at the local consequences of global trade.
EPISODE 7 uses a forgotten set of recordings that languished in a basement for 35 years to tell the story of the people who worked the docks. It’s an archival wonder and an emotional, hilarious trip into the past.
EPISODE 8 looks at the mix of companies that want to automate trucks and warehouses. It’s a glimpse of the future and a summary of the change that started on the Oakland waterfront and transformed the global economy.