Artist and producer Stephanie Lepp, 39, is the creator of Reckonings, a podcast that presents the dramatic and enduring transformations of a range of individuals in their worldview: A white supremacist who subsequently renounced a life of hate. A priest convicted of sexually abusing minors who works in restorative justice. A conservative congressman who shifted his position on climate change. Lepp also created Infinite Lunchbox, which explores timely issues in the media and politics through “video essays” posted on YouTube. And this past month, she released Deep Reckonings, synthetic (fake) videos of public figures — Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and far-right talk-show host Alex Jones — whom she imagines going through their own necessary reckonings.
A native of the Bay Area, Lepp is a Mexican Jew who grew up in Tiburon speaking Spanish. She lives in Silicon Valley with her husband, Dr. Nathaniel Lepp, a family practitioner completing a fellowship in addiction medicine at Stanford School of Medicine, and their 3-year-old daughter, Anik, and newborn son, Axel. She graduated from Stanford University and has a master’s degree in Science, Technology, & Society from UC Berkeley.
J.: When did you start thinking about how people have dramatic shifts in perspective?
Stephanie Lepp: Throughout college and adulthood, and in my work in advocacy and social change, the question that kept coming up for me was this: Am I changing anyone’s mind? I came to assume I wasn’t.
A memorable moment for me was in my freshman year at Stanford. I was part of a group of students protesting the logging of redwoods in Mendocino. We went up there to go to a city council meeting, where we talked about endangered species. I looked at the city council members, whose eyes looked glazed over. And then I looked at the people arguing on the other side. They seemed like very humble people, and I wanted to be on their side.
So you’re saying that there’s often a complexity to issues. In your podcasts and YouTube videos, you’ve addressed this — that one side is not all right and the other all wrong. The logging people are worried about job loss; they’re not necessarily against the spotted owl. It’s more nuanced.
Yes — just the way you have a change of heart and mind. People think that major transformations are sudden, and that they happen because of psychedelics, or near-death experiences, or because you fall in love with a person who thinks differently. What I’ve learned through my work is that personal change happens when people undergo critical self-reflection. Take the white supremacist. In jail, he got to play sports with Black people. After prison time, a Jewish person offered him a job. He confronted his prejudices.
Is there any area of your life where you’ve engaged in your own reckonings?
In my relationship with productivity. It took me a long time to understand what I wanted to do, and I have a lot of regret over lost time, wasted time. Over the last five years, I have greater clarity, but I haven’t come out the other end. My feelings of self-worth are from creating, and I’m still reckoning to fill a hole in my heart. I have this paradoxical stance: I want to be free and feel at peace, and yet I feel I’m not living in the spirit of dayenu — that what I’m doing is enough.
You have had many jobs over the years. Anything that’s not on your résumé?
My first job was as a bar mitzvah dancer — the person who gets everyone out on the dance floor at the bar mitzvah reception.
How does Judaism, or Jewish practice, figure into your work?
In Judaism, we place a high value on critical self-reflection. That’s why Yom Kippur has always been my favorite holiday. It offers a full day to cleanse and reflect.