The online culture of memes, shitposting, and irony found on Twitter and other places is deeply entwined with the rise of millennial socialism and the larger landscape of 21st century politics. On this episode we explore the twisted path of the extremely online, as guest @CapitlsmDislikr shows us a world of grad school dead ends, crushing student loan debt, thankless adjunct teaching, satanic institutional bureaucracies and, of course, relentless irony posting on Twitter. Looking back on a ghastly past and even ghastlier future, our conversation sees millennials inhabiting a kind of endless present, with capitalism trapping an entire generation in a state of suspended animation.
Justin and David were mere children in the 1990s, the hellish decade that spawned much of the political and cultural landscape we currently inhabit. In this episode we talk about pop-culture: from Friends to Seinfeld, Good Will Hunting to The Big Lebowski, Kurt Cobain to Tupac, we attempt to draw a historical line from the 60s to the 90s to the Trump era. What do some of our favorite (and not so favorite) cultural figures and products look like in the rearview?
LISTEN TO THE FULL EPISODE HERE: Patreon Episode 133
Timothy J. Lombardo is a historian who teaches at the University of South Alabama, and whose recent book Blue Collar Conservatism: Frank Rizzo’s Philadelphia and Populist Politics covers critical territory for those seeking to understand the Trump era. Using Rizzo’s political career as a jumping off point for a wider discussion of race, class, and identity, Lombardo’s work complicates some deeply-held myths about the “white working class.” In this conversation, he talks about the politics and culture that surrounded him growing up in 1980s and 1990s Philadelphia, and how he developed an interest in describing the contours of conservative politics in the post-industrial Northeast.
Justin Rogers-Cooper is here to explain how the robber barons of the 19th century stack up against the current crop of capitalist megalomaniacs in Silicon Valley and beyond. In the process, we talk about Marx’s labor theory of value, the shift from control of resources to control of debt, the colonization of the human soul as the final frontier of profitability, and the specific function of monopoly within the larger liberal project.
Before the Nostalgia Trap, David hosted a show called Topical Fever, which took on specific subjects from the worlds of politics, history and media. Sounds familiar, right? To mark the 20th anniversary since the premiere of The Sopranos, we’re sharing this Topical Fever episode from the vaults, featuring a conversation with professor of English Jeremey Cagle on the show’s relationship to another epic piece of American art: Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.
Maximillian Alvarez returns to the Trap to talk about his terrific new podcast Working People, a show that features deep conversations about life, labor, politics, and everything in between, from the perspective of working class people. He joins us to describe his latest series about General Motors and the social costs of the long decline of industrial manufacturing. Along the way, we chat about the alienation of social media, the prison of the gig economy, the continuing prescience of David Foster Wallace, and lots more.
Justin Rogers-Cooper stops by to talk about Amazon’s impending invasion of Long Island City, Queens, where he works as a professor of English at LaGuardia Community College. Our conversation explores the psychotic evil of Jeff Bezos, the corrupt city leaders who are laying out a $3 billion red carpet for him, the larger structures of capitalism and consumerism driving Amazon’s power, and what all of this means for the future of New York City and the planet.
Jason Wilson is a writer for The Guardian whose work often covers the far right of American political culture. From Milo to the Proud Boys, Alex Jones to Glenn Beck, Wilson details the internal drama, street fights, and larger context of right-wing movements in the 21st century. In this episode, we catch up with his latest reporting on “deplatforming” and explore the role social media plays in spreading extreme ideas.
Conner Habib is the host of Against Everyone w/ Conner Habib, a podcast about subjects that often fall outside the range of typical “left” discussions—things like radical philosophy, the occult, psychoanalysis, sexuality, porn, and much more. In this conversation, he explains how the concept of desire permeates our politics, present in everything from sex work and surveillance to academia and the military-industrial complex, and why healing the planet and healing ourselves are inextricably connected projects.
Brooke Newman is a professor of history at Virginia Commonwealth University and the author of A Dark Inheritance: Blood, Race, and Sex in Colonial Jamaica, a book that traces the evolution of racial definitions and sexual practices in one of 18th century Britain’s most valuable colonies. In this conversation, Newman discusses how notions of race and nation interacted with sex, gender, and class in often surprising ways during a brutal imperial occupation, and explains how Jamaica’s particular history reveals the deep, pathological contradictions at the heart of the Atlantic slave system.
Justin Rogers-Cooper joins us to talk about the structural connections between California wildfires and a recent spate of mass shootings, understanding them as part of how corporations from energy to guns socialize losses while privatizing profits. We also deconstruct the Tucker Carlson media outrage in the context of capitalism’s increasing encroachment into supposed “sacred spaces” like the American home. FOR SUBSCRIBERS ONLY
Daegan Miller is a writer whose recent book, This Radical Land: A Natural History of American Dissent, presents an intellectual history of how different Americans have resisted capitalism’s ravaging of the natural environment. From black antislavery radicals in the Adirondack wilderness of upstate New York to utopian anarchists in California’s sequoias, Miller’s narrative reveals a throughline of alternate visions running underneath the nation’s history. In this conversation, Miller tells how his personal connection to the land influenced his work as an environmental historian, explains how the disappointments of the academic labor market are connected to the wider alienation of 21st century American life, and offers his own eco-socialist vision of a kinder, gentler future.
Books mentioned in the episode:
The Long Emergency by James Howard Kunstler
City of Quartz by Mike Davis
Justin Rogers-Cooper returns to the Nostalgia Trap to break down the political and social significance of NBC’s The Office, positioning the show within the larger context of 21st century neoliberal capitalism. How does the evolving sitcom form reflect changing attitudes about labor, patriarchy, and other structures of oppression? And what does it mean for the future of work?
Kate Aronoff is a writer whose work appears in The Intercept, Dissent, In These Times, and a number of other fine left publications. In this conversation, we talk about the media’s framing of the recent IPCC report’s dire prognosis for the planet, the pitfalls of climate nihilism, and the politics of saving the world.
Malcolm Harris is a freelance writer and the author of Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials, a book that explores how the structure of American society is rigged against young people. Despite the stereotype of apathetic, entitled youth wasting away in their parents’ basements, Harris shows us a generation locked in by the horrific social, economic, and cultural realities of the 21st century—and offers a blueprint for how young folks can join the fight for a better world.
Daniel Bessner is a historian with a particular focus on American foreign policy. His book Democracy in Exile: Hans Speier and the Rise of the Defense Intellectual mixes biography with a striking analysis of Cold War policy-making. In this conversation, Bessner expands on the ideas he presented in a recent New York Times op-ed, in which he argues that the left needs a more focused and practical pathway to dismantling the American imperial project and drawing down the endless wars that have decimated globe for decades.
Nathan J. Robinson is the creator and editor-in-chief of Current Affairs, one of the left’s most consistently valuable and readable publications. Robinson talks about honing his skills at political argument in the high school debate club, explains how a British accent can be an asset in American media, and describes his vision for the future of Current Affairs and the larger left movement.
Eileen Jones is a film critic and professor whose biting, polemical movie reviews are featured in Jacobin and a number of other publications. Her recent book Filmsuck, USA investigates the persistently horrific state of American cinema, while outlining Jones’ vision of a liberatory movie culture that honors the medium’s working class roots. In this conversation, she explains how her early experiences watching Hollywood genre films influenced her ideas about movies, why the Coen brothers are her preferred auteurs, and why she thinks the language of cinema can play such a vital role in challenging the organizing principles of capitalism.
Keri Leigh Merritt is a historian of American class, race, and inequality, with a particular focus on the South during and after the Civil War. Her book Masterless Men: Poor Whites and Slavery in the Antebellum South deftly navigates discourses on race, power, and capitalism, telling us what happens to “excess labor” under a slave economy. In this conversation, she talks about the South’s influence on her direction as a scholar, and explains how vital elements of the Southern political economy (from “right to work” to convict leasing) have spread to the rest of the country.
George Ciccariello-Maher is a political scientist and activist whose work focuses on the historical and current landscape of insurgent politics and anti-capitalism. As an outspoken left academic, Ciccariello-Maher is a favorite target of white supremacists and other right-wing extremists, whose threats and harassment led to his resignation from Drexel University in 2017. In this conversation, he tells how his early life informed his political development, why Venezuela’s recent history is such a vital piece of understanding global politics, and how riots and other forms of militant resistance can be effective means of achieving social and economic justice.