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.
Daniel Traber is a professor of English at Texas A & M University at Galveston. His work focuses on the intersection of culture and politics, with a particular emphasis on musical subcultures like punk and ska (a favorite Nostalgia Trap subject). In this conversation, he talks about getting into punk as a white suburban teen in Galveston, Texas in the 1980s, and how expressions of subversive identity are entangled with the forces of capitalism and fascism from which they emerged. From “God Save the Queen” to “conservative is the new punk,” we explore the malleability of our cultural signifiers in the age of Trump.
Shuja Haider is a writer and editor for a number of left publications (check out his work in Popula and Viewpoint). In this conversation, we talk about historical cycles of generational politics, the weird road from 60s counterculture to "conservatism is the new punk rock," and the growth of left/right radicalism among young people in the Trump era.
Matthew Stanley is a historian and professor whose latest book, The Loyal West: Civil War and Reunion in Middle America explores how the politics of the Civil War moved through the regions of the Lower Middle West. His work shows us how ideologies evolve through space and time, and how the Civil War in particular has served as a container for American social and political attitudes well into the 21st century. With Confederate monuments being toppled by activists and organizers around the country, to the shock and outrage of white supremacists and “traditional” (wink) Americans everywhere, Stanley points out some vital historical context:
“People talk about preserving history. But the best argument against keeping these monuments in public places IS the historical argument. Most of these were not erected by Confederate veterans, they weren’t erected during the Civil War or even Reconstruction. They were erected during the Jim Crow era, and many of them explicitly re-encode the racial order through monumentation. So they’re designed to be a political statement. You can’t depoliticize a monument. A monument is inherently political.”
Micah Uetricht is managing editor at Jacobin Magazine and the author of Strike for America: Chicago Teachers Against Austerity. Like many of us, he’s watching with a combination of delight and disbelief as left-of-liberal ideas enjoy a rare moment in the mainstream spotlight, from the 1950s-style red-baiting of Fox News to Stephen Colbert’s recent declaration that “God is a socialist.” Even the ladies of The View are getting in on it, sitting down with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for a friendly little chat about democratic socialism. To Uetricht, these moments are further evidence that the time is ripe for a return to the working class politics that defined the Democratic Party in past eras.
In this conversation, Uetricht tells how his early experiences as a union organizer influenced his ideas, what he sees as the future for labor in America, and why he thinks it’s so critical for the left to wrest power from the neoliberals who control the Democratic Party:
“It really is a kind of socialism or barbarism moment. We can either offer something to people, or someone like Trump can. This is why we do have this responsibility, because obviously what is on offer by the Democratic Party, by the tepid centrist liberalism, is just going to continue to play right into the hands of people like Trump. And so our responsibility is to create an alternative that can actually speak to these very understandable and real and rational feelings that a huge chunk, if not the majority, of the population are feeling right now.”