Daniel Bessner is a professor and writer and frequent Nostalgia Trap contributor. He joins us to talk about his controversial recent Chronicle piece taking on the American Historical Association, and to share his vision of how to rescue the humanities from the destructive forces of neoliberalism.
Thom Hartmann is a radio personality, best-selling author, and political commentator whose work in progressive media has spanned decades. He joins us to discuss his latest book, The Hidden History of Guns and the 2nd Amendment, and to explain his own political and philosophical evolution. From working for the Goldwater campaign as a teenager to joining Students for a Democratic Society to help fight the Vietnam War, Hartmann’s 1960s roots instilled important values and ideas about democracy, equality, and human evolution that persist in his work today.
Astra Taylor is a writer and filmmaker whose work explores the radical contours of contemporary politics and philosophy. Her latest film, What is Democracy?, is a deep dive into one of history’s most intense questions, framing interviews and discussions within the harrowing context of a collapsing planet. In this conversation, she explains the ideas underlying her inquisitive approach to writing and making films, how her unorthodox experiences with formal education shaped her political and analytical thinking, and why she thinks asking bigger questions is such a vital task for the left.
Tanya Turner is one of the hosts of the Trillbilly Worker’s Party podcast, a smart, funny take on left politics in Whitesburg, Kentucky. In this conversation, we talk about the wider political world of Appalachia, her work with the media and arts center Appalshop, and how sex education is a vital space for talking about capitalism’s insidious control over our bodies.
Linda Tirado is a writer who catapulted to online fame after a casual, righteously enraged message board comment went mega-viral. Within weeks she had a book deal, TV appearances, agents, and a lot more attention than she had ever asked for or wanted. Her book, Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America, captures a working class voice that’s rarely heard in mainstream American media, and her experience with internet celebrity reflects the often terrifying ways that class functions in media culture.
Yasmin Nair is a Chicago-based writer, activist, and founder of Against Equality, an anti-capitalist collective of radical queer and trans writers, thinkers, and artists. Her provocative, often polemical, and always entertaining writing takes on the political culture of neoliberalism, the pitfalls of left media, and the politics of gender and sexuality, among many other topics. In this conversation we talk about the material politics of Brooklyn™ socialism, the differences between social, cultural, and economic capital, and what the left can learn from radical queer culture.
Wendi Muse is a doctoral candidate researching antiracist and left organizing in Cold War era Brazil, and the creator of the Left POCket Project, which curates capsule histories of important, often overlooked figures from the radical left. Her work shows us places where capitalism and the state are particularly oppressive, and documents the extraordinary actions people have taken to maintain solidarity and continue building movements of resistance. In this conversation, we talk about the racial and class dimensions of the Brazilian left, the movement of people and ideas between Brazil and other Portuguese-speaking nations, and the wider political implications of the 2018 assassination of Brazilian feminist and human rights activist Marielle Franco.
Justin Rogers-Cooper helps us takes a deep dive into the aesthetic and political legacy of Kurt Cobain, who died of suicide 25 years ago this month. Cobain is an iconic pop cultural figure for a number of reasons, but this conversation focuses on his personal politics, and how his band Nirvana expressed an organic, biologically-obsessed form of anti-capitalism. Emerging from the working class hell of the 1980s deindustrialized Pacific Northwest, Cobain’s art explored how an empty, impoverished society literally tears human bodies to pieces. From drugs to guns to misogyny, racism, violence, and capitalism itself, if you want to understand the inner contours of the American nightmare, Kurt Cobain’s life story and artistic output remain as critical as ever.
Seth Cotlar is a professor of history at Willamette University and the author of Tom Paine’s America: The Rise and Fall of Transatlantic Radicalism in the Early Republic. He joins us to talk about Paine’s particular vision of a more radical democracy and how those ideas find life in today’s left. Cotlar is also hard at work on a new volume about the concept of nostalgia, obviously a favorite topic on the pod, and helps us sort out the complicated political and social functions (and the significant “traps”) of imagining the past.
Chad Vigorous is the host of a sharp and funny podcast called The Discourse, and one of left Twitter’s most acerbic political commentators. In this conversation, he shares his insights on the nightmarish landscape of American culture and politics in the 21st century, explaining how fascism and white nationalism are finding their footing within the socioeconomic despair and ideological void created by neoliberalism.
Bill Black is a historian and writer whose work has appeared in Vox, the Atlantic, Washington Post, and a number of other publications. He joins us to talk about his path in history, a few of his more provocative pieces of research, (including an incredible narrative about the origins of the racist “watermelon” trope), and his exciting new project Contingent Magazine, which seeks to publish and promote work from the growing pool of young historians who don’t have tenure-track positions at universities. Like The Nostalgia Trap, Contingent is attempting to address the adjunctification of college faculty by creating spaces for young scholars outside of the increasingly austere academy.
Kevin Gannon is a professor of history at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa, where he also serves as the Director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. You may also know him as one of the history experts featured in Ava DuVernay’s Netflix documentary 13th, and a very active figure in the #twitterstorian universe. In addition to his research on the history of race and justice in the Civil War and Reconstruction eras, he’s done a lot of thinking about how to reshape the way we teach and share American history. In this conversation we discuss the future of the discipline, from inclusive classroom strategies to the phenomenal growth of #twitterstorians, tracking how technology is transforming our idea of who and what a historian can be.
Robin Kelley is a professor of history at UCLA and the author of a number of important books on a wide range of subjects, from communism in the American South (1990’s Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression), to the political visions of radical black intellectuals and artists (2002’s Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination), to the history of jazz (2009’s Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original). He joins us to discuss his intellectual path from doctrinaire Marxism to “Marxist surrealist feminist,” and why he thinks aesthetics and culture are such vital spaces for the left to reclaim its imaginative vision.
Daniel Bessner joins us for a free-ranging chat about Bernie Sanders: the good, the bad, and the ugly. For better or worse, we all know that Bernie’s the man to beat on the left. He’s ignited the political passions of millions of people, especially young people, and is the only presidential candidate who actually challenges the entrenched power of capitalism in the American political system. But he also sucks on issues like race and foreign policy, and no one knows if he can really win a national election. In this episode we talk through Bernie’s record, our thoughts on his chances, and the significance of his campaign for the future of progressive politics.
Heather Berg is a writer and researcher who maps the intersections of socialism, feminism, and radical culture. Her upcoming book Porn Work locates porn workers as “experts on labor in late capitalism,” and in this conversation we explore how sex work in general and porn work in particular offers a critical site of anti-capitalist resistance.
Justin Rogers-Cooper joins us for the third installment of our Amazon HQ trilogy, in which we explore Amazon’s shocking decision to abandon its planned headquarters in Long Island City, New York. From grassroots activism and sinister politicians to Amazon’s deep connections to ICE and the surveillance state, this discussion frames the larger implications of a stunning victory for people over corporate tyranny.
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.