Brendan O’Malley is a historian and teacher whose experience with his school’s abrupt closure was the subject of a fascinating, wrenching piece in Contingent Magazine this summer. He joins us to talk about his background in history, earning his Ph.D. at the CUNY Graduate Center, and his particular path through a rapidly collapsing academic job market. Brendan’s story is ultimately a hopeful one, reflecting how a generation of young historians is finding our footing as teachers and scholars in ways none of us expected.
Susan Schnall served as a nurse in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War. Her experiences treating wounded Marines at Oak Noll Naval Hospital in Oakland, California transformed her, and in 1969 she faced court martial for her antiwar activism. In this conversation, she tells her incredible story of leaving the U.S. military and joining the antiwar movement, working as a hospital administrator and community organizer in New York City for 31 years, and serving as a core member of the Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign.
You can read more about Susan's story, along with many other perspectives on the GI Movement (including a piece on GI coffeehouses by Nostalgia Trap host David Parsons), in a new book from NYU Press, Waging Peace in Vietnam: US Soldiers and Veterans Who Opposed the War.
With Trap favorite Bill Black joining us, a conversation about David’s irrational fear of spiders leads into a wider consideration of existential politics in an apocalyptic age. Bill has lots to tell us about the El Paso shooting and the eco-fascist ideology from which it emerged, connecting it to the rise of doomsday scenarios, conspiracy theories, UFO flashmobs, and other pieces of outright weirdness circulating through the culture.
Writer and cultural critic Erik Davis joins us to discuss his fascinating, often startling new book, High Weirdness: Drugs, Esoterica, and Visionary Experience in the Seventies. By connecting the strange experiences of three psychedelic philosophers (Philip K. Dick, Terence McKenna, and Robert Anton Wilson), Davis offers a narrative of the 1970s that goes beyond disco and Jimmy Carter, showing us a world of occult prophecies, paranoid conspiracies, and often drug-induced spiritual fuckery. In this conversation, Davis discusses the origins of High Weirdness, his longer journey as a thinker and writer, and how the transcendent freakiness of California in the 70s produced eerie premonitions of the chaotic dystopias of the 21st century.
KJ Shepherd is a Ph.D. historian whose research focuses on the history of American standardized testing and the “test preparation” industry it spawned. Along with trading stories about the horrors of teaching the SAT, we have a blunt talk about what’s happening in the history discipline: the impossibility of finding full-time jobs, the humiliation of the application process, the “alt-ac” lie, and much more. But we also discuss the wider historical moment we’re in, and how rising generations of non-tenured Ph.D.’s are shaping the future of scholarly work and public engagement.
Eli Valley is a comic artist and writer with an intense, visceral aesthetic that perfectly captures the rotten politics of our age. His acclaimed anthology Diaspora Boy: Comics on Crisis in America and Israel features a broad sample of his work over the past ten years. In this conversation we talk about his influences, both politically and artistically, and explore the historic and current role of counterculture in building left solidarity against fascism.
Liz Ryerson is a musician, writer, and teacher whose work explores the ideological and aesthetic landscape of video games and cult media. Her podcast The Blood Zone features her critical ideas about niche/independent media, from indie game design to music and cinema. In this conversation, we discuss the wider politics of the gaming and media world, including #Gamergate and other reactionary burblings, and trade ideas about leftists treading the stagnant cultural waters of late capitalism.
Justin Rogers-Cooper returns to continue our discussion of this Summer of Strangeness, this time taking on the Jeffrey Epstein case: who’s connected, why it matters, and what it reveals about the dynamics of power, authority, and punishment within the wider nightmare of global capitalism.
Daniel Pinchbeck is the author of a number of books that explore big subjects like human consciousness, psychedelic drugs, shamanic cultures, and the Mayan 2012 prophecy. Lately he’s been thinking and writing about UFOs, after a number of startling reports in mainstream media over the past year revealed the US government’s deep engagement with spacecraft of unknown origin. In this conversation, we talk about his latest book, The Occult Control System: UFOs, aliens, other dimensions, and future timelines, and explore the possible explanations behind the UFO phenomenon’s peculiar appearance at this specific moment in history.
Geoff Johnson has been teaching American history since we were both graduate students at CUNY in the George W. Bush years. In this conversation, we talk about our respective political and cultural experiences coming of age in the 1990s, and reflect on the different paths that brought us both to the radical left. From beat poetry, Jim Morrison, and hip hop to anti-capitalism and anarchy, we try to connect our personal, very American lives with the larger historical forces surrounding us.
Bill Black is a historian whose project Contingent Magazine (begun with previous Nostalgia Trap guest Erin Bartram) this month features a 25th anniversary retrospective roundtable on the film Forrest Gump. In this conversation, Black explains how the film’s particular take on boomer generation “greatest hits” hides the film’s deeper engagement with the politics of the 1960s and 1970s, and helps frame how some of Gump’s key characters and scenes often dangerously distort our view of American history.
Justin Rogers-Cooper is here to continue our conversation about the 2019 moment, discussing how the migrant crisis is part of a longer post-Cold War continuum of capitalism eradicating notions of democracy around the world.
Justin Rogers-Cooper returns to the show to begin a series of episodes this summer tracking the global flashpoints of our historical moment. In this conversation, we talk about the term “concentration camp” in the context of Trump’s immigration policies, and game out the different scenarios at play regarding Iran. What’s Trump’s endgame in the Middle East? And what does this have to do with oil?
Danny Haiphong is a socialist writer whose work frequently appears on Black Agenda Report. His new book (with Roberto Sirvent), American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: A People’s History of Fake News from the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror, explores the central mythologies about American benevolence that have served as the ideological spine for capitalism’s cancerous expansion. In this conversation, we talk about the disappointing foreign policy positions of left political figures like Bernie and AOC, and discuss the radical left’s longer history of engagement with issues of war, militarism, and imperialism.
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.