Andrew O'Hagan: Who's the Alpha Male Now, Bitches?


The normalization of mass shootings is perhaps the most horrifying aspect of modern American life - which is saying something. In this episode, Joe & Josh delve into the minds of of the men and boys who commit such crimes, with the help of Andrew O'Hagan's masterful synthesis of their self-serious, self-pitying manifestos, "Who's the Alpha Male Now, Bitches?" O'Hagan manages an admirable literary analysis of these beta male killers and their violent alpha fantasies without either glamorizing or dehumanizing the miserable bastards. Writing in 2015, O'Hagan refuses to harp on the usual suspects of violent media or American gun culture, seeking instead the common denominators in the killers' inner lives and examining cases outside the U.S. that got less attention in the American press. This episode was recorded well before the tragedies in Las Vegas or Sutherland Springs, but sadly, O'Hagan's essay only seems more spot-on now. Read it here, and also subscribe to the LRB already: https://www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n20/andrew-ohagan/whos-the-alpha-male-now-bitches
Let us know what you think: essayquestionspodcast@gmail.com

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Richard Hofstadter: The Paranoid Style in American Politics


Populist anger. Viral conspiracy theories. "Fake news." Anti-immigrant fear and loathing. Belief that an alien religion threatens to destroy our way of life. To say that "The Paranoid Style in American Politics" by Richard Hofstadter is just as relevant today as when first published in 1964 is a painfully obvious truth. As low-level minions of the Illuminati, sinister Hebrew/Papist conspirators Joe & Josh do what they can to undermine American liberties and the Protestant values that underpin them by convincing you it's all in your head. Sort of. Join them as they walk through Hofstadter's history of a fear-mongering racket that will seemingly never die, discuss how the paranoid style has changed - and remained the same - since the 1960s, and explain why the conspiracy theories THEY believe are the exceptions that are actually true. Get the original essay here, sheeple: https://harpers.org/archive/1964/11/the-paranoid-style-in-american-politics/Let us know what you think: essayquestionspodcast@gmail.com

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Dwight McDonald: Masscult & Midcult

In this sister episode to last week's discussion of "Avant Garde and Kitsch,"  Joe & Josh continue their less-than-plausible attempt to present themselves as highbrow snobs by tackling Dwight MacDonald's "Masscult and Midcult." While the tech-driven atomization of American culture has largely destroyed the homogenous commercial machine MacDonald, writing in 1960, called "mass culture," many of his arguments are still bracing today, especially his condemnation of declining artistic standards in the face of relentless consumerism. But is it possible to have a truly democratic political culture without surrendering art to popular tastes? MacDonald, an idiosyncratic leftist, wanted both, and thought they were not just compatible but complementary. At a time when an army of deprofessionalized, largely unpaid online "critics" treat every half-decent Netflix series like it's goddamn Middlemarch, MacDonald is worth listening to again. Read it here: http://xroads.virginia.edu/~drbr/macdonald.pdf

Let us know what you think: essayquestionspodcast@gmail.com

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Clement Greenberg: Avant Garde and Kitsch

What is art? It's a perennial, impossible question, one made even more difficult to answer by the fact that so many people tend to bristle - in America especially - at the idea of making quality distinctions between serious art and mere entertainment in the first place. In this episode, Joe & Josh sorta try to provide a defense of whatever "art" is, with help from Clement Greenberg's seminal essay "Avant-Garde and Kitsch." Join them as they lament the middling taste of their friends and acquaintances, take gratuitous potshots at beloved pop culture franchises, and struggle to describe what makes a work truly original. But it's not just about good aesthetics; as Greenberg argues, kitsch is not just tacky, it's politically toxic. And while it's hard for the future to look much bleaker than it must have in 1939, when Greenberg penned this attack on consumerism's dumbing down of culture, your hosts are... not optimistic. Read the original here: http://www.sharecom.ca/greenberg/kitsch.html

Let us know what you think: essayquestionspodcast@gmail.com
 

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Seymour Hersh: The Killing of Osama bin Laden

Most of us remember exactly where we were when President Obama announced that Osama Bin Laden had been killed, bringing an end to the War on Terror and restoring peace to the Middle East. But ever since that fateful night, when all Americans celebrated our unmitigated victory in the most tasteful and least bloodthirsty way possible, some skeptics have questioned the official account. Is it possible that the United States government would lie to its own citizens? The possibility seems unthinkable, but who can you trust? In this episode, Joe & Josh read Seymour M. Hersh's famous - or infamous, depending on your point of view - account of "The Killing of Osama bin Laden." Is Hersh's version of events plausible? Sort of. Does it raise troubling questions about an act of state violence still cloaked in secrecy? Absolutely. Zero Dark Essay or something: https://www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n10/seymour-m-hersh/the-killing-of-osama-bin-laden

Let us know what you think: essayquestionspodcast@gmail.com
 

 

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Norman Mailer: The White Negro

Dig this and don't goof, hepcats and hepkittens: Joe & Josh are going to school you in cool by reading Norman Mailer's 1957 essay "The White Negro." This seminal examination of the mid-50s zeitgeist - the work that popularized the term "hipster" - is 9,000 words of streamed consciousness that your hosts genuinely struggled to comprehend. In trying to make sense of the whole thing, they discuss the connections between race, American pop culture, bohemian affectations, and the appropriation of countercultures by commercial power. Along the way, they discuss the great 1994 film Quiz Show, why every black teenager in America should probably be rich, how the creators of Superman got f****d over, why so many great comedians are Jewish, and the nature and origin of depression. This is your trip, daddio:  https://www.dissentmagazine.org/online_articles/the-white-negro-fall-1957

As always, let us know what you think: essayquestionspodcast@gmail.com

Let us know what you think: essayquestionspodcast@gmail.com

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H.L. Mencken: Hills of Zion

On this episode of the "Old Time Gospel Program," Joe & Josh search the scriptures for answers to the most hotly contested questions of our day. They also have a look at the most famous essay from skeptic, cynic, and so-called "sage of Baltimore" H.L Mencken, "The Hills of Zion." Mencken's report from the Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton, TN paints a picture of American religion at its most carnivalesque. And while it's a fascinating time capsule of rural, evangelical America just beginning to grapple with scientific modernity, its significance has not only endured but increased in the century since its first publication. This early glimpse of the culture war exposes the country's social and spiritual divide - one that's just as wide today as in 1925. It will be a glorifying hour of witness, sinner friend. But read the essay first: http://bactra.org/Mencken/the-hills-of-zion/


Let us know what you think: essayquestionspodcast@gmail.com

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Theodor Adorno: Free Time

German philosopher Theodor W. Adorno is a key figure in the post-war Frankfurt School of critical theory and one of the top writers every graduate student in North America pretends to have read more extensively than they actually have. Well, we should all stop pretending and hit the books, because Adorno's work on the culture industry, especially the ways in which manufactured "entertainment" actually poison the true experience of leisure, is more relevant now than it was in Adorno's lifetime. In this episode, Joe & Josh serve as temporarily reliable guides to Adorno's prophetic analysis, before being derailed by complaints about their own laziness and their culture-industry-induced preoccupation with conspiracy theories. Capitalism wins again! Still, if you listen carefully, they're clearly on the cusp of Mündigkeit, which might just transform the free time they waste podcasting into freedom proper.

Either way, read the damn essay and make up your own mind: http://xenopraxis.net/readings/adorno_freetime.pdf

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George Orwell: Politics and the English Language

Eric Blair, aka George Orwell, is a strong candidate for greatest English essayist of the twentieth century, and "Politics and the English Language" is his final and most famous statement on propaganda, obfuscation, and how linguistic degeneration as a sign of civilizational decline. You probably got assigned this essay in college and don't remember because you never did the readings. Well, now's your second chance. Follow along with Junior Anti-Sex League enforcers Joe & Josh as they hash out the connection between language and thought, try to figure out when it's OK to change our words to suit modern political sensitivities, and rehearse the same complaints against Fox News and media consolidation that they've been making since 2002. Oh, and inevitably fall through the Trump trapdoor. Orwell would have surely found this episode, um... not ungood at least.

As always, be sure to read the original essay before listening: https://faculty.washington.edu/rsoder/EDLPS579/HonorsOrwellPoliticsEnglishLanguage.pdf

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Sam Harris: Thinking About Good and Evil

In their first episode, Joe & Josh read America's least controversial writer, Sam Harris, on how science can help us answer moral questions. And they're more than a little skeptical. Along the way, they talk about the meaning of life, moral relativism, and the origins of good and evil. As first episodes go, this one is perhaps the greatest in the history of podcasting. (Prove that statement is wrong. Scientifically.) Get ready for earnest ruminations on the death camps and the atom bomb, a shout-out to Emile Cioran, and many declarations of your hosts' own total lack of intellectual confidence.

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Welcome Episode

In this inaugural mini-episode, Joe & Josh give their defense of the Essay Questions podcast and explain what made them want to do it in the first place. They give an overview of some of the authors and topics that this season will cover, argue that long-form essays are of vital importance in an age of social media and short attention spans, and explain how their decade-plus friendship gave them an excuse to bring yet another podcast into the world. Please be sure to listen to this episode before you jump into the main content. Enjoy!
 

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