Arts in Review

Chapo Trap House: Angry and Absurd

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Chapo Trap House is an American politics and humour podcast that in the past year has enjoyed enough success to garner over $50,000 in monthly Patreon contributions, as well as feature prominent guests such as Adam Curtis (director of the recent documentary HyperNormalisation), Jeremy Scahill (founding editor of The Intercept), and @PissPigGrandad (San Francisco-based Twitter Bro who dropped his life to fight ISIS with a socialist Kurdish group). Yet the show is also extremely divisive, even among the people who share in some of its left-leaning politics, mostly because the characters they play and the tone they set is so extremely toxic.

Of course, I mean toxic in the best way, or else I wouldn’t have listened for this long or paid as much as I do for access to their premium feed, but I am keenly aware that this podcast is not for everyone and that there is a good chance much of my personality and morals are already being judged by people in the know. The hosts are loud and abrasive, as are most worthwhile commentators trying to get their voices heard from within the crowd, but there is also an irony-filled malice and glee at the heart of their program. The more popular segments throughout the show are reading series where they mock the work of conservative writers such as Ross Douthat, Ben Shapiro, and Jeff Jacoby (a little-known columnist who writes annual letters to his son Caleb as an annual column — it’s one of the best recurring bits). They also routinely take aim at liberals, media and hollywood elite, and campus activists as often as they do Republicans and MAGA chuds. The form this takes isn’t pretty: the language is strong, the disdain is palpable, and their jokes will definitely not be acceptable for anyone who has used the term “woke” seriously.

Yet in its own way, the vigour and crassness of the podcast is rooted in a politic that is trying to redefine the role of “sensibility and civility” within political discourse. People live, bleed, and die under policy MAGA chuds, why take out the human element and leave it dour, humourless, and cold? That’s not to say there aren’t moments of levity, premium content includes deep dives into the political and sexual pathologies of works such as 300 or the new GhostBusters, or seriousness; between Will Menaker, Matt Christman, Felix Biederman, and co-hosts Amber A’Lee Frost and Virgil Texas you have background and experience not only in trolling Twitter but in Marxist academia, activism by way of the Democratic Socialists of America, and the media industry at large.

Basically, what do I like about Chapo Trap House? There is a catharsis in listening to the show (which started in March of last year) critique the downfall of a political class that for too long has only played lip service to shaping public good. They are opinionated, funny, and absurd. (Fans of the show are referred to as “Grey Wolves” — that is, members of the Turkish Deep State.) Sometimes it can cross the line or come off poorly (both in effect of their statements and also in the fact that the audio quality while much improved can’t make up for the fact that guests and some of the hosts often aren’t recording from the same room) but at least it can keep your attention. It’s hard to recommend how to jump into something that is nearing its 100th episode (although if you are starting fresh, finding a guest you like or skip straight to episode three when they start the reading series and have a sound editor) but at the least this will put them on your radar; at the rate they’ve grown I’m sure you’ll hear about them again.

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