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‘Red Scare’ and the Politics of Trolling

Heralded by the so-called ‘dirtbag left,’ the Dimes Square-based podcast has gained a cult following for its humorous, spiteful critiques of American neoliberalism

For those who have three backup plans to vote, for those who phonebank every weekend and for those who are tracking Iowan statehouse races, political disengagement is a luxury in which they can’t indulge. For podcasters Dasha Nekrasova and Anna Khachiyan, making a mockery of any genuine commitment to politics is a career.

“Red Scare,” the podcast founded by Nekrasova, Khachiyan and producer Meg Murnane in 2018, is a combination of political, cultural and malicious commentary spread out over an hour and a half. Self-funded and minimally produced, “Red Scare” sounds like someone stuck a microphone between two friends competing to see how many things they can hate. And, as Nekrasova and Khachiyan would likely agree, that is essentially the show’s premise. 

The show boasts at least 20,000 listeners, a small number compared to other podcasts of the “dirtbag left,” a movement coined by Amber A’Lee Frost, one of the hosts of massively followed leftist podcast “Chapo Trap House.” But what “Red Scare” lacks in size they make up for in devotion. Between Twitter, Reddit and live shows, the duo has created something close to a cult for the politically ironic. Their primary source of income is their Patreon, where they post exclusive, paid content that amounts to about $35,000 a month. The show has crept into the mainstream enough to host the most ostracized of the mainstream, like former Trump adviser Steve Bannon and Hawaiian Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI). 

To categorize the duo’s politics would be impossible; the women thrive in — and perhaps strategically manufacture — their chaotic ideologies. They wax on about the inefficacy of Joe Biden’s “symbolic” mask-wearing, but praise Trump’s performance in the debate because it was good “standup” on the “Putin’s Puppy” episode. They are pro-abortion, but also believe most women secretly want a “daddy, a provider.” They champion empathy, truth and justice, yet they bemoan the celebrity-addled state of #MeToo. They find America’s health care situation abysmal but, with a “gun to the head,” would vote for Trump for entertainment purposes.

If it sounds like they’re joking, they are. Sort of. As self-proclaimed socialists, it’s hard to believe either would cast a vote for Trump. (Nekrasova missed the deadline to register to vote, so the decision was avoided.) The show is so heavily infected by sarcasm and irony, it’s hard to tell when they start being serious — or if they ever do. The only thing made clear through the exhaustive episodes is that they hate nothing more than people who still earnestly believe in the power of politics. When Biden calls for a national mask mandate, they chide him for being “cucked and weak.” When Trump interrupts and flagellates at the debate, he’s “funny and entertaining as an artist.” And while you canvass for a tight Senate seat, they’re laughing from the sidelines.

This election is dependent upon engagement. Restricted by a pandemic and suppressed by voting rules, thousands of volunteers have devoted their time to finding, calling and activating the most disengaged and disaffected of voters. What is alarming about “Red Scare” is that they’re not just disengaged nor disaffected — they’re also not voting.

Devoted to politics and obsessed with the media, describing Nekrasova and Khachiyan as disengaged would be inaccurate. Seemingly aware of their privilege and profiting off of the political system they despise, they’re certainly not disaffected. So then where do they fall on the spectrum of political ideologies? What are they for?

Simply, they’re for nothing. They love to hate. If their effusive politics were to be defined, they’d be classified as politically spiteful. Everything is a joke because nothing matters. They’d rather ironically support a racist pseudo-fascist than earnestly defend a neoliberal. 

The nihilism of “Red Scare” is especially extreme, but to think it only exists in the dark corners of Spotify or behind a Patreon paywall is naive. Nekrasova and Khachiyan have reached the final stage of a political process that disillusions and distracts until you can’t tell if what you’re seeing is real or, as they believe it to be, a joke. 

The passivity of “Red Scare” is frustrating for those who are even tangentially interested in politics. Laughing at the situation, throwing in the towel and then making money off of it is the easy way out. But countering the duo — screaming about their faulty logic, whining about their false equivalencies — is exactly what they want. Now they’re laughing at you, too.

The best way to win over the politically spiteful isn’t to engage them — they’re past the point of caring — but to learn from them. Listen to “Red Scare” earnestly. Take their politics at face value, engage with their critiques of liberal culture, understand their frustration with the Democratic Party. And then, like Nekrasova and Khachiyan’s worst nightmare, act on it.


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