Chapo Trap House is a “new progressive Left” comedy podcast made by 5 scrappy millennials who are beating the odds in media with their independent, grassroots project funded by listeners. Felix Biederman, Will Menaker, Matt Christman, Amber A’Lee Frost and Virgil Texas are inspiring a new generation to look beyond establishment Democrats like Hillary Clinton and fight for Socialism. They are the “Dirtbag Left,” a movement of cool young Socialists who shun “political correctness” and embrace “vulgarity.” At least, that’s how the story goes.
Critics paint a less rosy picture of the project and the people involved. Some point out that, for all their shit talk and revolutionary posturing, Chapo ultimately stumps for the Democrats again and again. Others point out that the hosts of Chapo are actually quite connected to bourgeois establishment politics and media (Menaker’s father is former executive editor-in-chief of Random House, and was also a fiction editor at The New Yorker for twenty years!). How else could one explain the Chapo crew’s ability to rake in over $1.3 million per year on Patreon for what is essentially a bi-weekly radio show?
Many point out that the “ironic” humor that Chapo hosts have brought from their channer days and continue to propagate is anti-social, obliterating the ability to say or do anything sincerely and creating ‘plausible deniability’ for all behavior, making accountability for any kind of wrongdoing impossible. “Ironic” jokes sometimes include racist and sexist humor; they’ve been known to call people “pussies” and “retarded,” and to deride anyone who objects. “Go on Chapo!” dozens of fans have been known to reply to anyone who dare criticize Chapo on Twitter.
The compulsion for “edgy” jokes and the enforced irreverence can blur the lines between Chapo and their fanbase and every other swarm of neo-Nazi channers who live online and love “ironic” humor. White supremacist Richard Spencer noted exactly this in a March 2018 speech:
“We were listening to the Chapo Trap House podcast, which I listen to every week. I do find it kind of amazing, if you listen to, like, 15 minutes of it, it sounds like an alt-right podcast in terms of the jokes, the themes, the cynicism, the irreverence. It’s pretty funny.”
Chapo Trap House is affiliated with the “big tent” Socialist organization the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). Multiple Chapo co-hosts are members of the org, and prominent members of the DSA have built clout and influence through their friendships with Chapo. Thanks to its persistent support of Democrats and its leadership’s inability to resist association with irreverent “edgelords,” the DSA has occasionally been called “the Democrats of Something Awful.”
The “Left” media spectacle always seems to lead back to Chapo Trap House, and it will take many posts to tackle their seemingly infinite connections to establishment media, the Democratic Party, multi-millionaires, neo-Nazis, and intelligence. For now, an introductory reader is in order.
This introductory reading list will be continually updated as I find new resources worth adding.
1. First on the docket is a touchstone analysis to which I will make frequent reference: a Twitter thread from Crypto Cuttlefish (@cuttlefish_btc) that explains the big picture of Chapo Trap House and their irony ilk’s impact. If the original Twitter thread goes down, you can read a transcript here.
7. Will Menaker’s family’s connections to U.S. intelligence (archived: one, two)
Readings may be added. You can send suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.