Taking a look at the new generation of philosophical mean girls
When I tell people I listen to Red Scare, they react in one of two ways: they either give me a blank look (Red Scare? The era of Soviet skepticism promoted by Senator Joseph McCarthy during the Cold War?) or, if they’ve heard of the podcast, they scoff. There is no third option, because I’ve never met someone in real life who listens and enjoys Red Scare.
The podcast is a product of a terminally online youth subculture and their audience is exclusively that—young. Every two to three weeks, Red Scare comes out on most major podcast platforms, and listeners are privy to an hour and a half of two thirty-something women, Anna Khachiyan and Dasha Nekrossova, lightheartedly discussing current events, culture, notable pieces of fiction from the New Yorker, and celebrity scandals. To give you an idea, recent episode titles have included “Taliban Mindset” and “Mumford and Cucks.” My personal favourite title is “Justin Trudeaulezol” from a couple of years back, referring to Justin Trudeau’s various blackface incidents and the infamous race impostor Rachel Dolezal, a white woman who faked being African-American and conned her way into being an National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) chapter president.
If you’re rich and/or bad with your money, you have access to exclusive episodes via their Patreon. Additionally, the podcasters peddle merch on their website including thongs, beach towels, and lighters. That tells you pretty much everything you need to know.
Not since Regina George of Mean Girls have teen girls had such bitchy-but-lovable role models. Like George, Khachiyan and Nekrasova are fashion icons for a very specific subset of young women—in a nutshell, those who are likely to purchase eighteen-dollar cotton thongs with “Red Scare!” printed on them. Twitter and Instagram accounts dedicated to an elegantly feminine coquette/gamine lifestyle frequently repost images from Nekrasova’s instagram account. Their aesthetic is both an asset and a curse for the podcast.
The inciting incident for Red Scare’s popularity was a 2018 man-on-the-street style interaction between an InfoWars (the right-wing news website hosted by political pundit and conspiracist Alex Jones) correspondent and Nekrasova, costumed in a Japanese schoolgirl uniform and sipping an iced coffee. The clip, featuring the interviewer acting flabbergasted at Nekrasova’s deadpan response of “I just want people to have healthcare, honey” quickly went viral.
Part of Red Scare’s appeal is their aplomb to say whatever they want, resulting in an endless cycle of controversy. To paraphrase political philosopher Slavoj Zizek, those on the left shouldn’t be afraid to be politically incorrect.
Red Scare and the broadcast of its gauche opinions are polarizing and frustrating. They seem to tap deep into American culture’s most sensitive nerve. Wriggling and irritating, they do their job well. Some shoehorn them into the “dirtbag left,” a section of online leftists that combine traditional Marxist ideology with inflammatory opinions about current events and the futility of modern liberalism. The word “dirtbag” is operative here. Much more vulgar terms have been used to describe the Red Scare hosts. There is mud-slinging from all sides of the political spectrum. This raises the question: are women allowed to be mean?
Newspapers, Twitter users, and the chronically online seem to want to fulfil a paternal role. They scold and chide Khachiyan and Nekrasova as if sitting at a dinner table, saying “you know, hate is a strong word.” The urge to discipline and tone-police is one that many need to overcome. This only demonstrates that we as a culture have decided that women can’t express their opinions if they don’t fit with a certain constantly shifting social narrative. Think of other inflammatory cultural commentators: Piers Morgan, Joe Rogan, Ben Shapiro, Tucker Carlson, the list goes on. Try to think of a popular controversial woman who maintains at least a segment of the public’s respect. (hint: there aren’t any). Maybe Megyn Kelly, formerly of Fox News, counts, or that girl who carries an AR-15 on her back. Although Khachiyan and Nekrasova don’t have nearly the same reach as Kelley, they have experienced comparable online harassment. The women of Red Scare are adults. They can decide if they hate things or not. Conversely, we can decide to be mad at it. we’re adults too, mostly.
Looking past their inflammatory left-of-centre political opinions, Khachiyan and Nekrasova are simply two trendy Brooklyn millennials. They enjoy avocado toast, baby chiropractors, and brunch. Perhaps it isn’t any more complicated than that.