Laughing at the tipping point of disaster: My top 10 podcasts of 2022

I listen to too many podcasts.

I listen to podcasts about political theory to sleep. I listen to cricket podcasts to do the dishes. I walk to the rhythm of tech overlord defenestration.

Like many others, I worry that podcast information retention is much lower than with reading. How many of the terrible things I learn about am I remembering?

And: I wonder if my incessant podcasting is a distraction from thinking about the things I need to think about, and know that the answer is probably yes.

But I do listen. It is always new, and it is never aural wallpaper.

None of the below rely on corporate advertising.

Instead, these humans pay their bills through paid subscriptions on platforms like Patreon, selling T-shirts of imaginary Dutch pop bands, and other gambits that are much better than shilling for Audi or whoever.

I sincerely recommend you pay people for their work, and subscribe to any podcast you enjoy.

These have dragged me through insomnia and other bad times. I have formed parasocial attachments to certain hosts and contributors that they will mercifully never know about.

But most of all, they’re providing a crucial public service, free to report on the things a lot of the mainstream media have given up reporting on.

Laughing at the wickedness, stupidity and greed of the snake-oil salesmen, the billionaires and those who laud and defend them might not change the world, but it sure makes me feel better.

Tech, Late Capitalism and Politics

Trashfuture

Trashfuture is “a podcast about business success and making yourself smarter with the continued psychic trauma of capitalism”. [1]

It is, for my money, the best podcast out there about the vanities and absurdities of the tech industry.

It features superb guests, a disturbingly accurate impression of Kier Starmer, and an uncanny ability to lathe terrible things into existence [2].

Trashfuture has been going a few years now, and has moved beyond its “laughing at the latest insane startup” roots to cover everything from the carbon-offset market (it’s a scam), the crypto-currency sector (it’s a scam), and the latest adventures of special boy Matt Hancock (he’s… real?).

UK based but transatlantic in personnel, Trashfuture takes a few listens to get into, so deep is its lore and so varied its remit.

In-jokes ahoy.

But what separates Trashfuture from its tech dystopian peers is it is consistently laugh out loud funny; particularly when pod leader Riley tries earnestly to keep things on track and is consistently undermined by Milo Edwards, Alice Caldwell-Kelly and the rest of the gang.

Trashfuture also has a few returning side-themes, including Britainology, in which Milo attempts to explain awful British cultural concepts to an American [3], and an irregular series in which terrible novels written by awful UK politicians are read to Nish Kumar as a form of psychic torture.

Tech Won’t Save Us

I subscribed to this podcast after reading Paris Marx’s Road to Nowhere, an incisive, cutting take on what the tech industry gets wrong about the future of transportation, and where that leaves us (spoiler: driverless cars aren’t real, and Elon Musk is even dumber than his Twitter takeover indicates).

Marx hosts, and is joined each week by a guest to critically assess the tech industry’s latest comedy zeppelins, ruinous anti-worker philosophies and dangerous ideological fantasies.

It’s very much focused on Silicon Valley, and is a lot drier in tone than Trashfuture, which for some of you may come as a relief. The quality of guest is consistently high, with Wendy Liu, Molly White and Douglas Rushkoff all passing through to offer insight over the last few weeks.

Reel Politik

The cream of the shitpost left, whose incessant Mike Gapes trolling culminated so splendidly at the last election with one of their undercover agents penetrating the CUKTIG candidate’s inner sanctum and gaining direct access to the milky man himself.

They’ve been a bit more sporadic these past few years, understandably so – if you’re to the left of Gengis Khan, the British political landscape has been particularly brutal and depressing to analyse or even laugh at post-Corbyn.

But they’re continuing to fight the good fight, with the hypocrisy of Starmer’s Labour defenestrated regularly, amid enjoyable diversions into classic rock chat and B-movie culture analysis.

This Machine Kills

Self-described as “agitprop against innovation and capital”, This Machine Kills is another anti-Silicon Valley podcast, approximately 27% more snarky than Tech Won’t Save Us but covering similar themes and ideas. They’ve been very good on the hot air (ahem) at the heart of the “green transition”, and the importance of owning a cat as praxis.

The Alexi Sayle Podcast

Has the 1980s leftist firebrand mellowed with age? No. Would anyone even vaguely closely his comedy / political equivalent be allowed on the BBC now? Also no. Is he a bit grumpy? Yes. Is he still funny? My god yes.

The East is a Podcast

Orientalism is reel, and TEIAP challenges it every week. I don’t always agree with their conclusions, but even as an anti-imperialist, socialist internationalist, my presumptions, assumptions and other blind spots are repeatedly challenged.

Ten Thousand Posts

A podcast by, for, and heavily critical of the eternally online, TTP digs deep into the underbelly of online subculture[s] and the sacred art of posting, as we have all lived on the internet for so very long now and we are quite tired but will never, ever log off.

Engineering and Transportation

Well There’s Your Problem

An engineering podcast with slides, Roz, Alice (also heard on Trashfuture), Yay Liam and guest (sometimes) tackle disasters old and new in exhaustive, discursive and often extremely funny episodes that go on about twice as long as you might expect.

From the infamous (Titanic) to the obscure (19th century rail whoopsies), wtypp cover events of mass death and minor disaster alike with a strangely moving mix of sympathy and out-and-out abuse.

Liam is the chaos element here, and Roz the reassuring, dulcet toned engine room as we find out why bridge fall down or boat turn over in extremely detailed and well-researched terms.

The War On Cars

It’s illuminating to compare this American active travel podcast – “the latest developments in the worldwide fight to undo a century’s worth of damage wrought by the automobile” – with its British cousins. The latter tend to be much more polite and much less radical when it comes to challenging the toxic legacy of the internal combustion engine.

This could be because we’ve never quite got to the “if someone’s on a bike they’ve probably lost their license due to DUI” levels of the American hinterland; conversely, there are urban pockets of the USA which put our best practice to absolute shame.

Always angry, always righteous, but never losing their sense of humour, the War on Cars team are a joy to listen to. Special mention for their recent episode with legendary love/sex columnist Dan Savage, who made the queer / cycling outgroup comparisons he is qualified to make and I absolutely am not.

#RailNatter

Left wing nerds discussing the catastrophic failures of rail privatisation, while maintaining a messianic passion for the inherent goodness of the medium and the people who live, love and work within the industry?

You had me at “trains”.

[1] I’m not usually the sort of person to recommend podcasts to IRL friends, but I love this one so much I have suggested it to a few. it’s been interesting how people have reacted based on their politics; lefties have loved it, liberals have hated it. So if you’re of the centrist dad persuasion this one might not be for you.

[2] Ursula LeGuin’s Lathe of Heaven, but for dumb tech start-ups.

[3] Recent guests include Jeremy Vine and Adrian Childs, neither of whom seemed entirely in on the joke.

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