A response to the “mainstream-meme and girl-boss feminism” that was running un-critiqued in the “perfect storm” of a Trump Presidency, the Russian collusion narrative and the #metoo movement, Anna Khachiyan and Dasha Nekrasova’s Red Scare podcast “almost inadvertently or subconsciously set out to puncture that voice.”
Khachiyan, at the time “an art writer, but mostly a hostess,” met Nekrasova, an actress working in a Koreatown karaoke club, on Twitter, and in the year since beginning the podcast, the’ve gone from “aimless, ambition-less, washed-up losers” to selling out live shows and walking at New York fashion week (for designers Rachel Comey and Eckhaus Latta).
Nekrasova grew up in Las Vegas after emigrating from Minsk, whilst Khachiyan was born in Moscow before immigrating to New Jersey. Their shared Russian origins are a presence throughout the podcast, from its theme tune (t.A.T.u.’s iconic All The Things She Said) onwards. Broadly categorisable as a feminist-leftist podcast with comedic undertones, Red Scare provides cultural commentary on topics ranging from millennial socialism to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s choice to publicise her skincare regime, and from ISIS to cancel-culture.
The podcast’s following has grown exceptionally over the last year, and it now has over 2,300 subscribers on Patreon. However, it’s not all been plain sailing for the podcast; its rhetoric has come under fire, and the constant condemnation it receives resulted in Khachiyan being suspended from Twitter last November. People have said they are “stupid, vain and politically misinformed” — criticisms that the duo say are “all true!”
The Russian sensibility you share is a defining feature of the podcast: how would you say it differs most importantly from an American one?
Anna: Americans are like lifestyle-opticians: they’re able to confront and synthesise things that are glaring, whereas I think we really thrive on incoherence and chaos because we’re naturally primed to try to make sense of it.
Dasha: Yeah, we’re immigrants who grew up here, which I think gives us a sort of perspective and critical distance. I think that there is something inherent in Russian-ness where it’s less attuned to duality. Like Russians are more comfortable — speaking generally — in a grey area. And when it comes to thinking critically, that’s something that Americans aren’t quite as good at.
Anna: American political discourse – which is America’s biggest global export after military contracts and, I don’t know, fast food – is infected with this dialogue of, “This is my experience at the exclusion of all other experiences”, and has the tendency to deal in kind of closed, discrete binaries.
Dasha: The infatuation with consent is also a good example of something that is very black and white, which feminist and American thinkers have brushed onto. It’s this very American liberal idea, wherein everything is permitted as long as it is consensual, which is a very contractual framework that lacks nuance.
Why do you think “the Russian element” is appealing to your listeners?
Anna: I think that probably our strength collectively, as Russian immigrants, is that we are unoffendable? People always say “you guys are provocateurs or contrarians” or whatever but we really aren’t that much. We’re more concerned with talking through things as they happen and grappling with the internal inconsistencies and moral ambiguities.
How would you describe the podcast for anyone who hasn’t listened yet?
Anna: I think the basic consensus is that it’s a leftist feminist podcast, although many people would disagree with that. I like to say that because I think it kind of goads people into checking it out.
Dasha: I mean I don’t recommend it to anyone! I have a hard time telling people they would enjoy it because I know it’s not for everyone. I try to mention the cultural commentary, because I think that’s really where our strength is.
Who are your listeners and who is the podcast probably not for?
Anna: We have a modest but decent listenership in Europe; in London and Berlin and places where bicoastal, bisexual, urban and art people cluster. I think it is easier for these listeners, as they can actually be less critical, as they’re able to listen to it at face value, whereas if you’re in the USA and more integrated within the landscape of American politics then you would probably have more bones to pick with us.
Dasha: I don’t know what type of person would hate it. I guess you could say especially “woke” people or people who are big into identity politics, but this is also a gross generalisation. I’m always surprised by the diversity of our listeners. I think a lot of it resonates with a lot of different people, even if they don’t agree with everything we’re saying,
Anna: We have fashion models listening, conservative gay guys…One of the most affirmative things is that we’ve managed to attract a demographic that’s not a demographic and it’s one that is totally incongruous and random.
Dasha: It’s vindicating to have a lot of young listeners. College students and younger people seem to like it, as do a lot of older people.
Anna: I think you could say our audience is probably more like Gen Z and Gen X and then we lose the polls around the millennials.
Dasha: Yeah they reject us. But I mean we haven’t really run the analytics; we don’t have all the facts!
Of all the things you’ve been criticised for, what have you found to be the most unjust?
Dasha: I mean when people call us crypto-fascists or outright Nazis, I think that’s pretty unjust. The idea that we’re somehow dangerous or influencing discourse in a toxic way is unfair and misguided.
Anna: It’s just preposterous I don’t know where they’re getting it from. It’s not based in anything besides a distaste for our rhetoric. We are two chicks with an entertainment radio show that you can voluntarily opt in or out of. We’re not policy makers or political figures. At the most I think you can say we’re searing, or exploring some discourse on a very marginal level.
What’s one of the funniest things you’ve read that somebody has written about you online?
Anna: One of the first criticisms that I read, that I really love, is that I look like Mr Bean pulled through a taffy-puller, which is really accurate and hilarious!
Dasha: I mean a lot of people don’t like our vocal fry, which is fair.
Red Scare have a live show at 918 Bathurst Centre for Culture & Events (Toronto) on the 20th April. patreon.com/RedScare