For 500 years the State Oracle of Tibet has worked as a kind of angry immortal advisor to the Dalai Lama, a Tibetan hybrid of Dominic Cummings and John Dee. The current incumbent, like all previous ones, alternates between his human incarnation and his spirit version. ‘In Tibetan Buddhism, the unseen parallel world of spirits is not to be taken lightly,’ explains anthropologist David Sneath on Heart and Soul (BBC World Service). ‘There are so many other living species,’ the Minister of Religion and Culture tells Sneath, ‘many of which we don’t even see.’
Sneath interviews the cheerful sixty-something State Oracle (living in exile in Dharamsala), various government ministers, sincere religious leaders and younger Tibetan activists who see consulting oracles as embarrassingly dated. In the era of pocket black mirrors, mysterious algorithms and new spirits with names like ‘Google’, ‘Instagram’ and ‘Netflix’, consulting a State Oracle might seem a little like keeping a jester around for old times’ sake, but the previous one did, in fact, prove useful to the Dalai Lama, prophesying the invasion of China in 1950 — even drawing his holiness an escape map.
Sneath’s thoughtful, atmospheric broadcast conjures a world where politics, spirits and history are inseparable. Political podcasts, another ‘unseen parallel world of spirits’, perform similar work, tapping into currents unnoticed, unseen and unobserved by the mainstream media, fettered as it is by ideological rigidity, self-policing and the party line. Freed from tired formats and often illusory ‘balance’, podcasts at either end of the political spectrum increasingly prove popular. Two such examples, Red Scare Podcast and Bronze Age Pervert’s Caribbean Rhythms With BAP, on the left and the right respectively, command devoted audiences and much speculation about their presenters, highly public in the first case and strictly anonymous in the latter.
Anna Khachiyan and Dasha Nekrasova, the fashionable, New Yorker, Bernie Sanders-supporting hosts of Red Scare, are the doyennes of the ‘Dirtbag Left’, a term coined by regular guest Amber A’Lee Frost to describe ‘non-woke’ or ‘anti-identity’ socialists — that part of the left unafraid to mock and make jokes, even, or especially, against their own side.
The latest episode, ‘Memechausen’s’, veers charmingly from a critical discussion of Mike Bloomberg’s attempt to buy the election via meme warfare to the meaning of ‘decadence’, the role of church in the presenters’ lives, and how to get Steve Bannon to come on their pod, or at least give him a makeover. The pair, amid laughter and deadpan analysis, discuss everything from dating apps (‘OK Cupid are the Bloomberg of dating apps…they make us not want to date’), skin oils, RuPaul’s Drag Race and the opportunistic use of ‘queer’ by actress Jameela Jamil (‘there’s no way Jameela Jamil has ever eaten pussy… I doubt she’s even had rough sex’).
Between provocation, depth and critique, it is Camille Paglia, Sigmund Freud and Christopher Lasch who possess the minds of the two laconic presenters. ‘All we have are our instincts, and not all the facts,’ Nekrasova concludes, which is perhaps precisely what makes them so popular.
Bronze Age Pervert is a brilliant enigma. Author of 2018’s Bronze Age Mindset, an ‘exhortation’ against the ‘Iron Prison’ and the ‘killjoy’ modern world we currently inhabit, the author combines ancient and classical thought, Nietzschean hyperbole, history, demented geography and glamorous male warriors (he also posts frequent photos of modern incarnations on his Twitter account). BAP, as he is known to his fans, has recently turned to podcasting under the name Caribbean Rhythms, recorded who knows where, but surely on some sort of pirate island or other place of exile (he hints at Latin America). The show is a mixture of dramatic, stirring classical music — Rachmaninov’s Preludes for the latest episode (‘the sound of real Russia, Russia before 1917, aristocratic Russia’) — and short rants about the idiocy and corruption of contemporary geopolitics, expositions of classical political theory, diagnoses of the deep state and excoriations of various journalistic and institutional ‘half-brains’. No one — no leader, and no country — is spared.
Delivered in a mildly comedic eastern European accent, the latest episode, ‘Oligarchy versus Putinism’, explains why Putin poses such a threat to US ‘democracy’ (a word he always pronounces in the most sarcastic tone). Far from being on the side of the oligarchs, he explains, Putin is the one that protects Russian resources from ‘Clinton’s friends’. Listening to an episode of Caribbean Rhythms is a lot like being trapped in a radio version of The Manchurian Candidate: no one is who they seem.