NOW CURATING: YOMI
s t r e e t a r t i s t
I met Dan in the spring of 2011. An innocent time! . . . but what IS innocence? Dan Pasternack, the creator of Never Forget Radio, would never submit to such simplified understandings as innocence or experience, good or evil. NFR is “a feminist podcast that approaches our post-9/11 era as history, cultural quarry, and ongoing catastrophe”
I love Never Forget Radio: its humility, its humor, its many layers of analysis, warmth and rigor! (admittedly, my own feminist-pod-about-Palestine has collaborated with Never Forget Radio on many occasions!) It respects ambiguity, plumbs experience and engages historiography not in the aim of “reliving 9/11 itself, nor cataloging the myriad conspiracy theories associated with it” but rather to resummon “the ongoing responses, memorialization, art, wars, and repression, that we understand as the ‘post-9/11 period’”
For four years Dan has participated in the Philadelphia Podcast Festival, talking about World War I, Bono at the Superbowl and the Civil War. See him at this year’s festival on July 23 at Kitchen Table Gallery talking about either Bush’s self-portraits or Bin Laden’s compound . . .
– Rebecca Katherine Hirsch, curator
Rebecca Katherine Hirsch: Dan, you created a podcast. But what has this podcast created of you?
Dan Pasternack: What has the podcast created of me? Well, for a long time I identified as someone who was frustrated because he really wanted to write something, or be working on something, but wasn’t. Now I identify as a person who wishes they were working on their project.
RKH: In a sentence, describe your podcast.
DP: My podcast is about how 9/11 is/was remembered and used. It’s not about conspiracies or patriotism. I don’t care what happened, just how it was treated.
RKH: In a short paragraph, describe how your podcast could be helpful and then in that same short paragraph tell me how it could be harmful
DP: Well I think it would have been helpful to take a long quiet view on this tragedy, and subsequent ones, instead of taking a quick angry view. And even though the worst happened (wars started, security state was established, far-right ideas became normalized) and keeps happening, I think it’s important to at least mark how that happened. You’ll look up and the period will be taught using only the right’s talking points. Because of privilege I worry about historiography, how things will be told in the future, rather than say present danger or politics.
RKH: Does ambiguity play a role in your work?
DP: Definitely. I’m generally going over subtle shades or tones of things that are long since decided, trying to define feels, senses, small places where changes in messaging happened, such as speeches and ceremonies. And I try to allow for alternate possibilities—what if this public ceremony stressed different values? What if this monument played to peaceful archetypes instead of martial ones? And of course while talking about small-but-meaningful things I also try to stress that these are after all small things I’m talking about.
RKH: What is your analytical process? How does the way you think inform the pod you make?
DP: Well, first, the reason it is a podcast in the first place instead of any other kind of medium is that I feel that I think best while talking. I don’t know, I just find I’m best able to articulate an argument or find a useful digression while I am speaking. Otherwise, I would say that my best skill has always been memory, and recall, and so the process is basically making a lot of associations, through whatever fields I might be either really comfortable with, or remember vaguely, and then finding a way to link them up in a hopefully leftist, feminist, antiwar way. With jokes and references that I can imagine myself listening to months later and not hating.
Also I’d like to say that my research process is literally reading to the 20th or 30th page of Google results. Especially for the small stuff I’m working with—an incident, a gaffe, a phrase, a song. After a while you get to old blogs, forum posts, local articles, or even if you read the same take on something 15 slightly different times, it gives you a sense of how an issue or event was framed or understood.
RKH: Your podcast includes humor, facts, footage from the far and recent past, recreations of blog post dialogue, and news footage. Why?
DP: Well, it’s recent history, and we have an unprecedented amount of primary sources, if we’re willing to see them as usable historical artifacts. I try to break up my voice, also. One of the first things I did when I started this project is borrow the six hour audiobook version of George W. Bush reading his autobiography from the Free Library. I did a whole episode basically on the first chapter, where he talks about his father, mainly, the war hero, the star baseball player. I thought about doing more with him, but ultimately his voice is too oppressive—and worse than that, too sympathetic. If you spend too much time with him, he sounds reasonable, friendly, measured. I’ve spent a lot of time with him, first eight years, and then researching, and watching clips and listening to Decision Points. I don’t recommend doing that. And I definitely would stay as far away as I can from the current president—don’t listen to him, don’t watch him, don’t dissect the words he says, don’t let him into your body! Read what he does, quickly, and get out of there. Too much contact will only lead to normalization, and eventually, understanding and forgiveness. These people do not deserve your attention, and the process of watching is more powerful than your resolve. The form of the media that politicians are presented in—even the process of paying attention itself—is more powerful than you. It will change you and it does not deserve your time!
RKH: Since its inception, what has inspired your pod? What has hindered it?
DP: The immediate inspiration for the pod was in January 2013, when George Bush’s emails were hacked and his first paintings were exposed to the world. Bush in the shower mirror, Bush in the bathtub. A lot of things came back to me at once when I saw those. Maybe because I felt that Bush was so caught up in my adolescence, puberty, and first (or lamented lack of) sexual experiences—a lot of this inferiority under patriarchy and high school came back to me when I saw those oddly introspective, vulnerable paintings. I was angry—I’m still angry, even as I’ve helped this along—that he’d become humanized. We always forgive the powerful and sympathize with their emptiness and loneliness. We don’t celebrate their small comeuppances, we pity them. Politicians in history are treated like gangsters in biopics, everything is explainable, understandable, everyone has their reasons. We give away everything, sit through a whole 90 minutes of shootings and torture and domestic violence, just so we can watch the boss pace at night or smoke a cigarette in silence or call on God alone, and think, what a shameful man, what a repentant man, it’s not his fault, the times made him this way, his father made him this way, what a human story.
RKH: At what age did you know you first were going to grow up to write a podcast about 9/11?
DP: Well I do have a personal connection to the event, like so many people do, so I guess I’ve known since I was 14 that I’d be obsessed with this event for the rest of my life. I wrote poetry about it in my ninth grade creative writing class, and then nothing, but I always “followed” it, obviously, not just the big stuff like the two wars or the 2004 election but little things like memorials and sports ceremonies. A couple of things happened in ‘11 and ‘12 to get me thinking about it, the tenth anniversary of course. But then, during an unusual night on 9/11/2012, I was actually able to see the blue memorial lights against the cloud cover while I was going for a long, depressed walk at my parents’ house in White plains NY, 30 miles away. And around that time I was a guest on the John Hodgman podcast. It was a big relief to start writing about it in earnest rather than carrying it around all the time.
RKH: Tell me about the ethical interlinking and underlining between understanding trauma, capitalizing on trauma, monetizing trauma, repressing trauma in favor of memorialization, and memorializing trauma as a means of transcending trauma?
DP: Wow, this question. Well, hopefully that’s the crux of a lot of episodes of the podcast. I explore a specific setting—say, a Yankee’s game, a wrestling event on 9/14/2001, or a particular memorial—and try to follow all of those overlapping threads at once. But it’s always been hard for me to imagine earnest intentions on the part of, say, a whole stadium of people holding a moment of silence, or a leader giving a statement of surprise and condolences.
DP: A couple of things influence my focus in monuments. There’s the 99% Invisible mantra “always read the plaque”, and a beautiful phrase that stuck with me from the the comic strip Great Pop Things. They ask, what will the punks do on their big day out in the city? “We’re gonna catch the last train home, we’ll sit on the steps of the war memorial.” After a while those kind of public spaces are only used by kids and homeless people. Their heroic meanings are totally lost and they become a place for undesired people to sit. People who the monument builders might gasp to see defiling their sacred spaces with their 40’s.
As for masculinity in sports, that would come out of a long-term attachment to baseball that was actually complicated by post-911 pageantry. Being a sports consumer had to be political—[because] being apolitical is a stance, can’t be neutral on a moving train, etc. And then when I was exposed to basic feminist ideas, on top of a lifetime of engagement and entanglement with rules of masculinity, those frames became (another) axis that it was impossible to be neutral on.
RKH: Where are you in your pod TODAY? What kinds of pods are in the works? On the backburner? What we expect next from Never Forget Radio?
DP: I’m about to record a long interview from 2012 with several friends of the pod, which will be the culmination of a long delayed double episode on blogosphere culture wars of the Bush era, through the prism of sabermetrics, plus the “nerd”conquest of politics (538) and Hollywood (superhero franchises). The interview took place right after the 2012 election and is very uncomfortably hopeful and even triumphant. Plus I’ll be appearing at the Philadelphia Podcast Festival on July 23rd at Kitchen Table Gallery, either talking about Bush’s new paintings of injured veterans of the wars he started, or maybe about the way that diagrams of Bin Laden’s “lair” in Abbottabad were gendered in a way to appeal to boys who grew up with fantasy world maps in novels and shooter games. I hope I finish that episode eventually. There’s a lot I want to throw in there about the coverage of Bin Laden’s “seven foot privacy wall” on his third floor balcony and how it resembles present day gentrification construction.
RKH: They say it takes a village to raise a child. Who raises your pod?
DP: My pod could not exist without many friends volunteering to edit drafts and listen to early versions, including Jamie Goodman, Harry Waksberg, and Humble Mumbles. And it relies on music donated from friends’ bands as well, especially Old Table, No One and the Somebodies, Cave Cricket, and Snow Caps. I would have said that my podcast was the world’s foremost fan art dedicated to the band Old Table, until the 100-song tribute album came out.
RKH: In your opinion, which were your best and worst pods and why?
DP: As much as I’ve tried for variety, the majority of episodes have been about 9/11 memorials, post 9/11 sports pageantry, and George W. Bush. I think the interview with my friend Emilie about their illegal four-day detainment at the 2004 RNC might be the best, if very difficult to listen to. I do a lot of remembering on the pod but this one foregrounds someone else’s experience, which I should really do more often.
The worst one is probably the episode about Moby Dick being written and taking place in 2003 (from chapter one, “grand contested election for president of the United States—whaling voyage by one Ishmael—BLOODY BATTLE IN AFGHANISTAN”), which I have been assured is completely incomprehensible.
RKH: Tell me about your process!
DP: I write down some feverish notes about something topical, then revisit them months, months later. Then I get lost on Wikipedia or Google Images. Then I have to edit and record, edit and record, plus go to work. It’s a heavily written podcast, it’s not interviews or conversation. Each episode takes one hundred years to produce.
RKH: What’s something you’ve experienced lately that has informed, redirected, or otherwise affected your work?
DP: The 2016 election, which started in 2014 or so and unfortunately has not ended, has radically slowed my work, and made everyone’s lives impossible.
RKH: Does the work lead its own life? How involved are you in the process? What IS art?
DP: Unfortunately it doesn’t, it just sits in exactly the same unfinished decay as I left it. I have many, many underway episodes. But it is very rewarding to put in the time and actually finish one. My first experience of history was diligently keeping my own history—putting away records, memories, documents for myself, to preserve the essence of myself for myself in the future. I have boxes of notes, diagrams, maps, lists from elementary school through college. I no longer think this archive will be valuable for future generations. Ultimately the work is for myself only—I have to listen to it a hundred times while I’m making it, and I’m the only one who will ever listen to these things in the future. So I try to ensure that I won’t be embarrassed about it, that it preserves something that seemed important.
RKH: Where were you on 9/11 and why don’t you like this question?
DP: I don’t like the question because it frames the event as personal and temporal. It over values initial reactions and crowds out everything that happened afterwards, and everything that happened before. There’s an assumption of pastoral lost innocence in that question that I dislike. The us was not attacked “out of the blue,” out of the easily metaphorical cloudless sky. While I like that this frame expands ownership of this event (because everyone over a certain age has an instant answer), it also restricts access in an unhelpful way (to people age ~20 and over), like some corporate decade-nostalgia TV show. And it crowds out all other historical events and disasters. And the frame has always been used to advance revanchist agendas—remember the Alamo, remember the Maine, never forget. A better question might be “how do you feel about 9/11 and the post-911 era now?” which I guess the pod is my open-ended slow answer to.
RKH: Were we all pods once?
DP: I guess you could stretch this question to mean that one of the first available means of expression to us would be stream of consciousness half-recognised-language half-private-language aural addresses, which could be recorded now and presented as toddler-pods in a modern adaptation of the vhs-recorder holding historian-parent.
RKH: After we die, what happens?
DP: Nothing, I think. I was a very nasty, argumentative atheist in middle school, trying to convince kids that they were being lied to, but I don’t do that anymore.
An answer relevant to this podcast might be, if you have the misfortune to die in certain ways, you are used by the state to justify wars and oppression.
RKH: What other projects are you working on?
RKH: What do you do for fun?
DP: The New York Yankees play 162 games per year, and I watch about 100. What can I say? I feel like I’ve used that number . . . a hundred times during this interview. 9/11 is a good topic for someone easily swayed by numerology.
RKH: Tell me something about yourself that confuses you and that you seek to understand via your creation of Never Forget Radio
DP: The podcast definitely ends up as a repository of whatever I’m thinking about/wondering about/interested in/confused by. “Significant-seeming things that have happened since 2001” is a pretty open-ended topic.