Over the past year, I’ve had a pretty constant internal crisis between my love of consuming pop culture and entertainment versus my desire to feel like I’m actually educating and bettering myself because, oh God, the world is on fire and I’m doing nothing to stop it. It seems like something a lot of people have experienced to some extent over the past year—why are you sitting down to watch the latest rendition of THOR when the earth is melting? Why are you wasting your time going to a midnight screening of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE when the news is such a constant horror show? Pop culture is really the only thing I know anything about, but it’s increasingly felt petty and ridiculous to be invested in.
Or at least, it did feel that way before I encountered STRUGGLE SESSION. The hosts, Jonathan Daniel Brown, Jack Allison, and Leslie Lee III are all unrepentant nerds, but they’re also pretty astute political commentators, which leads to a remarkable blend of ripping into pop culture relentlessly, while being able to actually contextualize culture in a wider socio-political framework that give their critiques much more weight. What’s more, the thesis of the show from the very first episode has always been “it’s perfectly acceptable to like problematic things, so long as you’re willing to acknowledge their faults and limitations.” (Which, honestly, is a pretty decent summation of the thesis of this magazine as well.)
Oftentimes, the show finds the trio mercilessly dunking on beloved recent pieces of pop culture like the new Star Wars trilogy or Wonder Woman, and while some of their comments may enrage the average listener, it’s extremely difficult to make the case that they’re wrong. On other episodes, the three will focus on issues surrounding the entertainment industry, such as episode #25, where they discuss the closure of Gothamist media after a particular disgusting bit of union-busting by the billionaire Joe Ricketts. That episode is a personal favorite—it so plainly lays out the sheer difficulty of attempting to make a living in media today when private financiers are seemingly the only way to fund quality journalism. As someone attempting to help get an independent publication off the ground, the story of what happened to the Gothamist writers when they attempted to unionize chills me to my core.
The STRUGGLE SESSION guys are great because they understand how media warps and shapes our reality. They’re acutely aware of the business decisions that force their beloved pop culture to become garbage, and they have no problem calling it out when they see it. Even more importantly, however, they understand that nerdom can’t be the entirety of a person’s identity. Over the past few years there’s been a disturbing trend where people who happen to like Marvel movies and video games have attempted to claim that these tastes make up their core experience as human beings. Knowing pop culture trivia, staying on the cutting edge of content, and most importantly, simply consuming more than anyone else around you, have all come to replace having a personality and values beyond the ability to trade Doctor Who quotes. STRUGGLE SESSION rejects that notion; they reject the idea that being a geek means you have to be an insufferable piece of shit who grabs a McDonald’s cashier by the collar when they refuse to surrender Szechuan sauce fast enough. The guys have an actual ethics and politics guiding their experiences in geekdom, and it makes the show feel like less of a guilty pleasure than a way to genuinely enrich one’s experience with their favorite pop culture.