Jakob Lazzaro, Justin Curto and Mia Mamone Can't Let Go of politicized social media influence operations and dim sum, unionizing and stereotypically “gay” music, and John Cena’s hair and meeting irl: London edition. Stories featured in this episode hail from This American Life, TechCrunch and People. Transcript below.
[Music: Little Lily Swing]
Jakob Lazzaro: Hello, and welcome back to Can't Let Go, the NBN podcast where we discuss the news stories and the personal stories from the past week or several weeks, because it’s been spring break recently, that we can just not get out of our heads. I'm, as always, your host, Jakob Lazzaro, and today, as always, I’ve got two guests. We’ve got the returning, self-described friend-of-the-pod Justin Curto.
Justin Curto: Here as always.
Jakob: Here as always. And we have new guest fresh of the start of her reign as my boss, because she is the new Editor in Chief, Mia Mamone, everybody!
Mia Mamone: It’s great to be here.
Jakob: So Justin, as the self-described friend-of-the-pod, do you want to go first with your news story for this episode?
Justin: So, if you are on Twitter, online at all, you keep up with the internet, maybe you’ve seen that a lot of news orgs are unionizing lately.
Jakob: As an internet keeper-upper, as you say, I have noticed that, in fact. Thank you Justin.
Mia: Also definitely have noticed that.
Justin: Yeah, yeah, we stan a union. I listen to a lot of Bruce Springsteen so I’m like, unions are the shit. So, in the past few days, there’s been a lot of talk about some major online unions that are just going through some shit. Mainly being Buzzfeed News who formed a union about two months ago now and has been trying to meet with the top people at Buzzfeed, Jonah and Ben, to talk about recognizing their union. Five minutes from when the meeting was supposed to happen, Buzzfeed top leadership was like yeah, sorry. We can’t be there, we’re gonna have to cancel it. Got even wilder today when Bill DeBlasio, the mayor of New York, tweeted about it and was like hey Buzzfeed, this isn’t cool. New York is a union city, and people were like Bill DeBlasio, shut up. What about Amazon?
Mia: Oh my god. Ouch.
Justin: Yeah. That was a little… I was shook. Anyway, Jakob. What’s your news story?
Jakob: My news story comes from long standing standard of podcasting This American Life. Their most recent episode was under the broad theme of connecting the dots on a conspiracy theory.
Justin: A specific conspiracy theory?
Jakob: No, just conspiracy theories in general. The theme is like, you have a bunch of dots and you’re trying to connect them, so you do you do it – that’s like the broad theme of the episode. But act two was the one I’ve really been thinking about, because it was about this guy in Alabama. As we all know, Doug Jones. Democratic senator from Alabama. Big, wow. That happened.
Mia: Big thing.
Jakob: But this guy, who was kind of profiled in act two, he’s a Democrat who has been in Alabama for a very long time and was very frustrated, you know, obviously as being a Democrat in Alabama is probably pretty frustrating.
Mia: Makes sense.
Jakob: He noticed very early the Russian influence in the 2016 election with online social media influence and that sort of thing, but then in 2018 he was surprised to see that Doug Jones was doing so well in Alabama and he was like wow. Doug Jones could actually win and then I could have a Democratic senator, which as a Democrat in Alabama, I would like. So he put together his own little social media influencing operation because he’d seen that it had worked so well in the 2016 election. And he actually got some funding from Democratic donors in D.C. And what they did was, they basically… Alabama has a bunch of dry counties, because of evangelical conservatism.
Mia: Right, yeah.
Justin: Really? Do we still have dry counties?
Jakob: Oh yeah. Alabama has a lot.
Mia: Oklahoma has dry counties.
Justin: Can we do a story about dry counties?
Jakob: We could do a story about that. I doubt… There’s probably a few in southern Illinois.
Mia: We did a story on them when I was at KGOU, that’s how I know.
Jakob: And Roy Moore as you guys know was a big stan for the evangelical community in Alabama, which is mainly Baptist apparently, and the Baptists are the ones who tend to be supportive of prohibition, dry counties, that sort of thing. And this is like an issue of contention, this Democratic operative guy realized this could be used as a wedge issue between Republicans and Democrats in Alabama. So like some of the Facebook group names – one was “Dry Alabama,” another was “The Southern Caller.” They were acting like prohibitionist, culturally conservative Republicans that were super super gung ho about Roy Moore in the hopes that could depress turnout among, the guy in the story calls them “business Republicans” – the people who live in the suburbs and just want low taxes or whatever. There’s no knowing if this actually had an impact on the election, obviously. The main reason this guy thought it was a success, his name is Matt Osborne, was that nobody notice that they had done this. Like, no one found out that they were a fake influence operation. So now he’s drawing up plans to try and take this national in 2020. And I was just, like, very shook by the whole episode.
Justin: I don’t like this idea. I don’t know.
Mia: It makes me uncomfortable. Anyway!
Justin: Please tell me it’s what I think it is.
Mia: John Cena?
Justin: Oh, no. I thought we were gonna talk about “Six Facts About Grayson Chance.”
Mia: That’s another good one.
Justin: I don’t think that’s news, though. Talk about John Cena.
Mia: Yeah, that’s hard.
Jakob: Alright, now I wanna know. Tell me about John Cena. What did he do.
Mia: John Cena. One of the best memes of recent memory, right?
Jakob: I would disagree with that, but ok.
Mia: Well, well. Some would say that. I was scrolling the other day… Justin has seen the tweet, Justin is laughing.
Jakob: Wait, show me that. “John Cena's Mystery Woman Revealed Days After Being Spotted Together During Night Out in Vancouver?”
Mia: Ok, which like, yes. John Cena’s girlfriend revealed. That’s part of the story. The bigger part is that John Cena has hair!
Mia: He has, like, hair! I honestly had to stop for a second and like, stare and look at it.
Jakob: You stared at his hair.
Mia: I stared at John Cena’s hair. I just thought that was so weird, like, I don’t know. It’s just one of those things you take for granted, John Cena being bald and having a shaved head, and suddenly he has this full – not full, full. A good amount head of hair! It’s crazy, but anyway, I guess more news there is that his secret girlfriend mystery women is actually an engineer. And she’s apparently very brilliant. And she works for a Motorola solutions tech company, so that’s cool. I just think the whole situation is very odd. The hair, the interesting pair, didn’t mean for that to rhyme. Like I said, not necessarily as detailed or hard hitting…
Justin: He has hair in this one, too.
Jakob: Maybe he’s shaving it for the…
Mia: The fighting?
Jakob: The table throwing, I don’t know what he does. The memeing. Shaves his hair for it.
[And his name is John Cena meme music]
Jakob: So my personal story is like, a future story. As many of you know, I studied abroad in Hong Kong. It was great. One of the things Hong Kong is known for is Chinese cuisine including dim sum, which if you’ve never had it, it’s great. I guess the best way to describe it to someone who doesn’t know what it is, it’s kind of like tapas? You order a lot of sharable things…
Justin: OUR RESTAURANT is a tapas concept, so…
Justin: We do small shareable plates. You usually want to get about two or three each.
Mia: Don’t come for Tapas Barcelona like that, Justin.
Justin: No, no, no! I’m coming for all the restaurants in London, it was a huge thing when we were there. All the restaurants are like we do small shareable plates. We’re tapas style, but it’s Italian food.
Justin: We’re tapas style Indian food. Like, fuck off!
Jakob: Anyway the point of dim sum is its like tapas style, most of traditional Chinese cuisine is shared dishes, but dim sum is like it’s a lot of small things you share between a group of people. That’s one of the main things I miss about Hong Kong, really good dim sum. Ever since I came back to the U.S. in January, I’ve been dying to get some dim sum in Chicago because Chicago does have a Chinatown. And then it just never happened because people are busy, whatever. Like, how do I propose to a friend group that includes Justin, and David and several other people who are vegetarians, hey let’s go get dim sum where basically everything has meat in it. Not gonna go over well, right?
Jakob: Anyway, the point is, at our first NBN meeting under Mia’s reign at the beginning of the quarter, I bumped into Sophia Lo who has been on the podcast before. And the thought struck me – Sophia likes dim sum! We can make this happen. So I was like, hey. I have a concept. Let’s all go get dim sum. Like, bring in David, who’s also been on the podcast before and likes dim sum. That’s three people, that’s like a decent enough size. I can maybe rope in Justin, that was before I thought about it for more than two seconds. She was like, great. And it’s happening! We’re going on Saturday, it’s gonna be fantastic, we’re still deciding on a time. Mia’s joining us.
Mia: I’ll be there.
Jakob: Which is the perfect amount, because if you’ve ever gotten dim sum, most items come in threes or fours.
Mia: I’ve never gotten dim sum, so I will see how it is.
Jakob: I hope you are prepared to be blown away.
Mia: I’m excited.
Jakob: On that note, Mia, what is your personal story this week?
Mia: Yeah! Well, usually nothing interesting happens in my life so this would have been hard in a normal day, but recently I did actually go to London with my Medill class – shout out, global 301. While there, I did a bunch of cool stuff possibly worthy of talking about on a podcast. But I think the neatest thing for me was I actually got to meet my internet friend of seven years.
Jakob: Oh my god.
Mia: Who I became buds with in middle school.
Jakob: This is wild, this is almost like a movie sort of thing, wow.
Mia: Yeah. We became friends over Harry Potter and Doctor Who Instagram fan pages, back when I was really, really, really into that. We would make these like, edits, so we we would take screen grabs from the shows or movies and edit them so they were like…
Jakob: So you’d make your own memes.
Mia: Yeah, they weren’t really memes though. They were supposed to be…
Jakob: Did any of them become famous?
Mia: Not really, no.
Jakob: Damn. I thought we were in the presence of a famous meme creator, Justin. Letdown.
Mia: The thing is, they weren’t really memes because they were supposed to be very creative and beautiful, like they were very artsy. It’s kind of hard to explain. We would all chat a lot about our lives, and we’d be like a-ha-ha! It’s so cool you live in England! Like whatever seventh grade American teenage girls say. Nina, we didn’t talk as much on a regular basis. We kind of dropped out of the fandom stuff as we got older and had new interests and got lives, but we became friends on Facebook, follow each other on Twitter, follow each other’s Instagrams, Finstas, stuff like that. And then I posted on my Finsta like a month ago asking for help with ideas for someone to interview when I was in London because I had to do that for my class, the Medill 301 class. Nina messaged me on Instagram and was like, oh my god – you’re gonna be in London? We should totally meet up! I was looking forward to it, was kind of...
Justin: Sounds intimate.
Mia: Was kind of… well. We did go to Nando’s, so.
Jakob: Did they serve a small plate tapas concept?
Mia: No, I ordered a chicken burger.
Justin: You don’t know what Nando’s is?
Jakob: Oh, I know what Nando’s is, bitch! It’s huge in Australia. They have it in D.C., it’s like… I’m not getting into this right now.
Mia: Quote – “I know what Nando’s is, bitch!”
Jakob: I fucking love Nando’s. It is amazing.
Mia: But anyway. Our hotel ended up being really close to Nina’s school, and so she met me outside the hotel and we met up and it was really surreal seeing her in person, it was really strange. But yeah. We walked and I was like, where do you recommend to eat? And she was like, have you had Nando’s yet? And I was like, no. And she was like it’s kind of a meme, but you really do have to go there.
Jakob: So good.
Mia: It was very surreal, but it was super neat.
Justin: So I’m gonna go with this personal story, because I have like five floating around. We’re not gonna talk about my spring break, even though I went to a commune. That was fun. We’re gonna talk about how for the past two weeks or so, I don’t know why, I have just been stuck in this rut of like, a basic gay pop music phase. And it’s been fun, but I feel like this is so reductive and just, like, I need to listen to rock music again. But I have no motivation to listen to rock music again. So I have just been spending the past two weeks… it started with getting really really into Sky Ferreira because I had never listened to Sky Ferreira and then she turned into one of my favorite singers. And then we went to Tennessee to go to the commune, and a lot of people on our playlist put things like Carly Rae Jepsen, Charli XCX. “I Didn’t Just Come Here to Dance” was the song that got played a lot. And I’m like, I want to revisit Emotion. And we were listening to Emotion. And like, Carly Rae is like I have a new album coming out. And I’m like, ok. Gotta listen to more Carly Rae Jepsen. It’s just spring vibes.
Jakob: We all have our quote unquote guilty pleasures, but then again is any music really a guilty pleasure?
Justin: That’s not even my guilty pleasure music.
Jakob: Yeah, exactly.
Justin: My guilty pleasure song lately has been “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips, the song from the end of Bridesmaids.
Mia: I haven’t seen Bridesmaids.
Mia: I’m a bad entertainment writer.
Justin: Can I play a clip of this song? You’ll know it. You’ll know it.
Mia: Yeah, ok.
Justin: I’ve also been listening to some, elevated if you will, stuff. Do you know Let's Eat Grandma?
Jakob: Some high art.
Mia: Yeah, I’ve heard of them.
Justin: [begins playing “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips]
Justin: You’re gonna know it in a second, probably.
Jakob: Mia’s nodding. Now Justin’s dancing.
Justin: [begins singing along to “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips]
Jakob: If you’ve never seen Justin dance, I’ll have you know he’s very long.
Justin: [continues singing along to “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips]
Mia: Very long?
Jakob: He’s a very long person when he dances. Just, you know what I mean?
Justin: [continues singing along to “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips]
Jakob: Just takes up a lot of space.
Mia: That’s a fun descriptor.
[Music: Little Lily Swing]
Justin: That’s going to wrap things up for this week.
Jakob: Thank you, Justin.
Jakob: This and all other NBN podcasts can be found on the iTunes and in the Google Play Store and in Spotify, go subscribe, et cetera, et cetera. Our show’s theme is “Little Lily Swing” by Tri-Tachyon, which we use under a Creative Commons Attribution License. I'm Jakob Lazzaro, the eternal host of this podcast, because it is my podcast.
Justin: I'm Justin Curto, the eternal guest.
Jakob: And friend-of-the-pod.
Mia: I’m Mia Mamone, first time on the pod and hopefully will return.
Justin: Eternal Editor in Chief.
Mia: Not eternal!
Mia: But Editor in Chief.
Jakob: And this is NBN Audio.
[Music: Little Lily Swing]
Jakob: And I’m a good geography person.
Justin: You’re so east coast, I hate it.
Jakob: Ah, yes. Me, the coastal elites, jetting over the flyover states. Well…
Justin: Get fucked, Jakob.