Bourbon 'n BrownTown

Ep. 96 - Advertising in the Activist Resurgence (& So-called "Wokeism") 3.0 ft. Justin Stillmaker

Episode Summary

BrownTown sits down with the original "Ad Man" Justin Stillmaker to reflect on the role of advertising as propaganda, its attempts to co-opt social movement language and optics throughout the past half decade, and the odd trajectory of the term "woke" (and the right-wing obsession with hating it). Now in 2023, with unapologetic anti-LGBTQ+, anti-Black, and anti-labor laws and rhetoric sweeping the country, where do we situate so-called “wokeism” in normalizing hate, harm, and regression? With their varied experiences creating and consuming media as well as involvement in liberatory struggles, BrownTown and Justin try to make sense of the relationship between the current political landscape and the media industry . Originally recorded July 10, 2023.

Episode Notes

BrownTown sits down with the original "Ad Man" Justin Stillmaker to reflect on the role of advertising as propaganda, its attempts to co-opt social movement language and optics throughout the past half decade, and the odd trajectory of the term "woke" (and the right-wing obsession with hating it). Now in 2023, with unapologetic anti-LGBTQ+, anti-Black, and anti-labor laws and rhetoric sweeping the country, where do we situate so-called “wokeism” in normalizing hate, harm, and regression? With their varied experiences creating and consuming media as well as involvement in liberatory struggles, BrownTown and Justin try to make sense of the relationship between the current political landscape and the media industry . Originally recorded July 10, 2023.


2019's first installment established advertising as a pillar of consumerism serving as a jester for a larger capitalist economic structure while analyzing the then unique wave of commercials co-opting movement optics and language. Episode 2.0 in early 2021 reflected on the institutional and media landscape post-COVID lockdown, post-George Floyd uprisings, and post-2020 elections, where the movement co-optation skewed towards “uplifting Black voices'' regardless of anti-Black policies, shitty marketing, and the mere fact that the capitalism can’t breed liberation.


Full Transcriptions Here!


Justin Stillmaker has been a creative director at Publicis and Leo Burnett and has directed commercials for Disney, Target, Dremel, Nickelodeon, and ComEd. He has worked with Fortune 500 brands from Target to TikTok and has a deep understanding of designing and operating Artificial Intelligence platforms, communicating messaging for emerging brands, and developing the visual language of companies and brands. Justin has directed numerous short films, web series, and music videos that have been screened at dozens of film festivals around the country. He has a deep passion for film, basketball, and terrible puns. Follow Justin on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and his site Watch and/or listen to his Twitch show Connect the Dots on YouTube or whoever you find your podcasts.


Mentioned Topics:


CREDITS: Intro soundbite from The Daily Show and outro Wake Up by Rage Against the Machine. Audio engineered by Kiera Battles.


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Episode Transcription

Ep. 96 - Advertising in the Activist Resurgence (& So-called "Wokeism") 3.0 ft. Justin Stillmaker

BrownTown sits down with the original "Ad Man" Justin Stillmaker to reflect on the role of advertising as propaganda, its attempts to co-opt social movement language and optics throughout the past half decade, and the odd trajectory of the term "woke" (and the right-wing obsession with hating it). Now in 2023, with unapologetic anti-LGBTQ+, anti-Black, and anti-labor laws and rhetoric sweeping the country, where do we situate so-called “wokeism” in normalizing hate, harm, and regression? With their varied experiences creating and consuming media as well as involvement in liberatory struggles, BrownTown and Justin try to make sense of the relationship between the current political landscape and the media industry . Originally recorded July 10, 2023.


(Intro sound bite from The Daily Show)

[00:00:51.410] - Various Newscasters

Woke means: being woke means never having to say you're sorry. Woke means never letting anyone say they're sorry. Woke is racist. Being woke means equity, diversification, gender and racial disparities. This wokeness that's happening at Madison's house and Jefferson's house, where all they do is talk about slavery. Wokeism is about murdering fun. You know what woke means? It means you're a loser. Woke madness: now it's drag queens and children and church. The woke is the new religion of the left.


[00:01:23.760] - David

I'd like to welcome everyone to another installment of Bourbon 'n BrownTown. It's your boy, David, coming to you from Chicago, Illinois, with my boy, Caullen. Caullen, how you doing, man?

[00:01:31.100] - Caullen

I always think of the Chicago DJ tags

[00:01:35.470] - David

You gotta get me bumpers or what? Like, things where I could push things.

[00:01:37.860] - Caullen

That would not be good.

[00:01:38.590] - David

Oh, my goodness, it would be fantastic. But how you doing, bro?

[00:01:41.090] - Caullen

I have had better days. I've had worse days. Haven't we all?

[00:01:45.635] - David


[00:01:46.130] - Caullen

I feel like my voice is always kinda raspy. Which I tell myself is kind of sexy. I don't know if that's true or not. But I feel like now it's extra raspy because I'm sick adjacent. I'm in that kind of area.

[00:01:58.180] - David

Or it's just you, you smoke a lot. Like, dude, lay off the nicotine.

[00:01:59.660] - Caullen

Or maybe I just smoke a lot. Maybe it's that. No. You know it's not the case. So... Dealing with that. But I think I am excited for the week and the rest of the month. We're sitting here in mid July or so. So, I don't know, just trying to think about the good things happening. How are you doing?

[00:02:17.210] - David

We're doing, actually, pretty well. I know one of the things we talk about or have talked about on this episode is... finding rest and intentionally setting time for rejuvenation and such. Sometimes I'll be off on Sundays, but I don't feel off, you know what I'm saying, every Sunday. And I think we finally are coming into building these rituals that really allow us to detach ourselves, really allow us to be with the people around us. I've been going to the dog beach. I know earlier episodes- I was at the beach every other week. We finally, second time in the whole year, so I was really excited. My dog's getting more comfortable being around dogs, too. So I don't know, I think it's all just aligning in a way that we're grateful for, to be honest.

[00:02:58.550] - David

And so with this episode, it's been interesting because I think we've had so many moments of reflection in this year. Because we've had a lot of series episodes this year. And so it's been nice to look back and also look to some of the things you're referring to as in the future that's exciting and new. And really really looking forward to taking advantage of the most of it. Because I wanted to say, do you want to tell our guests what's happening this week? What's one thing that's happening this week?

[00:03:26.370] - Caullen

We are.... I don't believe it until it happens.

[00:03:28.157] - David

This is true. But why?

[00:03:29.600] - Caullen

But we, as in Soapbox, the 501c3, you can donate tax deductibly, are moving into our first official physical office in the South Loop of Chicago, USA. Very exciting. We had our H.O.M.E episode, which touched on what this means to us as an organization, individually, as David, as Caullen, the broader movement lexicon in Chicago. And, yeah, it's really exciting. I think I've been putting a lot of time into my head as far as how I want it to look and feel, and then how do we want it to actually function. And hopefully it can be used for more than just us, but also our broader movement space in Chicago. So that's happening in a couple of days! After we get done recording, we're going to start planning for that. So if you are around in the Chi, let us know, stop by. You can drop off your check in person this time.

[00:04:21.010] - David

Shake hands, meet the people behind the voices of Bourbon 'n BrownTown. No, I think this is so cool. And just to dive us in here, as the title of this episode will be: Advertising in the Activist Resurgence 3.0. So we've done a couple of these already, taking the first one back to 2019. Baby David out here, learning how to host.

[00:04:43.330] - Caullen

The short hair. Short hair, David.

[00:04:44.800] - Caullen

Short hair, David!

[00:04:45.220] - Caullen

ShortER hair.

[00:04:46.310] - David

You also had like, your nubs. You know what I'm saying?

[00:04:48.490] - Caullen

Ohh, the little lock nubs. Little lock nubs.

[00:04:50.070] - David

You remember?

[00:04:50.680] - Caullen

Little baby nubs.

[00:04:51.650] - David

But I think in that episode, what was really exciting, as we were finding ourselves, we're also talking about advertising as "a pillar of consumerism, serving as a gesture for a larger capitalist economic structure". That's quoted from Caullen Hudson. But I think that was really cool because at the time, then two years later, we have the 2021 episode- 2.0. And a lot of that episode, just listening back, I felt like we were like, well, how have we changed? How has, when we were viewing a lot of this content back in 2019, how are we looking at it differently? How are we challenging these things differently? And so that was something that I really took. And also just garnering around what was going on at that time, right; post-COVID, heavy peak pandemic, the murder of George Floyd, aka the uprisings, global. And so it was just paint patterning that, and how the world of advertising was responding- or not, to certain things. But is there anything you would add about either of those episodes for our listeners?

[00:05:51.570] - Caullen

Yeah, I think it's just important to, in these conversations, to lean into the context of them, as you kind of already did. With 2019, I think it was interesting that- obviously there was movement and activism is always happening- but there wasn't huge, huge flashpoint moments, at least compared to George Floyd. But there was this onslaught of ads, for better or for worse, that were leaning into movement frameworks and stuff. It was kind of weird, we had to talk about it. Whereas in 2021, we were talking about 2020; everything you just mentioned, especially George Floyd, everyone's like, oh, we care about Black people. It's like, no, you don't. But it was almost like, advertisers-

[00:06:24.640] - David

No, we have to tell you, we do.

[00:06:25.480] - Caullen

It'd feel like if they didn't do anything, being at zero would be like, that was racist, right? And so it was this weird thing of seeing people respond and not respond, and that being coded a certain way. And seeing folks you knew feeling that same weird pressure as well. In 2020 there was a lot happened that year, right? And so it was an interesting site of analyzes, I guess, for what we're talking about with this. And now, seeing this conversation in 2023, it's the first time it's been really obvious, on a ground swell, as far as a pushback against the mainstream trajectory of movement language of social activism. Again, for better or for worse, we took everyone breaking through the coals in the previous two episodes. But there are some nice gems here and there as far as, okay- And also the weird contradiction of, okay, the fact that language we use in movement, of optics we use and experience or create or values we have expounded, we're seeing them more every day. And when they're more normalized, you can argue that can be good and that it doesn't take as long to talk about these things to unpoliticized folks, but also it's like, fuck, they're going to co-opt it and not really be for liberation at the same time.

[00:07:40.850] - Caullen

We've seen that for several years now, but I think now it's this hard pushback, from particularly the right and I think the established right. I think of DeSantis and Fox News and all that. And it's making that terminology of "wokism" a thing, which I didn't know that was a thing. I thought it was a joke only. I didn't realize it was thing until recently like, oh, they believe this.

[00:08:00.070] - David

They're serious as fuck.

[00:08:01.090] - Caullen

Yeah. And I think the overall thing with all this, as far as advertising and movies, ideology and everything, one can say these are ideas they're put out in the world; this is just media, it doesn't matter. The fact there's this basis of people believing in wokism being bad, lays the groundwork to have such horrible, harmful, violent policies and that being okay across the board in this country. Now, the past couple of years, you can argue that's always been the case in some capacity, for sure. But you see the unapologetic anti-trans, anti-Black, anti-labor, anti-child laws being passed or proposed, at least, in the past couple of years- and I don't think you get that without a made up idea of what wokism is. Making you believe that, that it's anything that you don't like or anything that you feel you're scared for us to take over your rights or whatever- that's wokism, be against it. Oh, this bill is also going to appease that, so don't challenge it, or go to your school board meeting and yell at these unelected people about their teachers bringing a book that says Black people are people. You know what I mean? We don't get that without having the ideology and the mainstream normalization of this thing being okay.

[00:09:14.770] - David

Yeah, I hear that. But yeah, thank you for adding all of that, Caullen. So here we are, 2023, one thing we are doing that we've been doing is drinking, right? Caullen, what are you drinking right now?

[00:09:28.870] - Caullen

We got... I mean, now I don't wanna shout 'em out, cause they ain't give us some money, but maybe next time. It's a Knob Creek bourbon. Twelve year.

[00:09:35.750] - David

Twelve year?

[00:09:36.580] - Caullen

It was much more expensive than I thought it was initially. But took a little sip, getting the sciences right. I can taste and feel the extra three years. It's only nine years, this is twelve years I'm like, oh, that's where that money went. That's where those years went. Got it. So that's what we're doing. And I'm low key kinda sick, as I mentioned earlier. Probably shouldn't be sipping on this, but I needed to try it. I need to at least try it!

[00:09:59.580] - David

Have to, because by the end of the move-in date, that bottle will be gone. But without further ado, Caullen, can you introduce our guest?

[00:10:09.750] - Caullen

Yeah, I'm really excited to have Justin Stillmaker with us for many reasons. But I think for this topic, and for how I have slowly gotten to know him over the years, it's *mwah* perfect to have him in this conversation. But for you all who don't know who Justin is, Justin Stillmaker has been a creative director at Publicis and Leo Burnett and has directed commercials for Disney, Target, Dremel, Nickelodeon and ComEd. He has worked with Fortune 500 brands from Target to TikTok, which is perfect for this conversation. He has a deep understanding of designing and operating Artificial Intelligence platforms, communicating messaging for emerging brands, and developing the visual language of companies and brands. Justin has directed numerous short films, web series, and music videos that have been screened at dozens of film festivals across the country. He has a deep passion for film, basketball, and soft spot for this- terrible puns. Justin, what's going on?

[00:11:06.320] - Justin

Hey, guys. So happy to be here, especially since I forced Caullen to put me on.

[00:11:10.700] - Caullen

He really did.

[00:11:11.690] - Various Newscasters

I had him on my show and was like, when am I going to be on yours?

[00:11:15.190] - Caullen

And normally it's like, private conversations. Nah, whatever whatever... This is on display for-

[00:11:19.720] - Justin

full on blast. It's the closest I get to being a rapper. It was hilarious.

[00:11:23.930] - David

It's so exciting for you to be here with us, but what was your initial reactions or callings to the Bourbon 'n BrownTown world?

[00:11:32.910] - Justin

Well, I've known Caullen since- we worked on a couple commercials. He was an AD, and then I was just like, oh, I like this guy. And I just followed you, you were finishing up at DePaul and I came and watched your, was it thesis? What would you call that?

[00:11:47.320] - Caullen

Graduate thesis. Sociology at DePaul.

[00:11:49.400] - Justin

Yeah, I came and watched it and I was like, well, I feel like I overextended friendship. I was like, this feels really personal to come see, but I was like, I'm always down to go see something weird. Or I was like, yeah, I'll go see that, that sounds great. And then I think we've just been off and on- particularly when I see a terrible commercial or something really wrong politically, I'll send you an Instagram DM and that's... I think it's the greatest thing about social media, is it allows friendships to kind of blossom over time without really having to hang out that often in person.

[00:12:17.690] - Caullen

Totally. I was telling David, I think whenever I tell the story about us getting to know each other has been largely over Twitter.

[00:12:23.210] - Justin


[00:12:23.390] - Caullen

Like, we had a couple jobs together. I'm like, oh, this guy's cool. But it was kind of like, oh, he works in this world, whatever. Like, he's older than me, white dude, he's nice, but whatever. I would tweet and see your tweets. Like, oh, he's talking about some real shit, this is great. It's like, that was a part of that. At least in my mind like, oh, he's with the shits, as they say. Or they used to say, he's woke. But they don't say that anymore.

[00:12:49.030] - Justin

Have you abandoned Twitter yet, or are you still going down with the shit?

[00:12:52.236] - Caullen

I'm still riding on that.

[00:12:53.190] - Justin

I'm going to be one of those rats on the end as we sink into. Not going to Threads yet.

[00:12:57.750] - Caullen

Yeah. And what is it? Is it Threads? It seems like Twitter for Instagram.

[00:13:02.510] - Justin

Yeah. Listen, I run most of my business through Instagram. I hate to say Instagram gets me work, but it does. But Twitter is just, like, the true. Even with all the awfulness, it is my favorite social media by a large margin. It's the meanest. It's the kill-or-killed. It's-

[00:13:22.290] - David

Yo. That's why I guess I don't like it.

[00:13:24.530] - Justin

That's fair.

[00:13:25.110] - Caullen

David's too sensitive for Twitter.

[00:13:26.440] - David

Yeah. I have an account, but it is what it is.

[00:13:31.170] - Justin

I've been on Twitter for probably '09, I think. But I do like- to go to what we're talking about, I do remember when the tide changed and there was this... I would say like, 2015, the rise of people playing "gotcha". Like the aversion of woke. And I remember at a certain point I was like, I'm going to stop tweeting. I'm just going to retweet what I like, and then I'm just gonna... There's no winning. There was a period on Twitter where it was like, whatever you said, there'd be a group of people ready to attack. And I don't mean from apologists... It's all antagonists on Twitter. That's sort of what I like about it. But I was also like, I should shut my mouth as an old white guy. Like, just back out.

[00:14:08.800] - Caullen

The tide changing is interesting to me, because I have never really thought about it as far as the year, and what was happening to make it that way.

[00:14:14.130] - Justin

It had to be Trump coming, right? I feel like it all feels around that era.. Things getting better, people becoming more aware of politics and how- it wasn't quite George Floyd, but we watched what happened with Trayvon Martin and it was right after that, Trump sort of seized on that. But I feel like there was a half year where people were like, maybe it is bad for Black people, or people of color out there. And I feel like Twitter is, again, always the battleground between people's subconscious. It's true unfiltered-

[00:14:47.190] - Caullen

The raw id.

[00:14:48.040] - Justin

Yeah, it's the raw id. And that's why I got to stay on there, just to watch people's id.

[00:14:51.820] - Caullen

Yeah. I really love being on Twitter alone. One thing I talk about with social media is that, in all the awfulness that we know to be true with this platform and how the algorithms work and whatever, we know what we know about Mike Brown largely because of citizen journalists- actual citizen journalists, and Twitter and how it was used. Arab Spring, all these...

[00:15:15.490] - Justin

Yeah, I was going to say Arab Spring.

[00:15:16.320] - Caullen

We wouldn't even know because mainstream media wouldn't tell us about this without it happening. So it's like- and not that... It's this weird conversation with social media where it's like, well, Twitter and Instagram are bad for all these reasons, which is true, 100%, okay. But the alternative is look at corporate media for these answers.

[00:15:32.720] - Justin

Yeah, it is a really fascinating time because I feel like everything's gates are falling down, but everyone's like, do we need gatekeeping? Do we need...? I don't know. It's such a weird mess. And Twitter is just the battleground, I don't know how to describe it. It's just pure unfiltered id of all the different conversations you wouldn't normally get. And sometimes it makes you aware of things that are happening that you wouldn't know about. But it also- I can't believe I'm mounting a Twitter defense here, but *laughing*. I'm going to go down with the ship on it.

[00:16:06.070] - David

Heard that. Well, for our listeners here, can you give them a little bit more context into how your career in the world of media, as well as what we're hearing this sort of radicalization for yourself as a human. How has that funneled into what you're doing today?

[00:16:25.660] - Justin

So since I was a little kid, I wanted to make movies. That's all I cared about. I went to Columbia College here in Chicago.

[00:16:32.150] - David

Shout out.

[00:16:32.860] - Justin

And... great directing program. And over time, I was like, okay, I did this, I graduated, and I was very aware it's going to be a long time unless you come from money or connected until you'll be directing something. So I graduated with a directing degree, and then at some point, advertising came calling and was like, hey, we'll pay you for your good ideas. And I was like, well, I have ideas all the time, I will take your money.

[00:16:58.380] - David

Yoo, I have bills.

[00:16:59.750] - Justin

Yeah. And I've always been fascinated with advertising and the way money and art kind of interconnect. And it's just always been fascinating to me. And so that kind of getting into that world and kind of getting to see the other side of how it thinks, I felt like infiltrating a little bit. And for becoming radicalized- so I grew up between Chicago and Oakland. So those two very different places, but weirdly have a similar energy in a lot of ways. And my parents were very born-again Christian. But my dad also- or, he's not my biological father, had been to jail multiple times. And so he was really anti-government and really anti-cop. And so in a weird way, he made me very aware of this. And so I was like, oh, yeah, it is kind of fucked for people. I kind of already, at a younger age, started to see how bad it is for people. He deserved to go to jail for what he did. But just in general, kind of getting that anti authority as a child and then just reading. I think that's really what radicalized me and kind of got me out of being a born-again kid, because growing up there. And then, I don't know, I just always gravitated- like, hip hop was always a great way to listen to rap music. It's really hard to be like, I don't know, there's good on both sides or blue lives matter.

[00:18:19.810] - Caullen

People do it all the time.

[00:18:21.030] - Justin

That's wild to me.

[00:18:23.040] - Caullen

What's his name? This is not rap music, but the old Speaker of the House with the little hairline thing?

[00:18:31.010] - Justin

Ohhh, Paul Ryan?

[00:18:31.740] - Caullen

Paul Ryan!

[00:18:32.270] - Justin

Yeah. The Rage Against the Machine, right?

[00:18:34.370] - Caullen

He was always like, yeah Rage Against the Machine, I love listening to them. We're like, sir, you are the machinist of the machine. What are you talking? Do you not-

[00:18:39.900] - David


[00:18:41.130] - Justin

I guess I listen to the media I consume, and I go, wait a second... And so I think that's what led to my radicalization. And I don't know... Again, as I've gotten older, I sort of see the pros and cons. Again, my parents were very born-again Christian, but we lived in Oakland, and all my mom's friends were Black or Latina. And- Latinx. And I don't know, just being around that you sort of- even if they were Christian, they also live in the world that is America. And so I just feel like being around that made me much more aware of how there's differences in everything.

[00:19:16.690] - Caullen

For our listeners who cannot see you, you are a white man.

[00:19:20.150] - Justin

I am- does Jews, does half-Jew get you any credit?

[00:19:23.530] - Caullen

Not in this house. "In this house, we believe." Naw, I'm just kidding.

[00:19:30.390] - Justin

What about full-Jews? Isn't that a thing?

[00:19:32.010] - David


[00:19:33.210] - Caullen

In that case.

[00:19:34.870] - Justin

Let's get that on record for you. I wonder that a lot. Because I have siblings- or not siblings, but I have cousins, and they have way different political opinions than me, so what was different? And I think it was weirdly growing up around the church, but not completely surrounded by white people is a good start to radicalizing yourself.

[00:19:57.250] - Caullen

Totally. So there's all of that, as far as you yourself and ideology and world view changing or shifting or being sharpened over the years and stuff. And then making movies, but also being in advertising, right. Which we know, in this conversation, are different.

[00:20:13.160] - Justin

Yeah yeah.

[00:20:14.370] - Caullen

And so I don't know how to frame it, but I'm curious- mainly in the past couple years, especially, with the watershed moments we've mentioned already: George Floyd, COVID, uprisings, even Mike Brown, whatever. Not necessarily how much that has shifted your thinking of the world- it has, happy to hear and receive- but how that has changed either your work or how you've moved in your career as far as accepting work or working with certain folks or writing certain things or what have you?

[00:20:47.150] - Justin

Honestly, the big thing for film that really was a big change for me was actually Get Out. And so what I mean by that is, finally everyone's like, oh, in genre. Because I always liked making genre movies, and I like action movies and horror movies and science fiction. And those were always the places you could actually have a political conversation but still deliver, people would listen to it. Or you just make a drama about that, but no one's like, I don't want to watch that. And so I feel like for the first time, when Get Out became this huge hit, again, it's always about money with these things to me. And so once that's a hit, suddenly now stories I wanted to tell, and I was like, oh, maybe if we had a woman of color in the lead, they're way more interested in it- just because they see money. But that was like, this was really useful to take it, I was able to leverage that. So I feel like every time there's a slight movement in these kind of woke moments in advertising, it's just a great moment to kind of leverage things you want to already do.

[00:21:36.160] - Justin

And so when the George Floyd thing happened, I was working at a really big agency. And I was like, okay, are we at- because everyone had like, we want to help, we want to do these changes. And I tense up whenever I think advertising is like, we're going to really help change the world. And it's like, that's not at all our purpose. And that's not at all what you're going to do.

[00:21:52.390] - David

Like, what career have you been looking at?

[00:21:53.970] - Caullen

Arguably, you're gonna be doing more harm.

[00:21:56.310] - Justin

And the thing that frustrates me the most was the advertisers- like, I know what I'm doing. I'm making propaganda for Target, and that's fine by me on some level. But it's when they think they're doing good is the part I really kick and rebel against. But it allows me to get a bunch of my friends paid. That's how I look at. I always feel like my job, particularly as a white person, is like, get the door open and then try to get as many people through that door before they close it again. And that's how I picture it in advertising. I was able to get a couple of friends who were like- I don't think advertising would have looked at them. I was like, let's look at this person, Tristan, she's a great photographer, and I was able to get people in. So that was where I was able to use that leverage and guilt. But of course, that door closes so quick.

[00:22:42.070] - Caullen

Totally. I'm glad you used the word propaganda, because I feel like- on this show, and also just in our workshops we do and things, and we talk in the world about what Soapbox does and outside of that, it's like, yeah, it's all propaganda. Propaganda isn't a dirty word. We're just told it means.. We're told it's like, oh, it's only like-

[00:23:00.140] - Justin

The Nazis were the ones to use propaganda.

[00:23:01.920] - Caullen

No, like, Colgate uses propaganda to sell their toothpaste. And that's fine... I love to say "be good or be good at it". Okay, you understand what this is, you don't have to change in the world, but I'm making this thing for Target, it is propaganda for Target. And even during certain movements and campaigns in Chicago, there's a propaganda team where it's like, yeah, we're making propaganda for this movement. The movement of the campaign is for health and equity and liberation, and good things. So it's just like, propaganda about good things.

[00:23:30.870] - Justin

It really is a dirty word that carries a lot of weight for people who don't even really.. Every now and then you run into a word that's like, people are like, oh, I don't make copaganda, we just make commercials. That is what a commercial is. There's no other thing that it is. It's there to sell an idea or product. Don't... The stuff I send you on Twitter the most is always when, I know you guys- the Kylie Jenner is the perfect Pepsi commercial is the perfect example of like, we're going to make a fucking difference for Pepsi in the world. It's like, don't even think like that. That's like if- we're often, in advertising, I feel like my job is to go, let's just not even do that. You're making it worse.

[00:24:10.870] - David

So it didn't age well, is that what you're saying?

[00:24:13.650] - Caullen

It wasn't well when it came out. Especially didn't age well.

[00:24:19.170] - Justin

I'll tell this story. I was working- I directed a commercial that starred Jonathan Toews from the Blackhawks. And it was for a Canadian agency. And it was like, he has a charity that helps funds kids and sports and everything. And so we're going to do this commercial. And so the initial concept, I remember being on this Zoom call and they were like, well, Jonathan really loves paintball and he wants to run around with all these kids and shoot them and play paintball with them. And I was like, so we're going to shoot this commercial in Chicago and you want a Blackhawks player to run around shooting a bunch of little kids of color, in your ad, with paint? And you just hear everyone go, oh, that's a terrible idea, isn't it?

[00:24:58.417] - David

Oh my goodness. Yeah..

[00:24:59.470] - Justin

I was like, yeah, maybe we just.. does he do anything else other than paintball? And it's just like, I feel like my existence in advertising is always subversion. It must happen all the time because I'm not some deep figure, but there's just so many bad ideas. And the Kylie Jenner one is so great to me because so many people looked at that. It's like, thousands of people approved that ad. Thousands of people were there to direct it.

[00:25:22.260] - David

Not even approved it, they're just like, go ahead.

[00:25:24.520] - Justin

And it's like, did no one raise a hand? So, she's going to stick the flower in a gun? What do you even think that's going to do for your brand? Again, you're just making propaganda, right? You just want people to drink Pepsi. What does being politically active for Pepsi mean? The goal we're talking about, does it do any good? Can you do good with advertising?

[00:25:47.350] - Caullen

Yeah. They had a good SNL bit on that as well. The guy on set was like, oh, it's a bad idea, terrible idea? Okay, sorry. He's like, the director or something.

[00:25:56.450] - Caullen

But I'm thinking about how what advertising- and really, anyone that's making cultural media in general, movies as well, too- lean into the moment in whatever capacity? And it's like, by the logic of I want people to do a thing. People are thinking about this thing, I should lean into the thing. I get that logic. But how and why are you doing that matters quite a bit. We talked about Nike and Kaepernick in the same conversation a couple of years ago, and there was a backlash on Nike, whatever. But what happened in the quarter, their sales went up. And then folks like me or Dave were like, alright, Nike, you've done some bad shit, but that's kind of cool. And, I'm gonna...

[00:26:41.780] - Justin


[00:26:43.970] - Caullen

Respect. To an extent. So I think what's important to hold in this conversation, too, is that even when anything is done that is good or seems decent, at the end of the day, they're just trying to make a dollar. They've actually done things that have harmed folks in real ways: labor practices, outsourcing, not paying a livable wage, that we need to hold in contention with this piece of media that may or may not be okay.

[00:27:06.040] - Justin

So coming from film, to continue with this- I do a Twitch podcast where I just talk about art and money. Because that's the other- I'm focused on politics, but art is the thing I'm always interested in. And the thing I've always loved about film is they don't care if you make art, as long as you make money. It's very clear in how it's supposed to work.

[00:27:27.660] - David

So Marvel isn't art. Is that what you're saying?

[00:27:29.600] - Justin

It is art, the way the iPhone is art. It's perfectly crafted and works. I can find appreciation in that. And I do think representation and stuff matters, but I do think it's interesting with film and tv. I think people, they just want to make a message. And I'm always like- I recently saw a feature film that was at a festival, and it was all about mental health, which is great, but it was a very convoluted bad movie. And they were like, at the end of that, they were like, well, we just did this to create awareness about mental health. I was like, you could have just given the money to this, you didn't need to make... So many times where they're just like, well- I think that does ruin art, often, is where they're just like, well, we want to make a message. And it's like, you can make a piece of art that has a message, but you can't just use art to deliver a message.

[00:28:18.720] - Justin

And I think that has been really interesting to watch over the last six or seven years, where you see people, specifically tv, getting woke. And it's like, yeah, we also just want you to write good jokes. We need... I feel like there's been, people get it.. Everyone's very excited to help, and I think they get very confused, just like advertising. I think there's a lot of versions of that Kylie commercial for Pepsi. Or like, we're trying to help. I'm like, yeah, just make a good movie or give the money. Pick one of the two, but don't make a movie which is kind of a selfish interest thing, but also be like, but we did this to make people know that it's bad out there for people of color. I'm like, I don't know if this movie is going to be the thing that does it. Get Out is a satisfying movie. It has a lot of political messaging, and obviously- but in the end, it's just a satisfying movie. And I think that's, to me, where art and politics and money and everything gets very confused.

[00:29:10.750] - Caullen

I love that nugget. That's good. And like you said, you can do both, but it's like, do one of them first. Make the thing- which, like you said, especially if it's a production company, it is a selfish act. Just own that. And then, also, you can sprinkle in your analysis in there if it makes sense or do the writing, whatever, but make that first. And if you want to make the message across, then you got plenty of stolen wages from your workers. First of all, give it to them. If not, give it to who's actually doing the work.

[00:29:40.480] - Justin

Yeah! There was a period during, I don't know, the 2016 to 2019 period where everyone was like, canceling is a dumb word, but there was the period where people were like, why doesn't Wes Anderson have people of color in his movies? I'm like, do we want Wes Anderson to make movies about Black people? He doesn't know anything about this. And so that, to me, is like when you try to enforce that, you're kind of doing everyone a disservice. And I'm not, like Wes Anderson, I don't want Spike Lee to be making movies about WASPs in Connecticut, that's not his experience. If you're going to be an artist, make it about your experience. And certainly be an artist and open your eyes and have empathy to all these things, but focus on what you're making first. I think there's a period where we all got kind of caught in like, I'm going to make a message. And it's like, what you guys do by messaging like, we're talking about propaganda- you're describing propaganda, not a piece of art. And there is a difference. If that makes sense.

[00:30:33.680] - David

No, it totally does. And I think what I'm thinking through, was like, when was the first time I encountered "woke"?

[00:30:40.710] - Justin

Yeah, I wanted to ask you when I came here. When did woke- when did that word happen?

[00:30:46.910] - David

And I still can't pinpoint it. I can speak to- your mentioning hip hop, right? I think after I graduated high school, going to Columbia as well, I started listening to a lot of Mos Def and a lot of Talib Kweli. Those are the first real times that I would- but granted, these albums are like '99. You know what I'm saying? I listened to it in 2011, 2012.

[00:31:15.000] - Caullen

I was like, we're all different ages.

[00:31:16.910] - Justin


[00:31:18.330] - Caullen

Every year matters.

[00:31:20.970] - Justin

No, I was listening them in 2003, and I was like, oh, this is great. I'm going into Columbia. We had the exact same experience, a decade apart.

[00:31:28.220] - David

Mos Def, you see what you're doing, bro? You see Yasiin Bey, we see you. He performed... It doesn't matter. I'm just trying to get at. So that's kind of where the terminology was first. Mos Def is the first person who I can recall was talking about woke or getting woke or staying woke. You know what I'm saying? And it was something that I was like, I kind of want to achieve this. I saw it then into other layers, like Lupe Fiasco or other- I don't know, conscious rapper. I don't agree with this shit, with the term, but that's where they got funneled into talking about that type of wokeness and shit.

[00:32:03.630] - David

And once again, this is like 2011, 2012, for David, as a human with his music from the '90s. But I'm curious to hear from y'all, when were y'all first introduced into woke or wokeism? Or when can y'all recall? Because then I do remember hearing it in music and then connecting it to political things. Or the Rahm and Chewy Garcia mayoral run? It's like, who's woke? Who's not, type shit.

[00:32:28.260] - Caullen

Oh, interesting.

[00:32:29.150] - Justin

It feels like-

[00:32:30.030] - David

Go ahead.

[00:32:31.150] - Justin

First, I'm basing this on zero fact, but I feel like 2015 is my brain, because that's when I feel like it entered people saying, you're being woke. Or, you're too- Like, I feel like-

[00:32:39.410] - Caullen

Oh, the mainstream lexicon.

[00:32:40.520] - Justin

Yeah, yeah.

[00:32:40.900] - Caullen

I can agree with that. So my experience was similar to you all, as far as those artists.

[00:32:47.676] - David

Mos Def?

[00:32:48.630] - Caullen

Cause those artists are "conscious rapper", artists and stuff. But I think about, not only just being woke or waking up, whatever, I think of The Matrix in the late 90s. And a lot of, "wake up people!" and that kind of energy. And it's funny because-

[00:33:05.437] - David

Some Fight Club, shit.

[00:33:05.770] - Caullen

When I think of "wake up" or that kind of language, I think of Black, but also just general lefty circles, and then also movies like The Matrix and things that are obvious big metaphors for society and what have you. I think of that kind of culture, late 90s, early 00s. And it's funny, cause that same language, when I hear it now I think of conservative conspiracy theorists. Or someone who doesn't want to be put in a box, but they're conservative conspiracy theorists. Like, "wake up sheeple!" I think of that. And so it's funny how language and phrases, depending on what year, means something totally different, right? So I think about the bigger lexicon of woke being part of a family of other terms and stuff.

[00:33:48.550] - Caullen

But for me, I think it was listening to those artists in high school. Kind of being radicalized, reading a lot more Malcolm X and other Black radical figures and stuff. And Audre Lorde, what have you. And not really using it as much, but hearing it and it being an honest, grounded term. And I mentioned before we started recording, I feel like it was then what movement and liberation means now, at least to me or whatever. And that is not the case with how woke operates now. But I think at some point- and again, this comes with the same conversation as far as: it's good when terms and ideology get to a mainstream level because it means it's easier to have these conversations, but also it's bad because it's co-opted and watered down. Nothing ever happens that is what organizer folks doing the work actually want to see through.

[00:34:36.950] - Caullen

So I think 2015, it would be, kind of after Mike Brown pre-Trump, is when you're hearing it a lot. There's one moment where you're hearing a lot, it still has it's original meaning, okay, this is great. And then that changes. And it gets used so much, doesn't mean anything. And then white people start using it a lot. So it's like a.... pass due-

[00:34:58.510] - David

Politicians, though. I'm trying to think of when-

[00:35:01.650] - Caullen

In the Twenty-teens, you heard politicians using it? Not now. They're saying all the time now.

[00:35:05.270] - David

No no no. I'm trying to think of when that- you're right, like, 2016 was  kind of that turn. So it's interesting that... thinking of listening to Mos Def but then you naming 2015 being when you're naming that wokeism. You're kind of hearing the- when it started getting negative.

[00:35:22.540] - Justin

When it flashpointed.

[00:35:24.012] - David

Flashpointed. Okay okay.

[00:35:24.390] - Justin

Everyone had their own woke journey before that. We were allowed to not- I don't think you would identify- I would never have, in college, been like, I'm woke. I don't think that would have even been a word. But you're right. The Matrix ends with a song called "Wake Up" by Rage Against The Machine.


[plays "Wake Up" by Rage Against The Machine]

[00:35:42.510] - Justin

It couldn't be more clear that- where it's like, but that point where it all kind of coalesces, and now it's a term that then eventually is ran into the ground. It happens so fast.

[00:35:53.570] - Caullen

So fast, without even noticing. I remember the first time I heard it and had a negative reaction to it. And I was kind of like, ewwh. Kind of cringey. Like, ewwh, no one says that anymore. Like, what? And that was after that 2015 moment. Whenever this moment is that we're talking about. And I was like, oh, we're done with woke now, okay, cool. Or white people use in a way that felt really weird. I'm like, this is kind of... this makes me feel cringey. This is not what we should be saying.

[00:36:14.520] - Justin

Yeah, it's like... To go off of that, I was like, as a white person talking to another white person, how do you signal you're woke without saying the word or something that starts around that? Because you're like, this is cringey to say "I'm woke". I would never have said that, but I have to find a way to express that. And so I think that it's like, woke became this word for people like, no, I care about the movement. I care. It's just so weird how these things just get pulled and devalued and mean nothing.

[00:36:46.610] - Caullen

I think it's like that across the board with terminology, in a lot of ways. We can talk about "progressive" is very much that kind of same- in a similar way. I think there are some more grounded things with how you want to use that. But also, even in this conversation, we're like, hey, Justin, how did you become radicalized? Which I like using that kind of terminology.

[00:37:03.850] - Justin

I like that a lot. I've never thought of myself as a radicalized person.

[00:37:06.630] - Caullen

Yeah, we're just like, how did you-

[00:37:08.710] - Justin

It's much better than "woke".

[00:37:09.850] - David

That's why you're here.

[00:37:11.210] - Caullen

That question is always there, as far as what is your journey upon seeing liberation for all people in whatever capacity? And now that we're talking through the language itself of it is like, with woke, it's like, oh, I am woke. It's like it's a destination where you achieve wokeness. None of us are ever going to know all things and have no blind spots ever. It's about being a community and being held accountable about our values and how they show up practically also in theory, right? But woke is like, I am woke now. I am done. My journey is over. You know what I mean?

[00:37:37.090] - David

I am awake.

[00:37:38.144] - Caullen

*laughing* I'm awake.

[00:37:39.170] - Justin

Well, now I'm just trying to think through. So I remember at Columbia my senior year, I had to burn off a couple gen eds that I hadn't taken. And I took a class that was like, Race and Relations. And it was the first time I had heard the phrase "white privilege". And it was really fascinating because I remember they had like, you'd see people getting really worked up about it. And I was like, I'm trying to think, I was like, does white privilege activate people starting to become aware of that? Is it what kind of allows the general mass culture to understand woke? Is that part of the- I'm trying to think of when... Because these things all sort of morph into each other. Because you don't say woke. We were talking about how things lose their power. And a "Karen", I feel like how quick that went- you know that was like a year, it was like... And then every white person started calling each other, "you know you're being a real Karen right now". And it's like, I don't think this evens means anything now. We're kind of all Karens at any moment.

[00:38:30.850] - Caullen

Aren't we all Karens? I didn't know, was that a dialog in the white community?

[00:38:36.180] - Justin

Yes, it was.

[00:38:36.790] - Caullen

I did not know that.

[00:38:37.980] - Justin

Especially if you were around 30 and up. It became a real-

[00:38:41.690] - David

It had like, the bob haircut? With the big shades.

[00:38:44.230] - Justin

Or like, when you did something, they were like, listen, I don't want to be a Karen, but they do play their music loud. And I feel like woke- there's got to be a straight line because I'm trying to really think when... Because certainly growing up- speaking for myself, too, part of becoming radicalized, as a white person, is realizing how much privilege you have and how unfair that is- hopefully is what you arrive at. But I'm like, I'm trying to think through my process of even understanding the idea of white privilege and when that kind of became a bigger conversation and whether that is close to when the woke move- like the word woke hits its flashpoint into the mainstream. Because the goal is always to just take a word and completely devalue it. And that's where advertising is really evil, because they're really good at kind of seizing on a moment and then- "we're going to be woke, we're going to sell Pepsi". Or conservatives are really good at taking a word like "progressive" and running it into the ground so it no longer means anything, even if it did have value at some point.

[00:39:40.620] - Caullen

Yeah, I would argue liberals did that, more so than conservatives.

[00:39:43.550] - Justin

Yeah, I think you're absolutely right.

[00:39:44.650] - Caullen

yeah, they say to themselves, "I'm progressive!" No, you're not. You're made this anti-homelessness bill. What are you talking about? And you're moderate and that's fine, whatever, but just call yourself that and move forward. That's why people are voting for you anyway, if they even are.

[00:39:56.556] - Justin


[00:39:56.700] - Caullen

We talked about that on your show. *laughing* But you did mention devaluing of words when it's used a lot or used in certain circles, whatever, which I think is definitely true. What I think has happened, I mean, this is my own diagnosis on it is that: the right has, in this weird, paradoxical way they've- as far as wokeism- it doesn't mean anything, they can't even really define what it is. However, it means everything; it's their scapegoat for everything now. And so they've almost valued and put and given power to it, again, as this catch-all for anything you don't like: Black people, trans folks, whatever it is. But we'll call it wokeism and we'll put this moniker of all these things you don't like on top of the left trying- or they call the left- I mean, liberals and Democrats, trying to force you to do things. So it's this authoritarian version of the things you don't like all put into one. And it's called wokeism. So they've re-energized and repowered it; and defined it, but in a way that's vast and open. It's a pandora's box of anything you don't like, if you somewhat agree with them. Which is really scary, but it's like, man, they're skilled at doing this thing that can be really harmful because it leads to policy that hurts people.

[00:41:14.520] - Justin

Here's the thing that I'm just going to- goes off of what you said. I would say most people in advertising would identify as a liberal or at least, and I mean a moderate liberal, at least in my experience from 60% to 75%. So we're in advertising, supposedly we're great at it- why are conservatives so fucking good at propaganda and we're, liberals are, in theory, so bad? Even if we're in- like, they're so much better at advertising. They're so much better at taking something like that and turning it and making it mean and galvanizing them. And you would think people who are leftists in advertising would be better at politics. And a lot of it's terrible. And I was just like, I'm fascinated by why the right is so much better at propaganda than... I would just think the left would be, we're in advertising- we, in theory, are in advertising.

[00:42:01.750] - Caullen

I think it's the same reason why we don't- I shouldn't say "we". I think it's a similar reason to, do you make the same argument for why aren't we getting these broad sweeping policies across the board for Medicare For All, for jobs guarantee, for housing guarantee, for a food guarantee that are super popular that everyone wants? If democrats are like, liberals won't want it, why aren't we doing it all the time, if we have power in all these different houses and stuff? *whispering* Because they actually don't want it and neither do liberals that are making the advertising. So there's underlying meaning of looking at the... there's a left to right spectrum of political ideology, which is reductive, sure. I think it's important to put, as you clarified on moderate liberals, in that bucket. It's like, well, because they don't actually want these things, that's why. Or honestly understand it on a level that actually gets to these root causes. Let's make it a little bit better. It's like, well no, this all has root causes we actually have to change first.

[00:42:59.710] - Justin

And for advertising, this just comes back to how I think of ads is like, nuance is not interesting, nuance doesn't move people.

[00:43:05.670] - Caullen

Also that, I think that's a big reason.

[00:43:07.040] - Justin

And conservatives are allowed to work with a sledgehammer a little more.

[00:43:11.290] - Caullen


[00:43:12.120] - Justin

And that's one of the reasons they're so successful at it. I wanted to pose that question. But that's my theory, is they can just be a little- the best ads just pummel you and you just submit.

[00:43:21.460] - Caullen

"Build the wall."

[00:43:22.160] - Justin


[00:43:22.620] - Caullen

"Build the wall." "Build the wall." "Stronger together." What does that mean? Move together means what? Build the wall. Keep us in, keep them out. Build the wall.

[00:43:29.940] - Justin

We're woke. What does that mean? They're woke. They're trying to change- it's like, they're able to flip it so easily.

[00:43:35.500] - Caullen

Yeah. I mean, we talk about propaganda, too, like, oh, when people think of propaganda they think of nazis and fascism. It's like, well, the rights are nazis and fascists. I'm not being hyperbolic when I say that.

[00:43:44.870] - Justin

They absolutely are.

[00:43:45.590] - Caullen

And so, yeah, it's easier for them because it is simple. It does take skill, don't be wrong. But it is simple. They can repeat it over and over and over again. And if they own all the airwaves and own corporate media, they're able to have a platform to do that.

[00:43:59.660] - Justin

And the opposing force, like you're saying, don't actually want it, is the true thing. That's always the surprise. This is the idiotic white person in me, I'm just like, there's no way we don't. And they're like, oh, no, they're just sitting back.

[00:44:14.930] - David

No, I think the only thing I would add, too, is the- and not even just the outlets or these large corporations, businesses that focus on media and "journalism", but even the social media waves. And what I'm thinking of is, one of the examples we have on is Bud Light putting a trans star on their beer, right?

[00:44:39.290] - Caullen

TikTok star.

[00:44:40.340] - David

TikTok star. My fault. Clearly, I still don't have a TikTok. When we recorded the first one, 2019, we didn't have one. 2023, we still don't got one.

[00:44:46.850] - Caullen

Did it exist? Was it around?

[00:44:48.140] - David

Yeah it was around. We talked about it.

[00:44:48.990] - Justin

I was working for them.

[00:44:50.570] - David

I'm dead. Power. But I think to name that the right, in controlling a lot of these airways, they also do a good job in the social worlds. And I think, with the digital age and people feeling more ballsier than ever to stake their claims; I think... at least in my perspective of social media, I saw more people pissed off about the Bud Light commercial.

[00:45:23.010] - Various Newscasters

[All the backlash about beer. Impressive carrying skills, right? "I got some Bud Lights for us". It follows a polarizing and brief brand partnership with trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney during March Madness, who told her 1.8 million followers on Instagram that Bud Light sent her a can with her face on it, celebrating her first year as a woman.]

[00:45:46.750] - David

Rather than the fact that- I'm trying to think of a national example- because I was going to name-

[00:45:52.360] - Caullen

Employers stealing our wages?

[00:45:54.770] - David

Or, I just think, once again-

[00:45:56.237] - Caullen

I assume that's happening to most people.

[00:45:56.930] - David

The way in which- I'm just connecting the way in which the powers that be, not only do they want to maintain the status quo, but have the influences to make these type of people popular.

[00:46:08.950] - David

Or have the influencers to be like, oh, everyone who's on the pro-wall thread, you all are actually a minority. You all actually have to speak up louder. And that's how that thing kind of funnels out. And so I think with TikTok and these things... I think it was funny because when we're talking about the 2019, we're talking about motherfuckers burning their shoes, or the responses- we saw the same shit. But I also think all of these platforms have elevated where it was much more normal now to see motherfuckers shooting beer cans.

[00:46:42.010] - Various Newscasters

Down Broadway, Kid Rock made his feelings known when. He posted this video shooting up cases of Bud Light. [gun shooting]

[00:46:50.130] - David

Like, Kid Rock, didn't he come out and just shoot the fuck out of a bunch of beers? That was more normal than back in 2019. I think the systems are doing their job in maintaining that, and also bringing it out. It's like, oh look, you like Kid Rock? You like guns? You hate trans people? Here's a thing for you type-shit.

[00:47:08.950] - David

Yeah, algorithms and shit. I don't know. That's where my brain is leaning to, which is like, cool, how do you fight that? Because they're the ones who are having the larger budgets versus other groups or other media organizations like Soapbox. That's who we're fighting with. That's who we're going up against.

[00:47:25.260] - Justin

Well, and I think you're really hitting on something, too. Because just bring it back to the advertising, when I start working with a brand, the first thing I look at is, who is your competition? And what can we push against? Because if you're just like, I want everyone- that's useless. You have to find something to push against if you want to build something. And that's what the conservatives are really great at. They're like, you're against this, so let's- so trans, it's against your... star being on a beer. And I feel like the other side doesn't treat it the same way. Where it's one of the things I like about Soapbox is you're like, no, they're the enemy, we're making propaganda, and that's how we should fucking go after it. But instead, they want to be moderate and go, well, they're not all bad.

[00:48:06.114] - Caullen

Both sides....

[00:48:06.240] - Justin

Just say they're fucking nazis and get down to it. Let's do it.

[00:48:07.710] - Caullen

Because you're literally not. There is a meme- speaking of advertising stuff, I think- we'll talk about the right and folks with power and money and privilege and all those things, as we should. But it's like, also I always forget there's right wing and nazi memes and stuff too. Anyone can make a meme. I see some and I'm like, oh man, that exists?? This is horrible.

[00:48:29.650] - Caullen

But like advertising, like movies, they're all tools for whatever you want them to be tools for. It's a conduit for what? Hearing a good story, empathizing, getting away from your reality and escapism, whatever. Or can it be a tool for radicalization, ie: The Matrix, V For Vendetta, whatever. But the thing I like about memes is that they have to be simple, to the point, straightforward. Which is great for the right, that's how they operate. But also, it can be great for us and leftists and movements and stuff like that as well. So I love me some political memes. I've been in a good kick of 9/11 memes lately. It's been 20 years, so I can lean into a little more. But yeah, so as far as things, and advertising and communicating things quickly and easily, memes are like, [chef's kiss].

[00:49:17.490] - Justin

That's funny you said 9/11 because I realized how much I used 9/11 as a joke punchline. And then I married my wife who went through 9/11 in New York and I was like, I got to stop using this as joke punchlines as much.

[00:49:28.310] - David

Oh my goodness.

[00:49:29.180] - Justin

She has actual trauma from it where I was like, oh, yeah... It's been 20 years, I'm with you. I do jokes, but I'm like, oh, if you lived through it...

[00:49:38.230] - Caullen

I'll try to use it as like, oh, 100 years of interventionist policy in the US... And try to contextualize, but sometimes that doesn't come through I'm not going to lie. Sometimes it's not there.

[00:49:46.170] - Justin

Sometimes it's just like, spilling your coffee it's like, this is my 9/11 is a very funny thing to say. You asked how we radicalize, and I think about this a lot. And this is both a good and bad thing about myself. I grew up, I'm about to turn 40, so I went through the- I was really coming of age in the early 90s. And there was Martin, there was Living Single, there was Michael Jordan... And I was like, all I wanted as a nine year old is to be Black, to some degree. Like there's hip hop exploding, right? And I think that is part of- because I remember as I got older, I was like, well, every white person wanted to be Black, right? So we should be helping them, right? And then it was like, 1) you realize that's a problematic view of everything, obviously. [crosstalk 00:50:22]. But at the same time, it's fascinating. There was this explosion, and then they cut it off. Like, there's very few tv shows. Like, in the 90s, which was, in theory, a less woke time, there was a million shows for Black people on tv, comparatively to what there is now.

[00:50:40.960] - Justin

And I think it's just sort of interesting. I do think there was a radicalization that was stopped because there was like, hmmm,do we need this many Black people on tv? And so I'm just trying to think through, that's how media can actually do good, but you also have to do the reading around it. You can't just let that be the source for you. And then it's sort of interesting to watch how business kind of shut it down, maybe. And so I don't know. I'm a little more conspiracy on that. But just in general, I think- I do feel like there was- I remember being actively shocked that I was like, okay, as an older millennial, we're not going to be as racist as our parents, right? No.. That was just such naive-ness. But I was like, but we all grew up wanting to be... We all listened to hip hop, and Martin, and we see these people as people, right?

[00:51:28.410] - Justin

No. And so I just think that's just sort of fascinating, again, how much power media holds and then how much like, also, you revert back to what you know.

[00:51:37.697] - Caullen

That's interesting.

[00:51:38.750] - David

You wanna be Black until you gotta be Black.

[00:51:40.980] - Caullen

 Until you get pulled over by the police, and then you're like, oh....

[00:51:43.170] - Justin

No, it's great being white.

[00:51:44.990] - David

I was quoting somebody who I had been listening to. That was a bar on his hit. And then they stopped, and they're like, yo, stop talking that conscious shit. It's a good track. I'll find it. We'll play it at the end of this podcast. Go ahead, I cut you off.

[00:51:56.290] - Caullen

No, I was just thinking through what you said as far as growing up and had that idea for you. Like, oh, it's problematic, whatever. But also, there's something to this, as far as,

[00:52:03.580] - Justin


[00:52:04.280] - Caullen

That being normal.

[00:52:05.520] - Justin

Right. *sigh* And I'm just thinking through my own journey here, but there's no way I'm a singular person who had this as a white-

[00:52:14.720] - David

Of course.

[00:52:15.210] - Justin

Everyone's like, especially if you're white, is a similar experience. And it's just sort of fascinating how it just flipped at some point. To go back, it's probably 9/11 kind of shut down a lot of different, I would like to believe older millennials being like, we should do better. Oh, well, it's crazy out here, we got to start militarizing the police.

[00:52:34.290] - Caullen

More so. I think it was an interesting conversation as far as why did that change? Why wasn't that the norm as much after those shows got off the air or whatever? But representation and liberation, and how who's the head of these networks, who's behind the camera, all those things matter as much. And I think we talk about that now more than we ever have before; as far as representation, like, cool, but also who's on all ends of this? With legislation, okay, we have lots of examples there. But it's like, we have Black or women or queer electeds, but are they making policies that help those masses and the massive people? That's not the case a lot of the time, which is unfortunate.

[00:53:13.790] - Caullen

So with organization, I always think about what's the holistic view of that, how that works. But I think that does matter as far as seeing folks unlike you, in different places and being like, oh, this is normal. This how it should be. This is the world I've been in.

[00:53:25.720] - Justin

Yeah. At the core of everything we're talking about is empathy, right? The more you understand the opposite, the more you want to do, in theory, do good. And I think representation creates empathy. And I think maybe gives you like, oh, it's different out... It opens your worldview just a little bit. And so it was interesting when the, "woke of the 2015 and forward," where they were like, we need- like, the Get Out, we need more representation matters. I'm like, why is this conversation happening in 2017 when we had it in 1992? Why did it disappear? And now, why is it back? And money.. I know the actual answer.

[00:54:09.870] - Caullen

And I think one, the space we had in the past 10-15 years, as far as social media, people are talking about it more. So if I'm a big wig at a big production company, and I see like, oh, everyone's talking about Get Out. And like, oh, this is making money, and also people are talking about it in a critical way. I can get an Oscar and the bag? Of course they're going to invest in it, they're going to see that response a different way. I think there's this idea, too, that you've kind of touched on it as far as, why now? Why now versus 30 years ago? There's this idea that because time moves forward, we just get better as a society- no, that doesn't just happen. We have to do that work.

[00:54:46.680] - Justin

I think that's true. I think that's the most shocking thing.

[00:54:49.610] - Caullen

In 2023, I'm like, and?! What did we do during the time?

[00:54:53.820] - Justin

That's true.

[00:54:54.270] - Caullen

If it didn't do anything then why does time before mean anything? So I feel like this weird, I'm going to find a term for this, but this apathetic....

[00:55:03.790] - Justin

It'll obviously get better because it doesn't affect me as a white person. I'm able to keep going.

[00:55:08.180] - Caullen

I don't want to do any work, we should just get better because time is moving forward. No, we have to do the work and steward these lineages and steward these ideologies...

[00:55:15.770] - Justin

So that's what happened. A bunch of ten year old me's were like, wait, it should be better for Black people. It'll happen, right? Oh, no, it won't, okay.

[00:55:24.400] - Caullen

You guys didn't free yourself yet? No? Still working on it?

[00:55:28.090] - Justin

Oh, now I have to help? Well, I guess I got to get woke then.

[00:55:30.820] - David

That's just crazy. I'm just thinking about intertwining that with mine. Because I didn't even know Black people existed. My whole community was Latinos. You know what I'm saying? And white people were like, what you wanted to be like. You know what I'm saying? Growing up as a child. So that's interesting to hear you, too. I think I connected with- my connection with hip hop, helped grow some type of an understanding without having Black friends, because they were Latinos. And then kind of connecting those dots. But I don't know. I think, yeah. I'm just so...

[00:55:57.440] - David

And what I wanted to name with the Budweiser thing, specifically. So we see this reaction from motherfuckers from Kid Rock to fucking Uncle Tom down the block- then we see the real impact within our political circles. We see the real harm that's taking place in the Supreme Court, in the House of Chambers or whatever the fuck it's called. Is that what it's called?

[00:56:19.610] - Justin

Chambers of the House.

[00:56:22.330] - Caullen

In Congress or?

[00:56:23.210] - David

In Congress, whatever. I'm talking about, just politics. What we're trying to name is, this year, I think there's a record number of laws and policies that are very anti-LGBTQA community-oriented. And that doesn't live outside of the reaction that we hear, because of this Bud light commercial, as an example.

[00:56:45.100] - Caullen

The woke trajectory is important to me to understand, because I think originally it was like, yeah, very much like anti-establishment, very much anti systems, very much like, how do we do this collectively?

[00:56:53.597] - David

Fight the power. 

[00:56:54.290] - Caullen

Fight the power, yeah. Remember "Fight the Power" in the 80s, '89? That song came out.


[sound clip from "Fight The Power" by Public Enemy]

[00:57:03.160] - Caullen

This isn't anything new, but how do we use those terms and phrases and ideologies in media and then in real life to make things better for people? And so when we have woke go from something that's grounded and rooted, to kind of like funny and kitschy and mainstream, to now it's the right's tool and hammer. It means something because there's a groundswell of ideology and resentment. I mean, it's what Trump did, but a more savvy way. There's groundswell of resentment for elites or folks who don't have what you have, especially being a poor white person or whatever, and then, okay, your life's not what you want it to be- guess what? It's not your fault. And not that it's capitalism's fault, it's their fault. It's trans folks fault, somehow.

[00:57:55.190] - Justin

That is really, just...

[00:57:57.670] - David

Well because you're taking their jobs.

[00:58:01.450] - Caullen

I think hopefully, if you're listening to this, you know that media and art and power and all that stuff has power. But I think for this conversation it's important to understand, all that- or the 520 anti-LGBTQ+ laws that are on record for this year alone, it's not even over yet- 220 of those are just for trans and non binary folks. That doesn't happen in a vacuum. It happens because we have this groundswell of ideology being pumped through these terms and through messaging and platforms, and everyday conversations when we're not checking your friends and family members. That happens because of that groundswell. On January 6, I was on Twitter hard. It was a good Twitter day for me. Not for everybody.

[00:58:43.350] - David

You talking about the January 6? Or this January 6?

[00:58:46.160] - Caullen

The January 6. But I was like, white people, this is what happens when you don't talk to your uncle during Thanksgiving.

[00:58:50.910] - Justin

I remember that.

[00:58:51.530] - Caullen

And it's funny, but it's true. You know what I mean? There's a political sphere, there's laws, there are all these things that harm us in these very macro level, normalized, accepted, respectable ways. There's the obvious social media and ads and films that are easily able to be critiqued in pop culture. Then there's the conversation with your dad, the convo with your uncle, the convo with your partner, maybe, right? And I think all that matters, but we probably have the most sway on the third one.

[00:59:23.890] - Justin

Yeah. I remember when Trump won, and I remember texting my, I would say, the only cousin I have who's on my side of the fence, politically; and I was like, we got to talk to our younger cousin. I was like, but there's a whole bunch of, 13 to 19 being raised by our racist family that we should probably be jumping in- because-

[00:59:45.150] - David

Talking to.

[00:59:45.820] - Justin

Getting in the like, we should at least start trying to pull them. Ironically, one of them's name is Anakin. And it was like, he's going to be pulled to the dark side was an actual conversation.


[sound clip from Star Wars]

[00:59:57.580] - Justin

Yeah, he was not.

[00:59:58.510] - David

He still is. He was. Anakin was the chosen one.

[01:00:02.140] - Justin

No, I mean my cousin, Anakin.

[01:00:03.730] - David

Oh okay, your cousin. I got it. I got it.

[01:00:04.640] - Caullen

He's now a staffer on DeSantis's campaign.


[sound clip from Star Wars] It was said that you would destroy us and not join them. Bring balance to the force, not leave it in darkness.

[01:00:18.750] - Justin

I do think- to go back to maybe when "woke" really hit a flashpoint. If you weren't into politics or you weren't radicalized, I think Trump, for a lot of white people- I thought of it as like, the moment where you turn on the lights in your kitchen and you're like, oh, shit, there are a bunch of roaches in here. You're like, oh, it's way more fucked than I even. It forced people to.. And they didn't do anything for the large part. But a lot of people who had never even thought like that saw like, oh, we're real bad, right? And I think that's a moment where the beginning of possibly people becoming radicalized. Not fully, but just like, oh, my uncle's being racist is a really bad thing. And same with the January 6 thing. That was one of the moments that really broke me. I have to say, I'm pretty, pretty cynical, but I was like, my God, are we really having a fucking rebellion at the White House? I couldn't believe it. Flash forward, two years later, I'm working for a weed brand, and I was pitching ideas for a January 6 sale where everyone was like, calm down.

[01:01:16.710] - Caullen

Okay, now that's an idea I would like. I wanna see that.

[01:01:20.070] - David

We can do that.

[01:01:20.730] - Caullen

Why aren't we making January 6 jokes? I mean, we are, but why is that not happening more?

[01:01:25.850] - Justin

Because I was talking- because, again, advertising, the reason why it ends up in this weird place is like, they want the biggest audience possible. And so I was just like, it should just be called- we should have a January 6 sale. And I was like, everyone just calm down. Because both sides can buy into that.

[01:01:40.430] - Caullen

Everyone just wants to get high and feel good at the end of the day.

[01:01:43.070] - David

I mean, you know.

[01:01:43.550] - Justin

And I was like, but here I am, in this moment, two years ago, I'm broke and sad, and really depressed. I didn't think much of America, but I guess I still had a little left in me.

[01:01:52.920] - Caullen

The tank is empty now. After January 6.

[01:01:58.870] - Justin

Like, jesus. But two years later, I'm just like, whatever we can profit off this, right? I'm a true American.

[01:02:04.070] - David

It's nuts, because now something that I'm connecting is, I think when I started hearing "woke" as a negative term is when they were canceling motherfuckers.

[01:02:12.910] - Justin


[01:02:14.890] - David

I think some of that came- and I'm trying to, like, that's the thing, it's like memory. Some would say it's a blessing to have a foggy memory. But just trying to think of like. It was like, people were trying so hard to prove or manifest how good of humans they were. And so as soon as certain things popped off- I'm thinking about the Twitter world specifically, and how they just fucking flame people. And then motherfuckers are dumb and screenshot their text and put them up online.

[01:02:42.930] - Justin

I delete everything I send Caullen.

[01:02:45.030] - David

I'm dead. No, but that's just a connection that I'm making. Cancel culture as a- I don't know if it's necessarily a response to woke and wokenism in the Internet, but curious to hear y'all's thoughts and how that relates to.

[01:03:02.250] - Justin

The other thing, too, is like, when you said cancel, it's like, oh yeah, the #MeToo movement happened right around in this, too. So I feel like, was "canceled" part of being too woke, or was it part of #MeToo? LIke, Oh no, he's going to get canceled. This is not even that long ago, and we can't even. There's no clear.

[01:03:19.630] - Caullen

I think it all should be taken into account. I think all the layers and layers, it colors it a little differently. I do think there is a connection with the idea of wokeism from the Twenty-teens to now for how you've been describing it. And, "cancel culture", I always put it in quotes because I feel like it is its own episode, really. But it's like, with the idea of folks doing- particularly with MeToo- outlandish, crazy, horrible, violent things and then being called out on it. And then it gets to this point where it's carceral white feminism in a certain way, where it's not accountability in certain instances or whatever. But other than the high profile things we know to be true, other instances of that being a side of discussion or thinking about the things that are more nuanced that go on in our smaller communities and abroad. And so when we think of cancel culture, I think of, okay, who's saying it and why? Because there's a broad swath of people on the Internet, like, oh, cancel culture, I can't do anything, nana. Okay, you used to rape your secretary, that's not okay, you can't do that. And there's folks who swing, who overcorrect in a way that similar to something that's like, okay, maybe in bad taste, but can we talk them about it? No, they don't talk to anyone about it, they put them out of a community right away. And it's like, that's not being accountable. That's not healthy.

[01:04:35.390] - Justin

Yeah, just pushing them out and not addressing the problems.

[01:04:38.150] - Caullen

It's also being carceral. But also, if it's carceral white feminism it's not the same as Black liberatory feminism. So how do we talk about that? Am I the one to have the conversation? Probably not. And so I think the conversation as far as cancel culture is funny, because it's just so... People do bad things, what do we do? Is what it boils down to. And is Twitter the best way to have that trial? Probably not. But also these hyperbolic things that people do really bad things, should they be held accountable in a certain way? Absolutely. And does the right hold on to what they want to hold on to, and use that in a way that's better than- I would say anyone else, because left liberal whatever- oftentimes, yeah. And so I think it is a very interesting playground of ideas and things, and actual real world consequences and events.

[01:05:22.940] - David

Yeah. No, I mean, I'm just thinking about how- there was hella... The first canceling of Dave Chappelle, as the example.

[01:05:31.805] - Caullen

Was he canceled?

[01:05:32.030] - David

Well, no, no, because when he made the trans jokes on Netflix, right?

[01:05:36.160] - Caullen


[01:05:36.810] - Justin

That was like, his second wave of being canceled.

[01:05:38.480] - David

Oh, that's the second wave?

[01:05:39.380] - Justin


[01:05:39.550] - David

But what I'm getting is, I had never seen more people on the right supporting Dave Chappelle. Supporting this Black man, about being like, oh, you see? Even... That type of a conversation happening on the interwebs was like, oh, now I support Dave Chappelle. It's like, really? Have you seen any of his work? Also then the celebrities are, in this instance, comedians also haggling with their craft and the change of age. If y'all haven't, definitely check out the "Age of Spin" episodes where we talk about some of these contents. But, yeah, dude, I don't know. Go ahead.

[01:06:13.580] - Justin

It's really funny to- when the right came to defend Dave Chappelle, like, this is one of the guys that radicalized me by making jokes about the police beating and killing Black people and sprinkling crack on them. That's like, in 1999. It's just that whole moment where it first exploded, it was just so funny. Because I would have people in my life come and be like, I don't know this girl.... I was like, what do you mean, you don't know the situation? He's like, I might have a MeToo. I was like, what does that even mean?

[01:06:40.140] - David

You might have a MeToo? What the fuck?

[01:06:41.870] - Justin

How do you not know? At the very least, you should fucking know. It's unbelievable how everyone was just like...

[01:06:48.660] - Caullen

Were they saying, like, they didn't know if they did something wrong?

[01:06:51.090] - David

Yeah, like they were going to be...

[01:06:54.210] - Justin

Yeah. [crosstalk 01:06:54]  I had a lot of... friends is a loose term, but-

[01:06:57.442] - David


[01:06:57.910] - Justin

In advertising. Associates. Have a lot of, like- do you remember the Aziz Ansari cancellation a little bit? Like, his story?

[01:07:04.920] - Caullen


[01:07:05.721] - David

Aziz Ansari?

[01:07:06.630] - Justin

It's a little of a... gray...

[01:07:09.630] - Caullen

I don't know a lot of people who were fired about that, in particular.

[01:07:11.500] - Justin

Yeah. And so it was a lot of these gray areas that people are realizing were actually men abusing their power in a situation. And I think Aziz particularly got caught up because he was someone who professed to understand the differences and nuances. This is why standups get hit so hard for it, and rightfully so.

[01:07:27.310] - Caullen

And this is why I hit Dave Chappelle's hard about certain things. I hold him to a higher standard.

[01:07:31.080] - Justin

And Louis C.K.

[01:07:34.690] - Caullen

*laughing* Different bucket.

[01:07:35.710] - Justin

No no! But when you try to be a moral authority, and then you're doing these things on the side. It really... Particularly stand ups, it's fascinating because at some point during this movement, they decided they're "free speech artists" and not just guys who tell jokes. I just think it was another outgrowth of this whole period. And it was just like, everyone was like- it makes complete sense that all the words got devalued because it was just this explosion moment of all these different things. Because Trump just caused it all. It made white people realize, oh, my parents being racist is a problem, I should talk to them. Oh, we have a rapist as a president. Maybe... We can't get him, fine, we're going to call out everything that has been happening. Like, more white women, I should say, probably. I don't know. It was this moment where everything exploded because of him. For a moment, it almost seemed like good might come out of that.

[01:08:28.240] - Caullen

He lit a match on a lot of things.

[01:08:29.750] - Justin


[01:08:29.970] - Caullen

And I think what- I don't want to dig too much into it cause I know we could talk forever about comedy and stuff, especially- but I think it boils down to what is the role of entertainment in media? And we know nuance is important and how we live our lives, and not any of us- no one can be one thing. Dave Chappelle can both radicalize you, and also made some jokes of, like- I don't know how you feel about it- could be like, you're better than that. That can be true at the same time. The right can come to the defense of Kanye, but also as however-old-I-was, you can be cheering when he says,

[01:09:01.790] - Caullen

[sound clip of Kanye West] "George Bush doesn't care about Black people." That can be the same person, right? Different kind of different experiences, but like.. I'm not a Kanye Apologist, but I just want to say: people are people, and what a sensational media landscape doesn't allow you to do or have is nuanced understanding. And then I think it's always excited for analyzes, but it's especially important when that lays the groundwork for policies that add to the likely death of trans women or of Black people or of children, or of people who are trying to make a union to make them to get better labor practices in their business. So it's like, when that- not win, because it always is in the same world as anything that's political- but that shit matters because it leads into how long we live our lives in very literal ways. And some folks more than others.

[01:09:57.710] - Caullen

CRT was a big thing before the other, more obvious anti-Black laws and policies across the nation. And that was just Critical Race Theory. It's a thing they teach in colleges, sometimes. "They're forcing CRT down your kids throats." It's like, they're not. And, "my white kid may feel worse in school." He's not; and if he does, all right, good. It's ridiculous. I was like, man... I think what you mentioned, too, Justin for, like, they're just better at it. How do we use these tools for good things?

[01:10:29.040] - Justin

Turning History into Critical Race Theory and taking all... To bring it back to advertising, it's the exact opposite of that Pepsi commercial. It's great. I don't even know what the fuck that means when I hear critical race. It took me, I had to dig in because I kept hearing-

[01:10:44.570] - Caullen

Not many people do.

[01:10:45.140] - Justin

Yeah. And I was just like, wait, so it's just exactly everything we've been teaching, but now they don't want it on the books?

[01:10:53.170] - David

I think it's so interesting. And we've talked often about americana or individualism of like, my thoughts are mine, stop putting your shit onto me sort of thing. And I think it's always been very interesting to think about children in this instances. And I think some of that falls into parents trying to correct their mistakes through their children, or what have you. Like, he has to be exactly like me, or he has to grow through the same type of education and- I didn't learn that shit, so he doesn't need it. I don't know.

[01:11:24.670] - David

I think one of the questions I was going to ask you, Justin, earlier on was like, what do you think drives people to stick to their ignorance? Because I think there's a type of ignorance where it's like, you just don't know. But then there's the level of other ignorance where you're choosing not to know. You have no idea who this trans person is on your Bud Light, but you just hate it. You hate them for them being trans and being on your Bud Light can. But as we've been talking, I think the answer is just very clear where it's the status doing what it does best. And I think it knows who its audience is. It knows what capital and what things and levers it needs to pull and push in order for shit to pop off. And I don't know. I think that's where the left that we've been coining, talking about, struggles in the same way.

[01:12:17.480] - Justin

Well, and again, they have that compelling thing- to keep us back on advertising- people don't like change, and they just want things to be the same because it's easier. And so the left has the harder job. They need to convince people that, actually, the way things have been going is fucking terrible and we should fix it. "That sounds like a lot of work, I don't want to do that." Where the right is like, "they're trying to ruin how great and easy it is for you." It's a much easier, compelling message for them. And I just think advertising is all about: whatever you're doing, you're great, you're doing great. It's like, that's the reassuringness under it. And in fact, what we're saying is, actually, it's not great, it's terrible. People are being killed, trans people- all these people, these terrible things are happening. And the right just has to be like, they're trying to make you do things differently, that's not fun. And the more I think about it, that is the way it's so much easier for them. Is they don't have to- they have the easier job. They're already starting with the lead. People just don't want resistance in any way.

[01:13:25.890] - David

Are you a spiritual creature, my friend?

[01:13:27.860] - Justin


[01:13:28.520] - David

It's like the whole good and bad. Not that- the world isn't so binary. But I don't know, sometimes I'm just like, just the romance in it of like, there's clearly this dragon hoarding all this gold, right? I think we've even talked about this specific meme, and here we are just being like, yo, can I eat? Can you stop raping our migrant people because they're trying to escape evils in the world. [crosstalk 01:13:54]. But just because you have a badge and a gun makes you feel like you're empowered to their bodies, because, to you, they're not people.

[01:14:02.190] - Caullen

David's referring to a recent article with Chicago police officers, presumably, or allegedly, raping migrant children. And that in itself is a horrible story that's under investigation. But recently, two of the news outlets that had talked about it used language that was very, very kind to the police as far as explaining what happened. And so, again, language, media platforms, power, all this stuff matters. And luckily, we're in an age now where that pushback against those things can be very salient. But, yeah, I just think that touches on everything we've kind of been talking about.

[01:14:42.880] - Justin

After everything we've been- I've been asking myself in the back of my mind like, okay, does media really help? And I do think the one thing I will say, I'm just speaking mainly for a white audience here but; putting people of color, talking about these things in your films and tv and- it does at least begin the trickle of possible empathy. That's the only good thing I can see out of commercials and these things. Just maybe, someone like me, was like, oh, Martin's cool, maybe I should watch Def Jam- Comedy Jam. Maybe I should get into hip hop. And it's these, being able to see that.

[01:15:22.050] - David

Entry points.

[01:15:22.230] - Justin

Yeah. It can create entry points, which I think where Hollywood and advertising gets tripped up is like, we're going to create change. It's like, no, you're not. You're here to make money, that is the only thing.

[01:15:33.200] - David

You're selling jeans, Tom! You're selling jeans.

[01:15:34.570] - Justin

But if you do enough, given enough people that don't look like everybody else on there, it might start to trickle a little bit of empathy. But at the same time, I thought, as a naive- I was like, well, everyone listens to hip hop, we're going to solve all these problems by the time I'm 40. And now it's only gotten fucking worse. *laughing*. Because people like me were also like, I don't want to do the work.

[01:15:58.210] - Justin

The only thing that changed as I got older is like, I want to make a lot of money to give it to people like Soapbox who will do the change. And take the money from advertising to give it to people who are doing- that's like, the one. I think for a lot- a lot of people are just like, again, it's easier to stick in that status quo if you're already in the winning position.

[01:16:17.990] - Caullen

I think you mentioned- I have a lot of notes going right now. But as far as folks like, oh, I want to make a lot of money so I can get to the things or whatever. I do think what you're doing, and how you've made opportunities for folks and what you're doing creatively and stuff, I think matters in other ways that we haven't got into this conversation. So I appreciate you for that. But I do think some folks in different industries, especially, like, oh, I care about XYZ, but I want a certain level of living or whatever. I want to have a certain lifestyle. That is what it is. No judgment. But then they make a bunch of money, and they either don't do that.

[01:16:53.270] - Caullen

And the data shows the more you make, the less you actually give the charitable organizations. And also, who are you giving to? What are they doing? How are they in the same rat race for the dollar that is actually further issues, whatever? That's a whole separate podcast, not the industrial complex. But what I'm trying to get at is, I think those flashpoint moments, like a Trump, like a COVID, like an uprisings, all matter to everyone. Which is scary in the way that, the right, I know we're being binary and reductive in these conversations about these ideologies, but the right can use those opportunities to create a wokeism and to make these laws that are terrible. The liberals or moderates, or people who are considered to the left but aren't, can use a Dobbs decision last June and say, "oh my gosh, the Supreme Court's doing what? We want to preserve democracy, give money to my campaign, and keep me in power, even though I've been in power for two decades and haven't actually codified Roe v. Wade in policy."

[01:17:51.190] - Caullen

Then there's- the left is even a bifurcated people and ideologies. But, for the sake of argument, the left are like, well, we do Soapbox, okay, cool. The opposition comes down. Everyone's pissed off and angry, as they should be. First of all, give your money and time to these local abortion funds. But also, the Supreme Court is an inherently undemocratic institution, as is Congress. As you mentioned right before we started recording, the Senate gets two seats in every state, no matter how many the population is. This idea of us calling America a democracy is- we need to stop mythologically- making these myths about ourselves.

[01:18:30.390] - David

America has a great PR team, that's what I'm hearing.

[01:18:32.780] - Caullen

PR and advertising. Yeah, America's PR team is fucking great. You know what I mean? And so I think- I like to use those moments as, there's that initial gut response on Trump's presidency. "Trump's terrible, mahh." It's like, yeah, you're not wrong. But also, *whispers* so is the presidency, the whole office.

[01:18:48.793] - Justin

The whole thing's fucked.

[01:18:49.270] - Caullen

It's fine to have so much harm for so many years. And so how do we have bigger conversations when these watershed moments happen and use media and storytelling frameworks to have everyone understand that and have something to do? Sometimes it's so big, you're like, okay, what do I fucking do? Okay, do this one thing, but also think better and bigger about it.

[01:19:07.630] - Justin

It is fascinating, just... how the movement...- media is great for starting conversations. And tactic but I remember Bernie Sanders in 2016, and then by 2020, that election- stuff that was never on the table was suddenly on the table.

[01:19:26.440] - Caullen


[01:19:27.200] - Justin

And while they certainly didn't, once elected, didn't do these things. But for the first time, every now and then, you get these moments where I think you do have a generation that's like, okay, we're kind of understanding that it's fucked for everybody. Maybe, is it capitalism? Is it democracy? I think pushing on the- that's where media is useful. If we keep saying it, the right will push back, but the more we can convince everyone else to keep saying it. The more white people I knew who were not like, were very much moderate liberals have inched way more to the left in my lifetime. Even in the last five, six years. And so while that's not creating change, it's hope.

[01:20:09.780] - David

On this podcast, we're always about "get in where you fit in" type shit, you know what I'm saying? And so I think any type of movement, any type of personal development- because then what that does is that then every person then, in writing... Like, I've talked oftentimes on this podcast about my own unlearning of cultural things. While I might not be white, I'm still a man, you know what I'm saying? While I might not be white, I still carry a lot of traits that are not conducive to liberation for all of our people, right? And so I do think all of these steps are necessary. And I would even go as far as to say that not only does media create some of these pathways for folks, or not only does it provide opportunities, but I also think there's a level of education that comes with some content that you couldn't have gotten it any other way. Whether that's documentaries, which I think pull at windows of people's lives, there's no way you're going to see without the people there being behind a camera type shit.

[01:21:13.340] - David

I don't know. That's why I'm really glad to be with a group like Soapbox. And being intentional about the work that we're doing, and constantly checking ourselves. Because I think there's- to that fro- Caullen, to you, talking like, we sometimes fall ourselves back into these cycles. And you fall into these cycles because.... You have to catch that.

[01:21:34.090] - Justin

One of the things that I really like about Soapbox and what you guys do is, and I'll do it for you because you guys, what I'm about to say is, you guys don't pat yourselves on the back. You guys are very- I feel like a lot of groups, including myself, I'm like, oh, I did a good thing. And there's still a lot more to go. "Yeah, but I did this, I'm good. I'm a little woke. I did my little bit of duty for today. I changed someone's mind." But I do think the go-to, I think docs are actually a really powerful way in. And I know that because advertising is constantly producing docs for brands now. Like branded docs. Colin Kaepernick, that's a branded- for Nike that was a branded doc. That's what we call them. And I think it's because- you know, everyone can have their own silo now because of the internet. You can just stay in your world even. It might bleed in, but you can also just be a QAnon person and just put up your own wall.

[01:22:26.370] - Justin

And there's something about... *laughing*. But the docs, I think, are every now and then are a good moment because people are curious. I think that's where docs are really valuable. And it does, it allows an empathetic point of view way easier than you can in a traditional narrative. Or- I'm not going to say advertising- but even in a movie or tv, docs have a real power and that's what you guys are doing is really great. But it's also why brands are so on it. They're like, well, we should highlight... Like, in 2020 when the uprising, that was the first thing I was like, well, we should do a doc on how we gave stuff to the school...

[01:23:03.520] - David

*laughing* you're like...

[01:23:05.370] - Caullen

Or just give to the school and shut up about it.

[01:23:07.450] - Justin

I think that's the thing I struggle the most.

[01:23:08.720] - David

Use the money you're going to use to make that video and just give that too.

[01:23:12.990] - Justin

Look, I'll go on about advertising. To some degree, I like advertising. I'm good at it. I find it fascinating. It's weirdly revealing of people. But I fucking hate when they're like, we're making change. I'm like, no, we're not. Just sell Pepsi...  And don't tie it into documentaries. "We're going to show how we help trans kids." I know someone who is trans, and it was a training video for Nike, and it was about how to handle transness and how they're for this. And they kept misgendering them all through the call sheet and in the conversations around it. And you're just like, this is what I mean.

[01:23:56.040] - Caullen

That's a pretty textbook example of what you're saying.

[01:23:59.820] - Justin


[01:24:01.630] - David

Not surprising, unfortunately.

[01:24:03.110] - Justin

Yeah. My... I have moral leniency in all kinds of different ways, obviously, with advertising. But there are points where I hit hard walls where I'm like, I will not do that. One of those is like, we're making change. One of the rules I always say when I work with copywriters like, please do not use the word change. We are not- advertising is the exact opposite of change. It's like, keep your buying habits as is, please.

[01:24:29.740] - David

Or reinforcing why we're good.

[01:24:31.180] - Caullen


[01:24:32.310] - Justin

But, yeah, every now and then, I do face a moral quandary with advertising. And I was like, I can't do that. I was brought in to create, basically, I was working for the number one pepper spray company in the world.

[01:24:42.760] - Caullen

Pepper spray?

[01:24:44.410] - Justin

Which is, everyone says is Mace, which is one of the many problems this company has. It's like, Mace is like, the fifth best selling brand, but they have the number- it's like Kleenex, they own the name.

[01:24:53.550] - Caullen

Build the wall!

[01:24:54.460] - Justin

Right. And they wanted- 85% of their product is dads buying it for their wives or daughters? And so I was brought in to make men interested in buying pepper spray. Because, again, you're giving up half your audience. And so that was kind of a fun, weird project. Just like, how do I get David and Caullen to buy or carry a thing of pepper spray? What would make you do that? So that was fun. But they also, then they were like, oh, you're doing a really good job, hey, can you go work on our police and military division?

[01:25:23.644] - David


[01:25:24.310] - Justin

Because they're the number one pepper spray for police, and the military across the world. And I was like, yeah, I can't. I was like, absolutely not. That being said, that same company, there's no one from that that'll listen to this so I'm okay. I'll tell the story. So, as the uprisings were happening in 2020, they brought me in to just do some freelance consulting. And they- because of COVID their sales had gone up huge because everyone's wearing masks, and so people are afraid of people with masks. Then the uprisings are happening, and so all their sales are going up even more. And so this is like, probably June, July of 2020 they have me come in and they're like, so we're afraid of what we should say on our site or Facebook. Because no matter what, there's going to be one side or the other reacting to it. But I was like, well, what are your sales like? And they're like, oh, we've hit 120% of our sales for the year, and it's only six months in.

[01:26:18.180] - Justin

And this is why I invented my agency I want to start. Which is the No Agency. I was like, you don't say anything. Just say nothing. I was like, do you want to do stuff for good? They're like, well, we don't want to get rid of our conservative side. I was like, well, then don't say anything. And that's my moral leniency. I was like, I'm giving you a good advice, but really, I think advertising should say nothing. I would always prefer you guys stay out of politics because film and media, tv, that's a different conversation. But advertising cannot help, I don't think, in any situation to make things better. Because at the root of it, it's just to sell a product.

[01:26:52.850] - Caullen

And arguably, I'd be like, well, if you want to do something, if that's more important than your bottom line, don't have a division for cops in the military. Are you going to keep it? Okay, you only care about money? Then just don't do anything.

[01:27:04.150] - Justin

I was like, the one thing, I was like, if you had to produce content? I was like, I would produce content on telling people how to get pepper spray out of their eyes would be an interesting series of videos. And they were like, we don't want to do that. And I was like, well then, just say nothing, guys.

[01:27:20.970] - Caullen

Yeah. This whole idea of like- I think about this in other facets of like, I don't want to anger either side. What's the status quo? Okay, you're uplifting that side. You're always doing something. You can't be objective in any of this. Which is what it is. But this idea that there's this fault. There's this weird thing we call objectivity in advertising or any kind of business, this is not true. It's like, pick what you want to do and just do it.

[01:27:43.160] - Justin

And you're trying to profit off... The thing that's so gross- I know we keep talking about it, there's other gross ads we're happy to talk about- but the reason we keep coming back to the Kylie Pepsi one is it's so gross. You're trying to hop on a movement that hadn't really gotten going. It's like you're just trying to sell Pepsi, it's so blatant. That's why everyone was like...

[01:28:02.410] - David

I feel like it got more shit, too, because it was a Kardashian.

[01:28:04.550] - Justin

Yeah, that too. But every part of that was about advancing a brand. It had nothing to do with the change. And so that's the-

[01:28:11.070] - David

You saw the long version, though? They had the seven minute version of the commercial.

[01:28:14.590] - Caullen

"Start the conversation."

[01:28:16.670] - Justin

What conversation? It'd be one thing if you just had two people arguing about politics over Pepsi. That's an ad I can get behind. But Pepsi is going to solve it? Fuck you.

[01:28:29.490] - Caullen

Cops are gross? This tastes good.

[01:28:30.930] - Justin

And so that's like... If I have any view of what I do, I wouldn't even call myself a conscience. I'm just like, let's just get back to propaganda. Don't confuse anything. It's so funny.

[01:28:44.690] - Caullen

A propagandist consultant.

[01:28:46.320] - Justin

Yeah. But I do, I've always wanted... There's just so many brands I'm just constantly like, just say nothing. You're better off. Because they just... they want to help. And I was just like, you can't help if you're McDonald's. It's just impossible.

[01:29:00.504] - David

Just stop existing.

[01:29:01.530] - Justin

You could give money- you could help. You could give a ton of money, that'll make you feel uncomfortable to give away, to smaller charities that will do something. Not these giant charities that are super well-funded. Find the lower grassroots, like Soapbox and... But they don't want to do that. That's not a good tax write-off.

[01:29:18.290] - Caullen

Or pay your employees more. All these stolen labor funds.

[01:29:21.910] - David

Give maternity leave. Give people longer than.. Whatever.

[01:29:26.550] - Justin

Yeah. Because the thing that tracks me to advertising- this is like something I realized in the later years- is, there is such weird power. So you've been running- like, the pepper spray company. They've been running that brand for 50 years. They know what they're doing. And I'm just like, actually, I've read your file, I'm going to tell you what to do. I literally could change the face of a business over a series of conversations over Zoom. And that's really intoxicating. And this idea came from, I had met the Executive Chef at McDonald's at one point for doing an ad for McDonald's, and I asked him- because he's a real chef-

[01:30:01.430] - Caullen

Executive Chef of McDonald's?

[01:30:03.450] - Justin

And he was a real chef. He had a Michelin stars and stuff. And I was like, so off the record, because they certainly wouldn't let me ask this on camera, I was like, why? Why are you at McDonald's, you're like, a real chef? And he was like, if I decide to put arugula on a sandwich, 25% of the farms in America have to change what they grow. And it's like, it's just that kind of power that I'm attracted to. Just a little bit of a menu change will change farms in America, throughout the world. And it's just like, whoa, I hadn't even thought of that. But at the same time, that's the same seductive power to advertising, to me. It's like, people are lying to themselves. We're like, we're making change. You're not. You're just, you're coming in and you're ripping up someone's business on a wild idea you have, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. All over the place, sorry guys.

[01:30:52.110] - David

Naw, you know. Clearly there's much to the conversation, Justin. I'm just grateful that you were able to hang out with us and dive into- give us a little bit more of that sneak peek. Because I think the previous episodes, just Caullen and I, and so having that additional layer, I think, was eye opening. But to the other point, it's also cool to know that there's people like yourselves in the spaces. Because that's really where it's at. Whether you are in the medical field or educational field or whatever, we can all look for the betterment of all of us. You know what I'm saying? We're not in silos or whatever in terms of like, oh, it's just me. But no, it's like, there's a lot of us in these spaces. But it's like, naming that. So really appreciate it.

[01:31:32.080] - Justin

Thank you.

[01:31:32.490] - David

It's speaking your truth.

[01:31:33.460] - Justin

It's really important, for me, the guy who kind of shepherd me into the business and brought me way further than I really should have qualified to have been- is, he also understood that it was bullshit. If you're going to work in advertising, you have to know it's propaganda and that what you're shilling is bullshit. And I think as long as you know that, it doesn't mean you can't be good at selling it, it's just you can't get lost in there. And I think that's where some of those ads we're talking about get really lost. Where they're like, there's people that believe they're really doing good. And it's just like, you're not.

[01:32:04.710] - David

That's wild. But for any of our listeners, though, any specific shout outs you want to give or any direction for them to find you and what you keep doing?

[01:32:13.420] - Justin

Yeah. I'm trying to keep my film career going. I'm in a bit of hub, so I don't have to work in advertising. So check out my website, I do a Twitch show on The Hope For Us network called "Connect The Dots" that I'm really enjoying and where we kind of, not as politically minded, but I do talk about art and money and similar things we were talking about here and when or how they work together. And then my Instagram is really the best place to find me because, while I'm on Twitter, I'm not going to say anything to you.

[01:32:47.090] - David

And all the information, as always, will be available in our episode notes. So definitely feel free to peep those out. But yeah, Justin, man, thank you so much for hanging with us.

[01:32:54.010] - Justin

Thanks for having me.

[01:32:55.750] - David

Yo, but it is- I mean, hey, shout out Caullen for holding onto relationships.

[01:32:59.450] - Caullen

Connecting folks. And Twitter, for connecting us somehow.

[01:33:01.440] - Justin

And for me shaming you to put me on here.

[01:33:04.170] - Caullen

And for being petty and following up. That's how we've gotten this far in life, just being petty and following up.

[01:33:09.550] - Justin

Honestly, showing up on time and being petty have gotten me very far.

[01:33:13.550] - David

If you took nothing else, from Bourbon 'n BrownTown, stay Black, stay Brown, stay queer.

[01:33:17.650] - Caullen

Stay tuned, stay turnt.

[01:33:19.140] - David

And we'll see you for the next one.


(Music: Wake Up by Rage Against the Machine.)