Naomi Klein on Running Towards the Burning Building
This Week on the Talk Easy Podcast with Sam Fragoso
Illustration by Krishna Bala Shenoi.
Talk Easy with Sam Fragoso is a weekly series of intimate conversations with artists, authors, and politicians. It’s a podcast where people sound like people. New episodes air every Sunday, distributed by Pushkin Industries.
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From the episode:
Sam Fragoso: What I was struck by in all of your writing is the boundless passion and energy you have, and I want to go back a bit. In 1936, your grandfather got a job as an animator for Disney. He worked on Fantasia and Snow White and Pinocchio. He was a political man, but he mostly kept his politics to himself— until bonuses that were promised for Snow White failed to materialize. In response, your grandfather led a strike on behalf of the union. To demonstrate, he along with your grandmother lived in a tent across the street from the studio, cooking over an open fire and manning the picket line. Now that we’re about eighty years removed from this moment, do you think that’s where your passion and activism comes from?
Naomi Klein: [Laughs] That’s so interesting to hear all of those details, my god. My grandfather had a big influence on me because he was fired for helping to lead that strike, and he was never able to work as an animator again. He did a little bit of animation work under a pseudonym because he was blacklisted. He worked in the shipyards during the war. He continued to be an artist because, in some ways, it freed him to do his own art. And he loved Disney, but not the man. Maybe this comes back to this question we were talking about earlier about polarization and good guys and bad guys. He really loathed the company and the way they had treated him, but he still loved the films. He was proud of his work. He didn’t see it all as evil— he just wanted it to be fair.
One of the things I learned from him was, if you want to be a critic, you have to make room for people’s complexity and the fact that we have these contradictions. We’re drawn to this shiny world, we want things, we feel bad that the people who made the things weren’t treated well. We’re pulled in lots of different directions, and if all you do is shake your finger at people and make them feel bad, they are just going to run in the opposite direction. Because none of us function that way. We are all filled with contradictions.
SF: What I’m mainly getting at is something both human and journalistic. I’m thinking about in 2002 when you and your partner decided to move to Argentina to make a documentary called The Take. It’s a film about a group of laid-off workers who broke into their shutter factory and started it up again as a collective. In this time of turmoil, there were protests that turned violent. There were shoot-offs between police and citizens. Your partner said to your crew, just be safe. It’s not the time to die. In response, you said, if something is happening, and we’re the only ones witnessing it, we have a responsibility to posterity. Where does that responsibility in you come from?
NK: I mean, we went to Argentina after the economy there went into crisis. They went through five presidents in three weeks. The whole economy shut down, the banks closed. I think I am a journalist first and foremost, and I do have this desire to go to extreme places. I’ll be honest about that. Journalists are weird, like we do run towards burning buildings. It takes a certain kind of personality type to go into a war zone and a disaster zone where everybody else is going in the opposite direction.
Naomi Klein is the award-winning author of international bestsellers including This Changes Everything, The Shock Doctrine, No Logo, No Is Not Enough, and On Fire, which have been published in more than thirty-five languages. She is an associate professor in the department of geography at the University of British Columbia, the founding codirector of UBC’s Centre for Climate Justice, and an honorary professor of Media and Climate at Rutgers University. Her writing has appeared in leading publications around the world, and she is a columnist for The Guardian.
Sam Fragoso is the host of Talk Easy with Sam Fragoso, a weekly series of conversations with artists, activists, and politicians. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, and NPR. After conducting seminal interviews with icons like Spike Lee, Werner Herzog, and Noam Chomsky, he independently founded Talk Easy in 2016.