When I spoke to Jon Waterlow he reminded me that George Orwell once said that every joke is a tiny revolution. Well, it turns out jokes can be even more than that. In his fantastic new book, It's Only a Joke Comrade: Humour, Trust and Everyday Life Under Stalin, Waterlow explores the fascinating world of jokes in the Soviet Union during the 1930's. This week Jon joins me to discuss Stalin jokes, how we perceive reality, and the power and limits of political humour. Tune in and find out how Reagan's sense of humour, pencil techniques, and mind viruses all play a roll in the story.
There are few moments in Joseph Stalin's life that are not the subject of historical controversy. These controversies inevitably become more heated when we start discussing the deaths that occurred during Stalin's reign. Perhaps the most destructive myths about Stalin are those that deny his involvement in the mass famines and political purges of the 1930's. How do you stay objective when the facts are so upsetting? Tune-in and find out how dead hockey teams, secret poisonings, and anti-communists sunspots play a role in the story.
Stalin's biography may be one of the most contested in modern times. As early as the 1930's his life story was being written by friends and foes alike. The competing versions of Stalin's past has made finding the truth particularly difficult. How important was Stalin in the early days of the Bolshevik Party? Was he a shadowy political nobody or one of the impetuous leaders of the revolution? Tune in and find out how clever pigs, Big Brother, and Michael Corleone all play a role in the story.
The are few 20th century figures as perplexing as Josef Stalin. Historians widely agree that Stalin was responsible for the deaths of some 20 million human beings. Despite that his legacy has remained the topic of serious debate. This is because the history of his regime was actively distorted by both Stalin himself and his many enemies. Stalin tried to make himself myth. His enemies tried to show that he was monster. Who was he really? Tune in and find out how pools of urine, webbed toes, and unpaid library fines all play a role in the story.
In the first episode of Season 4 Sebastian looks at the historical reputation of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. Hadrian has been celebrated as one of Rome's "five good emperors", but is that reputation actually deserved? Hadrian's reputation is complicated by the mysterious death of his teenage lover, Antinous. What should we believe about this strange chapter in the life of one of Rome's most celebrated emperors? Tune in and find out how radical beards, fantastical walls, and ancient man-love all play a role in the story.
In this final episode of Season Three Sebastian turns his attention to sports! The question of who invented a particular sport can sometimes be a matter of national pride. As such sports history can become hotly contested. It should then come as no surprise that the origin stories of many popular sports are often riddled with historical myths. Tune in and find out how A Little Pretty Pocket Book, a civil war hero, and Sebastian losing his citizenship all play a role in the story.
In a small town outside of Canada's capital city of Ottawa there sits a remarkable relic of the atomic age. It is a massive bunker that would have become the headquarters of the Canadian government if the country was the target of a nuclear attack. It has been dubbed "The Diefenbunker" in honour of John Diefenbaker, the Prime Minister who had the facility constructed in 1959. The bunker is now celebrating 20 years as Canada's Cold War museum. Join Sebastian as he is lead through this incredible feat of engineering by one of the museum's curators. This is an episode that is less about busting historical myths and is more about exploring an artifact that challenges us to re-think Canada's Cold War legacy. Tune in and find out how refrigerator morgues, Scrooge McDuck, and the Prime Minister's sad little bed all play a role in the story.
When I was researching Helena Blavatsky I was often amazed at how someone so weird, with such an outrageous life story, could inspire so much dull writing. That was until I discovered Gary Lachman's 2012 biography Madame Blavatsky: The Mother of Modern Spirituality. Gary graciously agreed to join me on the podcast to discuss Blavatsky, the challenges that come with writing about the occult, and even David Bowie. Tune in and find out how cats named Khoot Hoomi, female body guards, and rock n' roll occultists all get mentioned in the interview.
In the final chapter of our series on the occult guru Helena Petrovna Blavatsky we look at her surprising move to India and the scandal that ultimately destroyed her reputation. After being publicly called out as a fraud Blavatsky's Theosophical Society never really regained it's prestige. But how legitimate were the accusations that were leveled against the so-called "mother of the occult"? Tune in and find out how Thomas Edison, a mysterious hole in a wall, and Ghandi all play a role in the story.
Occult guru Helena Blavatsky lived a life that defied explanation. However, her books might be even harder to explain. Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine are massive collections of esoteric thought that defy description. Her supporters have hailed these unruly tomes as landmarks of modern spiritual philosophy. Her critics have called them impenetrable, pseudo-scientific, and racist. What should we make of Blavatsky's unorthodox and often problematic ideas? Tune in and find out how materialized tea cups, the wisdom of the gods, and everyone's favourite lost continent all play a role in the story.
There are few stranger figures from the 19th century than Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. Her absolutely unbelievable life story has puzzled biographers since the 1800s. Nevertheless, her occult spiritual philosophy would end up being remarkably influential. Was Helena Blavatsky truly a modern sage gifted with improbable spiritual powers? Or, was she just another 19th century huckster duping the naive? Tune in and find out how Tartar Shamans, ghost boxes, and a magician who pretends to be Chinese all play a role in the story.
The legend of the fountain of youth is one of humanity's oldest pieces of lore. Tales of magical water sources that can reverse the aging process exist in dozens of different cultures around the world. But perhaps the person most associated with the fountain of youth is the Spanish conquistador Ponce de Leon. For generations it was believed that he discovered Florida while on a hunt for the fabled waters. But is this story actually true? Tune in a find out how a land of darkness, the "father of lies", and history's most influential dick-joke all play a role in the story.
An essential part of Cleopatra's legend is her relationship with the Roman Marc Antony. Everything from their first meeting, to their decadent courtship, to their inevitable suicides has become the stuff of legend. Despite being remembered as two of history's greatest lovers, the pair has also had to deal with some of the worst historical slander. Tune in and find out how Queenly poops, lion chariots, and tiny boys dressed as cupid all play a role in the story.
Ancient authors would have us believe that the Egyptian Queen, Cleopatra, used an intoxicating blend of sexuality and extravagant living to manipulate powerful men. In fact some have gone so far as to lay every bad decision made by her lovers at her feet. Julius Caesar was obviously taken by the Queen, but was he really "bewitched" and "manipulated". Tune in an find out how Indian Tortoises, fake boat trips, and a golden armor death-trap all play a role in the story.
There are few ancient women as well-known as the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra. However, most of what we know about her comes from sources that were edited and censored by her enemies. She has been portrayed as a manipulative seductress whose influence destroyed her powerful lovers, but is that actually accurate? Tune in and find out how Hollywood flops, cadaver theft, and centuries of incest play a role in the story.
Socrates has been celebrated as the "father of western philosophy". This is particularly remarkable when you consider the fact that we know almost nothing about him for sure. What we consider "Socratic Philosophy" is what has been reported to us by his students. Should we trust what they are telling us about him? Tune in and find out how ancient fart jokes, free lunch, and a wrestler-turned-playwright-turned-philosopher all play a role in the story.
In the summer of 1096 the "People's Crusade" led by Peter the Hermit was on the cusp of flaming out spectacularly. Luckily for the Europeans this group of zealous peasants were not the only crusaders on route to the holy land. Once the nobility of Western Europe arrived on the scene the crusade was able to begin in earnest. The arrival of the so-called "Baron's Crusade" would signal a new phase in this conflict. Visions, magical objects, and signs from God would turn this military campaign into a truly legendary event. Tune in and find out how donkey blood, conveniently placed relics, and a runaway prophet all play a role in the story.
Peter the Hermit was one of the most important people of the medieval era. He was instrumental in rousing the peasants of Europe and convincing them to march east on crusade. However, for someone so significant we can say almost nothing about him for sure. His life is basically one big legend. In our quest to explain the First Crusade we first need to try and explain its most charismatic leader. Tune in and find out how fake massacres, holy visions, and donkey riding all play a role in the story.
There are few medieval events that are still as politically loaded as the Crusades. Even though the First Crusade was launched well over 900 years ago people are still debating it's merits. The debate becomes even more complicated when you consider all of the mythology, falsehoods, and popular misconceptions that surround this event. How should we make sense of this deeply complex and sometimes downright unbelievable story. Tune and find out how people being hung from their bits, the Sultan of Rome, and the end of the world all play a role in the story.
You can expect the next episode of Our Fake History on Tuesday, Jan. 23. In the meantime tune-in and get the inside scoop on what our next series will be about!
In the 10th century a letter started circulating that had been allegedly written to the Byzantine Emperor by a mysterious eastern King. The King identified himself as Prester John and claimed that he was marching to relieve the crusaders in the holy land. He also claimed that his kingdom was filled with wonders including a fountain of youth, eagles that deliver magical gems, and a menagerie of monsters. Was Prester John an elaborate hoax or was there a real figure who inspired the story? Tune in and find out how Jesus' twin brother, lady ogres, and a very confused Ethiopian King all play a role in the story.
In classic samurai films the swordsman Miyamoto Musashi was always presented as rough but honourable. The real Musashi may have been considerably more complicated. If we look closely at some of the samurai's most famous duels, we may find reason to question Musashi's reputation as the ultimate "lone wolf". Tune in and find out how pot-lid duels, swords carved from oars, and a Samurai/Ninja showdown all play a role in the story.
The samurai swordsman Miyamoto Musashi is the archetypal lone-wolf warrior. Legend has it that in course of his life he fought over sixty duels and never once lost. His psychological strategies and unique two sworded fighting style made him one of the most famous martial artists in Japan's history. However, many of Musashi's most celebrated exploits have been distorted by centuries of myth-making. What should we believe about the famously scruffy swordsman? Tune in and find out how flabbergasted monks, Harry Potter, and the Samurai Forest Gump all play a role in the story.
It's been said that finding the first rock 'n roll song is akin to finding the spot on the colour spectrum where blue becomes indigo. The task might be impossible, but Our Fake History has never been afraid of the impossible. If we search through the rich musical histories of cities like Chicago, Memphis, and New Orleans we might just find the inventor of rock 'n roll. Tune in and find out how cracked amps, too many dudes in a car, and a quick mention of "Wang Dang Doodle" all play a role in the story.
One of the most contentious questions in American pop culture revolves around who should get the credit for inventing rock 'n roll music. Rolling Stone magazine helped propagate the myth that the genre was invented by Elvis Presley in 1954. As you might imagine, the real story is a bit more complicated. Tune in and find out how dirty jokes, "moondoggers", and a sexy fat man all play a role in the story.
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