Jan 7 • 48M

Chris Arnade: walking across America

Reflections on "Back Row America"

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Today’s podcast guest, erstwhile scientist and bond-trader Chris Arnade is a cultural commentator, photographer and novelist. Arnade’s father was a refugee from Nazi Germany who became an academic and settled his family in a conservative, working-class Gulf-Coast Florida town. This gives Arnade a personal understanding of America outside of the cosmopolitan coastal cities. He notes that, whereas he left Florida and completed a physics Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins, the vast majority of his high school classmates did not go to college. Eventually, he exited academia for a 20-year stint on Wall Street, before ultimately settling into a life of photography and writing. 

He talks about how he was always out of place in the world of high finance due to his socialist politics, continuing a lifelong pattern of being an outsider. In 2013, Andrade began to explore the poor and working-class neighborhoods of New York City on a lark, photographing sex workers and drug addicts. Arnade’s subjects eventually expanded to include the poor and working-class more generally across the US. In particular, he began a project where he photographed people at McDonald’s all across the country, a portrait of what he termed “Back Row America” (as opposed to upper-middle-class “Front Row America”).

Arnade and I talk about his peculiar position of being the target of progressive animus due to his prediction in 2016 that Donald Trump could actually win the election, based on his interaction with working-class Americans. Despite his socialist bona fides, he believes that his critics will never forgive him for being right about Trump’s popularity among the working class. 

Today Arnade has a new project, walking across cities, both photographing what he sees, and writing up his impressions, back on his Substack

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