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These days it seems like you can’t scroll through Twitter without bearing witness to another manifestation of so-called ‘cancel culture’. Now more than ever, we are questioning the actions of our heroes and making quick binary judgements about people’s actions. Though controversial, this modern form of ostracism dominates a significant portion of social media debate and has again been brought into the spotlight through criticism of the actions of high profile social media influencers during lockdown.
Inspired by this phenomenon, Russell Kane’s podcast Evil Genius challenges the legacy of some of history’s most iconic figures. Those whose life stories may not be as clear cut as our school textbooks make them appear. He reveals some disturbing and often uncomfortable truths about some of our most loved (and hated) cultural and historical figures before making a panel of three comedians decide once and for all if they are truly evil or genius.
At first glance, the idea for this podcast can seem arbitrary or contrived. How many deep dark secrets can these figures really have? As it turns out, the answer is quite a lot, and they can be truly shocking. From the trailblazing environmentalist stance of Margaret Thatcher to the racist undertones of Gandhi's first civil rights victory, this podcast opened my eyes to a lot of history I wish had known about before. Not to mention the life stories of many individuals whose names I should have probably known but didn’t. I can guarantee that you will learn a thing or two by listening to just a single episode.
With a new panel of insightful and diverse comedians each week, this podcast is also not short of entertainment value. Russell himself is an excellent host and driver of discussion, but his guests also bring a welcome variety and energy to every episode. Though a small number of earlier episodes suffer from lacking the podcast’s later adopted format, Evil Genius offers genuinely thoughtful and comedic insight into its topics, particularly after finding its feet.
This podcast’s greatest victory, however, is the ways it can make us think. Evil Genius casts its lens over a wide variety of issues and dark moments of history, with a consideration of the way these still hold great contemporary relevance. Discussions around sexual assault, alcoholism and the Black Lives Matter movement are handled intelligently by both Russell and his guests - the latter particularly so in the recent Malcolm X episode. Of all the podcasts I have listened to, this one stands out for forcing me to review misconceptions and consider where to draw the line on often quite philosophical debates.
Though it’s nature to tackle heavy topics means it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, if you enjoy history and current affairs I would thoroughly recommend Evil Genius. Even if you don’t there's probably at least one episode about a notable individual that would interest you somewhere. Overall, Evil Genius is a clever and entertaining commentary on a controversial part of social media culture that will probably always teach you something. For that reason alone I think it’s worth a listen.