In The Terror of the Unforeseen by Dr. Henry Giroux, Julian Casablancas pens a powerful foreword that rallies for the separation of wealth and state. In it, The Strokes frontman calls for confining capitalism to the private sector, minimizing the power of the corporate world, and stopping neoliberalism in its tracks.
To defend those opinions, Casablancas visited with students in the Arts & Science Program’s Education Inquiry course, taught by Giroux, earlier this fall. Giroux says he invited him to demonstrate to the students how important the course material really is.
“I wanted to make it clear to the students in this class that the issues that we discuss are not just simply academic issues,” he explains. “I wanted to show them that there are people out there who take these issues very seriously. So, it was important to be able to bring in somebody who exhibits that, like Julian does. Plus, as an enormous rock star, he is a part of the students’ culture in many ways.”
Class commenced with personal introductions — students were given the floor to introduce themselves to the iconic musician and explain to him where their individual interests lie. These introductions created the bedrock for the conversations that would take place over the next three hours.
Moderated by Giroux, the discussion explored neoliberalism, social atomization, voicelessness, social death, dehumanization, politics, elections, the hidden curriculum of language, and social media propaganda, among other things.
Students carried much of the conversation, asking questions, voicing opinions, and both challenging and building upon the ideas put forth by Casablancas.
“What I found particularly interesting was that the students really challenged him in ways that I think educated him,” Giroux says. “They weren’t at all awed in the face of celebrity culture, which I loved. They were willing to speak up and they really challenged him.”
Giroux says that he had a hunch that would be the case and it’s for exactly that reason that he felt comfortable inviting Casablancas to take part in the class.
“I must tell you, I am just so impressed with these students,” he says. “They read the literature, they respond, they connect it to other things — I mean, they’re really actively involved. They’re also very attuned to world events. They’re curious, they’re focused, and they’re open to different positions. I think the fact that they’re pursuing so many different disciplines — the liberal arts, medicine, law — really helps open up a different kind of conversation. It’s quite a pedagogical experience.”
In 2016, Casablancas and Giroux composed a video for Rolling Stone, in which they discussed a series of topics ranging from the control that financial institutions have over governments to the illusion of democracy. The video has been viewed more than 150,000 times.
“Before we did that video, I didn’t know him,” Giroux recalls. “I got a call from his agent saying he wanted to interview me. They told me that he’s in a band called The Strokes so I called my son, who lives in New York City and also plays in a band, and asked him if he’d ever heard of Julian Casablancas. He said, ‘oh, Dad — he’s my hero.’”
Since then, Giroux and Casablancas have kept in touch. A year after the video was published, they met again in New York to continue their conversation. There they talked more about what they could do together to amplify some of the concerns that they shared politically. Around that time, Giroux also did an interview with Russell Brand in London, which stoked the idea of potentially getting world-class celebrities together with political thinkers to expand their audience. It was then that they agreed that collaborating on a book might be a good place to start.
The book, published this past summer, tackles fascism, fake news, hate, neoliberalism, racism, casino capitalism, fearmongering, and more. Students enrolled in the class read the book and presented their interpretations of it to the authors — something Giroux says impressed their special guest.
“He loved it,” Giroux says. “He came out after and said he really learned a lot. He was amazed with how these young people were so engaged — he was absolutely educated.”