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The author (far left) having a drink
It’s funny that we all “have a relationship” with alcohol. It’s maybe the only thing we consume that we feel the need to directly relate to the rest of our lives. I’ve never heard anyone open up about their toxic relationship with gorgonzola, or how they’re working on their relationship with Coke Zero. But alcohol? From heavy drinkers to teetotallers, we all have a personal bond.
Like pretty much everyone else, I have a relationship with alcohol. In fact, like pretty much everyone else, nearly every significant moment in my life revolves around drink. As an eight-day-old Jewish baby I was given the snip, put to sleep with a little drop of wine. My first proper kiss, at Reading of 2009, was fueled by a blend of vodka and Tesco Value cola. My 18th birthday was just an excuse to get trashed. First week of college: gin, Jägerbombs, and Kronenberg. Celebrations, commiserations, falling in love, and gut-wrenching heartbreaks have always seen me—and my contemporaries, elders, and ancestors—reaching for a glass.
So when statistics surfaced earlier this month that suggested young people in Britain are drinking less than ever before, I started thinking about my drinking. As I wandered home from the pub one night, a few glasses of wine down, I asked myself: is my relationship with alcohol really OK? I’d always thought that everyone my age was drinking a little bit too much, but that, y’know, it was kind of OK because we’re the first generation to be worse off than our parents; we’re stuck with a lifetime of debt; we’ll never be able to buy a home, etc, ad infinitum. But turns out that’s just not the case.
My roommates reassured me that of course I was healthy. I work nine to five, Monday to Friday. I don’t drink alone, rarely in the daytime, no blacking out after nights at the pub. But, at the same time, it dawned on me pretty quickly that my lifestyle involves drinking most nights of the week. I rarely drink to the point where things get too wobbly, which, until now, I’d told myself, meant things were nowhere near out of hand.
But I wanted to be certain, so I decided to keep track of my drinking habits for a week. Monday night I was heading down to an event in central London. After the job? Well, everyone headed to the pub. Tuesday was a Turkish dinner with a glass or three of wine, Wednesday work drinks, Thursday my roommate passed me a beer on the sofa. I was never drinking huge amounts, but there was a bottle there every night of the working week. On Friday evening I was off to Wilderness Festival, and I had a few gins when we got there. By Saturday lunchtime I was heading down to Brighton Pride. I tried to keep a tally of units, but to be honest I couldn’t easily keep count. I imagine that’s probably not a great thing.
The author (center) doing a bit more drinking
I decided to get in touch with James Nicholls, Director of Research and Policy Development at Alcohol Research UK. Before I started panicking about whether or not there were any issues with my relationship with booze, I wanted to work out if the amount I consume is a problem for my health. If not, then why worry?
“The revised government guidelines are 14 units of alcohol a week for both men and women,” said James over the phone. “The guidelines set out how much you should drink to keep your risk of dying of an alcohol-related condition below 1 percent.”
It didn’t take me long to realize, after checking what 14 units represents, that I—and most of my friends—could get through that in an afternoon. Six standard glasses of wine? Six pints of beer? Over the course of an entire week, that seems like nothing. But maybe it’s not; only 25 percent of the UK population drinks more than the recommended weekly limit.
Yet, this didn’t worry me too much. Sure, at 23 I’m drinking way over the recommended limit week-on-week, but that’s a risk for my body that, for now, I’m willing to take. We make decisions every day that see us risk our bodies to some degree, for pleasure, for comfort, or for a thrill. As far as I could see, what was vital was that drinking remained a choice and not a necessity, and when it came to my own drinking, I still wasn’t 100 percent sure where I fell.
Dr. Sally Marlow is a Fellow at King’s College London, with an expertise in addiction and the stigma that surrounds it. “There’s no single trait or gene, no single answer that says whether you’re addicted,” she explained from her home. According to Sally, the kind of thing you see in the Daily Mail when it comes to alcohol addiction is a “crock of shite.” Instead, she assured me that alcoholism spawns from a “complex interplay between your genetic makeup and the things that happen to you in your life.”
In short: there was no easy answer to the question, “Do I have a problem with drinking?”
What Sally also made clear is that you can’t judge a drink problem solely on the amount of alcohol you consume. “A heavy drinker can build up a tolerance where you need more and more to get the same effect,” she said, pointing to smoking or heroin addiction as similar examples; you might start off slowly, but soon increasing your intake to feel the same effect.
“It’s the same with alcohol, but it’s slower: over a couple of years you might need more and more to be relaxed, to be a party animal, to be self-confident,” she said. “People who can knock back a couple of bottles of wine might only get the effect of a few glasses.”
So it’s not in the quantity alone that points to a problem. Instead, Sally pointed me towards the types of behaviors that might signal alcoholism: can’t get to work due to hangovers; arguing with your friends, family, or partner because of the drink; getting busted for drunk driving; drunken accidents or getting into fights; feelings of shame and guilt; or blackouts where you continue to function but you don’t recall what was going on. Sally says these are all red flags—behavioral signs that you might have a problem.
Speaking to Sally, it was clear that what she described is not the way I—or many of my peers—drink. However, it’s also clear that casual drinking can easily mutate into problem drinking.
I got in contact with an Alcoholics Anonymous member named Jack. Now age 30, Jack has been sober since the age of 21, when he realized something just wasn’t right. “From the outside everything was perfect: I had a good job, a long-term relationship, a nice flat,” he said, “but I looked in the mirror every day and I hated what I saw.”
For Jack, drinking was a way of escaping. “I feel happy? Have a drink. Feel like shit? Have a drink. When I was without alcohol I was irritable, snappy, an arsehole—I was worse sober than when I was drunk.”
I asked Jack what it was that made him realize he had a problem. Turned out it was a work lunch with his office when things, as he put it, got seriously fucking bad. “I nearly lost my job, I lost clients, I lost the company a lot of business. I embarrassed myself,” he said. “Let’s just say: when you’re trying to get a contract with a client, it’s best not to offer to sleep with them when their wife is also there.”
When Jack was drinking he didn’t know whether or not he was going to carry on long into the night. “I might go out for a drink or two, and sometimes I would , but other times I’d wake up the next day and not know where I was.”
British drinking culture can make it difficult to spot an alcohol problem. On the surface, my consumption—and that of most people I spoke to while writing this article—should probably be setting off some alarm bells. But really, it’s just become normal for many of us to drink like this day-to-day.
I can’t help but think about a close friend of mine, a journalist, who did Dry January earlier this year. Yes, he managed nearly 31 days sober, but he moaned about it every night of the week. Does this mean he has a problem? If it does, it also means basically everyone who did Dry January also does.
The line between healthy and dangerous is alarmingly murky, but trying a period of sobriety and seeing how you’re left feeling seems to be a pretty solid way to test the water. Either way I’ll now be keeping much closer tabs not just on how much I’m drinking, but why.
Follow Michael Segalov on Twitter.
This year was the 50th anniversary of the Notting Hill Carnival, which was as rowdy and crowded and colorful as ever. There was all the usual fun stuff—people squirting chocolate sauce everywhere, the obligatory dancing police officer, rich kids dabbing a lot and being excruciatingly embarrassing—and all the usual bad stuff—not being able to physically move, lots of arrests for weapon offenses, and five reported stabbings.
Photographer Charlie Kwai went along to capture some of the estimated 1 million people who attended.
Follow Charlie Kwai on Instagram.
Photo courtesy of Madeline Whitehead
Two weeks ago, Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad was released with the blessing of Oprah Winfrey’s semi-dormant Book Club—and those familiar with the author’s work couldn’t help but chuckle at the occurrence. A well-regarded ironist with a bleak comic outlook who writes obliquely about race, Whitehead has a sensibility that feels, if not at odds with Winfrey’s, then certainly at a remove; with The Underground Railroad, Whitehead takes on the specter of American human bondage with hints of Marquez’s magic realism, DeLillo’s insidious intelligence, and the playful postmodern systems analysis of Pynchon. His droll humor comes in smaller doses than usual—after all, it’s hard to make slavery funny.
The book tells the story of Cora, a 17-year-old Georgia woman born into slavery who attempts the flight north with a man named Caesar. During their escape from the plantation, the couple are briefly apprehended, and Cora kills a pre-teen slave patrolman with a rock. Now sought out as murderers, Cora and Caesar flee via the Underground Railroad, which Whitehead reimagines as a literal subterranean rail line manned by conductors and station
When Whitehead arrived for our chat at Manhattan’s Corner Bistro, he was decked out in a black Misfits T-shirt, tight jeans, dark sunglasses, and his trademarked dreads—not the mode of dress we normally associate with middle-aged black men, let alone one who just published a novel of startling aesthetic and emotional power on slavery. But Whitehead isn’t your run of the mill novelist, black or otherwise; The Underground Railroad is the type of slavery novel in which the Misfits get thanked in the acknowledgements, and the book has a driving, propulsive energy that keeps you jumping up and down even if you aren’t at CBGBs.
VICE: What was your notion of slavery as a child?
Colson Whitehead: As a young African American male growing up in the 70s, Roots was obviously a major touchstone. When it first broadcast, it was a national obsession. Like a lot of other African American families, we’d gather around the TV and watch the 70s version of the story play out. In school, you hear about slavery and then jump to Abraham Lincoln immediately—there are not a lot of units describing the degradation.
You conceived of The Underground Railroad when you were younger and only picked the idea back up a few years ago. How would the book have differed if you had written it around when you first came up with the idea?
I was a 20-something New York hipster, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it justice at that moment. I was still in Gen-X slacker mode, so the protagonist would have been a guy
trying to escape for his own freedom. The notion of escaping to find your child, or a spouse—or a daughter looking for her mother—didn’t occur to me then. All of the fantastic gestures would have been broader or bigger, instead of being woven into Cora’s timeline and technology.
What is your creative routine like?
For the last couple of books, I had a page count of about eight pages a week. Seven is
meh, nine is better, but eight is a good steady pace, and it adds up. Eight pages a week is 400 pages a year, and that’s a novel. I have kids, and some days I don’t feel like working.
Sometimes I have to go to the dentist, and I can’t work if I have to go to the dentist. If I don’t feel like working, I’ll improvise. I’m always going forward and backward, forward and backward.
With this book, I wrote the first third, and then I showed it to my agents, my editor, and my wife, who were like, “You’re doing good!” Sag Harbor was a really personal book, so every time I’d finish a chapter, I would show it to my agent just so she could say, “It’s good, keep going!” With Zone One, I didn’t show anybody until it was done—I think I was sort of depressed and wanted to hole up like Mark Spitz.
Are there aspects of the book’s characters that are autobiographical?
The Colossus of New York is probably my most autobiographical book—it’s just me, without any narrative filter, having ideas about the city. I’m in most of my characters, and that includes the villains. In my better moments, I see myself in some of the more enlightened characters. You’re always putting the good and bad parts of yourself in the characters to make them real.
Did you ever think your sensibility would be admired by Oprah Winfrey?
Well, you hope if you do a good book, people like it. She’s picked great books. I loved Beloved and I loved The Road, and both of those influences are in this book. It was shocking because was such a force for so many years, then it slowed down. When I first started publishing, you’d be in a hotel bar after doing a reading and someone would say, “Has Oprah picked it?” Then it died down because she stopped doing the book club, so when I got the call in April, I wasn’t even thinking about it —I’d just finished copy edits. It came out of the blue and made this summer a lot better.
What do you consume in the media?
I’ve been distracted, and I haven’t read as much this year. My big find was the movies Point Blank and Payback, which are based on these novels by Richard Stark following a guy named Parker. There are 30 of them, so I’ve read six of them back to back. The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson was really great. It overlaps in some ways with The Underground Railroad, in terms of a person being hemmed in by a multitude of societal forces and finding how to make their way. But I find it hard to read when I’m working, and I’ve also been consumed with the primaries and the post-primaries and the daily outrage.
Does the current political climate surprise you?
Having written a book about lynching and slavery, not really . But as a rational human being who doesn’t want the world to blow up, I think everything is surprised by the
constant stream from the Trump campaign—the rhetoric and the daily outrage.
When I was writing some of The Underground Railroad‘s graphic passages—like the lynching scene—I went in between about if I was going too much over-the-top. Then I’d research and be reassured that violence and brutality happened to many people. The lynching scene as a communal entertainment for the town isn’t so far-fetched, so the rhetoric that comes out at a Trump rally is reflective of a primal human impulse toward hate that’s not specifically American. In the same way, if you’re going to make a satire of a demagogue, you couldn’t come up with Trump, who strains the credibility of satire every day.
Why do you think slavery is on so many people’s minds right now in culture?
The number of black writers, filmmakers, and TV producers aren’t huge, but there are more than there were ten years ago. I don’t feel like there can ever be enough as long as there’s more ground to cover. There are many corners of African American history that have not been explored, and we have more choice over what we want to tell now.
You’ve been doing an increasing amount of nonfiction. Does that work a different muscle in your writing repertoire?
My introduction to nonfiction was reading my sister’s copies of Tom Wolfe and Norman Mailer, and music journalism—I’d come home from school on a Wednesday afternoon reading the Village Voice in the 80s, see who’s playing at Irving Plaza, and read the music criticism. At the time, there weren’t a lot of outlets for first person nonfiction, but the Voice had some of that. My introduction to book criticism was also through the Voice, and that was one of my inspirations for writing.
When you imagined the career you would embark upon when writing your first book, does it career at all resemble what your life and work is at 46?
In terms of work, it’s the same. These last two weeks really aren’t going to happen again—the next book will probably have a normal launch—so I’m just trying to enjoy the success of this book. I’ll put another book out, no one will know what I’m doing, I’ll take the hit, and move on. I’m just going to keep writing either way.
Photos of Jesse Martinez by Dan Levy
Dogtown and Zephyr
may have sparked the skate scene in Venice Beach, but it was the unruly Venice
locals, headed by Jesse Martinez, who doused it in gasoline to see how high the
flames would go.
Born in 1965 and
raised in a Venice Crip family, Martinez found salvation on his skateboard. While
most pros of his day were rocking Day-Glo spandex and surf trunks, Martinez
sported Crip blues and full cholo gear in his ads. He didn’t need any marketing
gimmicks—his well-deserved reputation as one of skateboarding’s most notorious
enforcers set him apart. His brawls are the stuff of legend. While riding for
the wholesome Bones Brigade, he knocked a guy out at a demo for slapping Lance
Mountain. Another time he threw a guy down a set of stairs at Disneyland. At a
time when skateboarding was making the shift from backyard ramps to street
skating and searching for an identity, Jesse became the poster boy for the code
of the streets. His documented defense of both himself and his local scene
empowered an entire generation of skaters.
Penson’s new documentary
Made in Venice
focuses on the 20-year battle to get the Venice skatepark—the most expensive
skatepark in the world, according to the film—built, but it could just as easily have been about
Martinez. For more than three decades, Martinez has been the lifeblood of the
humble Venice community, and he was the driving force behind getting the park
I caught up with
Martinez in a back alley in Venice on the two-year anniversary of the passing
of original Z-Boy and our dear friend Jay Adams to discuss his city and the
many opportunities he’s passed up to get off the streets of Venice over the
VICE: What is your earliest memory of
Jesse Martinez: I was living with my mom, and my
grandmother lived across the alley over on Sunset. I was like five and I
remember my Uncle Wes waking me up like, “Get
up! Get up!” He runs to the window with me and goes, “Run to your Grandma’s!”
Then drops me out the window. Right when he did, a bunch of narcs passed me with
shotguns, and then a bunch of those stun grenades went off. I remember running
across the alley, and my grandma came running and grabbed me. I think it’s a
memory stuck in my mind because of the flash of the concussion grenades.
What happened with your uncle?
They went on a
vacation for a little while. They got out, eventually. Everything was cool.
At what point does Venice change from
just where you live and become home?
It’s still there
in a weird way, but in our day to be from Venice, you stood up for the
neighborhood. You stood up for all your buddies. Sometimes whether right or
wrong, it doesn’t matter—you stand up for them. We weren’t a gang. There were
more than one hundred of us. It was more a tight brotherhood. Even with the
local gangs, whether they were Mexican or black, we had mutual respect. The
skaters and surfers actually intertwined with the local gangs; we were family,
friends, and brothers with them. My actual family were all gang members, yet
here I am skating and surfing, and a lot of us were like that in Venice. There
were just offshoots— cousins, brothers of gang members, Crips—so it was like
this camaraderie. I miss it.
It’s understandable. Venice has been
gentrified with the influx of techies washing up on Silicone Beach.
people. You can’t help if they happened to choose the right thing to be into.
We were into skateboarding while this guy was into some computer things. That
was his gig. That’s what he likes. What he liked happened to make $450,000 a
year. I just happened to like skateboarding, which made $37,000 a year.
That’s something I wanted to talk about:
the money. You were in a few different situations where you were a cunt hair
away from striking it rich. You helped make World Industries what it was. You
helped broker a deal for
to be sold to Flynt. Duffs. Ghetto Wear…
Yeah. I’ve had
chances. I take them in stride. I blew it at Powell. Now that I’m older I’ve
realized I didn’t need to hit that guy at the demo. I could’ve ran up and just
grabbed him and let a few other guys call the cops, but instead I walked up and
hit him. It wasn’t Powell’s fault. I had a few little issues on the road. It
wasn’t really my fault, both issues, but the way I handled them was not right.
Now that I’m older, I could have handled both situations that led to me being
fired differently. I don’t really blame Powell.
You don’t blame Powell, but in Made in Venice , Block, the owner of Venice
Originals Skateshop, claims that Stacey Peralta signed you to Powell just to keep
you on the road so you wouldn’t take out any of the other Bones Brigade guys at
street contests. How do you feel about that?
I’m honored by
that compliment from Block, but the reason they kept me on the road for so long
was Powell had a system back then. They had the number one freestyler, number one
vert guys, and the top street skaters in the world with Tommy Guerrero and Mike
V. They weren’t really holding me back; they were just building my name, which
I really believe they were doing. Without Powell Peralta’s Bones Brigade tour
forcing me out on the road everywhere, I wouldn’t be as known. That’s just
straight out fact. I thank Powell for tha,t even though they gave me the boot.
The reality in that is, the first fight I got into in Boston, that dude had
just smacked Lance Mountain, and when I was walking up, he was
getting ready to hit me. I just happened to be a little quicker. The Disneyland
incident… that wasn’t my fault.
What was the Disneyland incident?
The reason I got
fired. I was with Julien Stranger, another Venice Dogtown homie. We were doing
some demo in Disneyland, and Stranger somehow wound up with us. We were walking
to the arcade together to go play some games. We had just entered the hotel
hallway, and he goes, “I don’t have any money, man.” I was riding for Powell, so
I just used a credit card and pulled out like $500. I had a bunch of 20s, and he’s all, “Killer!” We were ghetto rich. This guy who was standing against
a stairwell saw me pulling the money out and hand Stranger a $20 bill, goes,
“How’d you make so much money?” I go, “What’s it your business?” He goes, “What
do you do? Sell rock or cocaine?” I go, “What? F you.” One thing led to another,
and somehow he fell down the stairs and hit his head. That was the end of the
fight. I left my skateboard there. Security chased me away. It doesn’t take a
rocket scientist to go, “What does this say on the board? Jesse Martinez?” Then
I went to court and was found not guilty of all charges, and everything was
dropped. I tried explaining to them, “I don’t know why you’re firing me. It
wasn’t my fault. I was protecting myself.” But I love Powell. They helped me
get on a team even after they let me go. Stacey got me on Santa Cruz. Anything
I’ve needed since then they have been by my side, and now that I’m older, I know
that they did the right thing. I was a liability. I had a short temper for
After Powell, you helped start Word
Industries, owning a third of it. It sold for $29 million. How did you end up
getting only 30 grand?
I can almost
never tell anybody how it really ended in the parking lot, what made me walk
away that day. I can tell you pieces of it. World Industries was having tax
issues, supposedly. I owned like 33 percent back then; we’re all equal partners.
I got kind of worried, but I was just about to have a kid. I’m like, “Ah fuck, I
suck at skateboarding now. This is about to eat shit.” I had just gotten done
doing a demo with Jeremy Klein, Mike V, and Jason Lee, and they just dismantled
me. It was the last time I ever did a demo. I was in a bad spot, thinking what
am I going to do with my life. I was inches from getting in my car and just
leaving and not coming back. Whatever shares I had in the company, well if it
eats shit, it eats shit, and if it makes it, it makes it, and then I’ll get rich. I was
just about to leave, but I had talked to somebody else in that parking lot, which
completely changed my mind to walk back in and sign out. Which unfortunately turned
out to be, with no exaggeration, a couple million-dollar mistake, one that
would alter my life for sure. But what do to the French say, se la vie? Who
Hell no. There’s
only forward. I can dwell on the past, but I still have to move forward. Rocco’s
one of my best friends. We play golf all over the place together. I hung out at
his house, and we still talk all the time. Rodney Mullen is still one of my
great friends; they both are. If you can’t separate business and friendship, then
maybe you shouldn’t do business, especially with a friend. Whether it was done
on purpose or not doesn’t matter anymore. Those guys are two of my best friends,
and they got rich off it. I walked away with $32,000. When shit hits the fan
and my back’s up against a wall, I can call either one of those dudes, Rodney
or Rocco. Whether they like it or not, they will loan me money for whatever I
need at that moment and not ask for a penny back. Without question.
I know it’s difficult for you to take
money in general, even when you’re doing work that deserves payment. You’re
promoting this documentary about the Venice skatepark, but somehow you’ve become
the guy out there every morning cleaning the park, free of charge. How does
that happen? Why isn’t the City of Los Angeles paying you for your service?
We had finally
gotten a park, and we started cleaning it, and the city at first was like, “Whoa,
what the hell?” Nathan Pratt was giving me money each month to clean the park.
It was the best year and a half that park had ever seen, sparkling clean
everyday. Here was the real problem: We had handed the City of Los Angeles a
contract stating we wanted a five-year agreement to clean the skatepark. They
said no. We came back with a one-year agreement, and they said, “No deal, you’re
out,” out of the blue. I guess they don’t know me very well. I guess they
thought I was just going to go away. Nathan sat me down that day and told me by
law, we’re a legal nonprofit that pays you for what you do up there, but now
you’re not doing it, and we don’t have a contract anymore to justify paying.
He’s right. It’s all legal. That’s how shit goes in the real world. So he told
me for now he can’t pay me, but if I want to keep cleaning that park, it’s on me.
I have no insurance, no right of entry, no driver permit… they took all my
shit, my keys, my power, everything. So I let it go for about three days, four
days, and the park was destroyed. The city wasn’t cleaning the park, so I went
home and got all my equipment, my blower and everything, and I cleaned the whole
park. For 18 months now, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. I get out there
between 5 and 5:30 AM, six days a week. It takes about two and a half hours, three
Recently it was
to proposed to Councilman Mike Bonin to get me right of entry along with a certain
amount of money for pay every month. Bonin’s reaction, I’d give it a 50/50.
Bonin said he’s going to reach out to Parks and Rec and the higher ups with the
deal and try to work something out. That was a week ago. That’s where I stand
right now with the city.
What keeps you going back every single
day to clean that place?
Dogtown-Venice-Santa Monica Airlines-Zephyr pride in me that says this is our
neighborhood, and I don’t need your job. I don’t need your fucking money. I’m
going to take care of the neighborhood, whether you guys pay me or give me your
blessing or not. It doesn’t matter. That is one of the last holdouts for the
old way of Venice. I want that park to say, “Welcome to Venice.”
Click here for more on Made in Venice
for more skateboard stuff.
Indy Neidell is really excited to cover the Centrocaspian Dictatorship. It was a rebellious, unstable state that popped up in Eastern Europe during the constant reshuffling of World War I, a nonviolent coup d’etat between Russian socialist revolutionaries and Armenian liberation front the Dashnaks that established a dictatorship in the Azerbaijani city of Baku. It lasted about a month and a half in the summer of 1918, before being swallowed up by the encroaching Ottomans.
The Centrocaspian Dictatorship is the sort of random historical minutia that’s rarely included in big-picture storytelling, and that’s what Neidell’s YouTube documentary series “The Great War” tries to address. He and his team started the project on the 100-year anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and have since produced weekly episodes covering the war. So far, he’s made 108 videos, including plenty of one-offs focusing on subjects spanning Austro-Hungarian pistols and the plight of Chinese workers on the Western front. Slowly but surely, Neidell is building the most expansive repository of World War I knowledge ever produced.
“Even though the episodes are 10 minutes long, this is way more comprehensive than any documentary,” says Neidell in an interview with VICE. “It’s really cool to make it in real time, and that we get away from the Western front and you get to see the stuff that happened in Africa and Persia.”
Neidell studied both American and European history at Wesleyan University in Connecticut but has lived in Sweden since 1996. In the past, he’s made money by playing in bands, doing voiceover work, and running a booking company; in 2013, after uploading a couple videos about baseball history to YouTube, he was contracted by German company Mediakraft to build “The Great War,” covering every facet of one of the most complicated times in history. Neidell’s been walking through the information as methodically as possible, and in doing so, he’s created a “new style of documentary” that puts into clear focus the tremendous breadth and scope of the war.
“If you watch Ken Burns’s The Civil War, it’s brilliant but static,” says Neidell. “You might be sitting at home saying, ‘My great-great-grandfather fought in the war, and he wrote in his diary that this happened and that happened,’ but that can’t become part of the show. “The Great War,” however, is worldwide, free, interactive, and evolving all the time.”
On average, Neidell is writing about five episodes of “The Great War” at once, studying macro-analyses like Sir Martin Gilbert’s The First World War and daily newspaper archives. Through the series, he’s become one of the most informed human beings on the planet on the topic of WWI; as such, the Great War (and “The Great War”) has started to seep into other facets of his life—he’s now doing consulting work with Swedish video game studio EA DICE, which is hard at work on the upcoming World War I–themed first-person shooter Battlefield 1.
“I realized that taking on the Great War was a daunting task, and there were many things I wanted to validate with Indy,” says Stefan Strandberg, creative director at DICE. “The Great War can be viewed through many different lenses, and a lot of myths are being debunked with new research today—so I needed partners who echoed my passion for this period in history.”
World War I ended after four years, and “The Great War” will also come to an end at some point—something Neidell’s given plenty of thought. “It’s going to be really sad,” he says. “We’re already thinking about doing Korea the same way, since there hasn’t been a great Korean War documentary. Because of “The Great War,” we’ll be able to raise a lot of money independently “
And chances are he’s right: “The Great War” currently pulls about $12,000 a month on Patreon and has almost 400,000 YouTube subscribers. Neidell’s proof that, with the right tone and the right knowledge, you don’t have to compromise your vision—if you work hard enough, anything can be your job, and the sun will rise on the Centrocaspian Dictatorship one last time.
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