September 12, 2019
As cities freak out over e-scooters today, it’s worth looking back at when these devices were actually new. Why did people love motorized scooters in 1915, what’s different a century later, and what does all of this have to do with roller skates? They’re big questions. And the answers just might lead us to rethink how our cities are designed.
July 25, 2019
In the 1950s, America declared war on the comic book. People feared that they’d turn children into hardened criminals, and so opponents burned them in large piles, states banned them, and the U.S. Senate investigated their dangers. The man leading the charge was a psychologist named Fredric Wertham, whose research fueled people’s fears. In this episode, we take a close look at Wertham to ask: How does someone come to yield so much cultural influence? And how should the rest of us react? Get in touch: Twitter: Web: Email:
June 20, 2019
The elevator has had a lot of ups and downs. (Sorry, sorry.) As the innovation gained popularity in the late 1800s, it had a profound effect on the way we organize our cities and ourselves. It was also blamed for a rise in crime, for causing something called brain fever, for destroying civil society, and more. On this episode of Pessimists Archive, we look at how the elevator shaped our world, why not everyone loved that, and what it has to teach us about the next big change. Because while the elevator may seem like old technology today, it has a big lesson for us about the future of transportation. Contact us: Twitter: @pessimistsarc Web: Email:
May 15, 2019
Kids! They’re lazy, narcissistic, and disrespectful -- or so says the older generation. But when you look back through history, you’ll discover that older generations have been saying a version of the same thing for thousands of years. Our question is: Why? And we found an answer. Get in touch: Twitter: @pessimistsarc Web: Email:
April 22, 2019
Why are new dances always so scandalous? Grinding, freak dancing, swing dancing, rock-n-roll -- each had their opponents. But at the beginning of it all was the waltz. We may think of the waltz as classy and performative today, but as it gained popularity in the early 1800s, the dance was called disgusting, dangerous, an “obscene display … confined to prostitutes and adulteresses”, and worse. Why? In this episode, we explore how the waltz got people so riled up, how everyone finally got over it, and what the whole sweaty tale can teach us about the future of scandalous dances. Reach out! Twitter: @pessimistsarc Email: Web:
March 7, 2019
“We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas,” wrote Henry David Thoreau, “but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.” And he was hardly a lone voice that questioned, feared, or outright opposed the telegraph after it was introduced in the mid-1800s. It was humanity’s first taste of mass communications, and immediately triggered the same concerns about information overload, frivolous communications, loss of privacy, and moral corruption that today we blame on the internet. In this episode, we trace today’s concerns back to their origins. Contact us: Web: Twitter: @pessimistsarc Email:
February 8, 2019
When a frothy American congressman wanted to make his case against chain stores, he reached for the greatest comparison of evil he could think of: “Let’s keep Hitler’s methods of government and business in Europe,” he said. And that pretty well sums up the attitude towards chain stores in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Today, we have a complex but largely peaceful relationship with these companies. We may blame them for closing down local mom-and-pop shops, but we largely use them without complaint, and sometimes even love them. But when chain stores were new, the reaction against them was fierce. Chain stores were accused of destroying democracy, of limiting freedom, of corrupting young people, and of being evil, evil, evil. (Just wait: The word gets used a lot.) States even tried to ban them. In this episode of Pessimists Archive, we investigate why chain stores were so steeply resisted -- a fight that may just change the way you think about business. Get in touch! Email: Twitter: @pessimistsarc Web:
October 15, 2018
Novels are to entertainment what orange juice is to Coca Cola -- a wholesome alternative to modern vices. Or at least, that's how we think of them now. But long before television and videogames, or before comic books and D&D, novels were the new and scary form of entertainment. They were accused of corrupting the youth, of planting dangerous ideas into the heads of housewives, of and distracting everyone from more serious, important books. In this episode, we explore the roots of anti-novel hysteria, and explore what impact it really did have on us. (And if you're looking for a good novel, check out host Jason Feifer's new novel, Mr. Nice Guy!) Get in touch: Twitter: @pessimistsarc Web: Email: Thanks to our sponsor, Element AI, and its podcast The AI Element.
August 6, 2018
“A big humbug” -- that’s how one critic described America’s first subway system. Other opponents were more extreme. It would release dangerous underground air, some said. It would disturb the dead, others said. A religious leader in Boston declared it a project of Lucifer himself. Why were people so opposed to this new form of transportation? To understand it, we have to rewind centuries -- to a time when people thought that Earth was hollow, and that hell was directly under their feet. Contact us! Twitter: @pessimistsarc Email: Web:
June 18, 2018
Whatever you think you know of margarine, put that aside. When the spread was first invented in the mid-1800s, it was made very differently -- and solved very real problems for the nutrient-starved people of the time. That sent the dairy industry into a full-blown panic, leading to margarine’s demonization (and then taxation and strange discoloration). In this episode, we explore how the dairy industry got politicians all riled up, what it says about industries’ ability to halt innovation, and why it took more than a century for butter and margarine to finally square off in the most fair fight of them all: a true food fight.
April 9, 2018
As electricity began to light our world, resistance came from curious corners. “God had decreed that darkness should follow light, and mortals had no right to turn night into day,” wrote one German newspaper. “A lamp for a nightmare,” declared a Scottish poet. And Thomas Edison, the inventor who gave us the first commercial light bulb, tried his hardest to make people fear a competitor’s form of electricity. But here’s the strangest thing of all: Edison and his ilk failed quickly; their fearmongering just never stuck, and electricity, unlike every other innovation we’ve explored on this show, easily expanded into our world. Why? To understand that, we have go way back -- to the very first spark.
January 27, 2018
Pinball was banned from the 1940s to 1970s in many cities across America. New York City’s mayor made a show of bashing pinball machines with a hammer. Church ladies in suburban Chicago went on vigilante raids, ripping games out of stores. In this episode, we go through history to understand how a simple game became demonized. The answer, like pinball itself, requires us to bounce from one object to another, but ultimately falls into one big question: Is pinball a game of skill, or a game of chance? Get in touch! Twitter: @pessimistsarc Web: Email:
November 20, 2017
For 500 years, a succession of kings, sultans, and businessmen have tried to ban or destroy the world’s favorite caffeinated morning pick-me-up. Among their claims: Coffee makes you impotent! It destroys brain tissue! It attacks the nervous system! And most critically of all, it makes you want to take up arms against your government. In this episode, we answer some big questions: Is any of this true? And how did coffee survive centuries of bans, to become today’s best part of waking up? Twitter: @pessimistsarc Online: Email:
September 10, 2017
“One might suppose that the popular prejudice against vaccination had died out by this time,” one writer complains. It sounds like a lament from today, but in fact, it’s from 1875. Anti-vaxxers may seem like a product of our fake-news, health-hysteria modern times, but the fear that propels these skeptics is as old as the vaccine itself. How has modern medicine not shaken generations’ worth of suspicion and fear? We go back to look at two pivotal moments -- the birth of the vaccine and a 1905 Supreme Court case -- to understand what still motivates the anti-vaxxers of today. Contact us: Email: Twitter: @pessimistsarc Site:
July 20, 2017
For as long as chess has been around -- and we’re talking 1,500-plus years -- someone has tried to ban it. But why? The answer is complicated, but it begins here: For ages, global and moralistic leaders have viewed games as a threat worth quashing. Contact us: Email: Twitter: @pessimistsarc Website:
June 8, 2017
When the bicycle debuted in the 1800s, it was blamed for all sorts of problems--from turning people insane to devastating local economies to destroying women's morals. We explore why the bicycle scared so many people, and what happens when the opposite of our fears turn out to be true. Contact us: Email: Twitter: @pessimistsarc Website:
April 11, 2017
In the 1750s, a London man took to the streets holding an umbrella—and braved jeers, rock-throwing haters, and even a cab that tried to run him over. We explore why rainy England was once so anti-umbrella, and whether that fight was really ever settled. Contact us: Email: Twitter: @pessimistsarc Website:
March 2, 2017
When the car began replacing the horse, pessimists didn't treat it like a great new tool. They called it "the devil wagon," and said its mission was to destroy the world. We explore why the horseless carriage was so scary—and what it took to finally put horse-lovers behind a wheel.
January 9, 2017
In the early 1900s, recorded music was accused of muddling our minds, destroying art, and even harming babies. What was everyone so afraid of? In this episode, we dig into the early days of music and see what the hysterics properly predicted—and what they never saw coming. Twitter: @pessimistsarc Website: Email:
November 13, 2016
When exactly were the good ol’ days? In this new episode of the Pessimists Archive podcast, we go back in time to find out -- exploring every moment that people claimed was a golden age, and trying to understand why, as Trump’s victory has shown, nostalgia is such a powerful force. Attribution: Edison Blue Amberol: 1870 by Eugene C. Rose and George Rubel
September 12, 2016
Travel back to the 80s with us, where the portable cassette player was accused of turning people into “wind-up non-humans,” laws were passed to keep them on the streets, and one New Jersey man risked jail time for his right to walk with headphones.
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