Past Present Podcast: Bernie Sanders, Fitbit Corporatism, and Halloween (All Grown Up)


On this week’s Past Present podcast, Nicole Hemmer, Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, and Neil Young discuss Bernie Sanders and the history of socialism in America, Fitbit, and why adults are now celebrating Halloween.

Bernie Sanders

 Bernie Sanders’ bid for the Democratic Party’s nomination has raised the old question, “Why is there no socialism in America?” That question served as the title of Werner Sombart’s 1906 classic. Natalia mentioned the historian Eric Foner’s advice that Sanders should use moral language to defend socialism as Eugene Debs did in the early 20th century. Natalia also noted that Larry David’s portrayal of Sanders on Saturday Night Live could make the senator’s Jewishness more well-known among American voters.

Fitbit Corporatism

Some Wall Street banks have ordered Fitbit activity trackers for their employees, a decision they explained for improving workers’ health. But many see dangerous possibilities when companies track their employees’ personal lives. Niki recommended Sarah Igo’s book, The Averaged American, for thinking more about the history of data in Americans’ lives. Natalia noted the recent book The Wellness Syndrome discusses how Americans’ obsession with health and fitness may be becoming an unhealthy obsession. Natalia, our fitness history expert, has written about wellness culture in America for the Huffington Post.

Halloween (All Grown Up)

Once a holiday for children, Halloween has become a popular event for many American adults in part because of the dangers associated with it for children. Steven Mintz’s Huck’s Raft and Paula Fass’ Kidnapped were recommended as two books that historicize American fears about child welfare and safety.

What’s Making History

  • Natalia recommended Michelle Miller’s The Underwriting as a page-turning thriller about a Silicon Valley dating website’s IPO. Natalia noted the novel had originally been published online in downloadable installments, harkening back the older publishing traditional of serializing literature.
  • Neil commented on the discovery that Mike Huckabee’s 1998 book Kids Who Kill was found to have contained numerous false and misattributed historical quotations from figures like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln. Neil presented this as another cautionary tale in how politicians use and misuse history for their political advantage.
  • Niki discussed the Slate article, “French Tadpoles and Persian Pickles,” an excerpt from Jude Stewart’s book,Patternalia. The article presented a fascinating history of paisley, but Niki noted it also demonstrated how the history of a pattern was also a way of understanding the history of society and culture.

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