On this week’s Past Present podcast, Nicole Hemmer, Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, and Neil Young discuss Playboy magazine’s decision to stop publishing nude photos, the strength and stability of the nation’s political parties, and the whitening of American cities.
Many commentators attributed Playboy’s decision to stop publishing nude photos as the inevitable result for a print magazine caught in a culture awash in Internet pornography. Neil pointed out that in addition to its famous centerfolds, the magazine has a long history of publishing serious articles, including interviews with leading cultural and political figures like Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Jimmy Carter.
There’s been lots of talk about the brokenness of the Republican Party, but others are beginning to suggest the Democrats aren’t in great shape either. Niki contended that political polarization and party hostility have contributed to the instability of the parties.
Whitening of American Cities
The Washington Post recently reported that the white population is growing in 45 of the nation’s 50 biggest cities. Neil argued it wasn’t right to see this development as the “reversal of white flight.” (For an excellent history of “white flight,” see Kevin Kruse’s 2005 study of Atlanta.) Natalia suggested that Thomas Frank’s book, The Conquest of Cool, provided a useful way to think about why cities have become so attractive to white professionals again.
What’s Making History
- Natalia discussed the New York Times article, “The Lonely Death of George Bell.” Natalia contrasted the detached manner with which readers have seemed to respond to this story of an old man’s isolated death as compared to the outrage Americans felt about reports in 1964 that Kitty Genovese had been stabbed to death over several hours while her neighbors did nothing. (See the New York Times’ original article about Genovese’s murder here.)
- Neil commented on the controversy regarding Mark Juergensmeyer’s decision to boycott a conference at Brigham Young University in protest of the school’s policy of expelling LDS students who lose their Mormon faith or convert to another religion. Juergensmeyer had been alerted to this policy by the student group Free BYU which is pressuring the university to reverse its policy.
- Niki recommended Pamela Newkirk’s book, Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga, which tells the story of the Congolese man put on display in a monkey cage at the New York Zoological Gardens in 1906.