Past Present Podcast: Political Violence, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and Prisons for Profit


On this week’s Past Present podcast, Nicole Hemmer, Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, and Neil Young discuss political violence, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and the prison industrial complex.

Political Violence

Battery charges filed against Donald Trump’s campaign manager are just the latest incident in an election year that has known its share of violence. Neil argued political violence may be built into our historical DNA, tracing back to the American Revolution. Natalia suggested that tradition went even further back, citing Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676. Niki likened some of Trump’s political strategies to the domestic violence tactic of gaslighting, something she has written about in her column for U.S. News. Trump’s aggressive masculinity reminded Natalia of Gail Bederman’s argument in Manliness and Civilization that although unrestrained masculinity became considered uncivil in the early twentieth century it still retained certain political and cultural value.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

The hit Netflix show Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt just began its second season. Part of the show’s appeal, Natalia argued, was it tapped into a new nostalgia for the 1990s. Niki contrasted that with our more prevalent cultural nostalgia for the 1980s, demonstrated in the success of the television drama The Americans. Niki commented that although Kimmy represented a lot of the optimism of the 1990s, the show also reflected some of its darker elements including the rise of doomsday cults in the decade. Neil traced those cults to apocalyptic fervor of the 1980s, shown in the popularity of the Left Behind series. Natalia noted those fears continued in the 1990s, particularly in anticipation of Y2K.

Prison Industrial Complex

Many of America’s prisons have beenoutsourced to private corporations. Natalia situated that development in the context of the Rockefeller drug laws that led to increasing prison populations at the same time as shrinking state budgets. Niki noted that the Prison Industries Act of 1995 provided that prisoners be paid minimum wage for their labor, but also allowed for wages to be deducted for room and board costs. Natalia recommended Jeff Smith’s prison memoir, Mr. Smith Goes to Prison, for how it shows the prison system has no sense of rehabilitating inmates.

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