Past Present Podcast: Tubman Twenties, Adult Toys, and Whole Foods Politics

Whole Foods

On this week’s Past Present podcast, Nicole Hemmer, Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, and Neil Young discuss Harriet Tubman’s replacement of Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, the regulation of adult toys, and Whole Foods.

Harriet Tubman

The Treasury Department announced Harriet Tubman would replace Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill. Neil noted this has been largely an uncontroversial decision, although Donald Trump called the move “pure political correctness.” Natalia and Niki cited the historian David Greenberg’s defense of Andrew Jackson as one of the architects of the American political system as a reason for keeping him on our currency. The change to the $20 bill came as a surprise to many who had expected Alexander Hamilton to be removed from the $10 bill, but a groundswell of support for Hamilton in the wake of the hit Broadway musical named after him may have kept him on our currency. In light of that popularity, Natalia shared Hilary Levey Friedman’s recent blog post that ruminated on the cultural meaning of the internet trend to post selfies at the Broadway show.

Adult Toys

In 2007, Ted Cruz defended Texas’ prohibition against the sale of sex toys as the state’s attorney general. Niki situated Texas’ law in the history of vice regulation. Neil pointed out that the establishment of the right to sexual privacy by the Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas (2003) covered the use of sex toys, but not their sale. Natalia observed the long history of sex toys, including their use by medical doctors in the nineteenth century for female patients suffering from “hysteria.” Niki noted the rise of Passion Parties, a sex toy company popular in the Bible Belt, and Neil discussed the different views Christian sex manuals have taken regarding these devices, including Tim and Beverly LaHaye’s opposition in The Act of Marriage and Dr. Douglas Rosenau’s endorsement in A Celebration of Sex.

Whole Foods

The chain Whole Foods may be liberal foodies’ favorite supermarket, but Natalia pointed out the conservative politics of its founder John Mackey, including his opposition to Obamacare. Natalia argued that although Mackey’s politics may seem surprising they cohered in a wellness and libertarian worldview not uncommon among the “crunchy cons” set, a group of conservatives like Rod Dreher who promote natural living and organic food as a conservative cause. Niki thought Whole Foods’ cultural liberalism and economic conservatism reminded her of similar examples in David Brooks’ Bobos in Paradise. Natalia also recommended Joshua Clark Davis’s forthcoming book From Head Shops to Whole Foods for understanding more about this grocery chain’s history. Natalia has written about the strange gender politics of “natural” living for the U.S. Intellectual History Blog.

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