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Pessimists Archive Podcast

PessimistsArc

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The best antidote to fear of the new is looking back at fear of the old. That's what we do each episode: We travel back in time, exploring why people freaked out over a new technology. Then we try to understand why that unfounded fear continues to re...Show More
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30:16 | Nov 20th, 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! A...Show More

47:46 | Sep 12th

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? The...Show More
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48:02 | Jul 25th

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 th...Show More

41:54 | Jun 20th

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 somethin...Show More

45:21 | May 15th

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 i...Show More

39:16 | Apr 22nd

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 popul...Show More

45:22 | Mar 7th

“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 opp...Show More

39:08 | Feb 8th

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 ...Show More

39:19 | Oct 15th, 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 ...Show More

26:22 | Aug 6th, 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 i...Show More

41:22 | Jun 18th, 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 int...Show More

43:26 | Apr 9th, 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 Scot...Show More

32:03 | Jan 27th, 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 epi...Show More

26:56 | Sep 10th, 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-hysteri...Show More

24:10 | Jul 20th, 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. ...Show More

33:42 | Jun 8th, 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 opposi...Show More

22:00 | Apr 11th, 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 settl...Show More

28:08 | Mar 2nd, 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 ...Show More

34:42 | Jan 9th, 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...Show More

34:18 | Nov 13th, 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, nos...Show More

23:48 | Sep 12th, 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.