Episode

8/5 The Books That Define The Flawed Myth of American Exceptionalism w/ Jess McHugh

August 5, 2021

Emma hosts writer Jess McHugh to discuss her recent book Americanon: An Unexpected U.S. History In Thirteen Bestselling Books, which focuses on the books that shaped and grew the myth of American Exceptionalism over the last couple of centuries. Beginning with the Old Farmer’s Almanac and Webster’s Dictionary, Jess and Emma walk through how these instructional books found their way into a majority of early American homes, working to construct an image of an ideal American – a republicanized, rural, man with familial, nationalistic, and northern values. Jess McHugh also discusses the web of elite men that connected these works to the ruling and political class, before they continue, chronologically, down the line of the creation of this American mythos, looking into the works of Betty Crocker to generate pride in domestic resignation for women, emphasizing their role in helping generate strong and patriotic men, particularly during the war effort. Next, McHugh and Emma explore how this birthed a genre of self-help books aimed at women in the later 1900s, and the interesting note that these two women-oriented projects aligned with the first and second waves of feminism. They round out the interview with discussions on how these works, while reinforcing a figure of American exceptionalism, worked to ignore and other minority figures n society, from the McGuffy Readers’ ignoring of the existence of indigenous folks in the espousing of Frontier Values, or how “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex but Were Afraid to Ask” presented progressive, but continued to reinforce heterosexual and white supremacist notions of sex. After they reflect on the role of stories to help us grapple with and ignore problematic elements of our national identity, Emma reflects on DeSantis’s fear baiting whataboutism on Covid, while Florida still maintains a rate of 20% of new U.S. Covid cases.

And in the Fun Half: Brandon and Matt join as Emma works to beat the “former Cuomosexual” allegations, the crew covers Bill Gates’s affiliation with Jeffrey Epstein, that was, of course, fully business (never mind the certain businesses Epstein was involved in), and Tucker Carlson’s role in Viktor Orbán’s nationalist convention. Dave from Jamaica calls in to discuss funding models for media, and how the government can step in without influencing coverage, and Chi Chi from Tennessee continues the conversation on the role of media in bolstering the left, and reflects on the beauty and legacy of Michael Brooks. They wrap up the fun half by admiring the expertise of Meghan McCain on nepotism, plus, your calls and IMs!

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