In the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, America is engulfed in a popular uprising like few in its history. In light of the unfolding situation and unrest across the country — and the debate about the use and effectiveness of nonviolent and violent means of protest — we thought it a good time to rerun a prior season of The Thread podcast that touched on this very issue and how it has played out in history.
In season three of The Thread, we traced the origins of a revolutionary — and even dangerous — idea: nonviolent resistance. We witnessed how the idea journeyed through the minds of some remarkable individuals and across the globe for nearly two centuries, to become a powerful agent for social change.
In episode one, which we are republishing this week, we began that story in Birmingham, Alabama, with the unexpected success of the United States’ most famous proponent of nonviolent protest: Martin Luther King Jr. King and his fellow civil rights activists faced many of the same issues and dilemmas playing out in the streets of America today. The fight to reform unjust laws and conduct is never easy or simple, but it can lead to momentous change. King compared the civil disobedience he was orchestrating and advocating for to the Boston Tea Party: “We are in good company when we break unjust laws, and I think those who are willing to do it and accept the penalty are those who are part of the saving of the nation.”
Listen to The Thread here and subscribe on your favorite podcast channel.
Dear Flashback Listeners,
In episode 2 of Flashback, a new podcast from OZY, I tell you about a tale of good intentions gone horribly wrong.
It starts during World War I, when the YMCA starts to hand out cigarettes to soldiers. They want to make their struggle more manageable. Instead they create an army of new addicts — addicts increasingly willing to fork over millions of their hard-earned dollars to the tobacco companies that make the cigarettes, and the governments that tax them. The rash of new, and unevenly applied, cigarette taxes will present everyone from local smugglers to Native American reservations to global terrorist groups with an irresistible profit opportunity.
FROM THE ARCHIVES
I pulled together some of the more striking visuals from my archival research so you can enjoy some of the images that accompany this week’s story:
What could be more refreshing? Advertising cigarettes on television has been illegal in the U.S. since 1970, when President Richard Nixon signed the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act. But before that, it was often entertaining. Check out these television commercials from the heyday of cigarette advertising in the 1960s, pulled together by Tim Romano on YouTube.
A soldier’s best friend: Want to enjoy some classic photographs of soldiers and their smokes? Check out Kay Kensington’s collection on Pinterest.
Cigarette tax authority Thomas Hall told me in our interview about what a difference one key invention also made to cigarettes: the rolling machine, developed in 1880 by a Virginia inventor named James Bonsack. Listen to the extra footage of our interview from the cutting-room floor by clicking below:
Here are some hidden stories from history, uncovered by OZY, related to this week’s topic:
The Fight to Ban Smoking on Flights: Remember when you could smoke on an airplane? Once upon a time, the right, as John F. Kennedy put it (in another context), “to breathe air as nature provided it” was far from a given.
The Cigarette Company That Reinvented Television News: We’re used to podcast hosts like me reading ads, but can you imagine a nationally televised news anchorman — that paragon of public trust and gravitas — telling viewers to smoke ’em if they’ve got ’em? Well, that’s what happened with NBC’s Camel News Caravan, which debuted in 1949 and helped launch the anchorman and the broadcast journalism endeavor we know today.
Before the Surgeon General’s 1964 report on the harms of smoking — and resulting warnings — cigarettes were widely enjoyed, especially by teenagers. America’s favorite harmful pastime today? Football. Studies suggest that up to 15 percent of football players may suffer a mild traumatic brain injury — and teenage players may suffer almost 2 million brain injuries — every year.
At OZY Fest in 2018, I asked author Malcolm Gladwell, who has written a lot about head injuries in football, what he thought about adding a Surgeon General’s warning to football. He told me it might be “useful,” observing that:
“People are playing football at a time in their life when they are predisposed to ignore warnings. When we think of ourselves as invulnerable. If football was a game played by 50-year-olds, it would not exist. … In that situation you need some kind of intervention.”
What do you think? Is it time to give Big Football the Big Tobacco treatment? Let me know your thoughts by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In episode one of Flashback, a new podcast from OZY, I’ll tell you a cautionary tale from history about hate, free speech and giving a big platform to little men.
Twenty-five years ago, a Gulf War veteran named Timothy McVeigh parked a truck with a fertilizer bomb in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City. The bombing was the worst domestic terror attack ever on American soil, killing 168 people, including 19 children. But, as you’ll learn in episode one, the chain of events — and the propagation of hate — that led up to the event in Oklahoma City began 75 years earlier with the legendary automaker, industrialist and propagandist Henry Ford.
This week on Flashback, we discuss how hate speech is something that can be mass-produced, and with disastrous consequences. You can listen here, and then dig deeper into the story with my Lecture Notes below.
FORD AND HITLER
One thing we’ll learn this week is Ford’s somewhat shocking role as a purveyor and publisher of anti-Semitic propaganda. And Victoria Woeste, author of Henry Ford’s War on Jews and the Legal Battle Against Hate Speech, explains the impact that Ford’s book The International Jew had on some very influential anti-Semites: Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. Listen to the extra footage of our interview from the cutting-room floor by clicking below:
FROM THE ARCHIVES
‘Zero tolerance for people who like to dress up in uniforms’: William Luther Pierce, author of The Turner Diaries, the book that inspired Timothy McVeigh, did not take kindly to the hate groups that undermined what he considered his more mainstream white supremacy. Here’s an excerpt from a speech that Pierce gave on that topic to a gathering of the neo-Nazi National Alliance in 2002 shortly before his death.
Have you read about Ford … lately? There’s so much more to the famous automaker than meets the eye. Here are a couple more intriguing stories on OZY about the “people’s tycoon.”
The Astonishing Ignorance of Henry Ford: A century ago, Ford sued the Chicago Tribune for calling him an “ignorant idealist.” His eight days on the witness stand permanently dispelled the idea that the industrialist was anything else.
When One of the Richest Men in the World Tried to Stop a War: One of the reasons the Chicago Tribune called Ford an ignorant idealist was because of the time in 1915 that he tried to use privately funded diplomacy — in the form of a “Peace Ship” — to end World War I. Spoiler alert: It didn’t work.
ONE MORE CRAZY THING
It took almost two years for Ford to announce an end to the 90-part anti-Semitic series he had started publishing in his newspaper in 1920. What made him stop the series? A change of heart? Probably not. Concern about his reputation? Unlikely.
One explanation for what finally stayed Ford’s hand comes from American novelist Upton Sinclair, who wrote a biographical novel of Ford in 1937, The Flivver King. In it, he describes the actions of a Jewish Hollywood movie producer named William Fox. Outraged by Ford’s anti-Semitic articles, Fox sent Ford a telegram informing him of Fox’s newest film project:
“[Fox] had instructed his hundreds of cameramen all over the country to get news of accidents involving Ford cars, and to get pictures of the wrecks with full details, how many people were killed, how many dependents were left and so on. They were getting experts to swear what defects in each car had caused the accident.”
The producer threatened to send clips of the film to theater owners across the country to play in their newsreels. On hearing this, Sinclair writes, “Ford immediately sent word back to [Fox] that he had decided to stop the attacks upon the Jews.”
OZY Newsmakers: Deep dives on the names you need to know.
In a stirring moment in the trailer for the recent film adaptation of Little Women, the character of Jo Marsh (played by Saoirse Ronan) reflects on the frustrations of a woman’s place in her world. “Women, they have minds, and they have souls, as well as just hearts,” she declares. “And they’ve got ambition, and they’ve got talent, as well as just beauty. I’m so sick of people saying that love is just all a woman is fit for, I’m so sick of it!”
The line is actually nowhere to be found in Little Women, but it does appear almost word for word in Rose in Bloom, another novel by Louisa May Alcott. The person responsible for making that powerful script insert is the film’s writer and director Greta Gerwig, a talented and ambitious woman like Jo who must be growing increasingly sick of what people seem to think a woman is fit for in her own world of modern Hollywood — or not fit for, as the case may be.
For the second year in a row, the Oscars will be host-free and female-free, at least when it comes to the nominees for best director, according to the list of nominations announced on Monday for the 92nd Academy Awards to be held on Feb. 9. The absence yet again of any female directors in the category is glaring, but the snub of Gerwig, 36, who recently won the best directing award for Little Women from the National Society of Film Critics, is particularly noticeable. Gerwig could not be reached for comment, but she told BBC Radio 4 earlier this month that “[t]here’s so much beautiful work by women this year that you’d love to see it acknowledged by anyone who has trophies to give out.”
The lack of female nominees is reflective of a more systemic problem.
A Sacramento native, Gerwig rose to prominence in 2017 when she and her first solo directional film Lady Bird were nominated for five Oscars. Like her unforgettable lead character (also played by Ronan), she was an “intense child” who left the nest to pursue artistic dreams in New York, where she graduated from Barnard College and even performed alongside her friend Kate McKinnon, now of Saturday Night Live.
Gerwig’s talent for telling stories about young women and their struggles made her the perfect writer and director for the latest adaptation of Little Women, which was nominated for five Oscars and features an all-star cast including Ronan, Emma Watson, Meryl Streep, Laura Dern and Timothée Chalamet. Little Women has a 95 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and New York Times film critic A.O. Scott praised Gerwig’s direction, calling the film, released over the holidays, “an absolute gift.”
Despite a host of deserving candidates like Gerwig, the lack of women nominated in the directing column has become a punchline. Host Ricky Gervais pointed out the issue right before introducing the category at this year’s Golden Globe Awards. “I’ve had a word with the Hollywood Foreign Press, and they’ve guaranteed that will never happen again,” he joked. “Working with all the major studios, they’ve agreed to go back the way things were a few years ago when they didn’t even hire women directors, and that will solve the problem.”
As Gervais alludes to, the lack of female nominees is reflective of a more systemic problem. A 2017 study from the Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative found that of the 1,114 directors of top-grossing films in the previous decade, just 4 percent are female. “While things in Hollywood may be slowly improving, it’s still dominated by men,” says Kim Elsesser, a UCLA lecturer and author of Sex and the Office, “and there’s still bias that exists against women.”
To be sure, it was an intensely competitive year in the directing category, and the Oscar nominees list reads like a who’s who of filmmakers, from Martin Scorsese (The Irishman) and Todd Phillips (Joker) to Sam Mendes (1917) and Quentin Tarantino (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), not to mention Bong Joon Ho (Parasite), the first Korean director to nab a nod. Gerwig was not even the only director snubbed in her own family, with partner Noah Baumbach also missing out for his critically acclaimed film Marriage Story. Gerwig did snag a nomination for best adapted screenplay, a category that often serves as a consolation for deserving directorial candidates.
Gerwig and Baumbach are working together on their next big project: cowriting a Barbie movie for Warner Bros., with Margot Robbie to play the famous doll. Gerwig is reportedly under consideration to direct the film as well.
One of the reasons Gerwig made Little Women was her belief that the themes of ambitious women and female creativity were just as relevant today as when Alcott wrote in the 19th century. “This is literally why Greta made the film — one about women living in a man’s world, related to money and success,” Florence Pugh, nominated for best-supporting actress for her role as Amy March, told Variety of Gerwig’s omission. “This news only highlights the message of the film.”