American Hysteria is a podcast exploring our moral panics, urban legends, and conspiracy theories, how they shape our psychology and culture, and why we end up believing them. Host Chelsey Weber-Smith explores the sometimes hilarious, sometimes distressing stories of modern and historical American freak-outs, why we fear the wrong things, and what these bizarre panics might be covering up.

Recent Episodes
February 18, 2019
Teenage Sex
In 1996, Scream taught American teenagers the first rule to surviving a horror movie. Never, ever have sex. Classic slasher movies have their roots in an urban legend we all heard growing up: a guy and a girl are parked on a deserted lover’s lane making out while a hook-handed killer is on the loose. The 2000s gave us urban legends about dangerous teen sex games, Rainbow parties and sex bracelets, as well as bans on high school dances over grinding and twerking, and with the recent outrage over teen sexting, it seems that kids these days are out of control. But since the invention of the American teenager, rumor and outrage has swirled around this reckless developmental stage. Through looking at the start of teenage culture in the 1920s, when risqué dance trends and controversial make-out parties scandalized the nation, we’ll find the roots of these modern moral panics, and see how our battles around sex education have left them in an uneducated limbo, creating suburban legends to make sense of their parents’ utter horror at their private lives.
February 4, 2019
The Gay Agenda
The purse-carrying, tutu-wearing purple Teletubby Tinky Winky was outed as a homosexual in 1999, capping off a decade of conspiratorial anti-gay writings and videos that influenced politics straight up to supreme court. Accused of using kids shows and public schools to influence impressionable minds and recruit new young homosexuals, the gay militants were secretly powerful agents of a massive conspiracy to bring down traditional American values and take over the country. The creation of the Gay Agenda theory borrowed from a long history of devastating misinformation and a concerted effort to rid America of this apparent moral disease without mercy, a process that began as the first puritans encountered tribal communities with ways shockingly different than their own, and began their own anti-gay crusade that has lasted centuries.
January 21, 2019
Phantom Clowns
For most of us living in the US, clowns have become much more associated with horror than the laughter of kids. The “killer clown” epidemic went viral in 2016, with reports across the nation of evil clowns trying to lure children into the woods, attacking adults, and threating harm to local schools, but as you might guess, they were all hoaxes or hysteria. However, it wasn’t the first time that America was invaded by Phantom Clowns. For this episode, I will trace the history of our relationship to the clown as a cultural archetype, explore a strange theory of creepiness known as the uncanny valley, and try to understand why these particular creatures emerge from the woods when they do.

January 7, 2019
Satanic Panic: Part Two
For part two, Chelsey covers ‘satanic ritual abuse’, the belief that Satanic cults were using daycare centers as fronts to physically, sexually, and emotionally abuse children in horrifying religious rituals allegedly described by the children themselves. This moral panic has been called the Salem Witch Hunt of our modern era, including the longest and most expensive trial in US history, with some of the accused wrongly imprisoned for twenty years. Chelsey will try to understand this shocking moment in our recent history, how something like this could have happened, and the cultural issues it was really about.
How to listen
Subscribe (it’s free!) in your
favorite podcast app.

Bonus Content

Get Social With Us!