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.

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Recent Episodes
March 25, 2019
The End of the World
It has been said that the apocalypse is as American as apple pie, and for our season finale we are exploring different versions of the end of the world, the hyper-religious, the new age, and the scientific, as well as Chelsey’s personal experience with the 2012 Mayan Apocalypse. The stories we tell about the end of time tend to involve not only a series of cataclysmic, devastating events, but also the saving of an elect few, and the punishing and death of the rest. While none of the end times predictions have come to pass, major leaps in technology have opened us up to both the potential nuclear war and the potential for climate disaster, terrifying realities that prove more difficult to face than our fantasies. What comes next is up to us.
March 11, 2019
When a security camera caught footage of a 31-year-old Florida resident eating the face of a homeless man, the news and social media dubbed him the Miami Zombie, and it was widely speculated that he was under the influence of a new synthetic drug called Bath Salts, a claim that was later found to be false. Hysterical drug rhetoric has long talked of zombies and monsters and aggressors with superhuman strength and an imperviousness to police bullets, and panic around drug use has long been manufactured by politicians with specific groups in mind, to dehumanize those who appear to cause a threat to the established social order, marking them inhuman groups in need of social control and even long-term imprisonment. Many of us were drafted into the War on Drugs as kids and teens through faulty programs implemented by D.A.R.E. police officers, and taught to mimic this unreasonable rhetoric that has caused irreparable harm to many American communities and continues to do so to this day.
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.
December 3, 2018
AH The Calm Down: Hidden Anti-Semitism in Conspiracy Thought and Getting to Know Satan
0:000:00 The Calm Down is a mini episode of American Hysteria coming every other week. Today we’re following up on last week’s show about the illuminati, please listen to that episode first. My guest is Mark Gunnery, a queer Jewish journalist who produces the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU, Washington DC's NPR station. He is currently working on a podcast series about Sabbatai Tzvi, a 17th century false messiah who changed the course of Jewish history. We’ll talk about the Jewish Illuminati conspiracy theories and where they come from, and then scratch surface of the coming episodes on the Satanic Panic of the 1980s.
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