On this week’s Past Present podcast, Nicole Hemmer, Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, and Neil Young discuss Star Wars, marriage and income inequality, and Tamir Rice. 

Here are some links and references mentioned during this week’s show:


  • The Force Awakens is the latest entry in the Star Wars franchise. Niki argued that the optimistic Star Wars movies are a departure from the dystopian anxieties apparent in earlier science fiction films such as Godzilla and Them! which were responding to the nuclear age. Natalia remarked this Star Wars moment is taking place within our culture’s current love affair with Wonder Woman, a topic she has written about.
  • A recent New York Times article by the economist Tyler Cowen argued that “assortative mating” – where people of similar class and educational backgrounds marry – is contributing to income inequality. Natalia pointed to Nancy Cott’s Public Vows as an indispensable guide to the history of marriage and Christine Whelan’s Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women for understanding more about the phenomenon Cowen describes. Neil mentioned the “Princeton mom” who gained notoriety by encouraging Princeton undergraduate women to use their college years to find their husbands. Niki suggested the “opt-out” phenomenon of highly-educated women who choose to be stay-at-home mothers revealed another way income inequality shapes marriage and family choices.
  • The murder of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old African-American boy gunned down by police while playing with a toy gun in a Cleveland park, has drawn comparisons to Emmett Till, the 14-year-old African-American boy killed by a white mob in Mississippi in 1955 for allegedly whistling at a white woman. Natalia recommended the historian Edward Baptist’s recent essay, “Ferguson and Fatherhood,” which discusses “The Talk” African-American families have with their sons about how they must protect themselves in public. Natalia also noted that Stacey Patton’s tweet comparing Tamir Rice to Ralphie, the white Cleveland boy of the movie “A Christmas Story” who famously plays with his toy guy, became an internet sensation and inspired virulent racist backlash. Neil argued Rice’s fate ought to be seen in contrast to the story of Ethan Couch, the white Texas teenager who killed four people in a drunk driving accident but was found not guilty after his lawyers presented an “affluenza” defense.


In our regular closing feature, What’s Making History:


AuthorNicole Hemmer