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Telling History

Where history’s threads weave through the fabric of our lives there lies an elusive “a-ha” moment of curiosity and wonder. Here, along these seams, history truly comes alive. Southeast Missouri State University professor Joel Rhodes, a social historian of 20th century America with decidedly Gen X sensibilities explores our textured and rich tapestry of shared historical experience. Join Dr. Joel Rhodes “Telling History" on the second and fourth Tuesday of the month during Morning Edition (7:45 a.m.) and All Things Considered (4:44 p.m.)

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  • Whether shake, shake, shaking your booty in satin hot pants or physically spelling out YMCA in a double-knit polyester leisure suit, Americans in the 1970s feverishly danced away countless Saturday nights under a dazzling mirrored ball. A veritable disco inferno.
  • “With a Ranger’s hat and shovel and a pair of dungarees, you will find him in the forest always sniffin’ at the breeze.” He’s Smokey Bear. Celebrated in song and story for 80 years now, Smokey Bear is the anthropomorphic face of the United States Forest Service, and the agency’s educational crusade against accidental wildfires; the longest-running public service advertising campaign in our history.
  • “Remember what to do friends, now tell me right out loud, what are you supposed to do when you see the flash? Duck and Cover.” For Cold War youth, these sobering instructions from a cautious cartoon turtle named Bert were the cornerstone of the Federal Civil Defense Administration’s initiatives to prepare children for, and survive, a pending nuclear war.
  • Raised largely on garden hose water and limited parental supervision, there is a generation of Americans tucked rather indifferently between baby boomers and millennials. Demographers call this cohort of 60 million born between 1965-1980, Generation X. Educators referred to millions of Gen X as latchkey kids, students returning to an empty house with a key to let themselves in. Working parents indeed mostly left us alone – afterschool, weekends, and summers – so we fended for ourselves, self-reliant, and let's be honest, kind of feral.
  • “I’m not trying to be a hero,” Sheriff Will Kane stoically resolved,” If you think I like this, you’re crazy…. I’ve got to, that’s the whole thing.” Thus, Gary Cooper’s character set out for a gunfight, facing down outlaws in the classic 1952 western High Noon.
  • “Pressure is a privilege,” tennis legend Billie Jean King observed. And now that the University of Iowa Hawkeyes’ generational superstar Caitlin Clark has become the NCAA Division-I all-time leading scorer in basketball – male or female – it’s fitting to highlight the transformative impact of Title IX on America’s sporting landscape; a landmark law opening doors for untold young female athletes to experience that unique privilege of athletic pressure.
  • “Someday I’m gonna be, exactly like you,” a wispy little voice sang out in Barbie’s first television commercial in 1959. “Till then… I’ll make believe that I am you.”
  • Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street? Well, as an historian, I’m glad you asked. First, go back to the 1960s until you see President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s Great Society, then turn left at his Project Head Start, past the Public Broadcasting Service, until you come to the Children’s Television Workshop... that’s how we get to Sesame Street.
  • “Is this your beach ball? Hey, yeah, thank you very much!” From this innocent seaside exchange an important friendship was born – an interracial friendship – between one of America’s most lovable losers – Charlie Brown and an African American classmate – Franklin Armstrong.
  • The H-Bomb’s significantly larger blast and fallout – covering several hundred miles – required the coordinated evacuation of all major US cities with rapid cross-country military deployment. These mock nuclear attacks served as a report card, and our country’s inadequate patchwork of outdated highways, unpaved roads, dangerous tunnels, and narrow bridges failed miserably.