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Last week, Justice Sonia Sotomayor announced that the Supreme Court had broken with tradition and changed its rules for oral argument. This came after a study revealed that women are disproportionately interrupted by men in the highest court in America. This week, we’re re-airing a More Perfect episode about the Northwestern University research that inspired the Court’s changes.
A transcript of this episode will soon be made available. Please check back.
Be part of The Experiment. Use the hashtag #TheExperimentPodcast, or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Oct 21, 2021|
Who Would Jesus Mock?
The satire site The Babylon Bee, a conservative Christian answer to The Onion, stirred controversy when some readers mistook its headlines for misinformation. In this episode, The Atlantic’s religion reporter Emma Green sits down with the editor in chief, Kyle Mann, to talk about where he draws the line between making a joke and doing harm, and to understand what humor can reveal about American politics.
Further reading: “Who Would Jesus Mock?”
Be part of The Experiment. Use the hashtag #TheExperimentPodcast, or write to us at email@example.com.
This episode was produced by Gabrielle Berbey and Julia Longoria, with editing by Emily Botein and Katherine Wells. Fact-check by Michelle Ciarrocca. Sound design by David Herman, with additional engineering by Joe Plourde. Transcription by Caleb Codding.
|Oct 14, 2021|
The True Cost of Prison Phone Calls
Ashley C. Ford was just a baby when her father was sentenced to 30 years behind bars. Prison phone calls—a $1.4 billion industry in the United States—were often prohibitively expensive for her family, so Ford maintained a fragmentary relationship with him through handwritten letters and short visits, while her loved ones tried to shield her from her father’s past. With limited contact and unanswered questions, Ford filled in the blanks with fantasies of her father as the perfect man. This week on The Experiment, the Atlantic staff writer Clint Smith speaks with Ford about what children lose when a parent is in prison—and what happened when she discovered the truth of her father’s crime.
Be part of The Experiment. Use the hashtag #TheExperimentPodcast, or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This episode was produced by Gabrielle Berbey and Peter Bresnan, with reporting by Clint Smith. Editing by Katherine Wells, Jenny Lawton, and Julia Longoria. Fact-check by Michelle Ciarrocca. Sound design by David Herman, with additional engineering by Joe Plourde. Transcription by Caleb Codding.
|Oct 07, 2021|
The Original Anti-Vaxxer
This week, President Joe Biden rolled out a large-scale federal mandate requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for two-thirds of the American workforce, impacting more than 100 million people across the public and private sectors. Some lawmakers have already called the mandate unconstitutional, and Arizona is the first state to sue to block it. This week on The Experiment: As the struggle between individual liberty and public safety rages, we revisit the story of the first Supreme Court battle over vaccines, waged more than 100 years ago.
This episode was produced by Julia Longoria and Gabrielle Berbey, with editing by Katherine Wells. Fact-check by Will Gordon. Sound design by David Herman. Transcript by Caleb Codding.
Music by Ob (“Wold”), Parish Council (“Leaving the TV on at Night,” “Museum Weather,” “P Lachaise”), Alecs Pierce (“Harbour Music, Parts I & II”), Laundry (“Lawn Feeling”), water feature (“richard iii (duke of gloucester)”), Keyboard (“Mu”), and naran ratan (“Forevertime Journeys”), provided by Tasty Morsels. Additional music by Dieterich Buxtehude (“Prelude and Fugue in D Major”), Johannes Brahms (“Quintet for Clarinet, Two Violins, Viola, and Cello in B Minor”), and Andrew Eric Halford and Aidan Mark Laverty (“Edge of a Dream”).
|Sep 23, 2021|
The Unwritten Rules of Black TV
The Atlantic staff writer Hannah Giorgis grew up in the ’90s, watching dozens of Black characters on TV. Living Single, Sister, Sister, Moesha, and Smart Guy were just a few of the shows led by Black casts. But at some point in the 2000s, those story lines and some of the Black writers behind them seemed to disappear. In a cover story for The Atlantic, Giorgis traces the cyclical, uneven history of Black representation on television.
One writer whose career encompasses much of that history is Susan Fales-Hill. She got her start as an apprentice on The Cosby Show, wrote for A Different World, and now is an executive producer of BET’s Twenties. This week on The Experiment, Fales-Hill and Giorgis talk about how power dynamics behind the scenes have shaped what we watch, what we talk about, and how we understand ourselves.
This episode was produced by Meg Cramer. Reporting by Hannah Giorgis. Editing by Katherine Wells. Fact-check by Jack Segelstein. Sound design by David Herman, with additional engineering by Joe Plourde. Transcript by Caleb Codding.
|Sep 16, 2021|
What 9/11 Did to One Family
On September 11, 2001, Bobby McIlvaine was killed, along with nearly 3,000 other Americans. In the 20 years since, his parents and brother have searched for ways to live through, and with, their grief.
The writer Jennifer Senior’s brother was Bobby’s roommate when he died, and in the cover story for The Atlantic’s September issue, she visited with each member of the family to understand their personal journey through the aftermath of national tragedy.
“The McIlvaines very early on saw a grief counselor,” Senior tells The Experiment’s host, Julia Longoria, “who said to them: ‘Here’s how you have to think about this. You are all at the top of a mountain, and you all have a broken leg, and you all have to get down to the bottom of the mountain. But because you all have broken legs, you just have to take care of your own self and figure out how to get down.’” In this story, Senior explores how each family member dealt with their grief in very different ways. “But there might be a flaw in that metaphor too,” she says, “because, you know, some people never get down the mountain.”
This episode’s guests include the Atlantic staff writer Jennifer Senior and Helen McIlvaine, Bob McIlvaine Sr., and Jeff McIlvaine, the family of Bobby McIlvaine Jr.
This episode was produced by Alyssa Edes and Julia Longoria, with editing by Katherine Wells and Scott Stossel. Reporting by Jennifer Senior. Sound design by David Herman, with additional engineering by Joe Plourde.
Music by Water Feature (“Double Blessing I” and “Richard III (Duke of Gloucester)”), Naran Ratan (“Forevertime Journeys”), Keyboard (“Being There,” “Small Island,” and “Staying In”), Parish Council (“Heatherside Stores), Alecs Pierce (“Harbour Music, Parts I & II”), and H Hunt (“Journeys”), provided by Tasty Morsels. Additional music by Joe Plourde. Additional audio from C-SPAN.
|Sep 09, 2021|
A Uyghur Teen’s Life After Escaping Genocide
Here in the United States, 19-year-old Aséna Tahir Izgil feels as though she’s a “grandma.” Aséna is Uyghur, an ethnic minority being imprisoned in labor camps by the Chinese government. The pain she witnessed before escaping in 2017 has aged her beyond her years, she says, making it hard to relate to American teenagers.
“They talk about … TikToks … clothing, malls, games, movies, and stuff,” she says. “And then the things I think about [are] genocide, Uyghurs, international policies … all the annoying adult facts.”
For years, the Chinese government has been persecuting her people, but few have escaped to bear witness. This week on The Experiment: Aséna shares her family’s story of fleeing to the U.S. to escape genocide, adjusting to newfound freedom, and trying to deal with the grief and guilt of being a refugee.
This episode’s guests include Aséna Tahir Izgil and her father, Tahir Hamut Izgil, a Uyghur poet and author.
Further reading: One by One, My Friends Were Sent to the Camps, Saving Uighur Culture From Genocide, ‘I Never Thought China Could Ever Be This Dark,’ China’s Xinjiang Policy: Less About Births, More About Control
This episode was produced by Julia Longoria, with help from Gabrielle Berbey and editing by Katherine Wells and Emily Botein. Fact-check by Yvonne Rolzhausen. Sound design by David Herman, with additional engineering by Joe Plourde. Translations by Joshua L. Freeman.
A translation of Tahir Hamut Izgil’s poem “Aséna” is presented below.
By Tahir Hamut Izgil
Translation by Joshua L. Freeman
A piece of my flesh
A piece of my bone
A piece of my soul
A piece of my thought
In her thin hands
the lines of time grow long.
In her black eyes
float the truths of stone tablets.
Round her slender neck
a dusky hair lies knotted.
On her dark skin
the map of fruit is drawn.
is a raindrop on my cheek, translucent
as the future I can’t see.
is a knot that need not to be untied
like the formula my blood traced from the sky,
an omen trickling from history.
kisses the stone on my grave
that holds down my corpse
and entrusts me to it.
is a luckless spell
who made me a creator
and carried on my creation.
She is my daughter.
|Aug 19, 2021|
Can America See Gymnasts for More Than Their Medals?
Ever since Kerri Strug and the Magnificent Seven won Olympic gold in 1996, the U.S. women’s gymnastics team has been a point of pride for many Americans. But over the past five years, athletes have been coming forward with allegations of widespread abuse in the sport. Former gymnasts say they were forced to train and compete with broken bones and that they were denied food. And dozens of women have testified that they were sexually assaulted by Larry Nassar, the former doctor who worked with the U.S. national team.
USA Gymnastics, the governing body for elite gymnastics in the United States, has said it’s working hard to change the sport’s culture, but many former gymnasts say it hasn’t done enough.
“We have coaches and institutions and organizations and a country, frankly, that prioritize money and medals over the bodies and souls of people,” says Rachael Denhollander, a former gymnast who was the first woman to come forward publicly with accusations against Nassar.
Now that we know the truth about how damaging elite gymnastics can be for young women and girls, should we change how we think about the sport? Denhollander says Simone Biles’s decision to withdraw from several Olympic events might change how athletes see their own worth.
“That’s going to entail a lot of hard conversations,” Denhollander says. “Do you have value and identity and worth outside of your gymnastics ability? If we really, truly understand that the answer to that is yes, that lays the foundation to be able to say, ‘I can’t sacrifice my value, identity, the rest of my life for this one thing.’”
This week on The Experiment: When national glory comes at the expense of young women’s bodies, can we still find a way to love the Olympics?
This episode’s guests include the Atlantic staff writer Emma Green and Rachael Denhollander, a lawyer and victims’ advocate.
Further reading: “The Gymnast Who Won’t Let Her Daughters Do Gymnastics”
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This episode was produced by Tracie Hunte and reported by Emma Green. Editing by Katherine Wells and Jenny Lawton. Fact-check by William Brennan. Sound design by David Herman, with additional engineering by Joe Plourde.
Music by Keyboard (“The World Eating,” “Staying In,” “Ojima,” “Contractions,” and “My Atelier”), Ob (“Waif” and “Ghyll”), and Laundry (“Films” and “Phthalo Blue”), provided by Tasty Morsels and Nelson Nance. Additional audio from NBC Sports, NBC Nightly News, IndyStar, the Today show, The Ben Maller Show, and Dominique Moceanu.
|Aug 12, 2021|
Why Can’t We Just Forget the Alamo?
The epic, oft-told origin story of Texas centers on the Lone Star State’s most infamous battle: the Battle of the Alamo, where American heroes such as Davy Crockett fought to the death against the Mexican army to secure Texas’s independence. The only problem, according to the writer and journalist Bryan Burrough, is that this founding legend isn’t all true. In June, Burrough and two other Texan writers set out to debunk the myth of the Alamo, only to find themselves in an unexpected battle with Texans still trying to protect their state’s revered origin story.
“The Anglo power structure here, which still dominates politics and the media,” Burrough says, “can clearly see that if the myth melts away, other things could begin to melt away as well.”
This week on The Experiment: how a history book ignited a ferocious debate over Texas’s founding legend, and how this battle climbed the ranks all the way up to the Texas GOP.
This episode’s guest is Bryan Burrough, a co-author of Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth.
This episode was produced by Gabrielle Berbey and Julia Longoria. Editing by Katherine Wells. Fact-check by William Brennan. Sound design by David Herman.
Music by Parish Council (“Marmalade Day,” “Leaving the TV on at Night,” and “Mopping”) and Keyboard (“The World Eating”), provided by Tasty Morsels. Additional music by Joe Plourde, Sam Spence (“Overland” and “River Crossing”), and Antonín Dvořák (“Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op. 88, B. 163: I. Allegro con brio”). Additional audio from @ThisIsTexasFF; This Is Texas Freedom Force; KXAN; Walt Disney Productions, via Mabay Aleya and The Shadow; and Texas Public Policy Foundation.
|Aug 05, 2021|
The Myth of the ‘Student Athlete’
In June, the Supreme Court issued a narrow ruling on college sports: Student athletes will now be able to receive educational benefits such as free laptops and paid internships. The decision may have seemed relatively small, but in this episode of the Experiment podcast, the Atlantic staff writer Adam Harris explains how it could change the way we think about college athletes.
College sports rake in billions of dollars a year for schools. But athletes themselves have historically been barred from making money by the NCAA in order to preserve their amateur status. “Amateurism” has long been a central idea of college athletics: Student athletes play for the love of the game and an education, never for compensation. The myth (and marketing) of the “student athlete” have grown over the past century, but starting in 2010, a scandal gradually shifted how the country saw college sports.
This week on The Experiment: The Atlantic staff writer and former college-basketball player Adam Harris explains how the myth of the amateur athlete was created, and why it may finally be on its way out.
This episode’s guests include Adam Harris, a staff writer at The Atlantic; Andy Thomason, an assistant managing editor at The Chronicle of Higher Education and the author of Discredited; Ramogi Huma, a former UCLA football player and the executive director of the National College Players Association; Mary Willingham, a former student-athlete academic adviser and whistleblower at the University of North Carolina.
Further reading: “The Shame of College Sports,” by Taylor Branch
This episode was produced by Kevin Townsend and Julia Longoria. Editing by Katherine Wells. Reporting by Adam Harris. Fact-check by William Brennan. Sound design by David Herman.
|Jul 29, 2021|
The Hate-Crime Conundrum
Hate crimes in the United States have reached their highest levels in more than a decade, prompting bipartisan support for legislation to combat them and increased resources for law enforcement. But the recent COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act has spurred resistance from an unexpected source: activist groups that represent the people these laws are meant to protect.
This week on The Experiment, our correspondent, Tracie Hunte, investigates the 150-year history of legislating against racist violence in the U.S. and asks: Have we been policing hate all wrong?
This episode’s guests include Jami Floyd, WNYC’s senior editor for race and justice; Saida Grundy, an assistant professor of sociology and African American studies at Boston University; Jason Wu, a co-chair of the LGBTQ advocacy group GAPIMNY; Jeannine Bell, a professor of law at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law; and Sunayana Dumala, the founder of Forever Welcome.
As The Experiment podcast keeps growing, we’re looking for new ways to tell stories and better serve our listeners. We invite you to visit theatlantic.com/experimentsurvey to share your thoughts with The Atlantic and WNYC Studios.
Further reading: “Calling the Atlanta Shootings a Hate Crime Isn’t Nearly Enough”
Editing by Katherine Wells, Emily Botein, and Jami Floyd. Special thanks to Kai Wright. Fact-check by William Brennan. Sound design by David Herman and Hannis Brown.
Music by Arabian Prince in a UK World (“The Feeling of Being on a Diet”), Keyboard (“Ojima”), Water Feature (“In a Semicircle or a Half-Moon”), and Nelson Bandela (“311 Howard Ave 25 5740”), provided by Tasty Morsels and Nelson Nance. Additional music by Joe Plourde and Hannis Brown. Additional audio from PBS, the Obama White House, CBS News, NPR, and CNN.
|Jul 22, 2021|
The Great Seed Panic of 2020
Last summer, an unexplained phenomenon gripped nightly newscasts and Facebook groups across America: Unsolicited deliveries of obscurely labeled seed packages, seemingly from China, were being sent to Americans’ homes. Recipients reported the packages to local police, news stations, and agriculture departments; searched message boards for explanations; and theorized about conspiracies including election interference and biowarfare. Despite large-scale USDA testing of the packages, the mystery remained: Who sent the seeds and why?
This week on The Experiment podcast, the host Julia Longoria speaks with the writer Chris Heath about his investigation of mystery seeds for The Atlantic, the byzantine world of international e-commerce, and the dangers of both panic and reason.
Be part of The Experiment. As #TheExperimentPodcast keeps growing, we’re looking for new ways to tell stories and better serve our listeners. Please visit theatlantic.com/experimentsurvey to share your thoughts with The Atlantic and WNYC Studios.
Use the hashtag #TheExperimentPodcast, or write to us at email@example.com.
This episode was produced by Katherine Wells and Julia Longoria, with help from Honor Jones. Fact-check by William Gordon and Michelle Ciarrocca. Sound design by David Herman and Hannis Brown.
|Jul 15, 2021|
America Has a Drinking Problem
From the Pilgrims’ arrival at Plymouth Rock to the rise of the pandemic “quarantini,” alcohol has been a foundation of American society and culture. The Atlantic's Kate Julian explores how this tool for cohesion and cooperation eventually became a means of coping, and what history can teach us about improving our drinking habits.
This conversation originally ran on the podcast Today, Explained, hosted by Sean Rameswaram.
Further reading: America Has a Drinking Problem
|Jul 08, 2021|
Dr. Ruth on Hot Vax Summer
The COVID-19 pandemic shattered social norms around physical closeness and intimacy. As the world reopens, how do we learn to touch other people again—even in normal, everyday ways? The Atlantic staff writer Emma Green seeks advice from the iconic sex therapist and Holocaust survivor Dr. Ruth on how to find pleasure and purpose after life-changing loss.
Further reading: Dr. Ruth on Finding Love After the Pandemic
This episode was produced by Julia Longoria and Katherine Wells, with help from Kevin Townsend. Fact-check by William Brennan. Sound design by Alexander Overington.
Music by Laundry (“Films,” “Phthalo Blue”), naran ratan (“Spring Nostril,” “Forevertime Journeys”), Ob (“Waif”), Keyboard (“Contractions,” “Shingles”), and water feature (“with flowers”); provided by Tasty Morsels. Additional audio from Good Sex! With Dr. Ruth Westheimer, The Dr. Ruth Show, SME.
|Jun 24, 2021|
Life, Liberty, and Drugs
The Columbia professor Carl Hart spent his career studying the effects of drugs, and uses heroin himself. In his book Drug Use for Grown-Ups, he argues that not only can drug use be safer, but that it’s our right.
This week on The Experiment: how villainizing drug use interferes with our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
This episode was produced by Alvin Melathe and Katherine Wells, with help from Gabrielle Berbey. Special thanks to Michelle Ciarrocca. Fact-check by William Brennan. Sound design by David Herman. Engineering by Alexander Overington.
Music by r mccarthy (“Fine”), infinite bisous (“Touch 2 Much (Morsel)”), Ob (“Mog”), Parish Council (“Marmalade Day,” “Museum Weather,” “Heatherside Stores,” and “Mopping”), and Column (“｢The Art of Fun｣ (Raj),” “Quiet Song,” and “Morsel Code”), provided by Tasty Morsels. Additional audio from CNN, FOX News, The Breakfast Club, and Pee-Wee Herman.
|Jun 17, 2021|
The Ashes on the Lawn
In the face of death, grief, and indifference, what can people do to make a change? In trying to understand a year of tragedy and conflict, correspondent Tracie Hunte looks back 30 years to explore the U.S. AIDS epidemic and how protesters balanced rage and anguish with pointed and often painstaking political action.
This week on The Experiment, we hear from AIDS activists who put their bodies on the line and from the man they burned in effigy, Anthony Fauci.
This story originally ran on Radiolab.
This episode was reported by Tracie Hunte and produced by Annie McEwen and Tobin Low. Fact-checking by Diane Kelly.
|Jun 10, 2021|
One Woman’s Quest for an Orgasm
Katharine Smyth is 39 years old and has never, to her knowledge, had an orgasm. This fact didn’t worry her very much until her 30s, when a divorce and a series of dates with frustrated men made her think she might never find love again. So she embarked on a quest—diving deep into an industry designed to solve her problem, searching for a feeling that’s been a fixation of science, pseudoscience, politics, and philosophy for centuries.
“The metaphor that came to me is that it’s kind of like a Rorschach test, where it’s this abstraction that all of these doctors and scientists are projecting their own worldview upon. And it’s almost always to the benefit of men.”
This week on The Experiment: A personal quest for sexual fulfillment reveals centuries of mythmaking about female pleasure.
Further reading: The Tyranny of the Female-Orgasm Industrial Complex
This episode was produced by Julia Longoria and Gabrielle Berbey, with editing by Katherine Wells. Fact-check by Stef Hayes. Sound design by David Herman.
Music by infinite bisous (“Lost in Translation /2,” “Why Should I?”), r mccarthy (“Fine,” “Jyoti,” “She's a Gift Giver, She's a Giver of Gifts”), Parish Council (“Same Cake”), Safa Park (“Loose Yams”), Laundry (“Lawn Feeling”), Keyboard (“Staying In”), water feature (“a paradise”), and Nelson Bandela (“No Dummms 6860,” “Hoop Dreams”), provided by Tasty Morsels and Nelson Nance. Additional music by Brian C. Chapman (“Casual Sex”) and Claude Debussy (“Prélude à l'Après-Midi d'un Faune”). Additional audio from MGM Studios, Sweet Alice, Film&Clips, Fox News, Miramax, and VCX Classics.
|May 27, 2021|
How the Evangelical World Turned on Itself
Lecrae Moore came up in a Christian culture deeply entwined with politics: Evangelicals were Republicans, and Republicans were evangelicals. As a Black college student, he found a sense of belonging in Bible study. His mentors and community were predominantly white and very conservative, but that didn’t really bother him. He found success as an artist and built a career in the white evangelical world.
Over time, though, he began to notice how much politics influenced his church culture. He was inspired by Barack Obama’s election, but felt unable to share that with his evangelical audiences. He was disturbed by the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, but faced backlash on social media for saying so. He started writing lyrics about race and the hypocrisy he saw among Christians, who he felt paid lip service to diversity but didn’t form substantive relationships with other communities. When he saw how strongly the evangelical world was going to champion Donald Trump, he decided to speak out. He lost money and fans, friends and mentors. And he almost lost his faith.
White evangelicals have arguably never been more powerful as a political force in America than they are now, but political victory has a human cost. People of all kinds of backgrounds have felt gutted by Christian support for Trump. Among Christians, the Trump era’s legacy might be fracture, not unity.
This week on The Experiment: the story of an evangelical artist who found his voice and lost his church.
This episode was produced by Katherine Wells and Alvin Melathe, with reporting by Emma Green. Editing by Julia Longoria, and Emily Botein. Fact-check by William Brennan. Sound design by David Herman. Transcription by Caleb Codding.
Music by Ob (“Mog” and “Wold”), water feature (“richard iii (duke of gloucester)”), Keyboard (“My Atelier”), Laundry (“Lawn Feeling”), Norvis Junior (“Overworld 7636” and (“Grim Reapers Groove 94”), and Nelson Bandela (“311 Howard Ave 25 5740” and “Auddi Sun 09 Lop Lop 722”), provided by Tasty Morsels and Nelson Nance. Additional music performed by Lecrae, courtesy of Reach Records, arranged by The Orchard (“Dirty Water” and “Take Me as I Am”). Additional audio from Real Life With Jack Hibbs, Matthew Phan, C-SPAN, ABC News, and Roland S. Martin.
|May 20, 2021|
How The Evangelical Machine Got Made
These days, everyone assumes that this is just a fact of life: Evangelicals are Republicans, and Republicans are evangelicals. The powerful alliance culminated in the 2016 election of Donald Trump, tying the reputation of Christianity in America to the Trump brand—maybe permanently.
It wasn’t always like this. One man—a political operative from Georgia named Ralph Reed—devised a plan to harness the energy of young Christians and turn them into America’s most powerful voting bloc, one church mailing list at a time. Decades later, when Donald Trump came on the political scene, Reed knew he would be big—and convinced his fellow evangelicals that they should give him a shot.
Trump’s election was everything Reed spent his entire career fighting for: a president who was anti–abortion rights, listened to evangelical leaders, and advocated for Christians who felt pushed out of the public square. But Reed’s victory had a cost. Many, many Christians have come to feel that their church cares more about politics than Jesus. They have spoken out. They have grieved. And some of them have left.
This week on The Experiment, we have the first episode in a two-part series: Meet the man who turned a disparate group of evangelicals into America’s most powerful voting bloc and invented the evangelical political brand. Then join us next week for Part 2, when we’ll look at the human cost of political victory—a cost that might ultimately be very high.
Further reading: “A Christian Insurrection”
This episode was produced by Katherine Wells and Alvin Melathe, with reporting by Emma Green. Editing by Julia Longoria, Tracie Hunte, and Emily Botein. Fact-check by William Brennan. Sound design by David Herman.
Music by Parish Council (“Looking for Tom Putt,” “Leaving the TV on at Night,” “Mopping”), Ob (“Ere”), Keyboard (“Staying In”), R McCarthy (“Big Game”), H Hunt (“Journeys”), and Infinite Bisous (“Brain”); provided by Tasty Morsels. Additional music by Lorne David Roderick Balfe (“Petrify (b)”). Additional audio from Warner Bros. Pictures, Access Hollywood, C-SPAN, UCLA’s communications-studies department, and The 700 Club.
|May 13, 2021|
Here for the Right Reasons? Lessons From '90 Day Fiancé'
Dating shows often push contestants to extreme measures in pursuit of love. Reality-show producers will impose fake deadlines, physical obstacles, and manufactured drama to create the juiciest spectacle. But on TLC’s 90 Day Fiancé, a high-stakes and wildly popular reality show, the producers didn’t need to dream up a deadline: It’s a requirement of the rigorous U.S. visa-application process.
The show follows real-life couples pursuing a K-1 visa—the “fiancé visa”—which allows a U.S. citizen’s foreign partner to enter the U.S. legally, but only for 90 days, the deadline by which they must get married. The show documents the complications of those emotionally charged 90 days, when two people from different countries, cultures, and sometimes races have to decide whether their relationship is real.
“From the very moment that the federal government became involved in immigration, you see the influence of biases of race as it’s intersecting with class and sexuality,” says Felicity Amaya Schaeffer, a professor of feminist studies and critical race studies at UC Santa Cruz.
This episode was produced by Tracie Hunte and Gabrielle Berbey, with editing by Katherine Wells, Julia Longoria, and Emily Botein. Fact-check by William Brennan. Sound design by David Herman.
Music by Column (“Quiet Song,” “｢The Art of Fun｣ (Raj),” and “Sensuela”), water feature (“a horse”), Laundry (“Films”), r mccarthy (“Contemplation at Lon Lon”), Parish Council (“Walled Garden 1”), and infinite bisous (“(Terminally) Lovesick”), provided by Tasty Morsels and Nelson Nance. Additional music from APM (“Ordinary Fantasy,” “Yaas Queen,” “Your Fault,” “Ballroom Big Band,” “Brasillia,” “Sinking Feeling,” “Boogie Woogie,” “Duplicity (a),” “Oh My,” “You Got It Baby,” “Getaway,” “Into the Mist,” and “Freewheeling”). Additional audio from TLC, TLC U.K., and C-SPAN.
A transcript of this episode is presented below:
(Playfully plucky marimba-and-horn music plays.)
Tracie Hunte: So, to begin, I am going to send you a link. It’s a little bit long—it’s like seven minutes or so—’cause this is your first time watching 90 Day Fiancé, anything having to do with 90 Day Fiancé, right?
Julia Longoria: That’s correct.
Hunte: Okay, okay.
Longoria: I’m just curious, like, why are you interested in this? Like, why should someone care?
Hunte: (Insistently.) Watch the clip, Julia! (Laughs, and Longoria joins in.)
(Music shifts into long, sustained notes to build drama.)
Longoria: We start today with correspondent Tracie Hunte guiding me into the unknown: the world of reality TV.
(A dramatic but upbeat musical flourish plays, like the intro to a theme song, before moving back to the plucky, quirky music.)
Hunte: Okay. So, Julia, 90 Day Fiancé is a wildly popular show on TLC. It’s about couples who are international—like, it’s usually one person lives in America, and the other person lives somewhere overseas—and I want to begin your 90 Day Fiancé journey with one couple in particular: Colt and Larissa.
Longoria: Okay. I’m gonna—do I hit play?
Hunte: Yes. Hit play!
Colt: My name is Colt. I’m 33 years old. I live in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Hunte: We are in Las Vegas, Nevada, and we’re at the airport, and we’re meeting Colt and Larissa. Colt is a white guy in his 30s. He lives in Las Vegas.
Larissa: I am Larissa, 31 years old, from Minas Gerais, Brazil.
Hunte: And Larissa is from Brazil. She is also in her 30s. And they met online. They went on vacation together—to Cancun, I think—and after five days of this vacation together, Colt asked Larissa to marry him. And so she said yes.
Longoria: After one date they decided to get married?
Hunte: Yes, effectively one date. So what we’re doing right now is that we’re meeting Larissa for the first time. She’s just flown into Las Vegas, and this scene is basically her first impressions.
Longoria: First impressions of Las Vegas, right?
Larissa: Here is hot.
Colt: I don’t have air-conditioning. [A chuckle.] It’s going to get a little hotter too.
Larissa: Oh my. I can feel the hot, warm.
Hunte: First of all, she’s hot. [Longoria chuckles.] It’s not the same sort of warmth in Brazil. I’ve been to Brazil; I know the difference between desert heat and beach heat, [Both laugh.] and I know which one I vastly prefer.
Larissa: My first goal in America is marry. Second, apply for the green card. And third, buy a car with air conditioner. [Laughs.]
Larissa: I thought that was more big, you know.
Colt: It’s pretty big.
Larissa: Like New York.
(Up-tempo, jazzy, big-city ambience plays.)
Hunte: Las Vegas is also this thing that’s exported to the rest of the world through our movies and television shows—Ocean’s 11. Like, you get this idea that it’s this glamorous, glitzy, big city, you know, “American dreams.”
Hunte: Blah, blah, blah.
Longoria: Totally. Tall buildings, big lights.
Longoria: Like, casinos.
Larissa: My first impressions of Las Vegas? Not a city I expected. I confused Las Vegas with Beverly Hills, Hollywood, and New York. It’s not like the—the movies.
Hunte: And so you see her, like, get out of the car. She’s still very hot. She’s still very uncomfortable. And she’s like, “Oh, here’s the sign!” And this is the world-famous Las Vegas sign. It’s on postcards, it’s on magnets, it’s everywhere. And it was actually surprising to me, ’cause I also didn’t realize it was that small. (Laughs.)
Colt: Are you going back to Brazil? (Chuckles.)
Larissa: No, no! I’m sorry. It’s—here’s so warm.
Larissa: (Sighs.) Not in my American dream.
Colt: This is America.
(Melodramatic, heavy piano music plays for a moment.)
Hunte: So yeah. I think that there’s just a lot more going on here other than just, like, a disappointed woman coming from Brazil. I think it’s, like, way bigger than that.
(A musical descent pulls us into a dreamlike tapestry of synthesizers and percussion.)
Longoria: Okay, back me up for a second. Why is the show called 90 Day Fiancé?
Hunte: Well, it’s called 90 Day Fiancé because, if you’re an American person who wants to marry somebody from another country and you want to bring them to the United States, you can bring them to the United States on something called a K-1 visa, or a fiancé visa. And that gives that person permission to come to the United States to get married, but they have to do it within 90 days.
And so—at least, how it functions in the world of the TV show; I’m sure it’s different for a lot of couples—you’re going to spend those 90 days not only planning a wedding, but just, like, getting to know each other better, and figuring out whether or not you could actually live together, and whether or not this is what you want to go through with.
Longoria: So what you’re saying, like, 90 Day Fiancé is a TV show based around this one piece—or, really, like, this one clause—in U.S. immigration policy?
Longoria: I—I did not realize that. [Hunte laughs.] Like, I guess I’ve always … The thing I don’t like about reality shows is that, like, they’re sort of contrived. It’s like, “Oh, 90 days to fall in love.” And it’s like, “That’s not the way the world works.” But, in this case, it is. [Both laugh.] It literally is how the world works. Like, the U.S. government came up with this premise.
Hunte: Yes! Yes. And, Julia, because you haven’t been watching reality TV, you’ve been missing a very important lesson about U.S. immigration policy. [Both laugh.] And I think this show is also, like, a really good textbook example of Americans’ relationship with the world, and how the world sees Americans.
(Tonal shift: The music loops over the same few notes, hovering.)
Longoria: This week, correspondent Tracie Hunte, our resident reality-TV expert, watches one of the biggest shows on television and tells the story of how love got written into U.S. immigration law.
I’m Julia Longoria. This is The Experiment.
(The notes hover for a moment more before cutting out.)
Hunte: Okay. So, new couple. This is Big Ed.
Big Ed: I’m Ed. I’m 54 years old. People know me as “Big Ed.”
(Fast-paced plucky guitar music plays.)
Big Ed: I’m from San Diego, California. [A camera shutter clicks.] And I am a professional photographer.
Hunte: Big Ed, American white man in his 50s. He actually gave himself the name “Big Ed.”
Big Ed: It’s funny because I’m not tall. I am actually 4’11.
Hunte: And then there’s Rose, who is much younger. She’s 23.
(Whimsical, reality-TV-show-style music plays, ostensibly to play up the comedy of the circumstances.)
Rose Vega: My name is Rose, and I am 23 years old. I’m live in Caloocan City, Philippines.
Hunte: They met on Facebook, and they’ve had their relationship just on Facebook, and, like, texting and calling. And he’s traveling to the Philippines to meet her and her family—and hopefully fall ever more deeply in love with her, and ask her to marry him.
Longoria: Yeah, okay. (Laughs.)
Big Ed: I spent the night at Rose’s home.
Hunte: And in this scene, Big Ed is waking up after spending the night in Rose’s house.
Big Ed: And this was one of the worst nights of my life. I’m completely drained. I haven’t slept. The mattress that I slept in was soaking wet. This was the first night I’ve ever spent without access to air-conditioning. And I hated it. And I feel broken.
(Music fades out.)
Longoria: (As Hunte giggles.) This is just so, so deeply uncomfortable to watch.
Hunte: So, like, a lot of this show is cringe. I should just say.
Longoria: Yeah. So walk me through what’s happening here.
Hunte: So, throughout the time that he’s in the Philippines, there’s, like, a scene where he’s asking her to shave her legs, because he doesn’t find her feminine enough for him. Or he makes a comment about her breath and gives her toothpaste and a toothbrush, but then it comes out that she actually has had an ulcer for many years, and that’s what’s causing her breath, and she’s actually self-conscious about it, and she brushes her teeth all the time. But, on top of all that, Ed travels to the Philippines from San Diego—something like six, seven thousand miles. And he goes because he’s gonna rescue Rose from this situation, this poverty that she’s in. And he’s already been doing that. He’s been, like, sending money to her and her family to help them out. But, from the second that he’s in the Philippines, he’s so completely helpless, and she’s the one that ends up having to rescue him this entire trip.
Why I find this so interesting is just, you know, to see this kind of power dynamic play out. And, also, like, it’s just also really interesting to see the disconnect between how Americans see themselves and how the rest of the world sees Americans.
(Soft, lo-fi music plays.)
Hunte: And so on this show, you see men like Big Ed. They say they lost hope that they could ever find a partner in the U.S., so they turned to international dating. And this is not just, like, some bizarre reality-TV show setup. Like, there’s a whole industry built around this kind of relationship.
Felicity Amaya Schaeffer: Marriage is one of those ways in which women have—for many, many generations and decades—used marriage to get ahead.
Hunte: Felicity Amaya Schaeffer is a professor of Feminist Studies and Critical Race Studies at UC Santa Cruz. She’s also the author of the book Love and Empire. Way before 90 Day Fiancé, Felicity became interested in how immigrants were using marriage to cross the border into the U.S. Over three years, she talked to dozens of men and women who were interested in these kinds of relationships.
Schaeffer: I ended up in Colombia and Mexico, interviewing women and men at these vacation romance tours about why they were interested in dating someone. Um …
Hunte: Wait, what’s a “vacation romance tour”? (Schaeffer chuckles lightly while Hunte laughs outright.)
Schaeffer: So, that is, um, these sort of big social parties that different companies host so that men from the United States and Canada can travel to Latin American countries and meet women in a big social event.
(Lightly bouncy music plays.)
Hunte: So here’s what Felicity discovered. Say you’re a woman in a foreign country interested in marrying an American man. You might contact one of these international dating sites, and they’ll get some photos of you and include some of your stats.
Schaeffer: Their weight, how tall they are—all kinds of personal information—and then their contact.
Hunte: The company then compiles these packages filled with these photos and contact info for all these women into these digital catalogs, and American men can look through them. And if they see someone they like, they could email them.
Schaeffer: And then, usually, they’ll all come together for these big sort of social parties. And it’s a quick way to meet lots of women and for the women to be introduced to lots of men, all in one place.
Hunte: Which is where Felicity would show up, asking questions.
Schaeffer: Part of this that I’m also interested in is the fantasies that foreign women usually have of life in the United States, and vice versa.
You know, men sort of think that U.S. women are much too feminist and too modern and too independent. And they think that they’re gonna find something very different in Russia, Latin America—you know, wherever it is—Asia. And so they often are surprised that women, um, are very strong, have strong personalities, they need certain things, and that they don’t want to usually live in rural areas.
Hunte: Did you peer into the dark heart of American masculinity?
Hunte: What’d you see when you looked—when you peered it into it? (Laughs.)
Schaeffer: Oh my God, I mean, so many insecurities! Given the way in which desire is so entwined with status and money, you know, it’s—it’s a sad structure, that sort of capitalist context in which certain people become no one if you don’t have some game.
I have this amazing interview with a guy who said to me something that really clarified things. He said, “You know, in the United States, I’m just the average Joe. But when I cross the border, I become Tom Cruise.”
It was hard, in some ways, and I felt really creepy. And then it was also sad, you know, to see that there’s so many lonely people that are just sort of in the shadows, um, that can’t meet anyone and just, like, really want to connect.
Schaeffer: And these women are just desperate to come to the United States. And that the men, in some ways, broker their ticket to getting here.
Hunte: Have you ever watched 90 Day Fiancé, or heard about it?
Schaeffer: Yes. I have watched some of the episodes, of course! (Laughs.)
Hunte: You watched it. Okay.
Schaeffer: It’s hard to watch too many.
Colt: (Over funky music.) I never thought I would get married. All my previous relationships have ended with me getting a broken heart. (The funky music continues under Hunte’s narration.)
Hunte: Watching 90 Day Fiancé, I got this feeling that, for a lot of the cast, they might actually believe that a shot at the American dream is all they have to offer in exchange for love. Here’s Colt, the guy who lives in Las Vegas.
Colt: (Over the funky music again.) After having struck out a few times online with American girls, I thought maybe I could search outside the country, maybe find a girl. (The music fades out.)
Hunte: But, as Americans put themselves on the international marriage market hoping to find someone more beautiful, more loyal, more grateful, if that love turns out not to be true, they also have the power to take that American dream away … Which brings me to one couple I think about a lot: Ashley and Jay.
Ashley: (Over soft-rock acoustic guitar.) My name is Ashley. I’m 31 years old, and I’m from Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.
Hunte: Ashley is in her 30s. She’s white, blond, pretty, and a mother of two from Mechanicsburg, a town in Pennsylvania where more than 90 percent of the residents are white.
While vacationing in Jamaica, she meets Jay, a Black, 20-year-old tattoo artist.
Ashley: (Over lightly techno music.) I went to Jamaica with a group of friends and family to a big wedding. And, um, one night we decided to go out to a bar, and that’s where I met Jay.
Hunte: Ashley says she’s been cheated on before, and Jay more or less admits that being faithful is hard for him. But when he proposes, she says yes. They file for the K-1 visa, and soon he’s on a plane, traveling to live with her in America.
But Ashley admits that she hasn’t really thought about what that might mean for Jay, to live in a mostly white suburb.
Ashley: (Over slightly tense music.) I’m hoping we don’t have to deal with any racial issues, but I’m also very naive to all of this.
Hunte: Ashley and Jay get married, but shortly after the wedding, she finds out he had sex with another woman. So she calls him on the phone to confront him.
Ashley: (The tense music continues, adding drama with each expletive.) If you show up at my house, the police will be waiting to deport your ass. I don’t give a f***. I do not give a f***. He has to sit and rot in jail until they deport his ass. I don’t give a f***.
Hunte: And, just like that, Ashley goes from being this naive white woman who doesn’t understand race in America to a white woman asking the police to remove her disappointing Black, immigrant husband from her life, and from her country.
Ashley: I don’t want him near me. I don’t even want him in this country. He’s here illegally. He needs to go back to Jamaica.
(Low percussive music plays.)
Hunte: Some of this ugliness—this icky gender and racial dynamics, the heartbreak—this is just classic reality-TV-show stuff. But this particular drama of the 90 days and the K-1 visa started way before reality TV.
Hunte: For one thing, I, you know, I just kind of looked at the Wikipedia history of the K-1 visa, and I was kind of surprised to see that [Chuckles.] the Vietnam War had something to do with it.
Schaeffer: Yeah. I mean, it actually has a lot longer history, I would say, than the Vietnam War.
Hunte: After the break, how love got turned into a visa application.
(A moment of synthesizer melody plays above the percussive music, followed by the break.)
(A quick, goofy musical flourish.)
Hunte: The journey to 90 Day Fiancé is a long and winding one. As much as it’s a story about love across borders, it’s also a mini-drama about who we think is worthy of marriage and citizenship, and who has the power to decide. Felicity Amaya Schaeffer—she’s the professor at UC Santa Cruz who did research on so-called romance tours—told us that one of the earliest immigration laws ever passed in the U.S. was about romance, or, at least, sex.
Schaeffer: From the very moment that the federal government became involved in immigration, you see the influence of biases of race.
Hunte: The law was called the Page Act, passed in 1875. It restricted the migration of Asian laborers to the United States for, quote, “immoral purposes.” And it was primarily enforced against Chinese immigrants—but, more specifically, Chinese women.
Schaeffer: If you were the wife of a wealthy Chinese merchant, you could come to the United States. But, if you were a lower-class woman, you could not come. And this has to do with trying to prevent laborers from migrating and bringing women that they thought would destroy the values of the United States.
Hunte: U.S. lawmakers assumed that poor Chinese women coming to the United States were coming here to be sex workers.
Schaeffer: This created some of the legislation that women had to have medical examinations before migrating.
Hunte: Why were they having them do medical exams?
Schaeffer: Chinese women were assumed to spread venereal diseases because they were assumed to be prostitutes. Women had to have that kind of medical exam before they were allowed entry.
(Light, ringing synthesizer music seems to travel back in time.)
Hunte: The law was eventually changed to allow more foreign women into the United States, but that’s because American men demanded it. Starting with the Philippines War in the late 1800s, American men were going all over the world, fighting wars and colonizing—and, in the meantime, meeting women they wanted to bring back to the U.S. and marry.
After World War II, thousands of American men wanted to bring women back from Europe and Asia, but couldn’t, because of immigration quotas. So Congress passed the War Brides Act.
Schaeffer: This was a kind of pathway for men to bring back wives. And there was, like, 300,000 women that came.
Hunte: It made it easier to bring the spouses of American military members back to the U.S. But the War Brides Act was only in effect for about three years—1945 to 1948. And as the Vietnam War began to wind down, American soldiers—who, once again, wanted to bring more foreign wives back to the U.S.—started demanding a more permanent solution.
Schaeffer: So 1970 was when the K-1 process was actually finalized.
Hunte: But the relatively clear, simple, and quick path to permanent residency and eventual citizenship offered by the K-1 visa has alarmed American politicians over the years, and led to panics about marriage fraud.
Schaeffer: There were all kinds of media accounts about these sort of marriage-ring frauds that were allowing people to come in from Havana, and all these subversive types that were using marriage as a way to sort of skirt the usual immigration structures and enter into the country. And I think during the wars, it was a more clear understanding of how people met, and the conditions through which people met.
Hunte: So the soldiers were going overseas, falling in love, bringing women back. Now, when in the absence of that, it’s like, “Wait, why are these women coming here?”
Schaeffer: Mhm, mhm! [Hunte laughs.] Yeah! Yeah. “What is their motivation for coming here?” I think that’s the next big phase, is already the presumption of fraud after the Vietnam War.
Senator Alan Simpson: We’re going to examine this issue of immigration marriage fraud.
Hunte: Resulting in things like this: a Senate committee hearing on marriage fraud in 1985. Here’s Senator Alan Simpson.
Simpson: We’re going to inquire into the nature and extent of this situation, determine whether we see but another way of gimmicking our generous—very generous—legal immigration laws.
Hunte: And this led to a new immigration law. It made the green card immigrants got after they got married conditional. You didn’t get a permanent green card until after you’d been married for at least two years.
Suspicion of immigrants continued well into the ’90s, but the narrative changed to one where immigrants were now an economic liability.
Schaeffer: Because, you know, that’s always the language about immigrants, right? That they’re a drain on the economy, that they’re always taking from and, you know, using these precious resources that should go to citizens.
Hunte: So the K-1 visa changed again. In 1996, President Clinton signed a new rule into law. Starting now, Americans who brought a spouse to the U.S. on the K-1 visa were now legally responsible for that person for 10 years.
Schaeffer: Even if they divorce, he is taking up responsibility to make sure that she can live—even without a job—for the remainder of 10 years while in this country, if she decides to stay.
Hunte: Wow. Yeah, that is—that is a huge shift.
Hunte: That’s huge.
Hunte: It sounds like it’s to discourage people from doing this, is what it sounds like.
Schaeffer: Yes. That is an entirely huge shift, and men came to me complaining about that [Laughs.] over and over again.
Hunte: As part of her research, Felicity spent a lot of time on listservs for men interested in marrying foreign women. When this rule was put into place, she watched as they began to freak out, asking each other about potential red flags.
Schaeffer: It was everything from, you know, ”She doesn’t want to have sex ’til we get married. Is this a red flag?” “Is she affectionate enough?” “Is she, uh, hot and sexy in bed?” Like, “Does she ask for money?” That was a big one that would come up.
And so, then, women, you know, didn’t have the benefit of this kind of community, but would often talk to me, like, “I feel, really, like I can’t ask him for things that I need, because he seems so suspicious of me.”
Schaeffer: So, you know, it really did affect, um, what they could say to each other, how they would read each other’s actions.
Hunte: Felicity says the threat of financial consequences for a bad marriage with a foreign spouse may have made these kinds of relationships even more tense.
Schaeffer: And so I think that part of that shift in the K-1 visa structure led to, actually—or maybe facilitated—more abusive relationships, because the men were so skeptical and sort of adopting the view of the state.
(A heavy synthesizer whistle plays over a windswept musical landscape.)
Hunte: In 2000, Anastasia King, a 19-year-old originally from Kyrgyzstan, was murdered by her American husband after she was brought to the U.S. on the K-1 visa. It’s impossible to say for certain whether the pressure and suspicion that increased after changes to the K-1 visa increased the level of violence in these kinds of relationships. But, in response to this abuse, Congress realized it also had to protect immigrant spouses. So it passed the International Marriage Brokerage Regulation Act, or IMBRA, in 2005.
Schaeffer: Where men have to provide criminal records, and women have to have their rights.
Hunte: I spoke to a couple of immigration attorneys who told me immigrant women are still afraid that, if they report their American husbands for abuse, they’ll be deported—though there are provisions within IMBRA and the Violence Against Women Act to protect them. Even still, women in the U.S. on the K-1 visa, separated from family and community and unable to legally work, are often left vulnerable.
Hunte: Today, as part of the K-1 application process, the foreign fiancé has to sit for an interview with an American consular official who’s trying to find out whether your relationship is real or a scam. You’re asked about your American partner’s birthday, education, family—but you’re also asked to maybe describe your engagement, or whether you’re planning to go on a honeymoon, or what kind of wedding you’re going to have. In other words, are you here for the right reasons? Do you really love this person?
(Heavy music plays.)
John, Colt’s cousin: How do you express your love to Colt?
Larissa: To show love? For me, it’s clean the house.
(The music continues under the narration.)
Hunte: Those interviews with consular officials are never caught on camera. But you can kind of get an idea of how they might go, watching friends and family on 90 Day Fiancé question the would-be foreign spouse. Here’s Colt’s cousin, John, asking Larissa to prove she loves Colt.
(The heavy music continues.)
John: You’re not just coming over here to marry my man for a green card, are ya?
Larissa: I’m with him because I love him.
(The music changes tone, like an investigative journalist intro on a late-night news show.)
Larissa: (In a confessional interview.) Honestly, John was acting like he’s policy or immigration officer. He was really rude to me.
(The news-show music fades out.)
Schaeffer: The United States is about choice and equality and democracy. So it’s interesting to think about how romance sort of sits in for all of these other values of a democracy. Like, are you capable of consenting to this? Or, if you come from a poor background, are you forced into this because you have no other recourse? That you really choose this person because you love them, and not for any other reasons. So it’s this sort of divorcing of economic questions from romantic ones.
(Soft, pensive electric guitar plays over lo-fi electronica. The word Lovesick repeats periodically, like a whisper.)
Hunte: So, Julia, what do you think?
Longoria: I mean, [Laughs.] this is, like, what’s so appealing and repulsing about reality TV, right? Watching this desperation on all sides play out like a car accident, you know? Are they here for the right reasons? Will they actually be truly in love?
Hunte: You know, there are, like, some couples on the show where it’s kind of obvious that the foreign fiancé is, like, only here for that person, and it kind of plays out in these funny ways. Like, I’m thinking about this one couple from the most recent season—Jovi and Yara—and Yara is from the Ukraine, and Jovi is an American guy from New Orleans. And they’re having a fight on the street, and, at one point, Jovi says, “Oh, what? You’re just going to go back to the Ukraine?” and she just looks at him and says, “Yeah! I’ll go back. I had a really nice life there!” And you can see that she’s, like, not here on a lark. She’s not here because she thinks that the United States is better than the Ukraine. She actually, you know—and she knows there’s a stereotype about eastern European women, and she’s rejecting that. She’s just literally here to be with this guy. So I just also like this show because it’s always questioning your assumptions about people and what their motivations might be.
Longoria: Yeah! And it kind of raises the question, like, what are the “right reasons” to be in this kind of relationship—
Longoria: —or, really, any, right? (Chuckles.)
Hunte: And why does the American government even care that much? [Both laugh.] You know, if people are scamming, let them scam each other and fall in love. That’s all I have to say! (Laughs.)
(Upbeat, bubblegum techno music plays up.)
Hunte: I already think I know the answer to this question, but, Julia, do you think you will watch 90 Day Fiancé? (Bursts out laughing, and Longoria laughs too.)
Longoria: I mean, you watched it so I don’t have to!
Hunte: Alright! Fair enough, fair enough. (Laughs lightly.)
(The bubblegum music plays up.)
Gabrielle Berbey: This episode was produced by Tracie Hunte and me, Gabrielle Berbey, with editing by Katherine Wells, Emily Botein, and Julia Longoria. Fact-check by William Brennan. Sound design by David Herman. Music by Tasty Morsels. Special thanks to Maeve Higgins.
And extra-special thanks to Matt Collette, who helped deliver this show into the world. This is his last episode. Matt, we will miss you! Go forth and conquer! We can’t wait to hear what you’ll make next.
Our team also includes Natalia Ramirez and Alvin Melathe. The Experiment is a co-production of The Atlantic and WNYC Studios. Thanks for listening.
(The music, now embellished with a high-pitched whistle, plays up to a resolution, and then out.)
|May 06, 2021|
What Makes a Murderer?
One night in the spring of 2005, Anissa Jordan was sitting in a car in San Francisco while her boyfriend attempted to rob a young man nearby. Shortly after, police arrested both Anissa and her boyfriend. Anissa was detained and dressed in an orange jumpsuit before she learned that the young man had been shot and killed that night and that she and her boyfriend would both be held responsible. The charge: felony murder.
The felony-murder rule, which exists in more than 40 states, allows prosecutors to charge accomplices to certain crimes, such as conspiracy to commit robbery, with murder, even if they didn’t intend to kill—and even if they weren’t present for the murder. It does so by removing intent to kill from the calculus of what makes a murderer. Critics say the rule has disproportionately led to the incarceration of youth of color and women, such as Anissa, but some prosecutors say the felony-murder rule is the key to holding police officers responsible in the killings of civilians.
“By propping up this terrible rule, however we do it, we have to understand this rule is primarily used against Black people and people of color,” says Kate Chatfield, a director at the Justice Collaborative.
This week on The Experiment, a look at the doctrine that prosecutors used to convict Anissa for a crime she didn’t even witness, and a debate over whether that same rule is crucial to prosecuting the highest-profile case in the country, The State of Minnesota v. Derek Chauvin.
Further reading: “What Makes a Murderer?”
This episode is part of The Atlantic’s project “The Cycle,” which is supported by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge.
This episode was produced by Alvin Melathe and Julia Longoria, with editing by Katherine Wells. Fact-check by Will Gordon. Sound design by David Herman. Special thanks to Adam Harris and John Swansburg.
Music by Water Feature (“With Flowers,” “Richard III(Duke of Gloucester),” and “A Paradise”), Keyboard (“Being There” and “My Atelier”), H Hunt (“C U Soon” and “Having a Bath”), and R McCarthy (“Home/Home”), provided by Tasty Morsels. Additional music by Bruce Wiley McKinnon Jr. (“Are You a Freak”) and Tyler O. Sterrett and Jason Trotta (“The Hamlet”). Additional audio from KQED and MPR News.
|Apr 29, 2021|
How RBG Became ‘Notorious’
In her fight for women’s rights, the then–ACLU lawyer Ruth Bader Ginsburg did something unexpected: She argued on behalf of men.
“It didn’t matter to her if the plaintiff was a man or a woman,” says the Georgetown law professor Wendy Williams. “Because in most of those cases, the discrimination against the man was derivative of a prior and worse discrimination against the woman.”
Craig v. Boren involved Oklahoma frat boys, a drive-through convenience store, and gender-specific beer laws. The Supreme Court’s landmark 1976 decision was foundational in advancing equal rights for women and represented a key moment in the future justice’s career.
This story originally ran on More Perfect, a Radiolab spin-off about the Supreme Court.
|Apr 22, 2021|
The Problem With America’s National Parks
The national-park system has been touted as “America’s best idea.” David Treuer, an Ojibwe author and historian, says we can make that idea even better—by giving national parks back to Native Americans.
“By virtue of the parks returning to Native control, I would like people, when they’re standing at the foot of El Capitan, to look up knowing they’re on Native lands, to look up knowing that they’re standing on the graves of Native people,” says Treuer, who grew up on the Leech Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota as the nearby Voyageurs National Park was being established. “I would like, when people look up at vistas, like at Yosemite or at Yellowstone, that they’d look up as a way to look back at the history of this country.”
Treuer, who wrote the book The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America From 1890 to the Present, says that Native Americans are too often precluded from using the land in culturally significant ways that go back millennia. In his essay for The Atlantic, he makes the case that the U.S. should return control of national parks to its Native people.
Further reading: “Return the National Parks to the Tribes”
This episode was produced by Tracie Hunte and Gabrielle Berbey, with editing by Matt Collette and Katherine Wells. Fact-check by Jack Segelstein. Sound design by David Herman.
Music by Laundry (“Films”), Parish Council (“Socks Before Trousers” and “Heatherside Stores”), h hunt (“11e” and “Journeys”), and naran ratan (“Trees etc.), provided by Tasty Morsels. Additional music by John Charles Schroeder and Ross Taggart Garren (“Mournful Blues”) and Ken Anderson and Rebecca Ruth Hall (“Calliope - Underscore”). Additional audio from National Geographic, WNYC, PBS, and C-SPAN.
|Apr 15, 2021|
The ‘Rock Doc’ Who Prescribed 1.4 Million Pain Pills
The patients of the nurse practitioner and aspiring reality star Jeffrey Young say he helped them like nobody else could. Federal prosecutors who charged him in a massive opioid bust say he overprescribed painkillers, often for “money, notoriety, and sexual favors.”
Young’s case provides a rare glimpse into the ways patients wind up addicted to the powerful painkillers fueling the national opioid epidemic.
Branding himself “the Rock Doc” in a self-produced reality-TV pilot, Young would wear band T-shirts and blast music as he met with patients; he sometimes broadcast appointments and medical procedures on the live-streaming app Periscope. Off camera, Young allegedly prescribed 1.4 million addictive pills and had sex with female patients.
Young was indicted on drug-trafficking charges in April 2019. He pleaded not guilty to the charges, and is currently in jail awaiting trial.
“I had a lot of ‘Why on earth?’ questions,” the Atlantic reporter Olga Khazan says. “‘Why would he do this? Why would you go to this doctor? Why didn’t anyone try to put a stop to this?’ I just had a lot of questions about how could this happen.”
This episode was reported by Olga Khazan and produced by Alvin Melathe. Editing by Katherine Wells, Julia Longoria, and Denise Wills. Fact-check by Michelle Ciarrocca and Jack Segelstein. Sound design by David Herman.
Music by Parish Council (“Dabbles”), water feature (“ariel”), Arabian Prince in a UK World (“The Feeling of Being on a Diet”), Keyboard (“Being There” and “My Atelier”), and Column (“｢The Art of Fun｣ (Raj)” and “Sensuela”), provided by Tasty Morsels. Additional music by Nelson Bandela (“04 HIDDEN FORCES” and “Auddi Sun 01 131”). Additional audio from Purdue Pharma, The Rock Doc TV Show, @JY2RocDoc, and Bat Pig Pictures.
|Apr 01, 2021|
The Crime of Refusing Vaccination
In 1902, a Swedish American pastor named Henning Jacobson refused to get the smallpox vaccine. This launched a chain of events that landed the Massachusetts pastor in a landmark 1905 Supreme Court case in which the Court considered the delicate balancing act between individual liberty over our bodies and our duty to one another.
"We can be grateful for his work here [while] at the same time also saying the dude was terribly mistaken about this one thing for which, unfortunately, he's most famous now,” says Pastor Robin Lutjohann, who today leads the church that Jacobson founded, originally a haven for Swedish immigrants.
The Jacobson v. Massachusetts decision made clear that the government could mandate vaccination, arguing that collective good sometimes outweighs individual rights. But the line between the two is blurry. More than two decades after Jacobson’s case, the Court used the same logic in another decision, one the historian Michael Willrich says is among the “scariest U.S. Supreme Court decisions of all time.”
This episode was produced by Julia Longoria and Gabrielle Berbey, with editing by Katherine Wells. Fact-check by Will Gordon. Sound design by David Herman.
Music by Ob (“Wold”), Parish Council (“Leaving the TV on at Night,” “Museum Weather,” “P Lachaise”), Alecs Pierce (“Harbour Music, Parts I & II”), Laundry (“Lawn Feeling”), water feature (“richard iii (duke of gloucester)”), Keyboard (“Mu”), and naran ratan (“Forevertime Journeys”), provided by Tasty Morsels. Additional music by Dieterich Buxtehude (“Prelude and Fugue in D Major”), Johannes Brahms (“Quintet for Clarinet, Two Violins, Viola, and Cello in B Minor”), and Andrew Eric Halford and Aidan Mark Laverty (“Edge of a Dream”).
|Mar 25, 2021|
Was anybody willing to be a spiritual adviser to Orlando Hall, a Muslim man on death row with a fast-approaching execution date? That’s the question that went out by email to a local group of interfaith leaders in Indiana. Nobody answered.
After a week without responses, the management professor Yusuf Ahmed Nur stepped forward. A Somali immigrant who volunteered at his local mosque, Nur would counsel Hall in the weeks leading up to his execution. But Nur never expected to stand beside Hall in the execution chamber as he was put to death.
“That’s when it hit me,” Nur says. “You feel like you’re complicit, that you are cooperating with the system. They assign you a role to play in this execution.”
This week on The Experiment: One man finds himself at the center of our legal system, and witnesses what gets sacrificed in the pursuit of justice.
Further reading: “Trump Is Putting the Machinery of Death Into Overdrive”
This episode was produced by Alvin Melathe, Gabrielle Berbey, and Julia Longoria, with editing by Matt Collette and Katherine Wells. Fact-check by William Brennan. Sound design by David Herman. Special thanks to Katie Bishop and Najib Aminy.
|Mar 18, 2021|
Do Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, and Cubans share an identity? The answer wasn’t necessarily clear before 1980.
That’s when the Census Bureau introduced a pair of new terms, Hispanic and Latino, to its decennial count. The addition was the result of years of advocacy and negotiation: Being counted on the census meant the potential for far more government action, yet the broad category oversimplified the identities of an immense and diverse group.
“The way that we define ourselves is consequential,” says G. Cristina Mora, a sociology professor at UC Berkeley. “The larger the category, the more statistical power it would have.”
This week on The Experiment, the origin story of a core American identity—and what’s lost when such a broad category takes hold.
This episode was produced by Julia Longoria and Gabrielle Berbey, with editing by Katherine Wells. Fact-check by William Brennan and Stephanie Hayes. Sound design by David Herman. Special thanks to Christian Paz and A.C. Valdez.
Music by water feature (“a horse”), Ob (“Mog”), Parish Council (“Museum Weather”), Column (“Shutt,” “Sensuela”), r mccarthy (“Contemplation at Lon Lon”), and infinite bisous (“Sole Mate”), provided by Tasty Morsels. Additional audio from the U.S. Census Bureau, CBS, Agence France-Presse, CNN, UCLA’s Chicano Studies Research Center, Tom Myrdahl, Third World Newsreel, Newsreel, Univision Communications, and El Show de Cristina.
|Mar 11, 2021|
The Confederate States seceded from the United States over slavery. But the “lost cause” myth—the idea that the Civil War was not about slavery but about northern aggression—still has a hold on countless Americans.
The historian Ty Seidule doesn’t believe that anymore, though he only came to the realization well into his career as an Army officer and a history professor. His book Robert E. Lee and Me deconstructs the legacy of the top Confederate general and unpacks the enduring “lost cause” ideology.
On this week’s episode of The Experiment, the correspondent Tracie Hunte talked with Seidule about why unlearning the mythology surrounding Lee took him so long, and the host, Julia Longoria, considers what it might take for other white Americans to do the same.
This episode was produced by Tracie Hunte and Matt Collette, with editing by Katherine Wells, Julia Longoria, and Alvin Melathe. Fact-check by William Brennan. Sound design by David Herman. Special thanks to Adam Serwer, Vann R. Newkirk II, Veralyn Williams, and Jenisha Watts.
Music by Keyboard (“Shingles,” “Contractions”), Parish Council (“St. Peter Port/Wiltshire/Cooking Leeks,” “Socks Before Trousers,” “Leaving the TV on at Night”), Ob (“Waif”), and infinite bisous (“Brain”); provided by Tasty Morsels. Additional audio from CBS, Military Videos, the Associated Press, Congressman Steve Womack, the U.S. Naval Academy, CBSN, and Senator Lindsey Graham.
|Mar 04, 2021|
At the start of the pandemic, Jollene Levid and her mother, Nora, found themselves glued to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s nightly press conferences. In a press conference late last March, Garcetti announced a new milestone: the first health-care worker in Los Angeles County to die of the disease.
“When I heard him say that, I realized that he was talking about Auntie Rosary,” Jollene Levid says, speaking about Rosary Castro-Olega, a 63-year-old nurse who came out of retirement to work in hospitals strained by the pandemic. Castro-Olega’s death helped inspire an online memorial called Kanlungan, which honors the lives of health-care workers of Filipino descent.
This week on The Experiment, the story of why so many people—many of them women, many of them nurses—have left the Philippines to work in the American health-care system, and why they have been so disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
This episode was reported and produced by Tracie Hunte and Gabrielle Berbey, with editing by Julia Longoria and Katherine Wells. Fact-check by William Brennan and Stephanie Hayes. Sound design by David Herman.
Music by Keyboard (“Small Island,” “My Atelier,” “Mu,” and “Ojima”), water feature (“a paradise,” “richard iii (duke of gloucester)”), Laurie Bird (“Detail Wash”), naran ratan (“Forevertime Journeys”), r mccarthy (“Home/Home”), and Parish Council (“New Apt.”) provided by Tasty Morsels. Additional music by APM (“Macho Theme”). Additional audio from C-SPAN, the Associated Press, and ABS-CBN News.
|Feb 25, 2021|
The Case for Sweatpants
To mid-aughts celebrities such as Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, they were high fashion. To the likes of Jerry Seinfeld and Eva Mendes they’re a sign of defeat; they declare to the world, as Jerry tells George Costanza in the Seinfeld pilot, “I’m miserable, so I might as well be comfortable.”
And since the start of the pandemic, sweatpants have become perhaps more ubiquitous than ever.
“A lot of people who had been going to offices stopped going to offices for the foreseeable future,” Amanda Mull, a staff writer for The Atlantic, says. “I think people were forced to decide what it is they want to wear for this new circumstance they’re in.”
In this episode of the new podcast The Experiment, Mull and the host, Julia Longoria, trace sweatpants through U.S. history and debate an age-old question: Do they symbolize laziness, or freedom?
Further reading: “America’s Most Hated Garment”
This episode was produced by Julia Longoria, Gabrielle Berbey, and Alvin Melathe, with editing by Katherine Wells. Fact-check by Stephanie Hayes. Sound design by David Herman.
Music by Ob (“Grot”), and r mccarthy (“Learning English”), water feature (“with flowers”), Laurie Bird (“Jussa Trip”), Column (“｢The Art of Fun｣ (Raj)”), infinite bisous (“The Past Tense”), and Nelson Bandela (“561 Mac D 10,” “011 HareDoe 019 8396,” “GLU EEE 86”), provided by Tasty Morsels and Nelson Nance. Additional audio from DigitalPimple, Glamourdaze, International Fitness Center, The Richard Simmons Show, Jane Fonda, Hudson’s Bay, Atelier ID, Breakin’ in the USA, WABC, Dance Centre, Adidas, Seinfeld, watchFashionNews, Extra, Vogue, and X17online
|Feb 18, 2021|
Nineteen sixty-four. Freedom Summer. Marylin Thurman Newkirk was born in Greenwood, Mississippi, in a county where just about 250 Black adults out of more than 13,000 were registered to vote. She would grow up as part of the first generation of Americans who lived in a true democracy, according to her son Vann R. Newkirk II.
That has a lot to do with a law enacted a year after her birth, in 1965. That’s when Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, which ended Jim Crow laws preventing Black people from voting in many states.
But the protections enacted in 1965 didn’t last, and today they’re hanging by a thread. Now, in the aftermath of his mother’s death at 56, Newkirk argues that the best way to ensure that democracy lasts is a constitutional amendment.
Further reading: “When America Became a Democracy”
This episode was produced by Julia Longoria, Alvin Melathe, and Gabrielle Berbey, with editing by Tracie Hunte and Katherine Wells. Fact check by Will Gordon. Sound design by David Herman.
Music by h hunt (“C U Soon,” “Journeys,” “Nice Arp”), Ob (“Wold”), Keyboard (“Being There,” “Ojima”), Laundry (“Films”), and water feature (“ancient morsel”); catalog by Tasty Morsels. Additional audio from CBSN, New York Public Radio, C-SPAN, Denia Vega, Rare Facts, American Experience PBS, KXAN, Oyez (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License), Democracy Now!, News4JAX, DW News, Streamline Films, and Archive.org.
|Feb 11, 2021|
When Mike Belderrain hunted down the biggest elk of his life, he didn’t know he’d stumbled into a “zone of death,” the remote home of a legal glitch that could short-circuit the Constitution—a place where, technically, you could get away with murder.
At a time when we’re surrounded by preventable deaths, we document one journey to avert disaster.
• Mike Belderrain is a hunter and former outfitter in Montana.
This episode was produced by Julia Longoria and Alvin Melathe, with editing by Katherine Wells and sound design by David Herman.
Music by water feature (“in a semicircle or a half-moon”), r mccarthy (“Big Game,” “She’s a Gift Giver, She’s a Giver of Gifts,” and “Melodi 2”), Ob (“Ell” and “Ere”), Parish Council (“Mopping”), h hunt (“11e”), Column (“Quiet Song”), and Bwengo (“Première Mosrel”); catalog by Tasty Morsels. Additional audio from Montana State University Library’s Acoustic Atlas, the National Park Service’s Sound Library, C. J. Box, CNBC, C-SPAN, Vox, NPR’s All Things Considered, Idaho News 6, @ItsKeyes, and C-SPAN’s Book TV.
|Feb 04, 2021|
Que Viva la Pepa: Introducing The Experiment
It’s easy to forget that the United States started as an experiment: a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, with liberty and justice for all. That was the idea. On this weekly show, we check in on how that experiment is going.
The Experiment: stories from an unfinished country. From The Atlantic and WNYC Studios.
Music by Ob (“Ghyll” and “Mog”), Parish Council (“Socks Before Trousers” and “Durdle Door”), and water feature (“richard iii (duke of gloucester)”). Additional audio from C-SPAN, Senator Chris Murphy, Lawrence University, the House Judiciary Committee, Washington Post reporter Rebecca Tan, and the City of Lake Worth Beach.
|Jan 25, 2021|