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November 1, 2023 41 mins

On this podcast we’ve honored some of our past’s most outstanding and underappreciated people and things. May they live on in memory. But let’s face it, some things deserve to disappear and be consigned to the dustbin of history. In this episode, Mo nominates three things that he’d like to see go the way of the dodo. Mo talks to food writer Kim Severson about buffets, culture critic Erick Neher about standing ovations, and sensory historian Mark Smith about noise.

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:01):
The story I'm about to tell you is a cautionary tale.
In October twenty four, I made an appearance on The
Tonight Show with Jay Leno to promote my book on
presidential paste about them Come out Here More Rocket lad.

But it's not my appearance on the show that I regret.
It's what happened next. After the taping, I went back
to my hotel in Universal City. I hadn't eaten dinner,
and the hotel restaurant was offering a seafood buffet. I
can still see it now, a sort of banquet table

with tears of crab legs. I'm pretty sure there were
oysters and dominating the landscape, a mountain of shrimp, a
glistening pink pyramid. How could I resist? By the time
I was on that evening, that bounty of shrimp was
less of a pyramid and more of a mound. The

next morning, I flew back East, happy as a well clam,
but somewhere over the Midwest I started experiencing turbulence and
inner turbulence. The choppiness subsided only after thirty six hours
in and out of bed, and I knew what was

to blame for my condition until that point in my life,
I was pro buffet, and I thought, I can't believe
that I did that. Everyone was exhaling on the shrimp,
and I don't want to eat other people's exhale.

Speaker 2 (01:43):
Right, But probably that came from bad shrimp, not a
human breath.

Speaker 1 (01:48):
It could have been other shrimp's breath. It could have
been other shrimp's breath. I mean, let's talk about that.
Everyone can name something they'd like to see vanished from
the earth. I'm guessing famine, disease, war top most lists.
But what are the things just below those that you
wish would disappear me? I have at least three, one

of which made the list that very night in twenty
oh four.

Speaker 2 (02:17):
That kind of buffet, the sticky tongs and the you know,
you see somebody who just like dug around to the
back of the macaroni and cheese try to get like
the very best in the back, and then it's all
kind of growed it out, and it's, oh yeah.

Speaker 1 (02:30):
The second thing on my list. Well, I've never complained
when an audience has applauded me like they did that
night on Leno, But there's a certain kind of intense,
exaggerated reaction that over the last few years has become
all but meaningless.

Speaker 3 (02:49):
Standing ovations are a bit like an avalanche. Fun person
stands and then a few other people think, Oh, well,
I guess we're standing.

Speaker 1 (02:58):
And please don't make me raise my voice to tell
you about the third thing on my list that really
works my nerves.

Speaker 2 (03:06):
It's a blight on any neighborhood. It's war without our permission.

Speaker 1 (03:13):
On this podcast, we've paid tribute to beloved entertainers and
courageous change makers, sitcom characters gone without a trace, even
iconic college campus trees, people and things that deserve to
live on in the collective memory. But today I want
to talk about three things that I really just wish

would die already from CBS Sunday Morning and iHeart. I'm
Morocca and this is mobituaries this moment things I wish
would die Buffets, standing, ovation, and noise. I was looking

at this video of a clan of hyenas feasting on
an elephant carcass, and I thought, is there something in
our nature that makes us want to gather around this
trough of food and just go for it?

Speaker 2 (04:26):
Remind me not to go out to dinner with you?

Speaker 4 (04:28):

Speaker 2 (04:29):
But is there an animalistic nature to eating at a buffet? Probably,
certainly at some of the buffets I saw there is that.

Speaker 1 (04:38):
That's Kim Severson. She's a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who
writes about food and culture for The New York Times.
She's written about the unexpected comeback of the buffet. Let
me ask you, didn't we think the pandemic would kill buffets?

Speaker 2 (04:54):
Absolutely, that is absolutely the surprise of the post pandemic era.
I just thought they would never come back.

Speaker 1 (05:02):
Buffets did get creamed early in the pandemic, but the
Golden Corral chain says their business shot back up twenty
percent between twenty twenty one and twenty twenty two.

Speaker 2 (05:14):
Maybe the fact that people had to be so distant
from their food and other people, they've overcompensated by really
going hardcore on the buffet. They're like, damn it, I
just want to get my prime rib and my all
you can eat crab.

Speaker 5 (05:28):

Speaker 1 (05:28):
I'm sorry, I just don't want whooping cough with my
Waldorf salad.

Speaker 6 (05:32):

Speaker 1 (05:33):
I can hear a lot of you saying what is
most problem with buffets? So let me be clear. What
makes me uneasy? Are the entirely self served buffets. They're
sometimes known as hot open food bars, where there is
no one standing between the food and the mob, no
food professionals on active duty. That irks me because, let's

face it, people myself included, revert to our natural state
when there's not a lady in a hairnet brandishing a
ladle and glaring at us to mind our manners.

Speaker 2 (06:07):
And some people actually take little tastes along the way
with their fingers. Oh they do. Oh, Oh, I'm so sorry.

Speaker 7 (06:12):
Do you need a minute?

Speaker 1 (06:14):
This is the only interview where I've needed a spit bucket.

Speaker 2 (06:17):
I'm so sorry.

Speaker 1 (06:19):
Am I being totally rational here? Of course I'm not.
Plenty of full service restaurants, even very popular ones, have
food safety issues. But when I'm holding a pair of
sticky tongs that one hundred other strangers have touched and
looking at a bin of gloopy mystery meat, I start

imagining things. The look, that glistening look of congealed meat.
It's not about the taste or even the smell, but
it almost looks like what I imagine the La Brea
tar pits look like.

Speaker 2 (06:54):
And this it's really just sells for a steak, But
how do you know? You don't know.

Speaker 1 (07:00):
Of course, buffets are probably as old as those tar pets.
When in human history, to self serve buffets emerge.

Speaker 2 (07:08):
We have to imagine that there have always been occasions
in which a lot of food would be cooked and
put out and people would eat it. But I think
as a formal style of restaurant eating, we can go
to Sweden and the Smorgasboard. Sweden hosted the Olympics in
nineteen twelve, and everybody was so thrilled that they had
this thing called Smorgasboard that you could just go and

help yourself.

Speaker 1 (07:33):
Now, the Smorgas board wasn't for pegging out originally for
the upper classes. It was more of a refined spread,
typically composed of cheeses, cured meats, fish like herring, flatbreads,
and sweets. You might remember us mentioning this Smorgas board
earlier this season, in the Jim Thorpe episode he triumphed

at those nineteen twelve games. You might also remember the
Smorgas board from the Buppet show More Bizergh. They're going
to get that Swedish chef someday. Who is the Smorgasboard
of Hell? Anyway, the smorgasboard made a splash on American shores.

At the nineteen thirty nine World's Fair in New York City.
Visitors were reportedly spellbound by the vast rotating table festooned
with Swedish delicacies. It was basically a giant lazy Susan.
And who doesn't love a lazy Susan? But how did
that evolve into the buffet as we know it today, Well,

it takes rout as this will not come as a
surprise to people. But in Las Vegas in the forties
and there was this idea that somehow we've got to
keep people inside the casino. The story goes that a
man named Herb McDonald, the publicist for the l Rancho
Vegas casino, was working late one night when he began
feeling peckish. He grabbed some che es and cold cuts

from the kitchen and laid them out on the bar
to make a sandwich. When some hungry gamblers asked to partake,
Herb had an idea, and in nineteen forty six he
debuted his Bukaroo buffet and all you can eat buffet
for one dollar.

Speaker 2 (09:17):
This idea that you could keep gamblers in your casino
started off with just some sandwiches, and then it became
all you can eat and everything you want and you
never have to leave the casino. And they were very cheap.
They were lost leaders and remained lost leaders in Vegas
for a long time until the celebrity chef era happened.

Speaker 1 (09:37):
By the nineteen eighties, buffets had spread across the country.
They were featured on cruise ships and in fast food
chains like Pizza Hut.

Speaker 6 (09:46):
So if you want the whole hut and.

Speaker 1 (09:47):
Nothing but you know what to do. Fine dining restaurants
embraced them. My first fancy buffet was at a hotel
on Easter Sunday Fay. It turned out was a manifestation
of American values.

Speaker 2 (10:04):
Americans love excess, right, we love big things. We love choice,
and the buffets are the perfect example of that.

Speaker 4 (10:11):

Speaker 1 (10:11):
You mentioned choice, and I want to play a piece
of a promotional video for Sizzler that was produced in
nineteen ninety one.

Speaker 4 (10:19):
All across America, the song three Rings.

Speaker 6 (10:25):
The song is growing stronger every day.

Speaker 1 (10:30):
So this video is about five minutes long. It's heavy
on Americana. There's a smiling construction worker, a little girl
swinging a baseball bat, a golden retriever catching a frisbee.
It feels like a campaign ad. Sizzler brings the choices
that you've been looking for, giving you the right to choose.

We're offering much more. And then the requisite key change
as the jingles swells into a Sizzler an amney. There
are golden, huge shots of couples and families dining. They
aren't simply happy, they're in ecstasy. Some of them might

actually be on ecstasy. A woman is maniacally licking her lips.
A couple begins making out at the Sissler. That's what
the freedom and choice of a buffet will do to you.

Speaker 2 (11:39):
Unbelievable. How fabulous is that?

Speaker 1 (11:42):
I keep thinking, like, oh my god, did I remember
to register to vote? Like it feels very It's right,
it's don't stop believing. But a buffet commercial. You know,
the video may be over the top, but Kim points
out that the buffet restaurant really is more than just
a place to eat.

Speaker 2 (12:00):
I love them and I also can't stand them at
the same time. But the buffet became such a piece
of cultural currency for kids, and they can still remember
when their families were going to celebrate something, they would
all go to the hometown buffet because you could feel
celebratory and it wasn't going to cost a lot of money.
And also for kids who were second generation, their parents
were immigrants, the buffet became kind of a roadmap for

how to eat in America. And I think for those
parents it was like, Okay, we're going to go learn
to eat whatever the American food is. Here a good
friend of mine whose parents came from Taiwana and she
was raised in Ohio by these first gen immigrants. The
day they all got their green cards, they went to
the buffet to celebrate.

Speaker 1 (12:40):
Now I appreciate all of this, unless you, the listener,
think I'm a killjoy or curmudgeon. I want to make
one point very clear. I want to draw a distinction
between cafeterias and buffets. I am very pro cafeteria.

Speaker 2 (12:57):
Really, Okay, okay, what's the difference to you? Then?

Speaker 1 (13:00):
A cafeteria to me, is where you have someone policing
the situation. So I loved growing up there was I
grew up in the Washington, DC area, there was something
called hot Shops cafeteria, and at hot Shops we cook
our chickens. So They're always tendered, juicy and delicious, and

I have fond memories of grabbing my tray feeling so empowered,
going along the line, the carving station with the side
of roast beef, the individually plated slices of lemon meringue pie.
I felt safe, and I felt secure because there were
people with plastic gloves and hairnets on the other side,

and even if I could grab something on my own,
I knew that there was a watchful eye. And I
feel like the buffet, on the other hand, is small
de democracy brought to its extreme. I'm not saying that
I want a cafeteria police state. I'm not saying that.
I think the key to it with the cafeterias that

everything was individually played. That's why I really respond to that.

Speaker 2 (14:05):
And there's a cleanliness factor for sure.

Speaker 1 (14:08):
I'm sorry, I just don't want tuberculosis with my chicken tetrazini. Ultimately,
I'm grateful to live at a time and in a
country with buffets and cafeterias, because no one wants to
be told what they can and can't eat.

Speaker 2 (14:27):
You're a perfect example of that in a way. Right
you know what you want and what you don't want,
and what you will eat and what you won't.

Speaker 1 (14:32):
Eat, And well, I know one thing I don't want,
heppatitis with my hash Browns.

Speaker 2 (14:37):
I think that's fair. I think that's fair.

Speaker 1 (14:40):
A final word. The producer of this episode tells me
she now has serious second thoughts about eating at her workplaces.
Open food bar. You're welcome, Liz. On the other side
of the break.

Speaker 8 (14:53):
Whoo whoo, sing the trolley song again, Yes, queen, Yes.

Speaker 1 (15:10):
Do you remember your first standing ovation? I'll never forget
my first standing ovation. This is my friend Eric Meir.
You might remember him from our episode on Fanny Brice.
Eric's a culture critic with the Hudson Review, and he's
back to talk about the second thing I wish would die,
the obligatory standing ovation.

Speaker 3 (15:31):
It was e Liza Minellian concert at the Airy Crown
Theater in Chicago around nineteen eighty. I was a teenager
who had seen the movie Cabaret about six times, and
at the end of the concert, everybody stood, and I
thought to myself, oh my god, she was so amazing
that she literally forced people onto their feet, as if

she levitated them out of their seats. I had never
seen something like that before.

Speaker 1 (16:04):
Okay, first of all, it's a parent that you were
exactly the right person to bring in here to talk
about this, because you have this memory from over forty
years ago. So what was motivating you to stand up?
Was it her performance or everybody else standing?

Speaker 3 (16:19):
It was everybody else standing because I didn't know that
was a thing that you could do at the time.
But I hadn't seen a lot of theater other than
community theater and that kind of thing, and no one
stood at the stagecoach players. But back in the seventies,
people didn't really stand, even if they loved the show.
There were exceptions, but it required a certain kind of

performance and a certain kind of performer to get people
on their feet.

Speaker 6 (16:44):
That, of course, is now all changed.

Speaker 1 (16:47):
It certainly has changed. Today. A standing ovation at the
end of a theatrical performance or at an awards show
has become almost routine. It wasn't so long ago that
a standing ovation was extraordinary.

Speaker 4 (17:03):
And let it be said that number eight cal Ripkin
Junior has reached the unreachable Star.

Speaker 1 (17:10):
The unreachable Star is a reference to the impossible dream
from the musical Man of La Mancha. But this standing
ovation in nineteen eighty five wasn't in a theater. It
was in a ballpark. For Baltimore Orioles player Cal Ripkin Junior.
He'd just broken Lou Garrigg's record for playing the most

consecutive Major League Baseball games ever two thousand, one hundred
and thirty one to be exact. I remember when this happened,
and trust me, you don't have to be a baseball
fan to watch tape of this and be moved by
the show of respect and admiration for a man who'd

shown such devotion to his livelihood. The ovation was completely organic,
and at twenty two minutes yep, twenty two minutes, it
was the longest known standing ovation in American public life.
Contrast this with a standing ovation a decade later that
matched the twenty two minute Rippken record. In twenty oh six,

the audience at the can Film Festival in France applauded
for about that long after a screening of the movie
Pans Labyrinth, but the director, Guillermo del Toro seemed less
flattered and more confused by the reaction.

Speaker 6 (18:38):
It lasted long enough that I didn't know what to do.

Speaker 1 (18:42):
This standing ovation, like so many, it can felt unfelt.

Speaker 3 (18:49):
So I think what happened to Ken is something that
also we could maybe say has happened in the theater,
and that is that there's a certain aspect of standing
ovations that are performative, where the audience wants to prove
to everyone around them that they are appreciating what's happening
and are sort of part of the experience.

Speaker 1 (19:09):
No doubt, audiences of the past would be mystified by
audiences of today, and vice versa.

Speaker 3 (19:17):
We would probably look at audience behavior one hundred and
fifty or two hundred years ago, let alone five hundred
or two thousand years ago, and not recognize what was
being done.

Speaker 6 (19:27):
There's so much we don't know about.

Speaker 3 (19:29):
Greek theater, but we get a sense from contemporary descriptions
that there was an intense identification between the audience and
what was happening on stage. So there would be a
lot of sort of expressive reaction, crying, wailing, shouting and
so forth. Wailing and shouting, right, you know, because these
were very tragic stories often being told or else riots

laughter at the comedies. But we don't have any sense
of whether people stood at the end or not. There's
no document of that kind of thing. Remember, in Shakespeare's time,
most of the audience stood for the entire performance, so
a standing ovation would have been redundant.

Speaker 1 (20:06):
Goodness God, it's sort of crazy that I think. I mean,
I know it would have been redundant. But you know
that Julius Caesar didn't get a standing ovation, and the
Gloria Estefan musical On your Feet got a standing ovation, which,
by the way, I liked, I actually really liked it.
Do you think they by the way, do you think
they titled it on your Feet to get people on their.

Speaker 6 (20:22):
Eata and sort of a self fulfilling prophecy.

Speaker 1 (20:25):
It wasn't until the eighteenth century that audiences began even
clapping in a theater. Around this time, in Italy, opera
fans probably began standing for exceptional performances. Theater historians tend
to agree that the standing ovation emerged in its current
form on Broadway in the years after World War Two.

Speaker 3 (20:48):
So what happens in the nineteen sixties, and I have
to reference our friend Ethan Warden here, who has written
about this quite a bit. There's a new phenomenon of
what we might call the big Lady shows, where musicals
in particular are built around specific star performers, and the
early examples of that are, of course shows like Hello

Dolly or Mame, where we see a phenomenon of people
buying tickets because you have to see Carl Channing and
Hello Dolly, or you have to see Angela Lansbury in Maine.

Speaker 1 (21:31):
In the years before these big Lady shows, the curtain
call that's when performers take their bows was short and
to the point.

Speaker 3 (21:39):
Up through the nineteen fifties, even shows like My Fair
Lady that were massive hits, there's about two and a
half minutes of curtain call music, which means that everybody
came on the leads, took a few solo bows, and
everybody got off pretty quickly.

Speaker 1 (21:54):
There's not enough time to stand up for Julie Andrews
and Richard Burton and Robert Gulay and correct Camelot exactly.

Speaker 3 (22:01):
But by the time you get to Hello Dolly, there's
a fully staged curtain call. And this is something that
the director, GOWERT. Champion, really wanted to do. It's not
just everybody's shuffle on, bow bow, bow, shuffle off. It's

a choreographed curtain call with music that is deliberately written
to build the tension up until the moment that Caryl
Channing comes down those stairs one more time for that
final bow.

Speaker 1 (22:41):
Producers began doing what they could to guarantee a standing ovation.

Speaker 3 (22:46):
And I actually know this because we have a mutual friend, Bart,
who was hired straight out of college by the producers
of the Hello Dolly revival in nineteen ninety five with
Carol Channing, with Carol Channing her final Dolly performances, to
sit in the second row at every single performance and

start the standing ovation.

Speaker 6 (23:10):
At the end.

Speaker 1 (23:10):
So he was a plant.

Speaker 6 (23:12):
He was a plant.

Speaker 3 (23:13):
He stood, and then it becomes a cascading phenomenon, which
standing ovations are a bit like an avalanche quicksidebar.

Speaker 1 (23:21):
Along with ovation inflation has come a new way of
vocalizing appreciation for a performance. No more Bravo or encore. Now,
no matter what kind of show you're seeing, you're likely
to hear woo.

Speaker 3 (23:37):
The WU is a fairly recent phenomenon.

Speaker 1 (23:39):
And it's horrible. I mean, it is just awful, the
WU phenomenon. It's a scourge.

Speaker 3 (23:46):
I think the woof phenomenon is something that comes from
audiences who attend as much pop music as they do
theater these days, and they've brought that sensibility into the theater.

Speaker 1 (23:59):
Not long ago, Eric went to a performance of a
small chamber musical serious in tone, and still.

Speaker 3 (24:07):
There was a significant portion of the audience and I'm
gonna stereotype them as being people under the age of
thirty who were wooing or even saying yes in the
middle of the numbers, being performed like a yazz queen
kind of thing, Right, yeah, or you know, saying it
that kind of thing. You're kidding me, right, And let

me clarify that I in no way endorse wooing during
the performance of the song after the singer has finished.
Wooing is acceptable to me. But wooing a high note
to the middle of the song, I do find obnoxious.

Speaker 1 (24:46):
A wooing a high note. That's horrendous to do that. Now,
let's venture beyond theater on television. The Oscars are handy
barometer of how commonplace standing ovations have become. I still
remember the nineteen eighty five Oscars telecast when Jack Lemon
introduced Lord Lawrence Olivier to present the Best Picture winner.

Olivier wasn't receiving an award, but his very presence brought
the crowd to its feet. Olivier himself was overcome and
forgot to name the nominees.

Speaker 7 (25:22):
And the winner for this is.

Speaker 6 (25:26):
I'm adeus.

Speaker 3 (25:29):
Nowadays, of course, it seems like there's usually about six
or seven standing ovations at each Oscar ceremony.

Speaker 1 (25:37):
Will Smith got a standing ovation after he hit someone.

Speaker 3 (25:39):
That what he did indeed, and I sort of feel like,
you know, the appreciation is the award. You don't need
the standing ovation as well. You're holding an Oscar in
your hand. That's the win to me.

Speaker 1 (25:48):
The corollary to the standing ovation is the exclamation point
and the use of it.

Speaker 3 (25:54):
That is something that is certainly a factor of our
digital age that I became really aware of how often
I was using exclamation points in emails.

Speaker 1 (26:03):
But it's an arms race, and I don't like, you're great.
Next time I email you, I don't want to not
use an exclamation point because I would worry that you
think I'm upset at you or for something.

Speaker 3 (26:16):
The exclamation point is the new period, and the double
exclamation point is the new exclamation point. You have to
use two or three now to indicate that you really
are exclaiming this and not just stating it.

Speaker 1 (26:28):
What can we do about this?

Speaker 3 (26:31):
It's that rock has started to roll down the hill,
and there's no way to get it to stop.

Speaker 1 (26:36):
I think likewise, there may be no standing up to
the standing ovation.

Speaker 3 (26:43):
Times change, and the way we express appreciation evolves with time,
and so we are at a stage now where the
standing ovation is obligatory, and we can choose to fight
that or just to accept it. And I've come to
a place of acceptance. I don't love it in my heart,
but I accept it with my brain.

Speaker 1 (27:04):
You've opened my mind, though, Okay, but I'll never be
okay with wooing.

Speaker 6 (27:09):
No, this was amazing.

Speaker 1 (27:11):
Whoo coming up, it's gonna get a little loud. Hey
there among the number two train headed uptown right now,

I said, mail, which.

Speaker 7 (27:33):
I'm sure.

Speaker 1 (27:37):
It's no surprise that New York City, the city I
call home, is a noisy place. This is my piece
of work, so it should come as no surprise that
the third thing I'd like to die is noise. Maybe
it's getting older, maybe it's my tinatus that ringing in

my ears, But more and more I value quiet. Honestly,
if the library opened to a restaurant, I'd be the
first to make a reservation. But I also realized that
noise is subjective.

Speaker 7 (28:11):
I don't think there's a universal definition of noise. It
depends on where you are, who you are, and when
you're doing the listening.

Speaker 1 (28:19):
That's Mark Smith. He's a history professor at the University
of South Carolina, where he specializes in something called sensory history.
He teaches his students not just what the past looked like,
but what it smelled, tasted, and sounded like. And oh,
how I wish I'd been able to take his course

when I was in college.

Speaker 7 (28:41):
Okay, so sound is often associated as a positive thing, right.
Noise is considered to be sound out of time. That
is to say, something that you could hear during the
day happens at two o'clock in the morning and it
suddenly becomes noise. And that's what noise ordinances are usually about.

Speaker 1 (28:59):
Now there's nothing about people grumbling about noise, and we've
got seven decades of CBS news archives to prove it.
There's the burglar alarm in Maryland that went off for
five days.

Speaker 3 (29:13):
I'm taking eight hundred milligrams of motor and that puts
me right to sleep because you hear it constantly.

Speaker 5 (29:18):
And the New Orleans jazz residents who sued their city
for get this loud street jazz.

Speaker 1 (29:25):
Just imagine your own house if you wake up and
there's a large brass band out there, and it's there
every day, eight to ten hours a day, seven days
a week. Back in the eighties, when boomboxes were booming,
there was the campaign for radio free zones.

Speaker 6 (29:41):
In New York. There are fines for violators up to
fifty dollars.

Speaker 1 (29:45):
I've been coming here every day, my radio man, my
take Santana's greatest hits.

Speaker 6 (29:49):
You know it's a cave and play it.

Speaker 1 (29:51):
And later on the valiant fight against leaf blowers in
northern California.

Speaker 2 (29:57):
It's a blight on any neighborhood. It's war without our permission.

Speaker 1 (30:04):
Quick aside, that voice you just heard is Julie Newmar
TV's original Catwoman.

Speaker 2 (30:10):
This is my night to Howe back then, because tonight
you are the mice and I am the cat.

Speaker 1 (30:16):
And then there's the Virginia dog who was sentenced to
death for barking. They were just bark, bark, bark, bark, balks.

Speaker 6 (30:26):
I don't believe it.

Speaker 7 (30:27):
That's the CBS eving news for this Friday day and
rather reporting from New York and hoping you have a
good weekend.

Speaker 1 (30:32):
Don't worry. The ruling was overturned and backs went free.
But what do we know about what kept people awake
before sound recorded history?

Speaker 7 (30:41):
I suspect for most of human history, the loudest noise
before the modern era that anybody would have heard would
have been thunder.

Speaker 5 (30:50):
That's Mark Smith, again, our sensory historian. I asked him
to take us back in time. What about the sounds
that the early settlers in a manner America from Europe heard.

Speaker 7 (31:02):
So bells, for example, can be found in the earliest
colonial villages, and those bells are marking Western civilization as
they hear it onto this new world. But beyond the
physical limits of that township or that village was a
howling wilderness known as the rant. This is a place

yet to be discovered. This is a place to be feared.
This is a place to retreat from or impose your
will over.

Speaker 1 (31:37):
Okay, well, the howling wilderness that you're describing sounds terrifying.
It sounds like something out of Game of Thrones. First
of all, they're just like that. This border territory between
their very probably very small villages at this point and
the vast unknown. Is it wind, is it animals? What
is it that they're hearing?

Speaker 7 (31:58):
Well, it's all of the above. The topography of the
place is quite different to many European countries. When you
go to a place, you make comparisons, and that comparison
is going to be inevitably hostage to the time that
you make it. So, for example, tornadoes existed in colonial
America right when these settlers were first arriving. But they

couldn't possibly say that those tornadoes sounded like a freight train,
could they did? They say it sounded like satan. It's demonic,
but it could also be the wrath of God. It
must have been absolutely nerving at a very deep emotional
level to hear what America sounded like.

Speaker 1 (32:43):
When trains did begin crisscrossing the country in the eighteen
twenties and thirties, the sounds were just as startling as thunder.

Speaker 7 (32:51):
People didn't quite know what to make of them. I mean,
here you have a sound of movement cutting through the countryside,
and it's terrifying at first for some people, Now what
is that? And then when the whistle goes off. It's unnerving,
but very quickly people begin to embrace that sound as
a kind of progress. And then after that, the sound

of the train becomes quickly incorporated into the fabric of
American nostalgia, especially a steam engine.

Speaker 1 (33:24):
So it goes from scary to a sign of progress
to something almost romantic.

Speaker 7 (33:30):
I think so. I think that's the point. Yes, this
is an example of attaching meaning that changes over time.
When we hear bells today, we think of them as quaint, right,
They kind of rally people to church, But they didn't
always sound quaint to certain people. And if you're an
enslaved person on a southern plantation, a bell has nothing

quaint about it. It is the sound of labor, it
is the sound of obedience, it is the sound of
There is no standard definition of the meaning of a bell.
It's very much who you are.

Speaker 1 (34:06):
In the late eighteen nineties, urban development made cities very
loud places. In response, a new progressive movement took shape.
One of its targets, noise Reformers made to the case
that loud noises were bad for the nervous system.

Speaker 7 (34:23):
I think probably the most powerful expression of this comes
during the First World War, where you have people who
are in fact, not just deafened, but psychologically damaged by
not just what they see, not just what they smell,
but what they hear in that war. And obviously it's
the screams of your compatriots being shot, but it's also

the unprecedented volume of munitions going off. Nobody had heard
noises that loud before got.

Speaker 1 (34:54):
To be in a trench in World War One, and
the sounds you must have heard.

Speaker 7 (34:59):
So you hear the shell before it hits, and that's
what you're hearing is possible imminent death.

Speaker 1 (35:06):
The twentieth century gave rise to sounds that today we
take for granted. The first automobiles were very noisy, and
then we chok to the skies.

Speaker 4 (35:20):
The plane flying oh La area is a thing that
people have gotten to a point.

Speaker 7 (35:23):
The way children wake up in the middle of the
night's screaming.

Speaker 1 (35:26):
That's from a nineteen sixty two CBS News special host
Walter Cronkite interviewed then Federal Aviation Chief Nijeeb Halliby.

Speaker 4 (35:36):
Would you say, mister Halliby, that we're just going to
have to learn to live with the noise of the
jet age? Well, you know, we've always learned to live
with noise. The automobile, which was a frightening looking machine,
making a terrible noise when it first appeared. Certainly, the
construction noise of a pneumatic hammer is much higher than
that of a distant jet airply in our helicopt So

I think one of the prices of progress and power
is going to be a level of noise. If it's
dangerous to health and life, it should not be tolerated.
But if it's just irritable, I'm afraid that's one of
the prices of so called progress.

Speaker 1 (36:18):
The balance between progress and noise pollution was tested as
never before by the introduction of the Concord. Writing on
it was the height of luxury living under its flight
path wasn't so pleasant? That sound you just heard is

sonic boom we have in our archives. I only just
watched it. A CBS news report from nineteen seventy from
Wales about the Concord and the sonic boom of the
Concord disturbs one elderly woman because it reminds her of
the bombing during World War Two.

Speaker 7 (36:56):
It was like a bomb going off, a blast and
it shook me up.

Speaker 1 (37:00):
I was very flattened because I was bombed.

Speaker 4 (37:02):
In the war.

Speaker 1 (37:04):
Then when a young woman she sounds like a teenager,
actually a girl, is interviewed, she says it was a
little scary first, and how she loves it because it's
really really cool because it's associated, my god with a
supersonic jet.

Speaker 7 (37:18):
I was only frightened the first time. I wasn't frightened
the second time.

Speaker 4 (37:21):
Do you think the concord should go on flying over here?

Speaker 5 (37:23):

Speaker 6 (37:24):
You like the concord? Yes, nice fast time.

Speaker 7 (37:29):
Yeah, that's a perfect example because the child doesn't have
the memory of the war. If you experience the Second
World War, how you understand sounds during it and after
it are going to be really different as opposed to
being born in the nineteen eighties or nineteen nineties.

Speaker 1 (37:44):
The US government limited concord service after cities issued numerous
noise complaints. As for the sounds of today, any advice
on how I should think about that jackhammer on the
way to.

Speaker 7 (37:58):
Work, Let's imagine there are no jackhammers. Think about the
state of your streets and your roads. Unless we develop
a technology that's quieter to repair the roads, then you're
going to have to deal with it. So mo I
would say this, go around the block a different way perhaps,
or just recognize that the street is better for that
temporary engagement with noise that you had to endure, as

unpleasant as it is.

Speaker 1 (38:23):
But there are certain sounds that are just noise. The
dirt bikes, the illegal ATVs that roar up Sixth Avenue
in the middle of the night and wake me up.
I just I cannot find the upside. I can't find
a way of redefining those noises.

Speaker 7 (38:44):
Yeah, I think most people would agree with you, and
that's probably why there's a noise ordinance prohibiting it.

Speaker 6 (38:48):

Speaker 7 (38:49):
However, for the person riding the ATV or the dirt bike,
this is the sound of protest, This is the sound
of youth, This is the sound of whatever they think
it is. Now they might I've been a distinct minority.
But that's kind of the point about the context, right,
and who's doing the listening, and who has the authority
to say no, that's noise.

Speaker 1 (39:09):
Jackhammer's good, illegal dirt bikes bad.

Speaker 7 (39:12):
That's fair enough.

Speaker 1 (39:15):
I get it. One person's noise is another person's music. Likewise,
one person's steaming, gurgling bin of Cooties is another person's buffet,
just as one person's.

Speaker 5 (39:27):
Coerced standing ovation is another person's inspired, authentic, and spontaneous
woo fast. It's all about context and changing mores and look,
I'm willing to go with the flow, So don't be
surprised to see me as your favorite hard rocking all
you can eat joint.

Speaker 1 (39:48):
I'll be the one wiping down the tongs. I certainly
hope you enjoyed this mobituary. I may I ask you
to please rate and review our podcast. You can also
Mobituaries on Facebook and Instagram, and you could follow me
on the social media platform formerly known as Twitter at Moroka.

Here are all new episodes of Mobituaries every Wednesday. Wherever
you get your podcasts and check out Mobituaries. Great Lives
Worth Reliving the New York Times best selling book, now
available in paperback and audiobook. It includes plenty of stories
not in the podcast. This episode of Mobituaries was produced

by Liz Sanchez, who wishes hiking with loud music would die.
Our team of producers also includes Chloe Chobol, who wishes
the girl Boss mentality would die, and Me Morocca with
engineering by Josh Han who wishes parachute pants would die.
Our theme music is written by Daniel Hart. Our archival

producer is Jamie Benson, who wishes gender reveal parties would die,
and fact checking from Annie Cronenberg, who wish which is
elaborate bachelorette trips would die. Mobituary's production company is Neon Hummedia.

Speaker 5 (41:06):
Indispensable support from Alan Pang, who wishes asparagus soda, Yes,
asparagus soda would die, and everyone at CBS News Radio
special thanks to Steve Razis, Rand Morrison, and Alberto Robina.
Executive producers for Mobituaries include Megan Marcus, who wishes espresso

martinis would die, Jonathan Hirsch, who wishes judging other people's
vocal fry would die, and me Moroka.

Speaker 1 (41:35):
The series is

Speaker 5 (41:36):
Created by Yours Truly and well you already heard what
I wish would die.
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