Let’s be honest, as Canadians we seem to have a love-hate relationship with our American cousins. We love their media (thank you Hollywood), covet their sports (NBA anyone?), adore their shopping (hello Macy’s), but loathe their insularity and arrogance. However, another thing that our American cousins arguably do better than anyone else is scandal. Enter the engrossing and aptly named podcast American Scandal. Besides providing comprehensive history lessons on more recent (Theranos) and more distant (The Standoff at Wounded Knee) scandals, with a cinema-worthy score and sound editing, host Lindsay Graham narrates and acts out distinct roles, illuminating the stories and expertly crafting an immersive experience for listeners.
Each season is typically split into four or five gripping episodes which unfold across the history of one specific scandal. However, some seasons are not for the faint of heart! Season #27 is a case in point. Ice Pick Surgeon follows the rise and fall of the surgeon Walter Freeman, a pioneer of experimental psychiatric brain surgery (mainly the lobotomy) who eventually developed a cringe-worthy technique of operating on his patients’ brains through their eye sockets. While other seasons are meditations on greed (season # 24 Bernie Madoff), insecurity run amok (season #36 Fraud in a Drug Lab), or an utter lack of judgement (season # 33 The Clinton-Lewinsky Affair – and we mean the 49-year-old president, not the 22-year-old intern), others reveal the profound racial injustices that have characterized American institutions.
Season #8, Tuskegee Syphilis Study, dives into the state-sponsored conspiracy that ensured the decades-long medical exploitation of some 600 black men in Alabama. Although their white medical practitioners were aware, they withheld the information about positive syphilis infections from the black men in order for them to watch and study the progress of the illness in human subjects. While not available at the beginning of the study, the discovery of penicillin as a cure did not change the course of this catastrophic medical abuse for these black men who were still denied treatment with the full knowledge and endorsement of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the surgeon general, and the state board of health for over forty years. Season #8 drives home that the dehumanization entailed in the enslavement of black people across the Americas did not cease with abolition. Clearly, the people who orchestrated this crime against hundreds of black individuals and their families did not see black men as fully human. American Scandal is not easy listening, but it is informative, eye-opening, gripping, and well, scandalous.