Secondary Symptoms #8: “Return to Normalcy”

The phrase “return to normalcy” has been thrown around a lot lately. It’s actually a phrase that was popularized in 1920, in the wake of the WW1 and the Spanish Flu. But, as with the Spanish Flu, “returning to normalcy” means forgetting the conditions that brought us COVID-19, and perhaps even forgetting COVID-19 itself. On this last episode of Secondary Symptoms, we focus on the politics of pandemic memory. We’re still in the thick of it, but many already seem like they want us to forget; yet, we will never forget.

Gordon Katic talks to Andrew Stoeten (11:00), baseball writer at the Athletic and co-host of the Birds all Day podcast, about baseball’s dubious return plans. MLB’s commissioner claims the game will help us “return to normalcy,” but — with piped-in crowd noise and cardboard cut-out fans — there is nothing normal about these games. Next, historian Nancy Bristow (23:07) talks about her book, American Pandemic: The Lost Worlds of the 1918 Influence Epidemic. She explains why officials wanted the public to forget the epidemic, even while it was still happening. However, Nancy also argues that regular people simply couldn’t forget. In that spirit, we ask a number of folks one simple question: what will you remember about COVID-19? Finally, even though there are no memorials to the Spanish Flu, it is memorialized in one place: the blues. To close out the show, Mike Rugel (56:33) from the podcast Uncensored History of the Blues, plays us a few classic songs of pandemics and disease.


UPDATE: Since speaking with Andrew Stoeten, MLB’s Miami Marlins have suffered a coronavirus outbreak. A number of games have been postponed, and many are wondering if the season may already be in jeopardy—less than one week after beginning.

To read more about Harding’s “return to normalcy,” check out the article by historian William Deverell in the Smithsonian Magazine.  

Also, check out our Spotify Playlist to hear the songs in full. They were: Jesus is Coming Soon, by Blind Willie Johnson; Memphis Flu, by Elder Curry; the 1919 Influenza Blues, by Essie Jenkins; Dyin’ Flu, by Albert Collins; and Don’t Let the Corona Get on Ya, by Deacon Otis Wicknine.


This is the last episode of Secondary Symptoms. Don’t fear, though; we’ll be bringing it back as a new, standalone show. The new show will be here in a month or two, and you’ll see the first few episodes in this feed.  

To keep up with Cited, Secondary Symptoms, and our upcoming show: follow us on Twitter and Facebook. Tweet at us, or email your feedback to–we might just read it on the show.


This episode was produced by Jay Cockburn and Gordon Katic.

Our theme song and original music is by our composer, Mike Barber. Dakota Koop is our graphic designer. Our production manager is David Tobiasz, and executive producers are Gordon Katic and Sam Fenn.

This episode was funded in part by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada. This is part of wider project looking at trends in the politics of historical commemoration. Professor Eagle Glassheim at the University of British Columbia is the academic lead on that project.

Cited is produced out of the Centre of Ethics at the University of Toronto, which is on the traditional land of Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat Peoples. Cited is also produced out of the Michael Smith Laboratories at the University of British Columbia — that’s on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations.

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