Host Ira Glass uses Italian author Umberto Eco's essay Travels in Hyperreality as a guidebook to American simulated worlds. Eco says that the urge to create these miniature simulated worlds is a very American impulse — a significant American aesthetic — and one that's not often discussed.
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Writer Jack Hitt discovers that the world of dinosaurs is a man-made creation, a simulated world that may or may not accurately reflect what happened on earth 100 million years ago. Talking with dinosaur experts like Jack Horner (whose work was the basis of much of the film Jurassic Park), Hitt finds that most of what you think you know about dinosaurs is probably wrong, and that Americans' ideas about dinosaurs go through "fashions" that reflect the national mood: We believed dinosaurs were more aggressive when we were on the brink of World Wars One and Two.
Ira takes a Medieval scholar from the University of Chicago, Michael Camille, to Medieval Times — a chain of fake castles where visitors eat Medieval food and drink Medieval Pepsi and watch a supposed recreation of a Medieval jousting tournament. The scholar finds that there are many historical inaccuracies, but that Medieval Times does capture something essential and interesting about the spirit of the Middle Ages.
The story of the worst stateside disaster during World War II, at Port Chicago, an ammunition dump for the navy just north of San Francisco. Black workers were assigned to load ammo onto ships under such unsafe conditions that on July 17, 1944, two ships blew up, killing 320 men.