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Decoder Ring

Author: Slate Podcasts

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Decoder Ring is the show about cracking cultural mysteries. In each episode, host Willa Paskin takes a cultural question, object, or habit; examines its history; and tries to figure out what it means and why it matters.

31 Episodes
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In 1983, the Cabbage Patch Kids were released, causing widespread pandemonium in toy stores and in the media. How did a children'a toy inspire such bad adult behavior? On this episode of Decoder Ring we explore the strange world of the Cabbage Patch Kids to figure out why they hit it so big. The answer involves butt tattoos, slightly grotesque faces, industrial innovations, an origin story in a cabbage patch, and serious accusations of copyright theft. Slate Plus members get ad-free podcasts and bonus episodes of shows like Dear Prudence and Slow Burn. Sign up now to listen and support our work. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
How did Hanoi Jane become Exercise Jane? This is the second part of our two-parter on Jane Fonda's Workout. If you haven't yet, listen to the previous episode "Jane and Leni" first, it will give you the full context for this episode. This time around we explore how an academy award winning actor and controversial political activist managed to transform herself into a category defining fitness icon. It's a story involving a persistent VHS entrepreneur, dozens of bizarre celebrity workout tapes, and Tricky Dick, himself. Slate Plus members get ad-free podcasts and bonus episodes of shows like Dear Prudence and Slow Burn. Sign up now to listen and support our work. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
When Jane Fonda granted us an interview to talk about her famous workout tape, things didn't go as planned. On part one of a special two-part Decoder Ring, we explore the decades-long friendship of Jane Fonda and Leni Cazden, the relationship that birthed the workout that changed the world. It's a story of creation, regret, fame, forgiveness, trauma, survival, politics, and exercise. In two weeks, we return with part two: the story of the bestselling VHS tape of all time. Slate Plus members get ad-free podcasts and bonus episodes of shows like Dear Prudence and Slow Burn. Sign up now to listen and support our work. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Mystery of the Mullet

Mystery of the Mullet

2020-08-1451:474

The mullet, the love-to-hate-it hairstyle is as associated with the 1980's as Ronald Reagan, junk bonds, and break dancing. But in at least one major way, we are suffering from a collective case of false memory syndrome. In this episode we track the rise and fall of the mullet, and also the lexical quandary at its heart: who named the mullet? Slate Plus members get ad-free podcasts and bonus episodes of shows like Dear Prudence and Slow Burn. Sign up now to listen and support our work. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
The Karen

The Karen

2020-07-1337:5610

The Karen, a white woman who surveys, inconveniences, and terrorizes, service workers and people of color is a relatively new term in the culture, but her character type has been with us for centuries. In this episode of Decoder Ring we explore the history of this type, from the code-names used during enslavement, to the contemporary menace of the COVID age. Slate Plus members get ad-free podcasts and bonus episodes of shows like Dear Prudence and Slow Burn. Sign up now to listen and support our work. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
The Metrosexual

The Metrosexual

2020-06-1036:164

In 2003, the word "metrosexual", meaning a well-groomed heterosexual man, exploded all over the English lexicon. It invaded the news, TV, and even American politics. On this episode of Decoder Ring we explore the origins of the metrosexual, and how trend forecasters, marketers, David Beckham, Sex and the City, and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy helped make the metrosexual possible. Slate Plus members get ad-free podcasts and bonus episodes of shows like Dear Prudence and Slow Burn. Sign up now to listen and support our work. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Gotta Get Down on Friday

Gotta Get Down on Friday

2020-05-1142:301

Rebecca Black's music video for Friday was Youtube's most watched video of 2011, thrusting the thirteen-year-old Rebecca into a very harsh spotlight. Dubbed "The Worst Music Video Ever Made" Friday was an almost universal object of derision. This is the story of how Friday came to be, and how nearly a decade after it went viral, it sounds so different than it did back then. Slate Plus members get ad-free podcasts and bonus episodes of shows like Dear Prudence and Slow Burn. Sign up now to listen and support our work. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Unicorn Poop

Unicorn Poop

2020-04-0835:271

How did poop get cute? On this episode of Decoder Ring we trace the rise of cute poop from the original Japanese poop emoji to more modern poop toys which rely on the Youtube algorithm to get seen and sold. Slate Plus members get ad-free podcasts and bonus episodes of shows like Dear Prudence and Slow Burn. Sign up now to listen and support our work. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Rubber Duckie

Rubber Duckie

2020-03-1924:262

Slate Plus members get ad-free podcasts and bonus episodes of shows like Dear Prudence and Slow Burn. Sign up now to listen and support our work. How did the humble rubber duck become an icon of bath time? On this episode of Decoder Ring we talk to rubber duck experts, enthusiasts, and manufacturers to find out how the rubber duck evolved, why it's so appealing, and why there are thousands of them lost at sea. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Slate Plus members get ad-free podcasts and bonus episodes of shows like Dear Prudence and Slow Burn. Sign up now to listen and support our work. The 1998 romantic comedy You've Got Mail starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan is about the brutal fight between an independent bookstore, The Shop Around the Corner, and Fox Books, an obvious Barnes & Noble stand-in. On this episode of Decoder Ring we explore the real life conflict that inspired the movie and displaced independent booksellers on the upper west side of Manhattan. This conflict illustrates how, for a brief time, Barnes & Noble was a symbol of predatory capitalism, only to be usurped by the uniting force at the heart of the film: the internet. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Friend of Dorothy

Friend of Dorothy

2020-02-1032:217

Slate Plus members get ad-free podcasts and bonus episodes of shows like Dear Prudence and Slow Burn. Sign up now to listen and support our work. When Peter Mac was young, he found solace from his troubles in the voice of Judy Garland. He's now been a Judy Garland impersonator for 17 years. On this episode of Decoder Ring we explore the special valence that Judy Garland has for queer people, the history of female impersonation on stage, and what the future might hold for Judy as an icon. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Slate Plus members get ad-free podcasts and bonus episodes of shows like Dear Prudence and Slow Burn. Sign up now to listen and support our work. When Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote an exposé of Lord Byron's incestuous affair in 1869, it nearly destroyed The Atlantic Monthly, and threw the reputations of two literary icons into chaos. This is a story about 18th century scandal, cancel culture, and Bad Literary Men, that isn't so different from how these stories play out in our own time. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Murphy's Law

Murphy's Law

2019-12-0937:028

Slate Plus members get ad-free podcasts and bonus episodes of shows like Dear Prudence and Slow Burn. Sign up now to listen and support our work. Nick Spark fell down a rabbit hole tracking down the origins of Murphy’s Law, the ubiquitous phrase that says “If it can go wrong, it will go wrong”. On this episode of Decoder Ring, we follow Nick on his journey while taking a few detours of our own to find out how Murphy’s Law was [maybe] born out of the rocket sled experiments of the dawning jet age. We talk to Nick, hear some of the recordings he collected during his own research, plus talk to researchers who are skeptical of Nick’s hypothesis, all to try and find out how an obscure engineering aphorism spread to world-conquering philosophical observation.  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Gender Reveal Party

Gender Reveal Party

2019-11-0638:445

Slate Plus members get ad-free podcasts and bonus episodes of shows like Dear Prudence and Slow Burn. Sign up now to listen and support our work. Jenna Karvunidis invented the gender reveal party, but now she has regrets. On this episode of Decoder Ring, we explore the pink and blue world of the gender reveal party, and how Jenna's small barbecue celebration turned into a global phenomenon that's gotten way out of control. We talk to psychologists, historians, critics, and business owners, to figure out why the gender reveal is having such a big, bizarre moment right now, and how we can best understand the strange power they hold over social media. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Bart Simpson Mania

Bart Simpson Mania

2019-10-0745:1012

Slate Plus members get ad-free podcasts and bonus episodes of shows like Dear Prudence and Slow Burn. Sign up now to listen and support our work. In the early 1990's Bart Simpson became a breakout star while also becoming a target in the culture war, culminating in president George HW Bush speaking out against The Simpsons as an example of a degenerate American family. Today on Decoder Ring we try and figure out why the H-E double hockey sticks people were so worked up about Bart Simpson by examining the great underachiever t-shirt controversy, bootleg Bart merchandise, the rise of the religious right, and more.  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Ice Cream Truck

Ice Cream Truck

2019-08-1239:195

Slate Plus members get ad-free podcasts and bonus episodes of shows like Dear Prudence and Slow Burn. Sign up now to listen and support our work. Why is the ice cream truck business so bananas? On this episode of Decoder Ring we find out via three seperate stories about the strange world of ice cream trucks—about the first ever ice cream trucks in China, the ongoing ice cream wars of Manhattan, and the life of an ice cream family in Brooklyn. Slate Plus members get bonus segments and ad-free podcast feeds. Sign up now. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Pillow Talk

Pillow Talk

2019-07-1529:076

Slate Plus members get ad-free podcasts and bonus episodes of shows like Dear Prudence and Slow Burn. Sign up now to listen and support our work. Over the last half century the decorative pillow has been crowding out our sitting and sleeping spaces, multiplying across our beds and couches decade by decade. For some, decorative pillows are a fun design accent, for others a symbol of useless overconsumption. Today on Decoder Ring we explore the world of the decorative pillow to try and figure out why they've become so ubiquitous and what they tell us about our homes, interior design, and the way we develop our tastes.  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Chuck E. Cheese Pizza War

Chuck E. Cheese Pizza War

2019-06-1146:4610

Slate Plus members get ad-free podcasts and bonus episodes of shows like Dear Prudence and Slow Burn. Sign up now to listen and support our work. The King was an animatronic lounge singer who performed in Chuck E. Cheese locations in the 1980's and early 90's, but then he disappeared. The King was a victim of a conflict known as the pizza wars, when Chuck E. Cheese faced off against its rival, Showbiz Pizza for pizza arcade supremacy. The foot soldiers in the pizza war were the animatronic bands that staffed each location—including The King. This episode is a chronicle of the pizza war, with the founder of Chuck E. Cheese, Nolan Bushnell, it's rival, Showbiz Pizza's Aaron Fechter, the people who designed the characters and animatronics, and the people who continue loving these characters, like Jared Sanchez, who continue to create work with these once discarded creatures. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Videomate: Men

Videomate: Men

2019-04-2933:592

Slate Plus members get ad-free podcasts and bonus episodes of shows like Dear Prudence and Slow Burn. Sign up now to listen and support our work. Videomate: Men is a VHS tape released in 1987 featuring 60 single men pitching themselves as dates to women on the other side of the TV screen, who could connect to these eligible bachelors from the comfort of their homes. In retrospect, Videomate: Men is bizarre and hilarious, but at the time it was one of many manifestations of what was known as video dating. To find out how anyone thought this was a good idea, Decoder Ring examines the weird and forgotten world of video dating in the 1970's, 80's, and 90's to find out why video dating once seemed like the future, and if that future is still yet to come.  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Truck Nutz

Truck Nutz

2019-03-2534:252

Slate Plus members get ad-free podcasts and bonus episodes of shows like Dear Prudence and Slow Burn. Sign up now to listen and support our work. Truck Nutz are a brand name for the dangling plastic testicles some people affix to the bumper or hitch of their vehicle. Also known as Bull’s Balls, Your Nutz, and other brand names, these plastic novelties have a powerful symbolic charge and are often associated with a crass, macho, red state audience. But Truck Nutz are a surprisingly complicated signifier, one whose symbolic power is increasingly divorced from their real-world usage. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
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Comments (17)

Jesstifide

80’s Massachusetts we called it an Ape Drape.

Aug 23rd
Reply

Somnambulist_23

Can you do an episode on Four Loco? 🙏

Jul 25th
Reply

Yasmine C

I'll never forget that poop game I used to play on my phone. It was adorable. I think it was called super poo. 💩💩💩

Apr 28th
Reply

upendar kattal

I'm from India and I remember my father hating laugh track on some Indian shows they used on. but I really enjoy them 😀

Apr 17th
Reply

GAlexSan

Fascinating history that is a good perspective to realize today is not necessarily hugely different from moments in the past.

Mar 2nd
Reply

Tanja Budde

Hi

Jan 18th
Reply

Alissa Maxwell

But how many people completely broke from reality and descended into madness?

Aug 3rd
Reply

archnof0

I can't believe you tackled this subject. I hate to tell you this but I have hated laugh tracks from the very first moment. I do recall loving The Wonder Years for eschewing them. Being as old as I am I listen to Jack Benny on radio and loved him on television and it didn't feel strange to me at all as you described. as you say, I always hated to be told where to laugh. the only thing I came to appreciate listening to your exposition is how the laugh track synchronized with comedies so that without them the show didn't make much sense.

May 28th
Reply

Maeve Lynch

I have lots of feelings about this guy but it sounds like he was in prison for less time than the time his victims have tried to correct the fraud.

May 14th
Reply

Scott Eigenbrode

how anyone can come away from hearing this story rooting for this guy escapes me.

Feb 11th
Reply (3)

Barby Hotard

Waiting for more, love it!

Jan 18th
Reply

Glade Runner

I think the Hotel Art bollocks was just the limit for me. unsubscribe

Dec 5th
Reply

Michael Martinez

I love this podcast! It's such a cool concept, and I love the range of topics.

Dec 4th
Reply

TCcap12

can we all agree that this show should post episodes more often than on a monthly basis? I would like to hear episodes like this more often

Oct 9th
Reply
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