Decoder Ring

An Anthropology, Society and Culture podcast featuring
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What took blue food so long to catch on? Today it’s all over the freezer aisle, in candies for kids, in tortilla chips, and novelty foods, but it wasn’t very long ago that food experts agreed: blue food was an impossible sell. Their best evidence was a study from the 1970’s in which subjects were served blue steaks to sickening effect. On this episode, we uncover the strange, misinformation-stuffed history of blue food, the rise of blue raspberry, and what to make of the blue food experiment that made those people sick. It may have something to do with Alfred Hitchcock. This episode was produced in collaboration with Proof, from America's Test Kitchen. Proof is a podcast that investigates the food we love. Subscribe to Proof on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or Spotify. Special programming note: Decoder Ring is going seasonal! That means you won’t hear from us for a while, but we’ll be back in 2021 with a bunch of new stories released week-by-week. Thanks for sticking with us, we’re excited to try something new, and we’ll see you soon.  Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
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
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
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
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. Brett Johnson was a career criminal: a fraudster, a con man, a cyber criminal, but now he’s a legal person operating on the right side of the law, helping companies stop people like he used to be. His story is the stuff of a movie like Catch Me iI You Can, it involves wild scams, narrow escapes, redemption, and even a trip to Disney World. Throughout his criminal career he defrauded people on the street, on eBay, on criminal web forums, within the justice system, and even inside the United States Secret Service. There’s great entertainment value in Brett’s story, but there’s also a great deal of complication to it, too. Real life isn’t as neat and tidy as a movie, and the ending is yet to be written.  Today we explore Brett’s story, first by letting you enjoy it, and then we deconstruct it, to decide if we should.  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. Ong's Hat, or The Incunabula Papers, is a conspiracy theory that arose on the early internet. Combining cutting edge science, mysticism, and obvious hokum, it intrigued thousands of people who tried to find out what it all meant. Today we uncover the secrets of Ong's Hat, the man behind it, and the new art form it inadvertently birthed. Check out our showpage at slate.com/culture/decoder-ring This episode is brought to you by the following advertisers: Aleph Mattresses, a handmade mattress experience: TrustAleph.com ② 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. Welcome to Decoder Ring! Decoder Ring is a monthly podcast about cracking cultural mysteries. Every episode we’ll take on a cultural object, idea, or habit and speak with experts, historians and obsessives to try to figure out where it comes from, what it means and why it matters. Why do we get so invested in fictional romances? What does it mean to wear a baseball hat backwards? Why do we clap? What do people think about all day? Decoder Ring explores questions and topics you didn't know you were curious about. In our first episode, we ask: What happened to the laugh track? For nearly five decades, it was ubiquitous, but beginning in the early 2000s, it fell out of sitcom fashion. What happened? How did we get from Beverly Hillbillies to 30 Rock? We meet the man who created the laugh track, which originated as a homemade piece of technology, and trace that technology’s fall and the rise of a more modern idea about humor. With the help of historians, laugh track obsessives, the showrunners of One Day at a Time and the director of Sports Night, we wonder if the laugh track was about something bigger than laughter. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
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
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
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
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
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
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
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. Baby Shark is an megaviral YouTube video, an unstoppable earworm, a top 40 hit, a Eurodance smash, a decades old campfire song, and the center of an international copyright dispute. This month on Decoder Ring we explore the strange history and conflicted future of the song, what makes it so catchy, and how it came to be.  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. Jennifer Aniston’s story had it all: Heartbreak, secrecy, sex, betrayal. But what it also had was a new kind of tabloid: Us Weekly and its copycats. Brad Pitt leaving Jennifer Aniston for Angelina Jolie would have been a huge Hollywood scandal no matter when it happened, but it became an even bigger one because it was turbocharged by these tabloids. Almost 15 years later, the tabloid In Touch ran an issue with the headline “Brad Stuns Jen! Marry Me again!” What is going on? How is it still going on? Why is it still going on?  This is the last episode of Decoder Ring for 2018. See you in the new year.  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. Paper dolls were a ubiquitous part of children’s lives for decades, and then mostly disappeared. David Wolfe was a boy growing up in the 1950’s, with paper dolls as his primary means of accessing a world of glamour and beauty that he didn’t see at home in Ohio. He’d go on to a career in fashion, guided by his paper dolls, just as paper dolls were falling out of fashion themselves, replaced by Barbies and other plastic dolls. This episode is about paper dolls, and their surprising connections to fashion, nostalgia, queerness, and David’s extraordinary career. Producer Benjamin Frisch co-hosts the show to explore the story.  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. What are the real reasons people go on reality TV? This episode follows the story of Ann Hirsch and Cathy Nardone, two women cast on VH1’s “Frank the Entertainer...In a Basement Affair”, a show about an adult man looking for love—while living in his parent’s basement. How did one performance artist and one accidental performance artist make it onto the show? And how did they behave once they made it there? Their story highlights the ways that reality television distorts narratives, obscures intentions and stereotypes women, yet is still irresistible to audiences and performers alike.  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. Decoder Ring is a podcast about cracking cultural mysteries. Every month host Willa Paskin,Slate’s TV critic, takes on a cultural question, object, idea, or habit and speak with experts,historians and obsessives to try and figure out where it comes from, what it means and why it Matters. Today: The clown has existed in various forms for thousands of years, what changed and made us suspect and fear them? The modern birthday clown is a very recent invention, by going back into the history of clowns and clowning we see that clowns are far more complex and capable of far more expression than the kids entertainment of Bozo and Ronald McDonald. How those complex figures transformed into obligatorily sunny commercial mascots may also explain why they are increasingly seen as sinister today.  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. Who gets to decide if Sherlock Holmes is gay? For over a century, fans of Sherlock Holmes have been analyzing, debating, and creating new texts with Arthur Conan Doyle’s characters. Decoder Ring explores the Johnlock Conspiracy, a fan theory about the BBC TV show Sherlock, positing the inevitability of a gay romance between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. With interviews from historians, journalists, and fans at the heart of this controversial idea, this episode explores this theory, how it played out in the real world, and whether this kind of fandom is a meaningful way of interacting with fiction. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
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
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
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
Decoder Ring is the new podcast from Slate! Each month, host Willa Paskin will decode a cultural question, idea, or habit, and help figure out what it means and why it matters. Our first episode drops April 30th, see you then. 
Where did all the water bottles come from? Just a few decades ago, no one carried bottled water around with them, and now it's totally ubiquitous. What changed? Hydration is a real thing in science, but it was also a kind of invention: used by marketers of sports drinks, bottled water companies, and the wellness industry to keep us buying and drinking water for clearer skin, better health, and all sorts of other nebulous benefits. To hear the full episode now, sign up for Slate Plus. Otherwise you'll hear this episode in June when our full season launches. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
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Podcast Details

Created by
Slate Podcasts
Podcast Status
Active
Started
Apr 25th, 2018
Latest Episode
Apr 22nd, 2021
Release Period
Monthly
Episodes
34
Avg. Episode Length
39 minutes
Explicit
No
Order
Episodic
Language
English
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