Featured

Free podcast player

Limited Time Offer

 

Loading…

Decoder Ring podcast

Decoder Ring

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.

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.

 

#53

The Storytelling Craze

When did everyone become a storyteller? Decades after George Lucas and Steve Jobs made storytelling a big business, every company now wants to tell “Our Story.” Instagram and TikTok let everyone else tell their “stories,” and the number of people calling themselves storytellers on LinkedIn is now [more than half a million] (https://www.linkedin.com/business/marketing/blog/content-marketing/the-rise-of-storytelling-in-marketing-as-told-by-linkedin-data) . Something we have done for the entirety of our existence as a species has become just another fad.  In this episode of Decoder Ring, we’re going to look at where this trend came from and where it’s going. What Willa discovered changed the way she now thinks about stories—and it might do the same for you.  Some of the voices you’ll hear in this episode include [Margaret O’Mara] (https://twitter.com/margaretomara?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor) , historian and author of [The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America] (https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/534709/the-code-by-margaret-omara/) ; [Michael Simon] (https://www.michaelasimon.com/) , director and producer; [Francesca Polletta] (https://www.faculty.uci.edu/profile.cfm?faculty_id=5286) , sociologist at University of California, Irvine; [Steve Clayton] (http://www.stevecla.com/about) , Chief Storyteller at Microsoft; [Seth Godin] (https://twitter.com/ThisIsSethsBlog) , entrepreneur and author of [All Marketers Tell Stories] (https://www.amazon.com/All-Marketers-are-Liars-Works/dp/1591845335) ; [Everett Cook] (https://twitter.com/everettcook) , Associate Editor at Axios Local; and David Paskin, Willa’s father.  Decoder Ring is written and produced by Willa Paskin. This episode was edited by Dan Kois and produced by Elizabeth Nakano. Derek John is Sr. Supervising Producer of Narrative Podcasts. Merritt Jacob is our Technical Director. If you have any cultural mysteries you want us to decode, email us at [DecoderRing@slate.com] (mailto:DecoderRing@slate.com) . If you love the show and want to support us, consider joining [Slate Plus] (http://slate.com/decoderplus) . With Slate Plus you get ad-free podcasts, bonus episodes, and total access to all of Slate’s journalism. Thanks  [Avast.com] (http://avast.com/) ! Learn more about your ad choices. Visit [megaphone.fm/adchoices] (https://megaphone.fm/adchoices) ... Read more

17 May 2022

41 MINS

41:08

17 May 2022


#52

“We Got Ourselves a Convoy”

In the 1970s, a song about protesting truckers topped the music charts in multiple countries, and kicked off a pop culture craze for CB radios. In early 2022, that same song became an anthem for a new trucker-led protest movement in Canada and the US. How did C.W. McCall’s “Convoy” come to exist, and what had it been trying to say?  For this episode, which was inspired by a listener’s question, we’ve updated a story that originally aired in 2017, but that could not be more relevant today. Slate producer Evan Chung is going to take us through the history of this bizarre number-one smash, an artifact from a time when truckers were also at the center of the culture. It touches on advertising, hamburger buns, and speed limits but also global conflict, sky-rocketing gas prices, and aggrieved, protesting truck drivers.  Some of the voices you’ll hear in this episode include [Bill Fries] (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C._W._McCall) , advertising executive; [Chip Davis] (https://mobile.twitter.com/chipdavismusic) , singer and songwriter; and [Meg Jacobs] (https://mobile.twitter.com/megjacobs100) , historian and author of [Panic at the Pump] (http://www.amazon.com/Panic-Pump-Transformation-American-Politics/dp/0809058472) . This episode of Decoder Ring was written and produced by Evan Chung and Willa Paskin with help from Elizabeth Nakano. Derek John is Sr. Supervising Producer of Narrative Podcasts. Merritt Jacob is our Technical Director. If you have any cultural mysteries you want us to decode, email us at [DecoderRing@slate.com] (mailto:DecoderRing@slate.com) . If you love the show and want to support us, consider joining [Slate Plus] (http://slate.com/decoderplus) . With Slate Plus you get ad-free podcasts, bonus episodes, and total access to all of Slate’s journalism. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit [megaphone.fm/adchoices] (https://megaphone.fm/adchoices) ... Read more

10 May 2022

35 MINS

35:04

10 May 2022


#51

The Sideways Effect

In 2004, the indie flick Sideways was released in just four theaters, but it had a big impact, earning five Oscar nominations and $110 million worldwide. “I thought it was just going to be a nice little comedy,” filmmaker Alexander Payne tells us. Instead, the movie became known for something else so notable that it has a name: The Sideways Effect.  In this episode, we explore all the outsized effects of this one little movie on the huge wine industry. Did a single line of dialogue really tank merlot sales for decades? Did an ode to pinot noir jumpstart demand for this expensive grape? Did Paul Giamatti’s sad sack character change our relationship to yet another wine, one that was barely mentioned in the film? Today on Decoder Ring, all of these questions and this one: Is it long past time to start drinking merlot? Some of the voices in this episode include [Laura Lippmann] (https://mobile.twitter.com/lauramlippman) , crime novelist; Tim Farrell, wine buyer for [Brooklyn Wine Exchange] (https://www.brooklynwineexchange.com/) ; [Rex Pickett] (https://mobile.twitter.com/rexpickett) , novelist and author of ‘Sideways,’ [Alexander Payne] (https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0668247/) , director, screenwriter, and producer; Jeff Bundschu, owner of [Gundlach Bundschu] (https://www.gunbun.com/) ; [Steve Cuellar] (https://sbe.sonoma.edu/about/faculty/steven-cuellar-phd) , professor of economics at Sonoma State University; and Kathy Joseph, owner of [Fiddlehead Cellars] (http://www.fiddleheadcellars.com/about.html) . We also mention Travis Lybbert’s paper corroborating the “Sideways Effect,” which you can find [here] (https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-wine-economics/article/abs/sideways-supply-response-in-california-winegrapes/FE14CECD927047BD0582207D77F1B09E) . Decoder Ring is written and produced by Willa Paskin. This episode was produced by Elizabeth Nakano. Derek John is Sr. Supervising Producer of Narrative Podcasts.  If you have any cultural mysteries you want us to decode, email us at [DecoderRing@slate.com] (mailto:DecoderRing@slate.com) . If you love the show and want to support us, consider joining [Slate Plus] (http://slate.com/decoderplus) . With Slate Plus you get ad-free podcasts, bonus episodes, and total access to all of Slate’s journalism. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit [megaphone.fm/adchoices] (https://megaphone.fm/adchoices) ... Read more

03 May 2022

39 MINS

39:22

03 May 2022


#50

The Madness Behind ‘The Method’

When we think of method acting, we tend to think of actors going a little over the top for a role – like Jared Leto, who allegedly sent his colleagues dead rats when he was preparing to be The Joker, or Robert De Niro refusing to break character on the set of the movie Raging Bull. But that’s not how method acting began. On this episode of Decoder Ring: we look at how “The Method” came to be so well-known and yet so widely misunderstood. It’s a saga that spans three centuries and involves scores of famous actors, directors and teachers. And it altered how we think about realism, authenticity, and a good performance. Our guest today is [Isaac Butler] (https://twitter.com/parabasis) , who wrote [The Method: How The 20th Century Learned to Act] (https://www.bloomsbury.com/us/method-9781635574777/) . Decoder Ring is written and produced by Willa Paskin. This episode was produced by Elizabeth Nakano. Derek John is Sr. Supervising Producer of Narrative Podcasts.  If you have any cultural mysteries you want us to decode, email us at [DecoderRing@slate.com] (mailto:DecoderRing@slate.com) . If you love the show and want to support us, consider joining [Slate Plus] (http://slate.com/decoderplus) . With Slate Plus you get ad-free podcasts, bonus episodes, and total access to all of Slate’s journalism. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit [megaphone.fm/adchoices] (https://megaphone.fm/adchoices) ... Read more

26 Apr 2022

47 MINS

47:02

26 Apr 2022


#49

“F--k Everything, We're Doing Five Blades”

In the early 2000s, an arms race broke out in the world of men’s shaving. After decades with razors that had only one blade and then decades with razors that had only two, the number of blades rapidly spiraled up and up and up. It’s a skirmish sometimes referred to as The Razor Blade Wars, and it was a face-off about innovation, competition, capitalism, masculinity, and most of all, how strange things can become after you’ve created something that’s the best a consumer can get — and then you have to keep going. Some of the voices you’ll hear in this episode include [Rebecca Herzig] (https://www.bates.edu/faculty-expertise/profile/rebecca-herzig/) , author of [Plucked: A History of Hair Removal] (https://nyupress.org/9781479840823/plucked/) ; [Tim Dowling] (https://twitter.com/IAmTimDowling) , Guardian columnist and author of [Inventor of the Disposable Culture: King Camp Gillette 1855-1932] (https://www.amazon.com/Inventor-Disposable-Culture-Gillette-1855-1932/dp/057120810X) ; [Dan Koeppel] (https://twitter.com/soulbarn) , razor blade zelig; and [Kaitlyn Tiffany] (https://twitter.com/kait_tiffany) , writer for the Atlantic.  If you want to read more about razor blades, check out: --- [Cutting edge : Gillette's journey to global leadership] (https://archive.org/details/cuttingedgegille00mcki) --- [King C. Gillette, the man and his wonderful shaving device] (https://www.amazon.com/King-Gillette-wonderful-shaving-device/dp/0316009377) --- [Satisfaction Guaranteed: The Making of the American Mass Market] (https://www.amazon.com/Satisfaction-Guaranteed-Making-American-Market/dp/1588341461) Decoder Ring is written and produced by Willa Paskin. This episode was produced by Elizabeth Nakano. Derek John is Sr. Supervising Producer of Narrative Podcasts.  If you have any cultural mysteries you want us to decode, email us at DecoderRing@slate.com If you love the show and want to support us, consider joining [Slate Plus] (http://slate.com/decoderplus) . With Slate Plus you get ad-free podcasts, bonus episodes, and total access to all of Slate’s journalism. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit [megaphone.fm/adchoices] (https://megaphone.fm/adchoices) ... Read more

19 Apr 2022

42 MINS

42:12

19 Apr 2022


#48

Spring 2022 Teaser

Decoder Ring is coming back with a new season featuring a whole new set of questions…and some good surprising answers. Like, how did razors come to have such a ridiculous amount of blades on them? Did one line from Paul Giammati in the movie Sideways really change Americans’ wine buying habits? And why is our understanding of method acting wrong? You can hear these episodes and more on the new season of Decoder Ring. Launching April 19, 2022. Subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit [megaphone.fm/adchoices] (https://megaphone.fm/adchoices) ... Read more

12 Apr 2022

01 MINS

01:00

12 Apr 2022


#47

Custer's Revenge

Custer's Revenge is widely considered one of the worst video games ever made. Originally released as part of a series of Swedish Erotica-branded adult games for the Atari 2600, Custer's Revenge involves moving a pixelated General Custer across the screen to rape an Indigenous woman tied to a post. It's unfathomably racist, sexist, and un-fun to play. Today on Decoder Ring we tell the story of how Custer's Revenge came to be, the people who protested it, and the even stranger story of how the whole thing became a considered trolling operation. This is the final episode of our current season, but we'll be back in 2022. If you love the show and want to support us, [consider joining Slate Plus.] (https://cms.megaphone.fm/organizations/88b50b64-fb9f-11e7-bd58-1743cd86ef27/podcasts/9a4c2c2a-3e8b-11e8-bd53-9b1115bac0fa/episodes/3457fd80-5031-11eb-80cb-1b385da57ed8/slate.com/decoderplus) With Slate Plus you can get ad free podcasts, bonus episodes, and much more. Note: This episode has been edited to correct a misstatement about Women Against Pornography's aims. The group did not advocate the banning of pornography. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit [megaphone.fm/adchoices] (https://megaphone.fm/adchoices) ... Read more

23 Dec 2021

47 MINS

47:40

23 Dec 2021


#46

The Fame That Got Away

Today on Decoder Ring: Three stories about fame, and one about monkeys. Are primates susceptible to celebrity endorsements? What does fame do to the mind of a famous person? Who were the famous tattooed ladies of the 1880s? And what's it like to be in a rising rock band, only to see everything fall apart over a beer commercial? If you love the show and want to support us, [consider joining Slate Plus.] (https://cms.megaphone.fm/organizations/88b50b64-fb9f-11e7-bd58-1743cd86ef27/podcasts/9a4c2c2a-3e8b-11e8-bd53-9b1115bac0fa/episodes/3457fd80-5031-11eb-80cb-1b385da57ed8/slate.com/decoderplus) With Slate Plus you can get ad free podcasts, bonus episodes, and much more. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit [megaphone.fm/adchoices] (https://megaphone.fm/adchoices) ... Read more

14 Dec 2021

44 MINS

44:13

14 Dec 2021


#45

Truly Tasteless Jokes

Note: This episode is about offensive material, and so contains explicit and offensive language. Truly Tasteless Jokes were a series of joke books that dominated the bestsellers list during the 1980s. An equal opportunity joke book: Truly Tasteless Jokes were collections of jokes ranging from Helen Keller, to dead babies, to sexist and racist jokes that from the vantage of 2021, seem entirely abject. For readers in the 1980’s though, these books were ubiquitous. On this episode we dig into the history of these books and their author Ashton Applewhite. It’s a story that involves the tangled history of 1960’s free speech politics, conservative backlash, and the strange moment in the 1980’s when left and right wing speech politics converged to help make these books mainstream.  If you love the show and want to support us, [consider joining Slate Plus.] (https://cms.megaphone.fm/organizations/88b50b64-fb9f-11e7-bd58-1743cd86ef27/podcasts/9a4c2c2a-3e8b-11e8-bd53-9b1115bac0fa/episodes/3457fd80-5031-11eb-80cb-1b385da57ed8/slate.com/decoderplus) With Slate Plus you can get ad free podcasts, bonus episodes, and much more. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit [megaphone.fm/adchoices] (https://megaphone.fm/adchoices) ... Read more

07 Dec 2021

50 MINS

50:28

07 Dec 2021


#44

The Philosophy of Vampires

In literature, the choice to become a vampire is a metaphor for transformative experiences. On this episode, we bring you a story from Slate's Hi-Phi Nation podcast, which explores problems in contemporary philosophy through story. From real-life blood suckers, to Lord Byron, to Twilight, vampires are a tool for philosophers to think about otherness, sexuality, and the transformative experiences we all go through in life. To listen to more Hi-Phi Nation, [subscribe] (https://slate.com/podcasts/hi-phi-nation) wherever you get your podcasts. If you love the show and want to support us, [consider joining Slate Plus.] (https://cms.megaphone.fm/organizations/88b50b64-fb9f-11e7-bd58-1743cd86ef27/podcasts/9a4c2c2a-3e8b-11e8-bd53-9b1115bac0fa/episodes/3457fd80-5031-11eb-80cb-1b385da57ed8/slate.com/decoderplus) With Slate Plus you can get ad free podcasts, bonus episodes, and much more. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit [megaphone.fm/adchoices] (https://megaphone.fm/adchoices) ... Read more

30 Nov 2021

37 MINS

37:05

30 Nov 2021


#43

You Just Lost The Game

When you think about the game, you lose the game. When you lose the game you must declare that you have lost the game, causing all others in your vicinity to also lose the game. That’s it, that’s the game.  The game is mind game that trades on a quirk of human psychology, and is so intensely viral that it went from a college science fiction club in-joke to an endemic mind virus in only a few decades. If you’re a bit older and already know about the game, you likely learned about it in the aughts, but the game continues to spread through social media, most recently on TikTok, where the game became a meme over lockdown. On this episode, we examine the game to figure out how it works, where it came from, and the curious psychology that powers its viral nature.  Note: A version of this episode was originally released as a secret bonus to our 2018 episode “The Incunabula Papers”, but this is its official public release. The episode has been updated with new voice over, sound design, and minor story changes to bring it up to date in 2021. If you love the show and want to support us, [consider joining Slate Plus.] (https://cms.megaphone.fm/organizations/88b50b64-fb9f-11e7-bd58-1743cd86ef27/podcasts/9a4c2c2a-3e8b-11e8-bd53-9b1115bac0fa/episodes/3457fd80-5031-11eb-80cb-1b385da57ed8/slate.com/decoderplus) With Slate Plus you can get ad free podcasts, bonus episodes, and much more. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit [megaphone.fm/adchoices] (https://megaphone.fm/adchoices) ... Read more

23 Nov 2021

26 MINS

26:40

23 Nov 2021


#42

The Alberta Rat War

Rats live wherever people live, with one exception: the Canadian province of Alberta. A rat sighting in Alberta is a major local event that mobilizes the local government to identify and eliminate any hint of infestation. Rat sightings makes the local news. Alberta prides itself on being the sole rat-free territory in the world, but in order to achieve this feat, it had to go to war with the rat. On this episode of Decoder Ring we recount the story of how Alberta won this war, through accidents of history and geography, advances in poison technology, interventionist government policy, mass education programs, rat patrols, killing zones and more. The explanation tells us a lot about rats and a lot about humans, two species that are more alike than we like to think.   If you love the show and want to support us, [consider joining Slate Plus.] (https://cms.megaphone.fm/organizations/88b50b64-fb9f-11e7-bd58-1743cd86ef27/podcasts/9a4c2c2a-3e8b-11e8-bd53-9b1115bac0fa/episodes/3457fd80-5031-11eb-80cb-1b385da57ed8/slate.com/decoderplus) With Slate Plus you can get ad free podcasts, bonus episodes, and much more. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit [megaphone.fm/adchoices] (https://megaphone.fm/adchoices) ... Read more

16 Nov 2021

42 MINS

42:04

16 Nov 2021


#41

The Great Helga Hype

In the summer of 1986, both Time Magazine and Newsweek ran blockbuster cover stories on the same subject: a secret cache of provocative, intimate paintings by Andrew Wyeth, one of America's most famous artists. These paintings were completed over fifteen years and all featured the same, often-nude model named Helga, and had been hidden from his wife and the public for 15 years. The implication was obvious: Wyeth had been having an affair with this woman. But just as the story was breaking in Time and Newsweek, it began to unravel, and something even stranger and more complex emerged. On this episode we examine the story of these secret paintings, the backlash to that story, and question if, maybe, that backlash was itself overdrawn. This is the first episode of our winter season. If you love the show and want to support us, [consider joining Slate Plus.] (https://cms.megaphone.fm/organizations/88b50b64-fb9f-11e7-bd58-1743cd86ef27/podcasts/9a4c2c2a-3e8b-11e8-bd53-9b1115bac0fa/episodes/3457fd80-5031-11eb-80cb-1b385da57ed8/slate.com/decoderplus) With Slate Plus you can get ad free podcasts, bonus episodes, and much more. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit [megaphone.fm/adchoices] (https://megaphone.fm/adchoices) ... Read more

09 Nov 2021

56 MINS

56:02

09 Nov 2021