60 episodes

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 Slate Podcasts

    • Society & Culture
    • 4.4 • 23 Ratings

Listen on Apple Podcasts
Requires subscription and macOS 11.4 or higher

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.

Listen on Apple Podcasts
Requires subscription and macOS 11.4 or higher

    The “Sex” Scandal That Made Mae West

    The “Sex” Scandal That Made Mae West

    In the early 1930s, Mae West’s dirty talk and hip swiveling walk made her one of the biggest movie stars in America. But before West hit the big-screen, she was prosecuted for staging not one, but two scandalous plays. In this episode, we look at how West honed her persona when she was under the bright lights of Broadway and the flashbulbs of the tabloids — and briefly behind bars. More than a century later, her career arc offers a blueprint on how to survive a scandal…and maybe even come out ahead.
    This episode relied heavily on a lot of archival material and innumerable books: When I’m Bad, I’m Better: Mae West, Sex and American Entertainment by Marybeth Hamilton; When Brooklyn was Queer by Hugh Ryan; Lillian Schlissel’s introduction to Three Plays by Mae West,  Mae West: a biography by George Eells and Stanley Musgrove; Mae West: An Icon in Black and White by Jill Watts;  Becoming May West by Emily Wortis Leider; Gay New York by George Chauncey;  Mae West, She Who Laughs Last, by June Sochen: Goodness Has Nothing to Do with It by Mae West; and Linda Ann Losciavo’s play “Courting Mae West” and her blog, which you can find at Maewest.blogspot.com. 
    This episode of Decoder Ring was written by Willa Paskin. It was produced by Willa Paskin and Katie Shepherd. Derek John is Sr. Supervising Producer of Narrative Podcasts. Merritt Jacob is our Technical Director. Thank you to Benjamin Frisch for this topic. 
    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. 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

    • 46 min
    The First Alien Abductees

    The First Alien Abductees

    When you think of an alien abduction, what do you picture? Humanoid creatures, medical experiments, lost memories retrieved through hypnosis? That narrative was largely unknown until Betty and Barney Hill went public about their own alien abduction in the 1960s. Betty Hill’s niece, Kathleen Marden, recounts how the story went viral and her aunt and uncle became unwitting celebrities. Then professors Susan Lepselter, Chris Bader, Joseph O. Baker and Stephanie Kelley-Romano explain how the Hills’ alien abduction changed science fiction forever.
    Thanks to Eric Molinsky for bringing us this story that originally aired on his terrific podcast Imaginary Worlds. Eric’s got a lot more stories like this one so subscribe wherever you listen. 
    Decoder Ring is written by Willa Paskin and produced by Willa Paskin and Katie Shepherd. 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
    If you love the show and want to support us, consider joining Slate Plus. 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

    • 41 min
    The Most Famous Poet No One Remembers

    The Most Famous Poet No One Remembers

    Rod McKuen sold multiple millions of poetry books in the 60s and 70s. He released dozens of albums, was a regular on late night, and was even nominated for an Oscar. So, how did the most salable poet in American history simply disappear? On today’s episode, Slate writer Dan Kois went searching for Rod McKuen, a famous poet who isn’t so famous anymore. We’ll hear from Stephanie Burt, Mike Chasar and Barry Alfonso, author of Rod’s biography A Voice of the Warm. Along the way, Dan meets Andy Zax, a guy who, like him, was bewildered by this forgotten star—until he became an accidental fan, and then somehow the only person keeping Rod McKuen’s flame alive.
    This episode of Decoder Ring was written by Dan Kois and edited by Willa Paskin. It was produced by Willa Paskin and Katie Shepherd. 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. If you love the show and want to support us, consider joining Slate Plus. 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

    • 48 min
    The Mall is Dead (Long Live the Mall)

    The Mall is Dead (Long Live the Mall)

    What do we lose if we lose the mall? 70 years into their existence, these hulking temples to commerce are surprisingly resilient and filled with contradictions. In this episode, Alexandra Lange, the author of the new book Meet Me at the Fountain: an Inside History of the Mall walks us through the atriums, escalators, and food courts of this singular suburban space. We also hear from mall-goers whose personal experiences help us make sense of this disdained yet beloved, disappearing yet surviving place.
    This episode of Decoder Ring was written by Willa Paskin and produced by Willa Paskin and Katie Shepherd. 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
    If you love the show and want to support us, consider joining Slate Plus. 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

    • 45 min
    Summer 2022 Teaser

    Summer 2022 Teaser

    Decoder Ring is coming back with a new season featuring a whole new set of questions.... Like, is the shopping mall really dying? How did a poet who sold millions of books and records 50 years ago, come to be completely forgotten? And what does a century old Broadway scandal involving Mae West have to tell us about the creation of celebrity?
    You can hear these episodes and more on the new season of Decoder Ring. Launching July 26, 2022. Subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts.
    Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

    • 1 min
    Plus: How Decoder Ring Made This Season

    Plus: How Decoder Ring Made This Season

    In this exclusive episode for members, host Willa Paskin discusses how she came up with the topics covered in this most recent Decoder Ring season. Then we’ll also hear more from her conversation on storytelling with Damon Lindelof, writer, producer, and creator of shows like Lost, The Leftovers, and Watchmen.

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5
23 Ratings

23 Ratings

Lucy 11727 ,

Amazing

Such an interesting podcast, well researched, produced and presented. This is my go-to podcast and always recommend it to everyone!

dearcolleen ,

Learned so much I didn’t know I needed to know

This is such a fascinating podcast. Each episode is brilliantly researched and warmly narrated. I’ve recommended it to everyone. My boss was so moved by the paper dolls episode that the gallery I work at is now planning an exhibition around it for next years pride season.

Wylizzle ,

Wow

I love this show like no other.

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