69 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
    • 5.0 • 2 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 New Age Hit Machine

    The New Age Hit Machine

    For this episode, a story from Slate senior producer Evan Chung about how Yanni, John Tesh and a number of other surprising acts made it big in the 1990s. It’s a throwback to a simpler time—when musicians struggled to find their big break, but discovered it could be possible with a telephone, a television, and our undivided attention.
    This story originally aired in 2019 on Studio 360 from PRX.
    We hear from George Veras, Pat Callahan, and John Tesh. 
    This Episode was written and produced by Slate’s Evan Chung. Decoder Ring is produced by Willa Paskin and Katie Shepherd. Derek John is Slate’s Executive Producer of narrative podcasts. Merritt Jacob is Senior Technical Director.
    If you haven’t please yet, subscribe and rate our feed in Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. And even better, tell your friends.
    If you’re a fan of the show and want to support us, consider signing up for Slate Plus.
    Slate Plus members get to listen to Decoder Ring without any ads. Their support is also crucial to our work. So please go to Slate.com/decoderplus to join Slate Plus today.
    Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

    • 29 min
    The Butt and the Bustle

    The Butt and the Bustle

    For about two decades towards the end of the Victorian era, in the 1870s and 1880s, a large bustle-enhanced bottom was the height of fashion. In this episode we explore how it’s connected to today’s big booty craze. We look at the bustle’s history with a curator fascinated by old undergarments; consider the various theories about its popularity with the author Heather Radke; and then hone in the tragic story of Sarah Baartman. The bustle may be old-fashioned, but it still has a lot to tell us about race, sex, power and how much people know, or let themselves know, about what they put on everyday.
    We hear from Heather Radke, author of Butts: A Backstory, as well as Kristina Haughland, Janell Hobson, Pamela Scully, and Maria Garcia. 
    Special thanks to Wesley Stevens and Daisy Rosario.
    This podcast was written by Willa Paskin, who produces Decoder Ring with Katie Shepherd. This episode was edited by Andrea Bruce. Derek John is Slate’s Executive Producer of Narrative Podcasts. Merritt Jacob is Senior Technical Director.
    If you haven’t please yet, subscribe and rate our feed in Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. And even better, tell your friends.
    If you’re a fan of the show, I’d love for you to sign up for Slate Plus.  
    Slate Plus members get to listen to Decoder Ring without any ads. Their support is also crucial to our work. So please go to Slate.com/decoderplus to join Slate Plus today.
    Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

    • 46 min
    The Truth About #TheDress

    The Truth About #TheDress

    In the history of viral images, #TheDress has got to be in the top 10. This unassuming photo of a party dress kicked off a global debate when people realized they were seeing it completely differently. Is it black and blue, or white and gold? In today’s episode, we’ll talk to someone who was there when the photo was first taken, and the BuzzFeed writer whose post briefly broke the internet. Then we go down the optical rabbit hole with a neuroscientist who’s been studying the The Dress for years. What does it reveal about the nature of truth?
    This podcast was written by Willa Paskin, who produces Decoder Ring with Katie Shepherd. This episode was edited by Andrew Adam Newman. Derek John is Slate’s senior supervising producer of narrative podcasts. Merritt Jacob is senior technical director.
    We’ll hear from Paul Jinks, Cates Holderness, Pascal Wallisch, and David McRaney author of the book How Minds Change. Here’s the optical illusion of the strawberries mentioned in the episode and created by Professor Akiyoshi Kitaoka.

    If you haven’t please yet, subscribe and rate our feed in Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. And even better, tell your friends.

    If you’re a fan of the show, I’d love for you to sign up for Slate Plus. 
     
    Slate Plus members get to listen to Decoder Ring — and every other Slate podcast — ad-free. Their support is also crucial to our work. So please go to Slate.com/decoderplus to join Slate Plus today.

    Check out Remote Works here.
    Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

    • 38 min
    Fall 2022 Teaser

    Fall 2022 Teaser

    Decoder Ring is back with a new season of juicy topics, like.... Remember the viral phenomenon and optical mind-blower known as “The Dress”? What does another peculiar piece of clothing from the past—the bustle—tell us about fashion trends today? And, what can we learn from the rise and fall of one of the most notorious personal injury law firms in America?
    You can hear these episodes and more on the new season of Decoder Ring. Launching Nov. 15, 2022. Subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts.
    Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

    • 1 min
    McGruff Takes a Bite Out of Crime Pt. 2

    McGruff Takes a Bite Out of Crime Pt. 2

    McGruff the Crime Dog arrived on the scene at the dawn of the 1980s, just as a firehose of anti-drug PSAs was inundating the youth of America. These messages didn’t always work as intended—but they did work their way into the long term memories of the kids who heard them. 
    In the second episode of our two-part series on the weird world of PSAs and very special episodes, we look at how the McGruff Smart Kids Album influenced everything from straight-edge hardcore to a couple’s wedding playlist. We’ll hear from Sarah Hubbard, Dan Danger, Joseph Cappella, David Farber, Mike Hawes, Robin Nelson, Daisy Rosario, and Tatiana Peralta.
    This podcast was written by Willa Paskin, who produces Decoder Ring with Katie Shepherd. This episode was edited by Jamie York. Derek John is Slate’s Sr. Supervising Producer of Narrative Podcasts. Merritt Jacob is Sr. Technical Director.
    Thank you to Tatiana Peralta, Ari Merkin, Wendy Melillo, Dan McQuade, Dale Mantley, Larissa Zargeris, Dave Bledsoe, Larre Johnson, Duane Poole, Eric Greenberg, Charles and Karen Rosen, and Jennifer Holland, Orla Mejia,  Andres Martinez and everyone else at the Rutgers library who helped me listen to some old cassette tapes. 
    A few things that were helpful in working on this piece: How McGruff and the Crying Indian Changed America: A History of Iconic Ad Council Campaigns by Wendy Melillo, Taking a Bite out of Crime: the Impact of the National Citizens Crime Prevention Media Campaign by Garrett J O’keefe and others, and “This McGruff Drug Album Might As Well Be By Weird Al,” by Dan McQuade for Defector Media. You can hear Daniel Danger’s McGruff cover album in it’s entirety or you can purchase it here. And lastly, if you are interested in hearing the full McGruff educational program or any of Puppet Productions productions they are available for purchase at puppetsinc.com, part of a company that Rob Nelson still runs.
    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.
    Check out Remote Works here. 
    Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

    • 47 min
    McGruff Takes a Bite Out of Crime Pt. 1

    McGruff Takes a Bite Out of Crime Pt. 1

    McGruff the Crime Dog arrived on the scene at the dawn of the 1980s, just as a firehose of anti-drug PSAs was inundating the youth of America. These messages didn’t always work as intended—but they did work their way into the long term memories of the kids who heard them. 
    In the first of two episodes, we take a look at PSAs and their strange afterlife through the lens of a trench-coat wearing bloodhound and his bizarre, yet catchy anti-drug songs. We’ll talk to Dan Danger, Sherry Nemmers, Joseph Cappella, David Farber, Mike Hawes and Robin Nelson to discover how the McGruff Smart Kids Album came to exist in the first place.
    This podcast was written by Willa Paskin. Decoder Ring is produced by Willa Paskin and Katie Shepherd. We had production help from Sam Kim. 
    Editing by Jamie York and Derek John, Slate’s Sr. Supervising Producer of Narrative Podcasts. Merritt Jacob is Sr. Technical Director.
    Thank you to Wendy Melillo, Dan McQuade, Dale Mantley, Larissa Zargeris, Daisy Rosario, Drew Bledsoe, Larre Johnson, Duane Poole, Ari Merkin, Charles and Karen Rosen and Eric Greenberg. 
    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.
    Check out Remote Works here
    Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices

    • 37 min

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