Who decided mullets were cool? Did an indie movie tank merlot sales? Have we always had Karens? ‘Decoder Ring’ cracks cultural mysteries

Society & Culture June 10, 2022
Decoder Ring
Listen to ‘Decoder Ring’

For years, “Decoder Ring” has been lifting the curtain to see what’s behind the latest trends, most influential fads, and strangest cultural phenomena. Host Willa Paskin examines the history, meaning, and impact of the biggest cultural questions, objects, and habits. From method acting to the Alberta Rat War, the songs that have been usurped to become the calling card for political movements to the mystery of the mullet, no cultural phenomenon is safe from the scrutiny of “Decoder Ring.”

This Slate podcast has been interpreting a multitude of American Zeitgeists since 2018. In these 40-minute episodes, Willa Paskin speaks with people across all industries, professions, and ages to determine the significance of the strangest and most memorable moments throughout recent decades. Pick any of their over 50 episodes to start your “Decoder Ring” listening binge, and you’ll find yourself burning through every episode in no time at all.

This isn’t an easy podcast to describe, which is the highest compliment we can bestow. “Decoder Ring” is essentially interpreting the cultural movements and moments of the not-so-distant past and following the trail of breadcrumbs from point A to point B.

Hear how a 1970s pop-cultural craze with truckers ended up creating a song that topped the charts both in that decade and this one. C.W. McCall’s 1975 song Convoy was a smash hit at its release and then became the anthem for the trucker-led protest movement in Canada and the United States in 2022. Turns out, the whole story is so much more than you could ever imagine.

There’s episodes like “The Sideways Effect,” a small indie that not only earned five Oscar nominations and $110 million worldwide, but effected the entire wine industry. Willa speaks with wine buyers and vineyard owners, cellar owners and professors of economics, even the author of Sideways, Rex Pickett, and the director/screenwriter/producer of said film Alexander Payne. Did an indie movie actually tarnish merlot for decades? Did it actually make pinot noir one of the most popular grapes in the world?

Hear everything from an analyses of the history of method acting after Jared Leto’s performance of the Joker to the history of the provocative Great Helga Hype. Learn how water and hydration itself became a luxury commodity to the long-awaited rise of blue foods (yes, literally foods that are simply the color blue). Learn how the term “metrosexual” became a part of our vocabulary, why “Karens” aren’t a new thing, and why the term “Friend of Dorothy” holds even more meaning within Judy Garland’s legacy.

Hear what the craze of decorative pillows says about society, how Bart Simpson became the target of a culture war, and how Jennifer Aniston’s heartbreak created turbocharged tabloids. Everything from the Johnlock Conspiracy, which is the debate that there is a gay romance between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson that stemmed from a fan theory about the BBC show Sherlock, to the death of the Segway scooter is covered in “Decoder Ring.”

We are truly living in the strangest of timelines, but Willa and the “Decoder Ring” team are interpreting everything that’s happening around us. Every single topic is more interesting than the last, and every episode seems to find the most unexpectedly profound conclusions. On top of the fascinating content of the show, Willa serves up a master class in podcasting every time.

While we may be in the midst of the storytelling craze (discussed in a recent episode), there’s no denying that “Decoder Ring” is the cream of the crop.

Listen to ‘Decoder Ring’

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