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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...
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...
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,...
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...
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.How did the humble rubber duck become an icon of bath time? On this episode of Decoder Ring we talk to rubber duck experts, enthusiasts, and...
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...
When Peter Mac was young, he found solace from his troubles in the voice of Judy Garland. He's now been a Judy Garland impersonator for 17 years. On this episode of Decoder Ring we explore the special valence that Judy Garland has for queer people, the history of female impersonation on...
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...
Nick Spark fell down a rabbit hole tracking down the origins of Murphy’s Law, the ubiquitous phrase that says “If it can go wrong, it will go wrong”. On this episode of Decoder Ring, we follow Nick on his journey while taking a few detours of our own to find out how Murphy’s Law was...
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...
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...
Why is the ice cream truck business so bananas? On this episode of Decoder Ring we find out via three seperate stories about the strange world of ice cream trucks—about the first ever ice cream trucks in China, the ongoing ice cream wars of Manhattan, and the life of an ice cream family in...
Over the last half century the decorative pillow has been crowding out our sitting and sleeping spaces, multiplying across our beds and couches decade by decade. For some, decorative pillows are a fun design accent, for others a symbol of useless overconsumption. Today on Decoder Ring we explore...
The King was an  animatronic lounge singer who performed in Chuck E. Cheese locations in the 1980's and early 90's, but then he disappeared. The King was a victim of a conflict known as the pizza wars, when Chuck E. Cheese faced off against its rival, Showbiz Pizza for pizza arcade supremacy. The...
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...
Truck Nutz are a brand name for the dangling plastic testicles some people affix to the bumper or hitch of their vehicle. Also known as Bull’s Balls, Your Nutz, and other brand names, these plastic novelties have a powerful symbolic charge and are often associated with a crass, macho, red state...
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...
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,...
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...
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...
Hotel Art used to be one of the ultimate symbols of bad taste, it was often ugly, kitschy, and strange. Today, the art you find in a hotel is far less likely to be the result of one individual's poor taste, and much more likely to have passed through an entire industry designed to help place art...
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,...
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...
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:...
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...
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...
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