PODCAST

Decoder Ring

Slate Podcasts

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.

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Spring 2022 Teaser
12-04-2022
1 min
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. 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, historian and author of The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America; Michael Simon, director and producer; Francesca Polletta, sociologist at University of California, Irvine; Steve Clayton, Chief Storyteller at Microsoft; Seth Godin, entrepreneur and author of All Marketers Tell Stories; Everett Cook, 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. 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. Thanks Avast.com! Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
17-05-2022
41 mins
“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, advertising executive; Chip Davis, singer and songwriter; and Meg Jacobs, historian and author of Panic at the Pump. 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. 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
10-05-2022
35 mins
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, crime novelist; Tim Farrell, wine buyer for Brooklyn Wine Exchange; Rex Pickett, novelist and author of ‘Sideways,’ Alexander Payne, director, screenwriter, and producer; Jeff Bundschu, owner of Gundlach Bundschu; Steve Cuellar, professor of economics at Sonoma State University; and Kathy Joseph, owner of Fiddlehead Cellars. We also mention Travis Lybbert’s paper corroborating the “Sideways Effect,” which you can find here. 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. 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
03-05-2022
39 mins
The Madness Behind ‘The Method’“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, author of Plucked: A History of Hair Removal; Tim Dowling, Guardian columnist and author of Inventor of the Disposable Culture: King Camp Gillette 1855-1932; Dan Koeppel, razor blade zelig; and Kaitlyn Tiffany, writer for the Atlantic.  If you want to read more about razor blades, check out: Cutting edge : Gillette's journey to global leadership King C. Gillette, the man and his wonderful shaving device Satisfaction Guaranteed: The Making of the American Mass Market 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. With Slate Plus you get ad-free podcasts, bonus episodes, and total access to all of Slate’s journalism. Check out Home. Made. here Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
19-04-2022
42 mins
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