• Alyson Heisler

Listening in: 'Decoder Ring'

As an extreme observer of the world, I often find myself wondering why things are the way they are or how some unusually common occurrences came to be. Some of these include — how did useless decorative pillows become so popular? why was that strange product created? and many other questions every day.

The answers to these questions often require deep obscure research. One solution to this predicament that I’ve found is listening to a podcast to find the answers. Trust me, there’s a podcast about any topic you can imagine if you look hard enough.

The most recent podcast I’ve added to my listening rotation is “Decoder Ring” — a documentary podcast that focuses on cracking cultural mysteries similar to the questions asked above. The purpose of “Decoder Ring” is to unpack cultural questions, habits, and ideas to figure out what they mean and why they matter. Topics discussed on the podcast include the infamous viral-rise of “Baby Shark,” where the negative connotation of clowns came from, and how TruckNutz came to be invented.

The podcast is hosted by Willa Paskin, the television critic for Slate magazine. Paskin has also written for Vulture.com. Her experience in critiquing television creates a conversational, entertaining tone, as Paskin educates the listener on very particular topics.

Paskin interviews experts and individuals who have experience with the subject of the episode. The content of each episode is well-researched and organized to be weaved smoothly together for a high-quality listening experience. Paskin has an inquisitive and imaginative tone that adds to the exploratory nature of the podcast.

Though the episodes are intensely researched, “Decoder Ring” does not have a scripted feeling; conversely, it feels as if you are a part of the conversation between the host and topic expert.

My favorite episodes thus far have been about the terrible thing that is hotel artwork and a well-informed conversation about decorative throw pillows. The ability to learn about such mundane, often unnoticed topics is refreshing, and I only wish that people were more willing to talk about those mundane observations more outwardly. Next time you think about something commonplace for a bit too long or simply want to know why something became a traditional practice, feel free to ask someone about it or see if there’s a podcast about it.

New episodes of “Decoder Ring” are released monthly and are available to stream and download on Apple podcasts, Spotify, and wherever podcasts are available.

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