I’ve gotten really into podcasts lately. My job, in addition to having a commute that ranges from a half-hour to a full hour, is solitary and repetitive at times, and it’s nice to have background noise that also entertains me or makes me feel like I’m learning something. Almost all of my Five Things Friday posts recently have included a podcast, and a lot of times I’ve felt like they deserved their own post, so here I am with a new feature: Podcast of the Week!
My first PotW is a Slate podcast called Decoder Ring.
Decoder Ring releases one podcast per month that explores the origins of a cultural phenomenon. Where did the television laugh track originate, and why is it so unpopular today? Why are people so invested in fictional romance? And when did the concept of clowns switch from funny to terrifying?
Willa Paskin is a TV critic for Slate, and she has a sharp, funny, and curious approach to pop culture. Listening to this podcast feels like being a part of a very informed dinner party, because she asks questions that we’ve all had and have probably attempted to answer at one time or another. She approaches topics that could easily be scoffed at with scholarly gravity but never with condescension, and I always leave feeling like I’ve gained a new arsenal of fun facts.
Paskin always manages to find interesting and knowledgeable people to interview about the topics. The interviews add a depth to the podcast while providing a sort of human interest factor — she frequently talks to people who might fall on the odd side of the normality spectrum, who specialize in the strange and unusual. It’s fun getting to know them while they share their knowledge about various pop culture items, and it’s frequently surprisingly emotional — the Paper Doll episode in particular tugged at my heartstrings.
My love of podcasts started with supernatural stories and true crime, but sometimes it’s nice to listen to something a little lighter, and Decoder Ring is a great snack with nutritional ingredients.
Listen if you like: NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour, Etsy, the word “zeitgeist”
Recommended Episode: Episode 1: The Laff Box
From the podcast description: What happened to the laugh track? For nearly five decades, the laugh track was ubiquitous, but beginning in the early 2000s, it fell out of sitcom fashion. What happened? How did we get from The Beverly Hillbillies to 30 Rock? In this episode, we meet the man who created the laugh track, which originated as a homemade piece of technology, and trace that technology’s fall and the rise of a more modern idea about humor. With the help of historians, laugh track obsessives, the showrunners of One Day at a Time, and the director of Sports Night, this episode asks if the laugh track was about something bigger than laughter.