Decoder Ring

Decoder Ring: Sad Jennifer Aniston

Deconstructing the tabloid saga of Jennifer Aniston.

A pointillistic image of Jennifer Aniston.
Benjamin Frisch

Decoder Ring is a podcast about cracking cultural mysteries. Every month host Willa Paskin, takes on a cultural question, object, idea, or habit and speaks with experts, historians, and obsessives to try to figure out where it comes from, what it means, and why it matters.

Jennifer Aniston’s story had it all: heartbreak, secrecy, sex, and 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 bigger one because it was turbocharged by these tabloids. After her divorce, these tabloids invented the character known as Sad Jen, a chronically depressed version of Aniston who was obsessed with having a baby. She’s persisted ever since.


Recently, the tabloid InTouch ran an issue with the headline “Brad Stuns Jen! Marry Me Again!”  What is going on? How is it still going on? Why is it still going on? To find out we spoke to former tabloid reporters, editors, and fans, to figure out why the tabloids are still so obsessed with the archetype of Sad Jen, and the baby she may or may not be having.

This is the last episode of Decoder Ring for 2018, but we’ll be back next year with all new shows.

Links and further reading on some of the things we discussed on the show:

• A gallery of Jennifer Aniston–centered Us Weekly covers

• Jennifer Aniston on The Ellen DeGeneres Show talking about the tabloids

• Mara Reinstein’s book Brad & Jen: The Rise and Fall of Hollywood’s Golden Couple

• Jo Piazza’s book Celebrity, Inc.: How Famous People Make Money

• Michael Lewittes celebrity fact-checking website Gossip Cop

• Leslie Bennetts’ 2005 Vanity Fair profile of Jennifer Aniston

• Us Weekly’s Dec. 10 cover and video about Jennifer Aniston

Twitter: @willapaskin

This episode was written and reported by Willa Paskin and edited and produced by Benjamin Frisch.