Decoder Ring is a podcast about cracking cultural mysteries. Every episode, host Willa Paskin takes on a cultural question, object, idea, or habit and speaks with experts, historians, and obsessives to try and figure out where it comes from, what it means, and why it matters.
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 inspired the movie and displaced independent booksellers on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. This conflict illustrates how, for a brief time, Barnes & Noble was a symbol of predatory capitalism, only to be usurped by the uniting force at the heart of the film: the internet.