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.
In 1982, the Jane Fonda Workout became the best-selling home video of all time. Over decades, it and its 22 follow ups would spawn a fitness empire, sell more than 17 million copies, and transform Fonda into a leg-warmer-clad exercise guru. And 40 years after its initial release, the workout is having a moment. People are doing it alone and on Zoom, tweeting about it, writing about it. So when Jane Fonda agreed to talk to us, we set out to do an episode about it, but it did not go as planned.
On Part 1 of a special two-part Decoder Ring, we explore the decadeslong relationship of Jane Fonda and Leni Cazden, a fraught friendship that birthed the VHS workout that changed the world. It’s a story of creation, fame, forgiveness, trauma, betrayal, survival, politics, and exercise. You’ll hear from Jane Fonda and Leni Cazden, the brain behind the workout, and Shelly McKenzie, author of Getting Physical: The Rise of Fitness Culture in America.
In two weeks we’ll return with Part 2: the nitty gritty story of the bestselling VHS tape of all time.
This episode was produced by Willa Paskin and Benjamin Frisch.