Decoder Ring

Jane Fonda’s Workout, Part 2: Hanoi Jane’s VHS Revolution

How Jane Fonda created an industry.


Episode Notes

Side by side of Jane Fonda's workout VCR and Jane Fonda speaking as an activist
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Arnold Sachs/AFP via Getty Images.

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 part two of our special two-part episode, we return to the 1982 VHS tape that created the at-home video industry: Jane Fonda’s Workout. On this episode, we deconstruct the tape itself, how it was made, and why anyone thought it was a good idea in the first place. Then we’ll explore how it was possible for an extremely polarizing political activist, despised by some for her activism during the Vietnam War, to become America’s premier exercise guru. It’s a story that involves one enterprising home video visionary, dozens of ridiculous celebrity workout tapes, Tricky Dick Nixon, and one very full life.

Some of the voices you’ll hear on this episode include Jane Fonda, Court Shannon, former Karl Video employee, and Mary Hershberger, author of Jane Fonda’s War. Some of the texts used to research this two-part episode include Jane Fonda’s autobiography My Life So Far, Rick Perlstein’s NixonlandCarol Burke’s Camp All-American, Hanoi Jane, and the High-and-Tight, Jerry Lembcke’s Hanoi Jane: War, Sex, and Fantasies of Betrayal, and James Michael Rafferty’s doctoral thesis, ”Politicising Stardom: Jane Fonda, IPC Films and Hollywood.


This episode was produced by Willa Paskin and Benjamin Frisch.


About the Show

In each episode, host Willa Paskin takes a cultural question, object, or habit; examines its history; and tries to figure out what it means and why it matters.

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