Decoder Ring

Selling Out

How we all became sellouts.

Episode Notes

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.

On this episode: Whatever happened to selling out? The defining concern of Generation X has become a relic from another era. How that happened is best illustrated by one of the idea’s last gasps, when in 2001, Oprah Winfrey invited author Jonathan Franzen to come on her show to discuss his new novel The Corrections. A month later, she withdrew the invitation, kicking off a media firestorm.

The Oprah-Franzen Book Club Dust-Up of 2001 was a moment when two ways of thinking about selling out smashed into each other, and one of them—the one that was on its way out already—crashed and burned in public, seldom to be seen again.

Some of the voices you’ll hear in this episode include screenwriter Helen Childress; writer and musician Franz Nicolay; co-host of the New York Times’ Still Processing podcast Wesley Morris, Oprah producer Alice McGee; Boris Kachka, author of Hothouse: The Art of Survival and the Survival of Art at America’s Most Celebrated Publishing House, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux; Bethany Klein, author of Selling Out: Culture, Commerce and Popular Music; and Laura Miller, Slate’s book critic.

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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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