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Pop Culture Happy Hour: 'Fruitvale Station' And Yelling At Clouds


It's our 150th episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour — in case you want to visit the "Sesquicentennials" section of your local greeting-card store — and we've celebrated by scattering to the four winds. Host Linda Holmes is still in Los Angeles at the Television Critics Association press tour, while Trey Graham missed this week's taping for daring to visit out-of-town family. (Seriously, Trey is history's greatest monster.) Meanwhile, I'd just returned from a long weekend in Newport, R.I., for the Newport Folk Festival — just in time to take a nap, watch an online screener of Fruitvale Station and head into work to guest-host a podcast.

So we've got a heavily reconstituted panel for this week, as our NPR Code Switch pals Kat Chow and Gene Demby sit in alongside Glen Weldon. Together, we start out by discussing the aforementioned Fruitvale Station, writer-director Ryan Coogler's dramatization of the events leading up to a 2009 incident in Oakland, Calif., in which an unarmed, handcuffed black man was shot in the back by a BART police officer. We talk about narrative decisions in the film — what it leaves in, what it leaves out, how it portrays its subjects, how it utilizes a tremendous performance by Michael B. Jordan and, of course, how it fits into the cultural narrative in the wake of the George Zimmerman trial that ended around the time of Fruitvale Station's release.

Then it's on to a far less serious subject we've discussed in the fairly distant past: technologies we've failed to embrace and why. Rather than devote the entire segment to teasing me for still owning a VCR, we opt to devote roughly a quarter of the segment to teasing me for still owning a VCR, while spending the rest of our time engaging in a discussion of social media. That means Twitter and Facebook, of course, but also the likes of Vine, Tumblr, Snapchat (and its possible uses beyond selfie porn), Instagram and more.

And, as always, we close with What's Making Us Happy. Kat revels in her recent discovery of a weirdly hypnotic YouTube sensation. Gene lets a name hit the floor en route to a Kanye-themed revelation. Glen praises a comedian with a new stand-up special on Comedy Central. And I briefly acknowledge the sesquicentennial nature of the proceedings before singing the praises of a colleague's poignant Twitter feed and the simultaneously loud and bucolic wonders of a certain Rhode Island-based folk-music festival. I reserve special praise for this singer — and this band, too.

Find us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter: me, Glen, Kat, Gene, producer Nick Fountain, absent Linda, absent Trey, and our esteemed producer emeritus and music director, Mike Katzif.

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Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)

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