NPR: Pop Culture Happy Hour Podcast: Pop Culture Happy Hour: 'Empire' And The Importance Of Different Voices
February 6, 2015 11:55 AM - Subscribe

This week, our friends Tanya Ballard Brown and Gene Demby join us to talk about Fox's hit show Empire and to follow up on a recent public discussion of the need for diverse radio voices.

NPR blog Monkey See's associated post.

Here's the Storify piece Gene helped oversee/run that's mentioned in the podcast: Tweetup About The "Whiteness of #PubRadioVoice". It's linked in the blog post above, but I wanted to pull it out as it's quite substantial and pretty great.

ANNOUNCEMENT: There's a new Twitter account for the show: @NPRpchh.

Also, the recent podcast feed adjustments (and problems!) are discussed at the top of the podcast.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome (16 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I was looking forward to this discussion of Empire and it did not disappoint - I like that they brought in two bloggers of color who have a great tweet track-record on Empire! Yay. Instant follow.

So relieved I wasn't the only one who found Terrence Howard's lack of range a little disturbing/out-of-place. He's one of the main pivotal characters, really need more from him. Also - the observation that the ancillary female cast are way more interesting than the two (main character) sons is spot-on.

I missed the first few episodes, but the show is cheesy and over-the-top and fun so far. Status handbags are used as intimidation weapons, oh yeeeeeah!
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 1:10 PM on February 6, 2015

I have so much to say about Empire, but this thing with wanting to hear "someone like me" reminds me of women who say they can't read things without female characters, which reminds me of Meryl Streep going on about how she identifies with the lead of any story no matter the sex--
There's just too much topic to go into but it's amazing people forsake that they now have the option of characters and voices whereas not too long ago your only choice was to adapt. I have been able to speak to robots always because it's about being understood, as facilitating human dialect use to never have been a thought nor picking out meaning in most garbled and broken English. Generally if people can't understand me, it's because my word choices are unfamiliar or they can't separate how I look from how I speak or they simply refuse. (I can use a single word to the slack jawed response until everyone around me is yelling the word at the non-responsive person.)

I was working on a multi focus media paper about representation on television and in asking older people, especially minorities, about whether they wanted to be represented, the reaction was always a kind of confusion that said they'd never even considered it was a possibility.
Voices are a strange and personal preference and there isn't a standard predictor of what will work because it's not just pitch and resonance, etc. , and sometimes for whatever reason someone's voice is annoying at one moment and comforting in another. NPR does have a lot of voices I find comforting, in some part from familiarity, so that it reliably gets me to sleep.
But in a performer of any kind, unless they've established a set style they were hired for, I would expect they have some range and flexibility to communicate and be understood, but to have people in different dialects and attitudes intelligently communicating would do wonders to destigmatize so many accents. There's too much topic, but especially communicating in text, you see how easily people project into anything a level of emotion or hostility that isn't there but ooh brevity and syntax that person is so mad so stupid so condescending so judging me--

I'd like to say one thing about this podcast, a while ago Stephen said what struck me as the most appallingly idiotic thing once and I had to stop listening for a long time: he said let your kids enjoy things you don't personally like like it was a revelation of great wisdom and all I could think was that he'd been forcing his children to only like things he liked until then like that was the normal way of things. Because infants and middle aged people, identical tastes. Maybe he's really into chicken nuggets and bright colors but good god, I hope his wife rolled her eyes at that. You are not letting them like Pokemon, they like Pokemon, you are just not making them feel bad about it. Of course, I find his voice most annoying.
posted by provoliminal at 1:58 PM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

I don't know, I unabashedly like Stephen *and* his voice (and Glen - I think of them sometimes as Niles 1 and Niles 2 from the old "Frasier" show), so YMMV, as always with podcast hosts.

Note: Stephen doesn't live with his wife, he lives with his two kids. I guess he's divorced or gay (though I don't think he's gay I think I'm conflating him with Glen - sorry Glen!); at the end of the day, while interesting in a trivial sort of way, I don't think it matters, really. He seems to really get on with his kids - you can tell by the anecdotes he tells on the podcast - and that's wonderful to hear.

Incidentally, I meant to include a pointer to FanFare: Empire in the original post.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 7:15 PM on February 6, 2015

Glen owns his geek tendencies with a flourish, Stephen has that sheepishly apologetic, wheedly tone-- ugh, wheedling. It's not about nasally or pitch exactly, but that intonation that varies completely mode to mode that is begging for approval, whether it's an ok to go ahead, self conscious/self satisfied chuckling, or a demand for an enthusiastic verbal high five, anything that yells VALIDATE ME-- I have too much to say about voices and sound.

Speaking of which, it's a good thing I like that Smollet guy's voice because the on the nose-ness of his songs is already thin. Meanwhile, Hakeen is gross. He's dripping. And who is not over autotune? I vent about Empire on AVC and they pretty much nailed the big points on the podcast, but I'm in a debate as to if they are consciously using Howard's misogyny-- oh, and Naomi cannot act. Better than Tyra but that means nothing. I eagerly await Courtney Love to tangle with the Cookie Monster.
posted by provoliminal at 8:17 PM on February 6, 2015

Aww. I like Stephen, and I think that his epiphany about letting your kids have their own pop-culture taste is probably something that a lot of aging music snobs can relate to. I know that my brother and his music-snob friends used to swear that they would socially engineer children with excellent taste in music, and then when those children actually existed and had independent lives and fell in love with One Direction, it turned out that respecting your kids' autonomous taste trumped wanting to have a hip household. And I wonder if the whole question is particularly acute for Stephen because he himself grew up in a pop-culture-obsessed household and probably feels like he was influenced in various ways by his parents, who apparently pretty much invented comic book fandom.

(Stephen isn't gay: he sometimes jokes about being the token straight guy on the podcast. He has primary custody of his two kids, and the kids go somewhere else for summers and some holidays. I think he's probably divorced and they go to stay with their mother, but he has kind of noticeably never mentioned anything about it, and I assume that's an aspect of his life that he doesn't want to share with podcast listeners.)

Anyway, I really loved the discussion of Empire, which is a show that I'm not quite hate-watching, but definitely watching despite realizing that it's pretty bad.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:44 AM on February 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

ArbitraryAndCaptricious: do the math. One podcast presenter plus one podcast presenter equals two podcast presenters. (ugh sorry terrible reference to the latest Empire...)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 7:25 AM on February 7, 2015

(While we're all parenthetical about him: I love, LOVE, how charming and natural Linda and Stephen's friendship is.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 7:29 AM on February 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

I accidentally came across a lovely blog post when searching online to find out if Stephen was straight or gay. (ugh... yes, I did this... what? don't judge me!) A Different Kind of Valentine, from the blog, keeping southern up north (2013 post). It's sweet.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 7:37 AM on February 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

Stephen is definitely divorced. It's come up on PCHH (very briefly) a handful of times, usually in relation to music. I thought I found a reference to it online previously, but I can't seem to dig anything better than this at the moment: “Get divorced, so you can appreciate the music of The Mountain Goats,” Thompson said in response. (Source).

Here's an old (2006) version of his bio, too: Thompson recently relocated from Madison to Silver Spring, Md., leaving behind his wife and two children. (They promise to join him soon.)

Oh, and I like Stephen and his voice, too. I don't think I would've stuck with PCHH for very long if I found one of the panellists irritating. YMMV!
posted by minsies at 8:57 AM on February 7, 2015

Look, I don't dislike what Stephen has to say I just don't like how he says it much of the time. The whole father's "discovering" what it's like to raise children, yeah that's not old, Mr. Mom, but unless you are against the idea that children are their own people, you pretty much acknowledge they have their own taste unless it's something like they want to live off strawberry soda. I'm saying it's a basic thing one knows from being a parent. All his "parenting" bits sound like he's sneaking information about cats to dogs and then there's this weird thing where he's the only guy allowed to a parent on the show, which I think is a joke but it sounds like Glen and Linda give each other looks about how they're letting him have this

Like I said, I don't have a problem with what he says, especially about music, we pretty much come from the same viewpoint, and what I like about the podcast is the way they interact in discussing something I'm interested in, because I like how they might go off on something's cultural bonafides before Linda comes in with a, "yeah, I don't care about the book. Let's talk about Chris Pratt."
Because also as I was saying, different voices or qualities in voices can strike you in different ways at different times. If I'm listening to something to send me off to sleep when I'm sick, sometimes something comes off as irritating where it didn't before, and I don't generally listen to people who have what would be considered universally soothing voices. I've been off Maron for a bit because he was being a defensive ass as a subject-- more often it is what they are saying than just how they sound but I've been pulled out of sleep from someone who makes a horrible noise. Opposing that, there was this one guy who had such a great voice I tried to find anything he did, I think his name was Shenk and he wrote a book on how people change as they collaborate.

Now that Cabin Pressure is over, I wish Roger Allam would reprise his Sky God. Now there's a voice.
posted by provoliminal at 8:23 PM on February 7, 2015

Also, I think I started listening to it on their first Super Bowl episode, which was very collegial and funny about the fact that it was funny they would have a Super Bowl episode. I like that they rotate people in as much as I like that you can kind of expect certain viewpoints from some people, but it's generally the feeling that these people know and like each other and are discussing this thing.
posted by provoliminal at 8:36 PM on February 7, 2015

Provoliminal: I'm not "discovering what it's like to raise children"; I'm raising them. Unfortunately, once you addressed a single father as "Mr. Mom," it became impossible for me to read anything else you wrote over the rage-shrieks in my head. If the Gettysburg Address began with the words, "Four score and Mr. Mom," I'd assume the rest of it was an asinine pile of shit.
posted by Stephen Thompson at 9:54 PM on February 7, 2015 [4 favorites]

Mod note: Some comments deleted. Cut it out, provoliminal.
posted by taz (staff) at 6:29 AM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

then there's this weird thing where he's the only guy allowed to a parent on the show, which I think is a joke but it sounds like Glen and Linda give each other looks about how they're letting him have this

I don't think he's the only one "allowed" to be a parent; I believe it's simply that Stephen is the only of the original gang-of-four that is a parent. So yes, sometimes he gets to play up the "as a dad" role; just as Trey (as somebody mentioned in one of the previous posts) played up the "as a lover of HIGH CULTURE" role.

It feels to me like the PCHH rotation does skew somewhat strongly towards non-parents. Barrie Hardymon's the only other guest I remember talking about their own children. The PCHH discussions of "culture for kids" do sometimes feel a little, um, hypothetical. But maybe plenty of other guests have been parents but it simply hasn't come up in conversation?
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 9:40 AM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

I listened to this ep on my post-work walk today and it was so good. Now I will go track down all the links they talked about in the radio voices segment.
posted by rtha at 7:25 PM on February 10, 2015

We the Mr. Moms of the United States in order to form a more perfect Ferber...
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:30 AM on February 14, 2015

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