What’s Your Background?

What’s Your Background?

By Patrick F. Cannon

My daughter Beth often suggests subjects for this weekly bit of wisdom, and this is one of them. On a recent morning, during our regular daily phone conversation, I happened to mention that I was watching the morning news, upon which a local doc was imparting his wisdom regarding the inevitable and relentless Coronavirus. He was obviously in his office, beaming his thoughts through Zoom or Shazam or whatever remote video thingy was available.

He had a fine head of white hair, which imparted a hint of wisdom; unfortunately, a fine shock of his manly mane was hanging in his face. Had he been in the studio, the staff makeup person would no doubt have combed the good docs hair and sprayed it with that gluey stuff to keep it in place.  In addition, his rather pasty face would have had a heavy coating of makeup to prevent that oily shine.

I know this from personal experience, having been interviewed on television many times. When you’re doing it in the studio, the resident makeup artiste does up your hair and slathers pancake makeup on your face, which gives you a healthy-looking tan, much like our eminent president. I hate it, because it’s the very devil to remove, short of a lengthy scrub with soap and water.

If you’re interviewed outside the studio, you can be a victim of the elements, as I was in Phoenix one July in a convention venue we were just setting up. The organization I was working for was notoriously cheap – who else would have a convention in Phoenix in July? – and would not pay to turn on the air conditioning until the venue was opened to the public. The local news team swooped down on me as I was dripping with sweat. The interview duly appeared that evening on the local news. Not only was my very red face dripping with sweat, but my shirt was covered with sweat stains.

I’m sure you’ve noticed that local and national news reporters and anchors are often broadcasting from their homes these days. It is the backgrounds that interest me most. A favorite is a bookcase filled with weighty tomes, a few family photos, and bits of pottery and sculpture (which might be a bust of Abe Lincoln, or some unrecognizable hunk of iron).  It’s difficult to see the titles of most of the books – they might be the collected works of Dame Barbara Cartland – but one I was able to read was behind Judy Woodruff of the PBS News Hour. It was Ron Chernow’s biography of U.S. Grant. In her case, it was possible to believe she had actually read it.

Most of the local anchors and personalities don’t seem to read, which doesn’t surprise me. One, who shall remain nameless, recites the weather from what appears to be her living room. On the wall behind her are framed bits of greenery, likely chosen by some designer. There is a couch and matching chair. On the chair sits a beagle, no doubt there to add some homey charm. Unlike most beagles, known for their energy, it never seems to move. Perhaps it’s dear departed Rover, stuffed.

The major network anchors live in New York, and mostly live in apartments on the upper east side. They can, of course, hire the best decorators. Two primary styles seem to be in favor – either what I would call “old money” coziness; or the spare rigor of the modernist sensibility, with the walls festooned with Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism. In both, one sees immense art books prominently displayed on coffee tables.

As an antidote to all this, I suggest you watch the regular Friday appearance of syndicated columnists Mark Shields and David Brooks on the PBS News Hour. Brooks does have bookcases in the background, but he’s entitled – he’s actually written several. Shields, an old campaigner at 82, comes to us from a room that looks both lived and worked in. The first time I saw the room, obviously his home office, it was more than a little unkempt. The following week it looked a bit more picked up. I suspect Shield’s wife watched it on the screen in horror, and decided to at least make the piles of stuff neater. But it still looks like a real room, not a stage set.

Next time, instead of watching the news reader recite the news, which is uniformly bad anyway, see if you can find any hints of actual human habitation where they live.

Copyright 2020, Patrick F. Cannon

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