Now that I'm again watching TV, I've resumed an old hobby: simply studying the men and women who do most of the speaking. I will call them presenters, i.e., persons who speak to an audience live in a public gathering or who present the news, commercials, political speeches and weather reports on the TV screen.
Most presenters fit into one of two categories: (A) those who wave their hands about as they speak, and (B) those who keep their hands at their sides or folded in their laps.
The A group — the hand-wavers — tend to be female, Democrats, liberals, progressives or The Left. They are more emotional and demonstrative, even when they're only selling real estate or shampoo.
The B group usually includes Republicans, Presbyterians, and Iowans with heart rates well below 70 per minute. (Please don't ask me where I learned this stuff.)
On-camera presenters seem to come from any of several ethnic groups — white, Black, Hispanic, British, Brooklyn, Alabama and so on. I have been surprised to see how few Asian presenters there are. The 2016 census revealed that 21 million Asian-Americans live here.
Let's talk about presenters' voice qualities. Most of the on-camera news anchors, weather reporters and commercial pitchers have decent speaking skills and are free of distracting mannerisms. The best presenters — in my debatable opinion — are the men and women who cover Washington politics. That assignment is much like reporting about a nut-house hosting a liars’ club convention. A TV or radio reporter has to be pretty sharp to summarize — within an allotted 30 seconds — a Trump tweet.
The programs and presenters that, in my opinion, tend to waste viewers' time are the weather shows. To wit:
(1) Weather reports. There are too many of them in a given 24 hours, except when a tornado, hurricane or other extreme weather event is approaching.
(2) The weather accounts are often too detailed. Why should the folks in Toonerville give a rat's ax that Blitchburg — eight miles away — will be getting 0.15 of an inch more rain than T-ville?.
(3) Too much geography. Thanks to on-screen weather maps viewers are often shown the upcoming weather in Siberia, Alaska, Toronto and Atlanta before the weather woman (or man) with the pointer stick aims it at Largo.
(4) TV advertisements (on weathercasts and otherwise). I'm not opposed to commercials. I know that without them TV (and other media) would not exist. But must there be so many of them? Next time you're watching a favorite sitcom, count the outrageous number of commercials that are shown during only one program break. Many of them will be the same ones you watched six weeks ago.
Finally, shouldn't we have a law or recommended policy that requires all presenters — in whatever media — to speak clearly and slowly enough to be understood by most of us? Even if listeners have not yet reached a hard-of-hearing stage, they will appreciate being able to know exactly what the speaker is saying. Closed captions on TV help achieve that, of course. But if the captions are not in sync with the sound, all bets are off.
A final observation: today's speakers (including you and me) love to shrink common expressions and words. Example: "I'm going to..." becomes "I'm gonna..." "Hundreds" become "hunreds." It saves time, I guess. After all, we have so much to do during these lockdown days.
Bob Driver's email address is email@example.com.