Tuesday, March 10, 2009

"The Things Writers Notice"

When a writer notices something, there’s the hope that what they noticed will be interesting to more than just them. What they really hope is that their observation will be sufficiently fascinating, illuminating and insightful that the reader will say, “Good on ya, writer, for bringing that to my attention, because, not being a writer myself, I hadn’t noticed.”

For a writer of comedy, “funny” can be hopefully added to that list.

Not long ago, I noticed something funny while I was watching C-SPAN 2, a network not normally famous for its comedy. For those who don’t know them, the C-SPAN channels – we currently have three of them – are cable television channels whose primary programming is the unedited coverage of both houses of Congress. On weekends, C-SPAN changes its format, offering interviews and lectures featuring authors who’ve written non-fiction works on politics, culture and history. I watch the C-SPAN channels a lot.

The “funny thing” was broadcast during “Non-Fiction Weekend.” The participants were a female interviewer and a female guest who’d been employed in the public relations department of the Bush administration, specializing on issues of national defense. The guest was on to promote a book she had written, concerning the P.R. strategies devised to support the former president’s military policy in Iraq. The interviewer, an acknowledged opponent of the war, had been specially selected to take her on.

So far, nothing funny. But there were soupcons of at least dramatic, if not comedic possibilities. These soupcons were embedded in the personae of the adversaries. The interviewer, at least comparatively if not objectively, appeared, well, “bookish.” She was dark, not unattractive but no “knockout”, and perhaps not as attentive to her grooming and attire as, say, her mother might have preferred. This woman’s demeanor said, “I’m fully aware of grooming and attire. But I’m here on business.”

Indulging in stereotypes, one might call her “The Smart One.”

Her adversary was strikingly attractive, confident and blond, with a fair (and flawless) complexion. As befits a Bush administration representative, she was conservatively groomed, attired and bejeweled. Everything about her screamed “Money.” But tastefully. We should say everything about her purred “Money.”

Call her “The Prom Queen.”

Things got strange almost from the beginning. Early in the hour-long interview, I’m not good describing women’s hair, but a substantial section of the front of “The Smart One’s” straight brown hair abandoned its assigned position, winding up directly between the woman’s eyebrows, dividing her forehead almost perfectly in half.

Try and imagine this. The front of “The Smart One’s” hairdo was swept over to the side in front, and a substantial hunk or hank (as in the song “Honeycomb”) of “The Smart One’s” hair had escaped from her hairdo and fallen onto her forehead and into her eyes, behind her glasses. (I forgot, “The Smart One” wore glasses. Did I really need to tell you that?)

“The Smart One” maintained her composure, but you could sense she was distracted. Though she remained focused, nailing “The Prom Queen” on the non-existent Iraq-9/11 connection and the undiscovered Weapons of Mass Destruction, you could tell she was also thinking about her hair.

This is not my imagination. The “hair thing” was driving her crazy. It went like this. She asks a question, the hair’s between her eyes. The camera cuts to the guest for her answer, and when it comes back to the interviewer, look at that! – her hair’s neatly back in place!

“The Smart One’s” about to mount another assault on the former president’s Iraq policy, here comes the hair, sliding down her forehead, and coming to rest back between her eyes. This time, “The Smart One” doesn’t wait for the camera to cut away. She swipes at her hair without breaking her inquisitive stride. But the errant hank refuses to stay put. Before the camera can cut away, the runaway hair’s sitting there, splitting her forehead once again.

You can almost read “The Smart One’s” mind. She’s considering altering her strategy. “If I ask shorter questions, my hair won’t have time to fall down while I’m on camera.” It’s a sound plan. She can swipe it back in place while the camera’s on “The Prom Queen.”

Unfortunately, the cool and wily “Prom Queen” is ahead of her.

Realizing “The Smart One’s” predicament, “The Prom Queen” begins shortening her answers. The camera cuts back to “The Smart One”, capturing her in “mid-swipe.”

“This can’t be happening!” you can almost hear “The Smart One” lament. “I have people watching. My family. My friends. This is my big chance, an opportunity to show producers what I can do. I’m tearing this woman to shreds, exposing her as a transparent fraud defending a disastrous policy. But none of that matters.

“The only thing they’ll remember is the hair!”


“THE SMART ONE”: (SWEEPING BACK THE ERRANT STRANDS) How did you deal with the credibility issue when it turned out there were no WMD?


“THE PROM QUEEN”: Well, you have to remember at the time, the world believed Iraq had WMD, including President Clinton.


"THE SMART ONE": (HAIR BACK BETWEEN HER EYES) He may have believed that but he didn’t take the country to war.

For the viewer, our Iraqi policy has become secondary. The show’s turned into: “Where’s the Hair?”

If this were an actual comedy, a hairdresser would be dispatched to crawl along the floor and slip the interviewer a helpful “Bobby pin.” But this isn’t a comedy. It’s C-SPAN 2. No help. No “Bobby pin.” Just an excruciating hour of humiliation and shame. Were “The Smart One” on the fence on the matter, this shattering experience could land her unquestioningly in the camp of “There is no God.”

In the end, what we’re left with is a P.R. flak emerging without a scratch, and a tormented, “deserved better” interviewer, whose rebellious hair has let her down.

If you’re a writer of a certain inclination, it’s something you notice.


growingupartists said...

Funny! I'd say more, but I'm left kind of speechless. You have great compassion for women's issues, and I love that in you!

Anonymous said...


You got it right. I was laughing hard for a minute there, just picturing this. :-)

Anonymous said...

What I noticed is that I need to watch more CSPAN and less Food Network.