Friday, July 16, 2010

"Raining pretty hard, isn't it?"

Every time there are floods and landslides, whether from an unusually heavy rainy season or from a typhoon, the TV news programs of course show lots of video footage of the destruction and of the disruption of people's daily lives. The impact of scenes of collapsed hillsides, washed-away roads, buried houses, and engulfed streets and shops is undeniable. It's grimly fascinating to see rushing rivers--carrying trees and maybe even cars or parts of houses--surging perilously close to bridges, or to see people paddling rubber boats above drowned streets and parking lots.

For those of us living in eastern Japan, these sensational reports can even serve a practical purpose: since such weather generally moves from west to east and south to north, we can see what may be in store for us in the near future and--to some extent--prepare for it.

Unfortunately, reporters--or more accurately the directors and producers who tell them where to go and what to say--can't leave well enough alone.  For some reason it is deemed necessary to have endless live reports from areas where there really isn't anything useful to say, and in the case of night-time programs, nothing useful to see, either. I actually feel sorry for the poor reporters who gamely try--but invariably fail--to say something intelligent about the height or ferocity of rivers next to which they are standing, but which their cameras are unable to show because of insufficient light.

Similarly pointless live reports are done from, for example, in front of police stations after suspects in major crimes have been arrested, with comments limited to "so-and-so has been arrested and is being questioned in this police station but there is no further news at this time". At least they have a police station to show, and it's sufficiently well-lit.

That's very different from showing a square meter or so of water surface, the maximum that can be lit by the film crew's best efforts, and trying to make dramatic observations about something that, from the viewers' point of view, might just as well be a swimming pool.

I feel less sympathy for the media people who decide that it's not enough to show and describe the effects of flooding and landslides, so they try to inject some "human interest". The idea isn't bad; the implementation is almost invariably dire, largely due to the ridiculous questions they ask.

For example, following a shot of water cascading down the stairs to a basement bar, a reporter was shown interviewing the owner the next day. The poor proprietor is standing in the water-logged wreckage of his business, shoveling sludge and looking forlornly at the soaked and muddy furniture, carpets, and walls. The reporter asks, "Is this going to be difficult to clean up?" and "Will there be much impact on your business?". It's a tribute to the patience of the bar owner that he didn't chase the news crew out of the place with blows of his shovel, screaming "What kind of stupid questions are those, you morons?".

My leading candidate so far this season for egregious stupidity in reporting is a film sequence I've seen repeated maybe 30 times in the last week. Two guys, trouser legs rolled up, soaked to the skin in the torrential rain, are trying to push a pickup truck through knee-high rushing water. The reporter asks, "Did your engine stop?".

That's beyond banal. It's beyond stupid. What possible answer could be expected? "No, we turned the engine off and are pushing the vehicle in a downpour because we are masochists", perhaps?

Then there's the old standard "How do you feel?" which I recently saw a reporter ask a guy whose home had been crushed by a landslide and washed, with all of his possessions, down a raging river. To me, the only reasonable response would be, "I feel like throwing you and your camera crew into the river".

Every year, the various TV networks run what they call "NG prize" programs...what would be called, I guess, "blooper awards" in the US. These "outtakes" are mostly misspoken lines in dramas or news programs, sometimes they're physical goofs like breaking sets, falling on news locations, and the like.

I'd quite like to see a similar program based on a collection of clueless reporters' questions, perhaps with a suitably ironic-voiced narrator offering possible suitable responses.

I admit that it could be difficult to come up with appropriate answers to some of the more outrageously idiotic questions. Questions like that of this post's title, which is a quote from a reporter in the middle of a record-breaking downpour, surrounded by cars only a few centimeters from being completely submerged.

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