The Split-Screen Stand-Up

February 19, 2008 § Leave a comment

Now reading: Bear v. Shark.

One of my favorite chapters so far–well, besides the cake-mix-commercial chapters, anyway–is “Question-and-Answer Period,” in which “Upstairs [on the Norman household TV], a bright-toothed, square-jawed young man in a hooded raincoat shares a split screen with a button-cute Television Personality. They’re both going places, you can just see it.” As Trevor reports from a rainy revival meeting, and Lee Ann in the studio responds to the banter, another “unclear moderator”–maybe the author, maybe an authorial surrogate for the reader, maybe the author himself, maybe (my fave on first reading) Mr. Norman, but likely, in Bachelder’s mind, intended to suggest all of these–comments on the relationship between the two: “All I want to know is, are these two doing it or not?” This moderator expresses a mix of prurience and tender compassion–pulling for Trevor and Lee Ann, for the relationship he/she speculates they have to work out.

Here’s a question: is this a “public” expression of interest? Does Bachelder intend this to be seen as comments intentionally inserted into the narrative, a discourse between–um, someone–and the reader? Or are we eavesdropping on thoughts, catching stray brain-waves from Mr. Norman or the author or The Hypothetical Viewer? As written, it’s a strange mix of cliched public platitude–“they still have feelings for one another”–and crass thought–“Damn, you know they’re doing it.” I speculate that Bachelder is intentionally ambiguous here in order to point out how these awful banal turns of phrase–hell, turns of thought–get used and used and used and work their ways into our addled brains. We can’t tell the difference, sometimes. These awful non-relationships we have with the people on TV; the thoughts we find ourselves thinking, the things we find ourselves saying. (See also: the difficulty Mr. Norman has remembering whether his memories of young love with his wife are actually scenes from a movie or show.)

Of course, the futility of this kind of deep, complex reading is another point of a lot of postmodern fiction.  Ah well.

Anyway, Trevor, due to some “technical difficulties,” ends up swearing and insulting and complaining on air. Plus there’s Trevor’s actual reporting on the Reverend Marty Munson’s special address and predictions on Bear v. Shark II. (All of this happens in about a page.) The one major flaw here, and one which might be addressed later: if you’re trying to actually depict the workings of the media, this incident–Trevor unfiltered on air–should be replayed and replayed as end-of-newscast filler, blooper reel fodder, etc. etc. The fetishization of the spontaneous, unplanned, and “real” is unlimited on TV. Replaying and moderating removes the pungency of such human moments. Bachelder surely knows this.

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