Show, don’t tell

Thursday 26th January 2012

MIME, not as popular as it was in Marcel Marceau’s heyday, remains, for me, a captivating form of expression. Like the best books, it insists that we, as watcher or reader, fill in the gaps for ourselves, while leading us by the hand away from the concrete of mundanity, over an audacious bridge into the realms of elsewheres everywhere.

I’ve not seen it yet, but I do hope The Artist wins lots of Oscars.

Which got me thinking about under-statement versus hyperbole, and what a friend refers to as ‘the tyranny of eloquence’. Our living in an age of the sound bite makes us all, I guess, far too susceptible to the power of the well-turned phrase. We pay more heed than we should to the demagogue: what the satirist H L Mencken called, ‘one who will preach doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots’.

Television advertising is a good example.

Of course it allows us a chance to go to the loo or pop the kettle on, but we’d be pretty hacked off, wouldn’t we, if our viewing was interrupted by a door-to-door salesman or a telephone call telling us of the amazing offer available, this month only, were we to switch to another gas supplier?

And I caught a snippet of a speech by Barack Obama yesterday.

He sounded tired, frustrated, angrier, or maybe just more cynical than the man elected on a groundswell of hope. I didn’t listen for long, soon irritated by the need (or do I mean the ritual Pavlovian dance?) of his audience to applaud, stand up and be counted at the end of every paragraph.

“We do big things,” the President concluded. “That’s how we win the future… the idea of America endures… our journey goes forward and the state of our union is strong. Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.”

Perhaps it’s me, but oratory now seems superficial and vainglorious. I can go to the pub if I want to hear people telling me how brilliant they are.

Empty vessels make the most sound, we were told as kids.

Er… yes, okay. I’ll shut up now.

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