Sunday 3 May 2015

Weekend Essay: The Laboratory That Is Televised Snooker

With the traditional bank holiday snooker-fest in full swing (swing?) I have often been struck by the observational possibilities offered by such consistent and unremitting television coverage of such a tightly-defined arena.

Here's one line of thought arising therefrom.

A large number of the audience equip themselves with headphones to listen to the broadcasters' commentary, which of course the TV viewer also hears.  From time to time, the audience responds audibly to something that is said - usually a light ripple of laughter, sometimes louder guffaws.

The viewer thus has the opportunity to calibrate the impact of the commentators' witticisms on several hundred people at once.  Better still for 'scientific' observation, since each participating member of the audience is wearing headphones, when they laugh it is almost certainly because individually they find it funny, and not because they notice everyone else is laughing too (a variant of Homer Simpson syndrome*).  It is very rare that just a couple of people laugh out loud alone.

Here's the thing.  Although the commentators continually pepper their entire spiel with attempts at gentle humour, very few indeed of their bons mots actually give rise to audible laughter.  I get the distinct impression they are trying for it all the time.  It seems fair to conclude that they don't have a particularly good handle on what's going to be laugh-worthy and what isn't - and, to be fair, I don't  find that I can predict reliably the snooker audience response either, apart from the occasional crack which is a really obvious candidate for a laugh.

Which puts us firmly in this territory
Studies reveal only minor correlations between how you think you’re viewed and how people view you; if those around you aren’t falling victim to the “false consensus effect” (assuming you’re just like them), then they’re falling victim to the “false uniqueness effect” (assuming you couldn’t possibly be as clever, or busy, or unhappy as them). Or maybe it’s you who’s falling victim to the “transparency illusion”, assuming your words and facial expressions are a dead giveaway for your feelings, when usually they’re not ... Barack Obama, after his disastrous first presidential debate of 2012, was convinced he’d done brilliantly. If arguably the world’s best living orator can’t read his audience, what hopes for you or me?
Or how about this, from Wolf Hall:
More ... calmed himself, 'I did not say what Riche alleges.  Or if I did say it, I did not mean it with malice, therefore I am clear under the statute.'  [Cromwell] watched an expression of derision cross Parnell's face ... More turns, smiling, as if to say, a good point there ... and looked at the jury as if expecting applause; they looked back, faces like stones.
There are all manner of important directions in which these observations can take off, and conclusions essayed.  Be it stand-up comedy, musical composition, fine art or humble snooker commentary, it is a true artist who can reliably elicit his desired response.


*Simpson's First Law: "Never be the only one in the room laughing"


dearieme said...

"arguably the world’s best living orator": what an absurd claim. We don't even know if he's the world's best reader of a tele-prompter, because none of us has watched all the others.

Bill Quango MP said...

I strongly suspect, that once Obama has left office, he will be the world's highest paid orator.

Demetrius said...

Good grief, you have the commentary on sport when you could be listening to Classic FM, R3 or have a decent CD on? Snooker goes well with the music of Mahler but Mozart for golf.

DJK said...

Obama's speech at the White House correspondents' dinner is well worth watching on Youtube. The man is a wonderful comedian, with perfect timing and great self-awareness --- an American Boris Johnson, in fact. (Yes, I know that Boris is also technically American and that if you believe the fruitcakes, Obama should actually have the nationality of his father, i.e. British.)

Nick Drew said...

DJK - I agree with that: but he seems to divide his speeches into two categories, those he puts some effort into, and those he just reads out in a strange, disjointed manner

never any doubt as to which occasions he considers important

Blue Eyes said...

Snooker - meh

Boxing - meh

Football - CAREFREE!