Tired of Surfing?
A couple of weeks ago I came home from a hectic day as usual and decided to relieve my tension by sitting on the couch for some ?quality? television. As I turned on the tube and began channel surfing, I unconsciously stopped at a commercial for a daytime talk show. Clips of many different women fighting over men were being shown sporadically. Then the narrator of the commercial announced the title and I about fell on the floor laughing. ?Black women who want their white friends to stop dating black men because they are taking up all the good ones!? I couldn?t believe that a whole one-hour show was going to be dedicated to this subject. I was instantly consumed by the thought of what kind of people would actually want to watch such an outrageous show. It was at that moment that I realized that this show related to a certain type of audience that didn?t include me. In fact, every television show relates to many different people. It?s not necessarily the topic of the show that gets people addicted; it is most often the language within the show that draws them in. I thoroughly enjoy shows in which I can affiliate with the language. If my schedule allowed me, I would come home every night and watch Judge Judy. I love every aspect of the law and can watch court television programs without giving any of the language said a second thought. This situation isn?t the same for all people. There are many people who would feel as if they were being tortured by being made to watch five minutes of Judge Judy.
Over the next few weeks I decided to pick a couple of daytime talk shows to watch. Through watching these shows I discovered just how much of a role language played in different television shows. I chose to watch Ricki Lake and The Rosie O?Donnel Show, two shows that I had never seen a full episode of. Both of these shows appear during the daytime, one right after the other. They are both female talk show hosts in their thirties. Both of these women performed in live plays or appeared in many movies before they became talk show hosts. With so many similarities I found it shocking that the shows were so different.
Ricki Lake is always formatted around one main subject that is definitely not aimed towards children. Ricki invites many different guests that have personal insight pertained to the subject. Her audience plays a huge part in the show by asking multiple questions or making personal comments. Appearing in almost every show is a ?surprise? guest that always has to come out and make some sort of a scene. There are always mixed emotions and bad feelings between the guests. I was constantly waiting for a fight to brake out and I felt as if the audience only added to the fire. Some of the things that happened on the show seemed unreal. A majority of the characters were within my age group, in their late teens and early twenties, and I still couldn?t relate to anything that was happening in their life. At times I was lost in the show because I basically couldn?t understand the language. There were other times when I found humor in the show, laughing at the situations these people had gotten themselves into.
The Rosie O?Donnel Show is a completely different story. Rosie sits up at a desk and invites her guests to sit up next to her. She usually has a single guest at a time unless she has a family or two co-stars together. Many of her guests are famous and are on the show promoting a new album or movie that is about to be released. Her guests often perform for the audience, which takes up a lot of the talking time. When they aren?t performing, Rosie asks them a few common questions as if she was making up time lost with an old friend. The audience never asks questions but one lucky member introduces the guests that will be appearing on the show that day. Her show has a very personal approach and the language is fit for people of all ages. I never was lost in the language but I did hear quite a few new words that Rosie herself had made up.
Since language was constantly being spewed out of the guest mouths, I chose to tape a select few episodes to monitor the language. The first time around I wrote phrases that caught my ear or that I didn?t understand. I found myself working my pen out a lot harder with Ricki Lake than with The Rosie O?Donnel Show. I also noted on how many guests used hand gestures and made faces to back up their comments. There were times when more language was in the movements they were making than actual words coming out of their mouths.
When watching Ricki Lake I found myself concentrating on the language that I didn?t understand. I often had to rewind because I had missed so much while I was trying to translate what had been said. My personal opinion was my biggest problem when taking notes. I wasn?t paying attention to the language being used; instead I was making a mockery out of it. I had to get past my personal opinions to see what was really being said and it was a big struggle for me. I often got lost in the language and became easily uninterested. I had to rewind the Ricki Lake episodes countless times to pick apart the language being used. It wasn?t until I started looking for certain types of language that my notes became useful.
After working through the Ricki Lake episodes I found The Rosie O?Donnel Show to be a piece of cake. The language expressed on Rosie?s show was almost always at a level that children could understand. She kept her shows clean and the language definitely was inviting to me. At first I didn?t have many notes because nothing seemed to catch my ear. It was as if I was listening to an everyday conversation between friends. My notes fell short of what I expected until I went back and viewed the show a few more times to really see beyond the simple conversations.
The main struggle was that I quickly adapted to the show that I liked and disoriented myself from the one I didn?t like. I did what every viewer does when they watch TV. I enjoyed the show that pertained to my speech community and disliked the show that was an uncomfortable speech community. In order to really take good notes I had to force myself to try to understand the different types of communication involved in each of the shows.
As Paul Roberts states in Speech Communities, a speech community is ? a group of people steadily in communication with one another, steadily hearing one anther?s speech.? (p.232) It was obvious to me that the two shows I watched represented completely different speech communities. It was very apparent that the speech communities found on Ricki Lake were greatly shaped around education. Many of the guests had dropped out of high school or were going to some sort of continuation school. Their profiles revealed similar jobs, if they had one, which included exotic dancers, homemakers, and secretaries. The guests?ages, ethnicity, and where they were from also took a part in forming the speech communities. On the other hand, the speech communities represented in The Rosie O?Donnel Show reflected social positions. A majority of the guests were famous and already known by many people. Elton John, Jennifer Connel, and Linda Lavin were just a few that appeared.
As I monitored the different speech communities I found within the shows I discovered the three categories that James Britton discusses in The English Language: ?An Owner?s Manual.? By the end of my viewing process I became very familiar with expressive, transactional, and poetic language. Both shows used each of these three categories, although it was in two very separate mannerisms.
As Britton stated, ?expressive language tends to be spontaneous and unrehearsed, and it represents the closest association with that mysterious process we call thinking.? (p.18) Expressive language was always flowing out of the guests? mouth on Ricki Lake. Take for example the story of Ty and Kenya. These two people had two children together and broke up shortly after. Ty seemingly disappeared from Kenya?s life leaving her at home to be a single mother with no support. As Kenya poured out her side of the story, the audience quickly grew feelings of hatred towards Ty without even meeting him. As soon as he was introduced and brought on to the stage, a wave of ?boos? came from the audience. Upset from what had been said he quickly responded with, ? You ain?t nothin? but a liar. All you have done to me is caused baby mama drama from day one! Everybody needs to stop listening to this bitch and hear my side of the story!? All the while, he was standing in Kenya?s face and pointing and waiving his hands uncontrollably. I wasn?t until he sat down in his chair and calmed down that the expressive language ended.
The use of expressive language was much different on The Rosie O?Donnel Show. There was never a quick slip of the tongue but instead the expressive language was represented through body language. Almost every guest was using their hands to help them speak. If they were telling a story about recent work they have done, their hands would sort of move in circular motions. Then there was Elton John who never stopped moving his hands. When he was done speaking he would clasp his hands on to the armrest of the chair, sporadically stoking them. Hand movements and facial expressions were also almost always at a constant with Rosie. Her eyebrows would move to accentuate what she was talking about. She also would stand up and personally greet her guests, sometimes giving them hugs to add to the warm welcome.
Transactional language was also a really big part of both of these shows. Britton states, ?it is the language that gets the job done, that allows people to conduct transactions of meaning.? (p.21) In order for the guest to tell their stories, transactional language had to be in use. Most of the transactional language on Ricki Lake came when the guests were explaining what had happened in their lives. On the show titled, ?You can?t keep our kids from me because I?m gay,? couples rambled out their stories of how they became gay soon after they had children with their heterosexual lovers. The subject itself was somewhat taboo and at times it seemed as though Ricki was reluctant to intervene with the guests. While the guests were speaking many of the words that were being said reflected their speech community. Phrases like, ?He don?t even got a house,? and ?You ain?t paid nobody,? were common throughout the show. There were common misuses of English words possibly due to the lack of education. Transactional language was also being used before and after the commercial breaks when Ricki would either recap what had happened or would give a preview for the next guests.
The Rosie O?Donnel Show used transactional language in the most conservative form. The simple conversations that Rosie held with her guest were probably transactional language at its purest. The back and forth conversation between two people is what the show is based around. This allows for the viewers to ?get to know? someone who they will probably never actually meet in real life. Their social class showed when the guests spoke and greatly represented their speech community. Rosie O?Donnel also would give recaps and previews before and after the commercial breaks allowing the audience to keep up with her.
The last category of poetic language was rarely used in comparison with the other two categories. In The English Language: ?An Owner?s Manual,? it states that ?a major characteristic of poetic language is that the words themselves are memorable and enhance the meaning.? (p.28) Rosie O?Donnel would perform short songs because of her admiration of singing. A traumatic scene occurred when two-year old quadruplets, that shared that same birthday as Rosie, were brought onto the show to meet the characters of The Wizard of Oz. They were supposed to love The Wizard of Oz, but first sight of the characters set fear into the quadruplets and they all started crying. Later in the show Rosie sang a poetic song to ?If I Only Had a Brain,? replacing the words with new ones. Some of the words included were ?dope-o-rama? and ?cutie-patootie.? These were words that I had never heard before but quickly caught onto due to their childish nature. A few things said on Ricki Lake also appeared to be poetic. ?Baby mama drama? is a phrase used to talk about the problems that the mother?s child has caused for the father. ?Babies daddy? is also used to talk about the father of the child. Another new phrase I learned was ?I?m fin to bounce up out of here.? Translation; ?I can?t take this anymore, I?m going to leave this place.? All of these are excellent examples of poetic language used throughout these two shows. As I discussed earlier, each of them relates specifically back to the speech communities that they represent.
In watching these two shows I fell upon knowledge of television that I didn?t have before. There are many different shows to choose from while a person sits on the couch channel surfing. Within these different shows there are categories. Take for example talk shows, game shows, sit-coms, court televisions, etc. These shows may be the same in general but within these show lies a level of language that completely sets them apart. I discovered that two day time talk shows that appear one right after the other are virtually two different shows, all due to the language that is within them. I felt that I was strongly attracted to the language in The Rosie O?Donnel Show because I was very comfortable with the speech community it represented. On the contrary, the language I found on Ricki Lake was repulsive. I couldn?t affiliate with half of the things that were being said. I basically was an outsider because I was lost in the language.
The final decision to stop surfing at a talk show, cooking show, or video show is influenced by language. People have a different perspective on which language they prefer. Paul Roberts writes in Speech Communities that ?good English is whatever English is spoken by the group in which one moves contentedly and at ease.? The English found on Ricki Lake wasn?t easy for me and therefore I formed an opinion of dislike for the show. The complete opposite was true for The Rosie O?Donnel Show. This is why every show has a different appeal to each person. In the end it is the decisive point that helps us choose what channel we actually want to watch.