Saturday, November 28, 2009

Don't put your son on the stage

I was interviewed for the One Show yesterday, for a short feature that might come out in January. My mother is the One Show's biggest ever fan. She retired a couple of years ago, and has a lot of free time (although complains most of it is spent brushing the dog). She writes letters to the One Show a lot with "ideas". She is very against animal testing at the moment, and thinks the One Show should do more on this topic, preferably with her in. Her latest thing is going around department stores "disguised as a researcher" (!), asking poor shop assistants if their products have been tested on animals, and then marking their responses in an official-looking folder. (I sometimes think I should devote my entire blog to what my mother says, thinks and does).

So when I told her I was being interviewed, I thought she might explode with joy. "Can I come on it?" she asked. I told her that due to the whimsical and transitory nature of television programming, and the fact that I become inarticulate and odd when a camera is pointed at me, that it is unlikely that they would use any footage of me anyway. I also told her not to tell anyone. I should have known better - she told her entire street to watch it last night - not understanding that I was only being interviewed yesterday, and that the feature, if it comes out at all, would be months later.

I had to travel down to London and then meet the interviewer and film crew in an art deco style bar in a basement in Soho, where the interviewing was being carried out. Fortunately it will all be edited, so they can reduce 20 minutes of me trailing off mid-sentence into about 10 seconds of something vaguely articulate. The weirdest bits were the "establishing shots" where they film you walking down the street, going down the stairs, or just sitting at a table and talking about nothing. In order for it to look like we were having an authentic conversation the interviewer said "Just tell me everything you did yesterday from when you woke up". So I did and then they all laughed at how boring my life is.

The interviewer was a reasonably well-known (if you live in the UK) comedian. He kept commenting on how he had been expecting me to be camp because I was gay, and I wasn't. "The other one we interviewed before you was camp, and he was wearing very flamboyant clothes," he said. I looked down at my sensible Marks and Spencer pullover and said "Although for an academic, I'm about as glamorous as you can get."

Afterwards, they invited me to lunch (a steretoypically Soho sushi place), there was various talk of which celebrities were "difficult" etc. I hadn't heard of any of them. The only celebrities I know about anymore are academic ones, and rather than read Heat magazine, I get my celebrity fix from an evil piece of computer software called Harzing's Publish or Perish. You type in the name of an academic and get a list of all their publications and how often each one is cited. This is then converted into a score called the H Score - the higher the score, the more famous you are. Mine is 13. That means I've had 13 things cited 13 times or more. To go up to 14 you have to 14 things cited 14 or more times. 13 is reasonably respectable for a linguist, and over the last couple of years I have begun to gain a tiny amount of academic fame. This means that at conferences I get more than 8 people at my presentation, and sometimes a Chinese student will come up to me and tell me that they've read one of my books. I rather like the strange parallel yet inverse world of academic celebrity. Real celebrities need to be physically stunning and stupid (Paris Hilton). Whereas for acaedemic celebrity, the more grotesque you are, the more introverted and socially stunted, the better-known you seem to be. I am thinking of developing a facial tic. It will do wonders for my H Score.

1 comment:

Adrian said...

Interesting. Not sure about that "expected you to be camp" comment. Gee, thanks. Here's hoping you get to be a broadcast star.

Sorry to hijack, but could I ask what the art deco bar was called? I'm in search of one for a party!