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Coffee with Mimi: What walls say about us may be more than we know

By MIMI BECKER

Throughout the past several months, we have been afforded a unique opportunity to glimpse at the real lives of numerous public figures, both well-known and less so.

I’m not talking about those performers from housewives to families with made up issues some producer thinks we care about. I guess the truth is that some people do care as evidenced by the burgeoning number of franchises for this genre of show. I don’t call them programs as that word connotes the intentional development of an idea.

I have become fascinated with the virtual working locations of reporters, elected officials and commentators. Of course, there are still the shots of reporters fighting the winds in horrible weather or standing in the middle of a ransacked street with disaster unfolding in the background. These stories are of utmost importance. They will be with us somewhere, at various times, throughout all human time.  

I’m really focusing on the shots in the living rooms, kitchens, and bedrooms during this difficult time. The bedrooms are the most comical, but really the least interesting. 

After all, a bedroom is boring unless you are Martha Stewart or Ralph Lauren and are totally decorated. If a bedroom location must be used, try to angle the computer away from the bed.  Too personal.

Locations of most virtual interviews fall into several categories. There are the unidentifiable rooms. These rooms give no real clues as to who this individual is, where the person lives, what interests him or her. These are the safe spaces. They say, “I am here as an expert, this is my job, I’m serious about it, but I don’t feel really comfortable sharing beyond that.”

Then there are the generically decorated spaces which vary little in style from one person or subject matter to another. The walls are clean, the art is unidentifiable. The flower arrangements are exactly the same from day to day.

A matter of note is the general absence of many books, photos, or personal memorabilia.

Now, I am not passing judgement or drawing any conclusions about the occupants of the space. Some folks are just naturally minimalists, or live a nomadic lifestyle and don’t enjoy carting a lot of stuff around.

Some on camera personalities are trying to fool us. They sit quite erect in front of a backdrop that mimics a scene or graphic design remarkably like a regular studio set. Are they at home? I bet they are wearing pajama bottoms and fuzzy slippers.

Every once in a while a dog can be heard off camera. Come on, we won’t think any less of you if you are at home. I, for one, appreciate hearing my news from humans who are in the same boat as the rest of us in a time of stress. It’s oddly comforting since I’m possibly wearing something pretty comfy and there is a dog sitting in my lap. We are all in this together, as they say.

But my favorite segments are those in which the personality is clearly at home. I have become quite emotionally attached to some of these characters.  

There is the former senator who is usually in her kitchen. Now, I realize this may just be an exceptionally minutely detailed studio set created to communicate a particular relatableness.  But, there are some definite clues which tell me otherwise.

First, the computer is clearly on a standard height table. This I know because she sits comfortably leaning forward with her arms crossed on the table. The computer camera angle leads the eye upward to the over the counter wall cabinets; which, by the way, are not staged with perfectly aligned, stacked, and matched plates and cups. Nicely organized, though.

The warm lighting and pleasant glow reflected off the surfaces works, too. She reported one day from a room next to the kitchen. You could see the corner of the cabinets. So the dinner dishes were piled in the sink, you can’t get it all done when there are major world events requiring your personal attention. 

Recently the network introduced a new analyst whose life I had not had the chance to inspect. I liked him immediately.

He selected a location in front of a wall of bookshelves to set up his equipment. This is not unusual. The room is probably an office and you want all those books at hand when you are working, or cynically, wanting to convey a level of expertise.

But, this was a really engaged person. This I know because his collection of books ranged from sports to history to art to serious commentary to comedy. Some of which could be confused for the other. He had displayed a collection of odds and ends which could only be selected by a person who cared about them. 

There was absolutely no plan to the arrangement of books and stuff. If you didn’t scan the whole wall, you would misjudge the eclectic nature of this individual. I did notice he owns two copies of the same book. Maybe he doesn’t realize it as they are not shelved together. Maybe one was a gift.