The meat factory

OK so.

I was on the news yesterday?

Did you see me?

No – it wasn’t crimewatch. No it wasn’t CC TV footage. I was actually ON. THE. NEWS. Talking and shit. Did you recognise me? I was the one the one with the puffy face and the reptilian skin. The one who sweated nervously and stared blankly into the anchor’s dead eyes with nothing to say. Yes. I was that faceless, nameless expert. I was all of them. There are thousands of me. We are always on the news. Look at us. Look at how nervous we are. Laugh. Laugh and cry as we pollute your screens mouthing our nothings as though it matters.

It happens more often than it ever should actually. Occasionally I get called up to go on news programs. I’m not allowed to say no (and it’s more interesting than my day job) I’m expected to talk about something, offer an opinion. Yeah. I’m an *expert*. A rentamouth. One of the people who does filler so that news readers don’t go hoarse or insane with loneliness.

It’s being one of those people, those forgettable guests, that really drives home how mundane much of the news is these days. I mean. I’ve said this before, but with news channels going 24/7 the amount of blank air they need to fill is ridiculous. Really stupid. Try talking to yourself for a minute. Time it. Count down the seconds on your watch as you try to engage yourself with some interesting verbage. I’m serious. DO IT.

How’s it going? Ten seconds in and your mouth’s drying up. You’re wary of repeating yourself? Don’t get nervous. Push ON. Keep talking. After 30 seconds and you can hear your own wibbly voice cracking and echoing in your skull. Why do you have such an annoying voice? Why can’t it just SHUT UP. 

Right. Now you’re up to 40 seconds. The last 20 seconds drip by like a melting ice age. It feels like Empires rise and fall as you drone out your monotone “pass the time of day” whimsies to yourself… You have nothing to fucking say so stop saying it. SHUT UP. By the end of a minute you probably hate yourself. You never want to hear your stupid voice again. I don’t want to hear it. Why did you speak in the first place?

 That’s ONE minute of trying to sound interesting to yourself. Now imagine you’re a news channel. There are 60 minutes in an hour. There are 24 hours in a day. So basically you need to do that 1,440 times. 1,440 times EVERY FUCKING DAY. At least in groundhog day Bill Murray learnt to sculpt ice. Imagine being pinned to a chair reading an autocue for that time. Waffling out the same tired stories on a loop.

The lonely world of the studio

When you’re watching at home you can just turn over, fair enough – but you really need to visit a news room to see what a soulless factory it really is.

Here’s how the routine goes.

1. You get a call from your PR people or a journalist. “we want to interview you about Pauline Quirk’s views on roadkill” they scream, “Come to our studio at ten O’Clock and tell us EVERYTHING”

2. You dust off your suit. You’ve never washed your suit. It sits in the office eternally unwashed and worn for the odd hours here and there when journalists or clients want a piece of you. You hate your suit. It smells of your fear. You will never wash your suit.

3. If you’re lazy they’ll send a car for you. Don’t accept this if you can walk. There is no point in edging 20 minutes closer to your grave for nothing. You may as well get some cardio in. Maybe see a few sites and breathe a bit of *real* air – not the air-conditioned muck you lung up on a daily basis.

4. You arrive at the studio. Now people have this image of green rooms, make-up, coffee, friendly producers prepping you. NONE OF THIS IS TRUE. Since news went 24 you are a piece of news livestock. A carcass that the news channel consumes, spits out over the airwaves and defecates back onto the street afterwards.

5. No-one will acknowledge  you apart from to take your name. Someone will lead you to the “green room” which is a room. It has green chairs. That is why it’s the *green* room stupids. Sit down. SIT DOWN UGLY!

6. You sit. You are in a queue of greasy faced sweatbags waiting for your slot. Someone slouches in carrying a radio mic. They put it on the person in front of you. Someone who 5 seconds ago was on the telly being a greasy faced sweatbag walks in to get his bag, euphoric in his post interview nerves he chimes in “good luck” then exits. The radio mic person signals for you to stand up. He says nothing as he puts a mic on you then walks out with another greasy faced sweatbag. You are the next greasy faced sweatbag.

7. Suddenly they are talking about you on the telly. You hear the words “coming up” and then some blah about the stuff you are there to talk about. This means that you are about to go on the telly. YOU ARE ABOUT TO GO ON THE TELLY. You forget the stuff you thought you were going to say. Then you remember it. Then you forget it and it becomes something else. Like an omelette transmorphing into a pancake. What were you there to talk about again? The radio mic man appears in the doorway. He’s the only person you’ve seen in the studio apart from the people on the news. He signals. It’s your turn.

8. Like being born you are suddenly thrust into a world of lights and chatter. Newsreaders prep their interviewees in between pieces. They usually try to calm your nerves a little. Ask a few questions. Make you feel confident about what you’re talking about. Generally they’re nice. They want you to look good. If you look bad then they look bad. You are always lulled into a false sense of comfort. Part of me thinks they like talking to you, because it’s so unbearably lonely sitting in front of an unmanned camera for hours on end. Then I realise I’m part of a long line of *experts* they talk to. This is just automatonic patter for them. Their lack of interest becomes apparent when you hear the countdown to air stop at 3 – they suddenly stop (mid-sentence even), glaze over and look at the camera.

The classic expert

9. BANG you’ve been shot out of a news gun. They’re asking you questions…. SHIT! Hit the ground running. Don’t stop. DON’T STOP TALKING. If you stop talking they’ll hate you forever, and you’ve just made friends with them. It doesn’t matter what they ask. JUST SAY SOMETHING. I was once so surprised to be suddenly live on air that I didn’t hear the first question I was asked. I just stared slack-jawed into the eyes of the newsreader. In those eyes I saw the universe unfolding. Beyond the dead visage and the re-applied make-up crusted beneath her skin for decades I noticed a glimmer. It was panic. She was panicking about me freezing. I said something. Anything. The relief in her eyes was so palpable I wanted to hug her tearfully.

10. STOP TALKING. You talk too much. You talk too fast. SHUT YOUR MOUTH. In your eagerness to please them you’ve ended up confessing everything, crimes you’ve never even committed. You’ve given away too much and you’ll never get it back. You’ve just cut out a small piece of your soul and laid it on the desk in front of them. They snatch it up greedily and stuff it into their mouths. The interview is over. All the friendliness they showed before? It’s gone now. You’re done. You’re a fucking husk. GET OUT and don’t walk in front of the camera prickmouth. You exit stage unseen as they introduce the next segment.

11. Radio mic man doesn’t even bother to show you back to the *green* room. You’re old news now. 2 minutes ago you were live. Now you’re dead to them. If you grasp desperately to the idea of fame you can imagine images of your sweaty faced ramblings bouncing round the cosmos. But face it. You’re washed up. No-one even wants your fucking radio mic. You take it off yourself and throw it on a table. “Good luck” you chirrup to the next piece of meat before the building vomits you out onto the street below.

That is seriously what it is like to appear on the telly.

Great isn’t it!


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