TABLE OF CONTENTS

PRINT March 1988

REMOTE CONTROL

Television

WHEN THERE’S NOT much else to say, people talk about the weather. And the way the network affiliates litter their news broadcasts with meteorological bombast, you’d think little else was happening in the world aside from a bit of low pressure blowing in from Canada. Just as the news is reported as a series of gestures framed and inflated into “events,” so each swirl of climatic activity, each swell of sunshine or rain, is pumped up into something really big—big enough, that is, to spew dozens of adjectives and sell lots of hyperbolic airtime.

In New York the affiliates sport old favorites, voices of predictive semicertainty that you can depend on and trust with the inevitability of the now-archaic family doctor. In fact, maybe these TV security blankets, these weather people (and a small army of video medics and consumer omsbudsmen, with their call-ins, write-ins, and displays of sympathetic reciprocity), have inherited the halo of trust that has tumbled from atop the general practitioner’s furrowed brow. From Storm Field’s alert pertness to Mr. G’s name-shortened affability to Al Roker’s bubblingly genial competence, these guys are really into it. Genuinely concerned with that Siberian Express zooming in from Calgary, fret-tingly fearful of the storm system forming south of the Keys, disarmingly alarmist when it comes to heat exhaustion, they are a welter of gesture: pointing, panting, pivoting, prognosticating. The forecasters are planted in front of wondrous technomaps, which transform themselves with holographic grace, and glow with a kind of cartoony comedic signage: little yellow suns sport shades, threatening puffs of gray cloud wear tiny frowns, moons don earmuffs. Lights flash, arrows beam, and numbers come and go, in a barrage of reticulated fade-outs. All this is then laminated by the forecasters’ humble reminders of their fallibility concerning tomorrow’s predictions and their contriteness concerning yesterday’s mistakes.

Tucked behind desks, the other denizens of the newsroom become talking heads, broadcasting brains, as they report the mayhem and mishaps of “culture.” But the weather people tell us of “nature,” and are pictured in medium and long shots that show their bodies and tell us about who and how they are in the world. Part Mr. Wizards, part carny schticksters, they nuzzle us with a jumped-up mix of hope, hindrance, and snake oil. Avidly indulging the dispensations accorded the physical world, they carry on a corporeal narrative rife with emotive exhortation and effusive body language. Escaping the dry simulation of “reason” that permeates talking-head news reporting, they obviously take great pleasure in playing “nature” to “culture.”

Barbara Kruger is an artist who writes. Her column on television and her movie reviews appear regularly in Artforum.