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The Bloody Weather

      Not that I’m complaining but we’ve been getting a lot of rain here in the Bay Area. I suppose you could say it reminds me of my life living in England. I got to thinking of the differences in not only the weather, but the way that the news of it is passed along to us.

     In America, the TV weatherman, by which of course I mean, “Meteorological Person,” has the toughest job on the news. I’m not referring to the notion that they might somehow be responsible for what the sky offered us today. Nor that their professional incompetence might ruin your trip to the beach. No, I’m talking about how hard it must be, as a meteorologist, to try and make what you’re saying seem relevant in a news broadcast.

        “Bad news on the way I’m afraid. It’s going to rain tomorrow and you might just need an umbrella.” Even outside of a TV news broadcast setting that’s not bad news. It’s going to rain? That could be considered a minor inconvenience at best, especially when stacked up against other news stories; the phrase “bad news” seems sorely out of place.

            A wildfire spreading through your neighborhood is bad news. A garbage strike is bad news. Your childhood sports hero has to have both arms and legs amputated, that’s bad news. “Your hair and coat might get a little wet tomorrow,” is up there in newsworthiness with: “This just in… a man in South Dakota farted last night in his sleep. The only person affected by the incident were his wife who complained that the noise awoke her, and their dog who was curled up around the man’s legs at the time.”

       Often, the meteorologist (from here on out referred to as the weatherman) will have to follow a news anchor who might say something like this: “…leaving the orphaned children to fend for themselves in the snake pit. And now with the weather, here’s Chip…Chip.”

         To showcase what masters of trickery weathermen are, no one really notices the awful segue. Chip starts out soberly slow with a quick précis of the day’s weather in your region. Then his voice and tone pick up the cadence a little, with what he refers to as “some good news on the way.” He says that the weekend should be a lot clearer with temperatures in the mid-eighties.

          Chip doesn’t pause to accept credit for the better weather to follow, but by now everyone has forgotten all about the grisly demise of a family of four’s doomed camping expedition which went horribly awry thanks to a short-sighted cartographer’s dyslexic condition. At this point of the news broadcast, the TV viewing audience is wondering whether they should throw a pool party this weekend. “Fire up those barbecues,” beams Chip. “It’s gonna be a scorcher!” He flashes his white teeth, which showcase his tanned skin and handsome features; he holds the expression for a second in the hope that the best casting agents in Hollywood are watching the broadcast.

         In Britain there are no such dreams of Hollywood stardom for our depressed weatherman. His glumness fits right into the news seamlessly. “Tomorrow it’s going to rain. I’m sorry; it’s not my fault.” Then the weatherman whose name is usually Michael or Robert, but never Mike or Bob, places a little cartoon cloud over where the word London should be on a map of the United Kingdom. It simplifies the science of weather perfectly. Here’s the country you live in, and here’s a cartoon grey cloud which signifies that tomorrow the weather will be cloudy, and will remain so, until it’s time for me to fish out one of those little yellow and orange cartoon suns from a cardboard box in the back of the studio somewhere. The British have a love/hate relationship with their weathermen and their weather, and without its almost terminal grayness would give the Brits one less thing to complain about—which they would in turn probably complain about. Michael doesn’t have to worry about how his audience feels at the end of the news broadcast, his job is done; all the little cartoon clouds have been placed onto the map and it’s time for him to go home and eat his supper.

        Back in the U.S. much like a well-acted drama or book, Chip wins the TV audience back at the end of the broadcast with some good news. After all, they did just sit through an hour of stories about death occurring all around the world in the form of wars, earthquakes, bridge collapses and closer to home shootings on their city’s streets. The viewer rode all that way, guided by a team of reliable reporters and appropriately serious anchors. It is now up to Chip to leave the audience with a happy sense of wellbeing. At the end of Chip’s work day, he can put down his pointer and walk away from the green screen knowing that he made the world a better place by cheering a few hundred thousand people up. But wait…there is a breaking news story. This is usually pretty meaty, because the news team genuinely wants you to feel happy at the end of the news broadcast. They want you to come back and watch again tomorrow, but at the same time they can’t risk missing the story when their rivals will surely be on the same trail and so have to tell you about it. After all, the story might be about a three alarm fire at a pet store.
“…leaving the orphaned kittens to fend for themselves in the blazing inferno.”

© copyright Matty Stone 2010

One Response

  1. American weatherpersons have been featured in two animated feature films this past year: “cloudy with a chance of meatballs” and “monsters vs. aliens” – what do you make of that?

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