One of the unexpected pleasures of lockdown has been seeing inside other people’s living rooms. With TV presenters broadcasting from their homes and local groups meeting on Zoom, we can indulge our nosey sides with impunity.
My cursory research suggests journalists and their interviewees most often choose to sit in front of bookshelves, but sometimes paintings. Politicians seem to go for either books or framed photographs – presumably illustrating their proudest moments.
One friend admits to freezing her TV screen and scrutinising choices of backdrops in search of clues to literary or cultural preferences.
On Have I Got News For You last night, a suitably intellectual-looking selection of books were Ian Hislop’s choice of scenery. “Why are you sitting in a reference library?” asked Paul Merton. Merton himself had chosen to show off his enormous DVD collection. Presenter Steph McGovern was in her rather nice-looking kitchen.
While comedy shows are undoubtedly struggling with the lack of atmosphere and banter that a live audience usually provides, the lockdown format does lend itself to some extra visual gags.
On last night’s Mash Report Nish Kumar had toilet rolls artfully stacked on a shelf behind him – and stood up from his desk at the end of the show to reveal a lack of trousers.
Even on the radio presenters are seizing opportunities for comedy. “Usually on Grand National Day I’d be speaking to you from the finishing post at Aintree,” said Radio 4’s sports reporter this morning. “Instead I’m broadcasting to you from under the stairs.”
For those of us who have now moved parts of our work or social lives online with apps such as Skype and Zoom, we get glimpses of our colleagues’ and neighbours’ homes and families. Cats and children sometimes wander into my online yoga classes. At my local community Zoom choir the other night, we got to watch one of our group cook haggis while we sang!
The visual language of a grid of people peering out from their little screens is becoming an everyday part of our interactions. Former London Assembly Member Darren Johnson has pointed out that for people over a certain age, the image has nostalgic echoes of Celebrity Squares. As with so many aspects of lockdown, it’s less a case of back to the future than forwards to the past.