Our talking heads live in homes—probably nice ones. Why all the weird Zoom backgrounds?by Suchandrika Chakrabarti / May 11, 2020 / Leave a comment
Video calling, the real winner of the lockdown, has given us more glimpses into other people’s homes than we could have ever hoped—and what’s the first thing we do when we peer past the face in the box, and take in the landscape behind? We judge. As Michael Gove discovered this month, we’ll spot the David Irvings and the Ayn Rands stacked above the television and say something on the internet about them.
Two new and incredibly popular Twitter accounts have capitalised on this enduring human curiosity. American Twitter account Room Rater commands 158k followers, and was set up in April to give scores out of 10 to the backgrounds of pundits appearing on TV news. Scores are doled out based on the composition, presentation, and the quality of home décor on display. Actor Daniel Radcliffe, who appears to be standing in a kitchen that wouldn’t look out of place in an undergraduate dormitory, gets a 3/10 for his effort: “You’ll need a magic wand to fix this. Try another room.” Why not watch and learn from fellow actor Paul Giamatti, who gets a strong 8/10: “The depth and camera angle work. The lights on either side of the bookcase do as well. Add a succulent.”
— Room Rater (@ratemyskyperoom) May 6, 2020
A UK version, Bookcase Credibility, also set up in April and already at 63k followers, sharpens the target of judgment. It’s like they’ve taken the famous John Waters quote—“If you go home with somebody, and they don’t have books, don’t fuck ’em!”—and run it through a pandemic filter. Former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell stands in what looks like his book-heavy living room, but Bookcase Credibility is unimpressed. “A neatly formulated credibility grab with books running directly into Alastair’s head, while on the other side the stairs are a drop into an abyss of ignorance,” it pronounces: “Sadly, the spaces on the shelves are fatal. They gape at us in mute horror. It is hard to look away.”
Alastair Campbell. A neatly formulated credibility grab with books running directly into Alastair's head, while on the other side the stairs are a drop into an abyss of ignorance. Sadly, the spaces on the shelves are fatal. They gape at us in mute horror. It is hard to look away. pic.twitter.com/Yob0IXMxx3
— Bookcase Credibility (@BCredibility) May 1, 2020
The alternative to a busy, open-to-critique background is an entirely blank one, stripped of any signs of personality. That seems smart at first, but quickly ends up horrifying. Editor Jessica Hayden, has, like many of us, turned to Zoom calls with her colleagues during the lockdown. She says: “I used a plain white…