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Fear of heights

greatdictatorRemember the classic scene in Charlie Chaplin’s “Great Dictator” when Mussolini pays a visit to Hitler? Both men, seated in barber’s chairs, keep cranking up their chair so as to sit higher. Hitler goes one up and looks down on Mussolini, then it’s the Duce’s turn and he goes up and looks down on the Führer, and then the Führer goes higher and so it goes until they’re almost hitting the ceiling. A similar insidious game is now playing out in television studios as any show worth its star has a high desk with the host sitting behind it on an equally high chair and looking down at the interviewee who sits on a sofa or armchair of regular height. Said interviewee is at an awkward angle, having to look left– risking a neck sprain–and up at the host. Check out comedian Aziz Ansari on Conan O’Brien, looking left and up or Joaquin Phoenix’s unforgettable bearded appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman looking down on him. Watch Jay Leno on his Tonight Show with guest Barack Obama looking at him, yep, left and up. The question is, are set designers responsible for the unfortunate decision or is it the host’s wish to establish dominance on guests from the get-go? Of course, not all television hosts subject their guests to the uncomfortable ordeal. Jon Stewart, Ellen de Generes and a few others are courteous enough to sit across from the people they interview.

Those high chairs are the preferred seating everywhere nowadays on television, not only for the host on one-on-one interviews. On a recently watched political debate on French television, some dozen people sat on stools round a unusually high table—the women in pencil skirts somehow managing to hoist themselves up. Trendy watering holes or restaurants? Same. High stools for customers snacking on the latest faddish chow (always, but always served with “a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.” Ah, but where would we be without that drizzle?). And then there are the proudly displayed kitchens in various friends’ houses, with the inevitable island in the middle, flanked by tall stools. If I ever remodel my kitchen–a distant prospect at this point–I can promise you there will be no island and no tall stools, just a regular table with chairs around it.

Who knows how these absurd trends start and who is the particular genius behind this one? I myself don’t care about perching up in the air. The dictionary calls a perch a position that is secure, advantageous, or prominent but that doesn’t work for me. I don’t feel secure on a high stool, I don’t find it advantageous nor do I need to demonstrate my prominence. I’ll have a regular chair, thank you very much.

  1. March 28, 2013 at 2:10 pm

    Sounds like an add on to “I” culture…


    • Sue Ellen Hearn
      March 28, 2013 at 9:25 pm

      Have noticed the talk show high chairs and thought them thrones for fragile egos also. Currently sitting out on the patio in equal chairs with my sweet poodle, who is my superior in all important ways….. And there is always wine and a comfortable chair waiting here for friends like you! Xx


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