PBS Idea Channel has long been on my radar, and I have been an avid fan of the philosophy of the show, the host Mike, and the unapologetically silly yet serious mantra that it subscribes to.
Here, in the show’s penultimate episode, you can see everything great that the show was and is; Quick witted, analytical, humorous, clad freely with images and gifs, accessible, free and meaty.
If I could achieve 1/10th of this I would be happy.
‘Skwerl’ is, according to the description attached to the YouTube upload, “a short film in fake English”.
The gag here is that everything else about this piece has the trappings of a short, highly charged drama exert, the only thing missing is recognisable English vocabulary. It has been exchanged for English phonics, the actual constructed sounds that make up word, delivered with conviction and in character, so that the audience can infer everything that you may be able to infer from watching a foreign language film without subtitles or dubbing – the setting, the atmosphere, the interpersonal tension and the swings of mood, as well as broadly from this context – the “meaning” of the dialogue.
This whole grand delusion is designed to give an insight into what it would be like to watch an English Foreign Language film, if you had no grasp of the English language itself – the strict ties of vocabulary and meaning are pulled out from under you, leaving you with noises that are tantalisingly familiar sounding, but whose precise meaning is impenetrable.
This particular experiment has strong cultural undertones – with the prevalence of English across the world as a stable of cultural expression, recasting English as a foreign language that native English speakers are not familiar with allows.a degree of insight into another world – the wealth of English culture not being directly accessible to you.
As well, Sociologically (the YouTube rule of ‘never read the comments’ aside) there are some occasional attestations as to the truth of this rendering of “How English sounds to non-English speakers” from honest-to-god ESOL (English as a second or other language) speakers from the days before their fluency. This is a testament to the thorough research or prior understanding of English phonics, or perhaps merely an intuitive ability of the presumably English native speaking screenwriters to create English sounding non-English words.
plus some youtube comment commentary
What happens in Vagueness stays in Vagueness.
Saying “life is complicated” is far less compelling than telling a specific anecdote or story that underpins that exact point.
A Prairie Home Companion has been on seemingly forever. I first came across it when it used to be played on Radio 4 at odd times, usually late into the night (perhaps it’s still on).
His voice, that of Garrison Keillor is hypnotic, soothing, and iconic.
What’s wonderful about it is how lasting it has been, created and hosted by the same man since 1974, no doubt thanks to it’s formula; inoffensive yet compelling cockamamie tid bits within a reliable and quickly familiar setting – that is Lake Wobegon. Any mention of the show conjures instantly the words in that familiar deep voice “the news from Lake Wobegon”.
What I take most from this though is that it’s okay to just keep on producing seemingly stodgy content, especially on the radio. It has it’s place. It can be noble work.
Not everything has to be cynical or bold or ruthless. Sometimes, you can just make familiar.