“In today’s age there seems to be a television show airing on every major channel.”

Oh, this madcap modern world!

My student begins with the obligatory freshman Orient-the-Reader-In-Time phrase, as if the present tense of the verb won’t be a giveaway that we’re talking about the present. I do like “in today’s age,” which is a strange expression but at least one I don’t see very often; but the information it conveys is completely superfluous, except insofar as it provides a little rhythmic grace note before we move into the plodding rhythms of the main sentence.

Said sentence actually begins with that other freshman favorite, “there” plus a verb of being. This verb of being is emphatically one, incorporating not only the verb itself but also the infinitive TO BE. Clunk. We’re doomed before we start here. Eight space-filler words: WHEN will he get to the point? Of course he got there two words quicker by omitting “day and” from “In today’s [day and] age.” But omissions aren’t always wise, as we shall see in the body of the sentence.

I’m sure he didn’t mean what he said when he did get to the point. Nobody can possibly really BE as amazed and naïve as his sentence implies he is. Back in the ‘forties and even the early ‘fifties the sentence might have stood as written as viewers marveled over the miracle of the little picture box and studios pondered what to do with it; but now he shouldn’t have to be told that shows galore air on every major channel, and plenty of minor channels too—even though when we complain that there’s nothing to watch we’re usually telling the truth, qualitatively if not quantitatively.

Well, since I was the one who made the writing assignment, I knew what he probably meant to say. The topic was “reality television,” and he most likely meant that there seems to be a reality television show airing on every major channel. But even that is hopelessly naïve, or uninformed.

If he had added “reality” and “every hour” and deleted “major,” he might have come closer to real reality: There seems to be a “reality” television show airing every hour, on every channel. If he had changed his structure a little bit, he might have said “No matter the hour or the channel, today’s television viewer can’t seem to escape the ‘reality’ show.” That’s only two words longer than the original, and has a lot more clarity. (And if he had written day and age, we’d be even.)

Of course to get there the writer has to think, write, read, think, revise, read, think, revise: a lot of steps. So many reality shows involve time limits and thinking on the fly: perhaps that habit of haste is contagious. The deliberate process of writing is voted off the freshman-comp show in the first episode.

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About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

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