#englishonthesideFriday, December 23, 2016
Lights, Camera, Freeze!
For the Herald
If you’ve been on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram over the past month, you’ve probably come across a Mannequin Challenge video, in which people strike a frozen pose (1) as Rae Sremmurd’s “Black Beatles” plays in the background. The camera surveys the motionless landscape, building suspense as viewers take in a scene in which life has eerily stopped.
A group of Florida high schoolers made the first video in October, and they ended up (2) starting a movement that went viral, with Steelers fans, Medal of Freedom winners, Pearl Harbor survivors and government employees jumping in (3) to make videos of their own.
Like most Internet fads(4) , the Mannequin Challenge’s moment will likely be brief. Nonetheless, bizarre (5) cultural phenomena often spark (6) conversations and think pieces (7) that ask “Why this? Why now?”
In the case of the Mannequin Challenge, there’s actually some historical precedent. Long before smartphones filmed the stiffened appendages of people seeking Internet fame, striking a pose was a popular form of entertainment in Victorian England.
They called them tableaux vivants (literally, “living pictures”). The technique has its roots in medieval drama, but it became a fashionable Victorian-era dinner party game similar to charades (8). People would select a famous scene from history or literature or art and position themselves in that scene, frozen, for their guests and friends to observe.
An American publication from 1871 called “Parlor Tableaux and Amateur Theatricals” describes tableau vivant as a “simple” and “elegant” form of entertainment. Over the course of 300 pages, it suggests ideas for staging, casting and costumes. It also recommends that a full evening of entertainment involve “five to 10 designs, including varied selections of classical and domestic, serious and comic, tableaux.”
One fashion and etiquette writer known as “The Lounger” described tableau vivant as the perfect party game.
According to The Lounger, “In the production of tableaux, the greatest attention must be paid to the grouping of figures and the harmony of colours; on these two points depends their success. When they are animated and controlled by a fine taste, their effect is charming.”
The Lounger’s description of the tableau’s compelling (9) combination of animation and control, its carefully choreographed suspension of movement, also aptly (10) illustrates the appeal of the Mannequin Challenge. The pregnancy (11) of the moment captures the attention of the viewer, who wonders whether Bill Clinton can really stand still that long.
Queen Victoria and her family also loved putting these together. In an 1852 pencil sketch, she drew her six children in a tableau of John Milton’s “L'Allegro” and “Il Penseroso” that they performed for her husband’s 33rd birthday.
“It was a great surprise to Albert who was delighted, and could not imagine how it had been so well contrived (12),” she wrote in her journal.
Part of the joy in producing one of these tableaux vivants was watching the audience’s recognition and reaction. And I have to believe that had Queen Victoria owned an iPhone, she would have snapped a glimpse of this moment and shared it on Instagram for the world to see, too.
Back in our present times, based on its upward trend, it's likely that the Mannequin Challenge will probably be around until the new year. But who will be the next superstar to embrace it?
If Hans Christian Andersen wrote about our pop culture today, he'd have two lifetimes of fresh material. Few people seem willing to state just how foolish many fads are. Instead, they pat participants on the back (13), smiling about how awesome it all is and uploading videos to YouTube in hopes of fame. But, like Andersen's naked emperor, many fad chasers are clueless (14), with no one admonishing (15) them as they rush to the next big pointless or even damaging thing.
Adapted from a story by Ellen J. Stockstill, The Conversation,
and a story by Meredith Whitmore, Lifezette
“strike a frozen pose” (1)
If you strike a pose you put your body in a particular position in order to create that particular effect. He threw his arms up in a triumphant pose.
“ended up” (2)
End up is a copula (linking) verb that carries with it the meaning of “become eventually, turn out to be, be in a particular state because of doing something.” He ended up a liar / You’ll end up in serious trouble if you keep showing up so late every day.
“jumping in” (3)
If you jump in to do something, you join in, start participating or become involved in it very quickly, without giving it much thought. I shouldn’t have jumped in while they were arguing / The best way to appreciate a software framework is to jump right in and use it. Notice the use of “right” modifying the particle “in” in this last example.
A fad is a temporary – usually short-lived – fashion or manner or concept, especially one that is followed very intensely, enthusiastically. Another word for “fad” is “craze,” as in the latest health fad/craze / The fad for wearing ripped jeans is back / Some regard green politics as no more than a fad.
When you describe something as bizarre, you depict it as strikingly out of the ordinary, odd, markedly unusual in appearance, style. It usually involves unexpected elements, as in bizarre behaviour / clothes / situation.
When the verb “spark” is transitive, it means to activate, to set in motion, to cause to start, as in The incident sparked a controversy / This proposal will almost certainly spark another countrywide debate about immigration / the question sparked a lively discussion.
“think pieces” (7)
A think piece is a piece of writing meant to be thought-provoking that consists mainly of background material and personal opinion and analysis, rather than basic news and facts. The term is sometimes used pejoratively, as contrasted with the concept of “news.” It seems these people are more focused on the most recently released think-piece than on information.
Charades is a game which consists in guessing a Word which is represented through actions by a player who may not speak.
If something is compelling, it has a powerful and irresistible effect. It requires attention or admiration, as in a man of compelling integrity. If you describe reasons, or arguments as compelling, you are to accept them or believe them because they are so strong, convincing, as in compelling evidence / It's a fairly compelling argument for going.
In a way that is appropriate or suitable in the circumstances. Because the student did not aptly explain the chemical reaction, he lost ten points off his lab grade / It is aptly said you are what you eat.
If a moment is pregnant, as described in the present article, it is filled with meaning or important that has not yet been expressed or understood. There followed a pregnant pause in which both knew what the other was thinking but neither knew what to say / A conversation occasionally punctuated by pregnant pauses.
Something that is contrived is obviously planned or forced; artificial, as in a contrived story. It has an unnatural or false quality, it is not spontaneous. A novel with a contrived ending / His hate and passion was actually a carefully contrived act.
“pat participants on the back” (13)
Deriving its meaning from the physical action described literally in the phrase, “pat a person on the back” and “give a person a pat on the back” are two variations of the same idiom, which means “to praise somebody for a job well done, by means of a word or gesture of support or approval.” The coach patted each player on the back after the game / The bones she gave her assistant was a pat on the back.
You use “clues” – signs or information - in order to solve a mystery or a problem. If you “don’t have a clue” or are “clueless,” then you are unable to understand something because you do not have the necessary information or signs, you are ignorant or uninformed. A traveller giving a clueless, shy look at the menu that he can’t understand is a classic scenario for someone on vacation / The problem was that I did not know where to start; I was clueless.
To admonish is to tell someone that they have done something wrong, to reprimand. His mother admonished them for eating so quickly / She admonished me for appearing at breakfast unshaven.
Should you be informed, here’s the explanation
If Queen Victoria had owned an iPhone, she would have shared her “Mannequin Challenge” on Instagram, but she didn’t do it because she did not have an iPhone. Have you noticed the conditional essence of the expression “had the Queen owned an iPhone”?
Here’s inversion – once again! In formal contexts, you may find this alternative to a conditional sentence that refers to an unreal situation in the past. The transformation occurs as follows: the subject and the auxiliary are inverted in the “if-clause” and “if” is omitted. Had we been informed of the regulations before, we would have followed the procedure (If we had been informed …, …) If the conditional clause is negative, contractions are not possible, the negative adverb appearing right after the subject, as in Had the Congress not passed the law, the President could have issued a decree.
In sentences which contain present and future conditions, inversion may occur in formal contexts as well. The transformation is more complex because “should” appears in place of “if,” as in Should the conditions be adverse, we will not set out early (If the conditions are adverse, …) Notice that the use of “should” here is not related to its more common sense of obligation, it is simply an alternative to the present simple in the clause. If the conditional is negative, the rule mentioned before applies. Consider: Should he not turn up on time, he won’t be given the award (If he doesn’t turn up on time, …)
Finally, it is possible to use inversion, though a little less common than the other two, in conditional sentences related to an improbable situation in the future. The more usual “if-clause” is clearer and more straightforward. Were I the president of the company, I would appoint an assistant to work with the staff every day (If I were the president ..., …) The restriction on the negative contraction applies as well. Were he not suitable for the position, he wouldn’t get so much support. But he’s actually very good at what he’s doing (If he weren’t suitable …, …) More complex still is the transformation of this kind of conditional sentence when the verb is other than the verb “to be.” “If I had a surefire candidate, I would immediately submit the official application” can be turned into this more formal version: Were I to have a candidate, I would immediately submit the official application.
But why bother? – one may ask. Inversion is just another strategy that we use in the language. And, like every strategy, it has a purpose. Should we want to make what we are saying sound more carefully considered and given more thought, we can try inverting the order. So, jump in and get a pat on the back for using sophisticated language aptly.