Phatic TV

Hello Goodbye (as seen on TV!)

There’s an exceptional amount of time and attention given to greetings in the cops shows of the moment: NYPD Blue, Law and Order, the Canadian Da Vinci’s Inquest, and the immortal Homicide.

Everyone’s always coming and going, and with each arrival and departure there is a ritualized greeting. Often this carries the weight of the scene in its few words and simple gestures. We can tell exactly what Andy thinks of the captain by the way he says goodbye to him.

But a lot of these greetings are a kind of phatic texture, meant to show that these are real people and not TV robots. Some of the “gritty authentiicity” of the cop show comes from the minimalism of these gestures, as if (and this may be true) the middle class viewers of the show are obliged to offer greetings are bigger, brighter, more enamelled and gregarious. Any show that features these tiny, grudging greetings must be very authentic indeed.

Still it is odd that so much “action television” should consist in the frequent repetition of words, phrases and gestures that are, after all, not so very demonstrative, animated or active. Don’t try this at home, kids. It’s only for trained professionals on a closed course.