Accent on Living
THE garment — a high-collared effect that buttons well up on the shoulders — is called an “intern’s blouse,” an “intern’s shirt,” or a “doctor’s office coat.” A haberdasher describes this type of collar as “mandarin style.” It used to be known as a “Russian collar” in the pajama trade, but like sauerkraut, which tried to become Liberty cabbage, the collar has deracinated itself into a Chinese item — surely a bad-to-worse transfer.
But call it what you will, this garment has become the uniform of all TV announcers. It identifies the announcer as a doctor — sometimes as a dentist but usually as a doctor. There was no way of telling whether a radio voice was wearing a mandarin-style jacket or a T shirt, but the intern’s outfit has replaced the Windsor Knot as the hallmark of TV’s commercial spokesmen.
The TV doctor has everything but a medical degree: well-stocked laboratory, much white enamel, plenty of bottles and jars, sterilizers, and instruments. His trusty stethoscope is always around his neck, and he gestures with it, fondles it, like an oldschool trial lawyer waving his pincenez at a jury, (The toothpaste announcer, in his white jacket, toys with a dental mirror instead of a st.et hoseope.)
The doctor’s disguise obliges the announcer to remain anonymous. He cannot very well declare himself to be “your old friend Shop ( arruthers,” simply because we know that our old friend Shep Carruthers is not a doctor at all, but a small-time actor who d rifled into television from even smaller-time night-club work, and who would be surprised to learn that, a doctor listens to a stethoscope instead of talking into it. Rut neither can Shep identify himself as a doctor and thereby risk the displeasure of the Federal Communications Commission. With the white jacket he doesn’t have to. Even the dumbest member of the TV audience can see for himself that a doctor is doing the talking.
And what is Shep Carruthers — this Man in White, on loan for the moment from Bob and Ray’s staff — pitching? The answer is everything: (he twice-daily cathartic, the sovereign pill for nephritis, the remedial cigarette, wrist-watch bands, wave lotion, slip covers, carpeting, beer, or small loans.
Considerations of health are paramount. Why suffer needlessly ? Why take chances? Be reasonable. Don’t waste money on a wrist-watch band that will constrict your circulation and probably make your fingers drop off. Do you want to get pneumonia by using the wrong kind of fuel in your furnace? Are you immune to germs, to poisons? Ever wonder what goes on in those hard-to-clean corners of the wrong kind of freezing compartment? Surely you don’t know as much as your doctor knows about all this. See him there—the man in the white jacket ? Well, then — listen to what he is telling you.
The announcer-doctor first appears in a close-up. Let us assume that he is selling Soporola, the only genuine health-mattress on the market. He looks us in the eye and is heard as follows: —
“In my profession,” the announcerdoctor begins, taking care not to point out that his profession is in fact commercial announcing, “we turn to the specialist for expert advice. And noted specialists agree that not one single case of spinal curvature is due to Soporola.” He waits an instant for this to sink in.
“No other mattress can make that claim,” the announcer-doctor continues, “simply because Soporola, with its exclusive Spinomatic alignment, is the only mattress that contains Scarium.”
The “doctor” recedes on our screen until we see that he is standing at a kind of all-purpose table in his allpurpose laboratory and consulting room. Here, we gather, is where he has been testing the whole run of TV consumer goods, in addition to hitting off occasional amputations, bone settings, and stethoscope jobs. If it’s a cigarette that he is plugging, he is smoking feverishly (“Must keep fit, y’know, in my profession”).
Having made his opening pitch, the attention-getter, in the close-up, the man in the white jacket is now about to deliver his spiel. This takes the form of an intimate, relaxed, and candid summary of the pat ient s case: you, at your TV receiver, and your spine — what’s the scoop?
It is no time for brash enthusiasm, the unprofessional gusto of the commercial announcer. He would be false to his Hippocratic trust, the “doctor’s” manner implies, were he to indulge in unscientific overstatements in behalf of the spinal column, yours or anybody else’s. His findings, which he begins in a confidential tone, speaking with deliberation, are dispassionate: the plain facts derived from a lifetime of study — nothing added and nothing glossed over.
The announcer-doctor fingers his stethoscope thoughtfully. He looks tired. He is tired. (The man has been making commercial announcements on four other shows within the past two hours, and he had barely time to get into a fresh white jacket for this one. Moreover, his dramatic coach was just now blasting him out for not coming down on the word “ammoniated ” in his toothpaste show.) He seats himself on the corner of his all-purpose table. Another of those endless doctor-patient obligations confronts him, but he’s going to give it the best he has. I he show must go on!
“Ever stop to think about your spine?” the announcer-doctor begins. “ Well, in my profession . . .”
The health angle and the white jacket are said to be alarmingly successful in tipping over the TV audience. If the advertised product happens to tie in comfortably with a specific disease — arthritis, rickets, myocarditis, or lockjaw — so much the better, but if no really formidable ailment can be reasonably hitched up with the sales talk, the announcerdoctor can always pick on worry. The TV audience, in other words, can be made to worry about almost anything, and nobody appreciates the dreadful consequences of worry more knowledgeably than the man in the white jacket on the TV screen. Worry enough and sooner or later you will come down with the whole list: hence, buy a Soporola and you can at least stop worrying about the pretzel-like tendencies latent in every spine.
At this stage of its development TV is thus fashioning a new slogan for the American people: “An unsound mind in a sound body!”