Q. Because I have been active in certain community projects, I have been asked to appear on a television "talk show" along with some people who have long opposed what I am doing. (This involves housing for people with various problems in residential districts -- people get very bitter and nasty on the subject.)
There is one man in particular who has attacked me violently, and I rather dread being on television with him. He can be amazingly suave and almost convincing when he states his case. I know it's full of errors and sophistry, but it sounds so reasonable when he talks.
My question is this: How can I argue with him on television without seeming rude? He has a kind of exaggerated Old-World courtesy when he deals with me face-to-face, and I don't want to look uncivilized. On the other hand, I sure don't want to look as if I have the weaker case. Because mine is the humanitarian view, I ought, by all rights, to be more sympathetic. I'm afraid of forfeiting that by getting angry.
Also, this will be my first time on television, and I'm nervous in general -- quite without the dislike of meeting my chief adversary -- probably because I don't know what to expect.
How early should I get there? Will they make up my face? What clothes should I wear? Should I prepare a statement and memorize it? Will I get a chance to rebut inaccurate statements made by others? Should I be prepared to roll off statistics to support what I say? There must be some sort of etiquette that has developed rules for what to do and what not to do on television.
A. The rule, Miss Manners regrets to say, is that good manners make bad television and vice versa. If you forget everything you know about restrained behavior, substantiated conversation and deferring to others, you will be a great success. Perhaps you will forgive Miss Manners for not watching this exhibition, however.
When the television people instruct you to be "lively," "spontaneous," "controversial," and full of "energy," what they mean is that you should feel free to ridicule others, interrupt, toss off opinions from the top of your head, argue with cleverness rather than evidence, and display intolerance for any opinion but your own.
The person who tries to make a complicated point or to prove something with statistics or prepared examples is, in the simple vocabulary of television people, "boring." Bragging about your achievements, touting your latest venture and telling self-aggrandizing, anecdotes are classified as "humor," and, outrageously insincere flattery -- telling everyone "You're the greatest" -- is called "charm." Mock courtesy, a tone of satirical derision, is very effective.
All this pains Miss Manners, but she would not be doing her duty if she did not tell you these dreadful facts.
Now -- there are a few techniques of polite society that will be useful to you. These, she can relate with less sadness.
Arrive on time. But bring a book, because the time given will be much too early.
Dress simply. Black or white will not do, but something very plain in a bright color is effective. Don't try to make your clothes interesting: That job should be done by your face.
Powder your face so it will not shine, but do not otherwise attempt to change it much from your normal appearance. Television cameras are subtler than they used to be, and most local programs do not bother to make up the "guests."
Whenever possible, look, not at the person to whom you are talking, but at the camera. It represents the person to whom you are really talking: the viewer. Look at it with liquid loving eyes and passionate intensity. This is where a background of disciplined social politeness really pays off.
You wouldn't think it difficult to look at a black box with breathless admiration and interest if you had trained by directing such a look at the faces of some of the dinner partners Miss Manners has had at formal dinner parties.