Wednesday, September 22, 2004

More Thoughts on the Mitch Berg Interview

Mitch kindly thanked me for my interview of him this morning. Thanks right back to him for allowing the interview.

His comments on the experience somewhat match up with my own. Mitch noted:

“The interesting part is that Doug and I come at interviewing from two whole different perspectives. I've been a reporter, producer, talk show host. To me, interviews are things you do, and then edit wholesale to find what you need, or at least focus ruthlessly.

Doug, of course, comes from anthropology. Interviews are more of a completist artifact, which is why he captured our conversation completely - every um, ah, and false start.”
Well, technically I did edit out a few of the “umms” and “ahhs.” But I left most of them in place. And that was intentional. The point certainly wasn’t to make Mitch self-conscious about the way he talks (collateral damage, sorry about that Mitch). The point was to bring a sort of slice-of-life feel to it.

Anyone who has studied the work of Harold Pinter or David Mamet, at least approaching their work as an actor rather than audience, is forced to confront the reality that people don’t speak the way we tend to think they do. We speak in fragments. We talk over one another. We don’t get the chance to finish a thought before another one interrupts us and sends us verbally off in another direction. I suppose to most people that’s awkward or even embarrassing. To me it’s fascinating. I’m weird that way.

For all the umms, and ahhs, Mitch is an excellent communicator. Much like a David Mamet play in which the characters speaking in choppy little fragments sometimes communicate more clearly and powerfully than grand and elaborate soliloquies in other plays. And of course in real life no one speaks in soliloquies without extensive preparation.

But that’s just some thoughts on everyday speech in general. There’s more.
The thing that caught my attention was this sentence from Mitch: “To me, interviews are things you do, and then edit wholesale to find what you need, or at least focus ruthlessly.”

This is something I was sort of aware of. I even mentioned it in my own reflections on the interview; to the extent I noticed that it’s not my style. But the reason why is probably only somewhat associated to my modest anthropology education. There’s another part as well.

I think it has to do with Mitch’s comment about editing. In the case of an interview, I’m agin’ it. I don’t see it as my place to second guess the interviewee about phrasing, any more than I’d put words in his mouth. And I suppose I’m a mildly surprised about that self-discovery, because I really don’t mind reading interviews where that has been done, provided it didn’t intentionally twist the meaning. But I put a lot of value in capturing exactly the way something was said. Perhaps I simply don’t want to find myself in a situation where I twisted someone’s meaning by being careless with semantics.

Anyway, if I went over the top and made Mitch come across as foolish, oops. For the record I think he’s a good thinker, interesting conversationalist, and a good communicator. And from my skewed perspective, that all came across very well in the interview. To those seeing it from other perspectives, just take my word for it.

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