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Teleprompter = No Speech

Slavic desire for spontaneity combined with American obsession with telepromptism proved to be a disastrous combination for Melania Trump. Picture – TASR/AP
Slavic desire for spontaneity combined with American obsession with telepromptism proved to be a disastrous combination for Melania Trump. Picture – TASR/AP

As soon as you turn on the teleprompter, you’re no longer “speaking” – you’re just reading aloud in public. And if you habitually “perform in public” texts written by other people, isn’t that a form of plagiarism all by itself?

Regarding Melania Trump’s recent plagiarism troubles, that’s what you get for calling a “speech” what is not a speech, but a fake genre of reading off of a teleprompter (first no-no), and even sentences written by someone else (second no-no).

A more appropriate term for that would be lecture, because the root of that word is “reading”. Even more apt: the German term “Vorlesung”, or even “Lesung”, as in the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize reading contest. But as soon as you switch on the teleprompter with fully formed sentences, they are no longer speeches. It’s likely that the audience at the RNC does not get to hear a single genuine speech these days.

They are just readings, frequently of texts prepared by folks other than those on the stage. But isn’t reading other people’s texts a form of plagiarism all by itself, quite apart from the content of what’s being read? Speech-writers are ghost-writers, but if plagiarism is held to be a form of deceit, then similarly, speech-writing and ghost-writing might be construed as analogous forms of deceit. We’ve just grown accustomed to hold these particular forms of deceit legitimate, but that does not – to me – make them considerably less questionable than outright plagiarism.

If you can’t speak your own ideas, don’t speak; and if you can’t write your own ideas, don’t publish articles or books. It’s as simple as that. If you still have something valuable to say, but can’t quite do it in an articulate speech or text, have someone interview you instead – that would be an honest format. An expert interviewer can make even an illiterate person sound arcane, as long as the interview is processed and transcribed in a competent manner (which does not entail changing anything that was actually said).

Ironically, it’s Melania’s husband who (rightfully) derides “speaking” off of teleprompters, and once again ironically, he’ll be using a teleprompter himself tonight at the RNC. I suppose when you want to succeed in an (overall) fake environment like that of politics (and isn’t the RNC a big circus?), you can’t quite escape engaging in fake activities yourself.

The only true speech is either speaking without any written notes at all, or improvising off of written notes that do not contain finished sentences. And so, as much as I reject much of the content of Trump’s off-the-cuff speeches, their format is exactly right. Now, Melania is a Slav, and we Slavs value spontaneity even more than a typical American would do. That’s likely the reason why she tore up the 100% artificial/clichéd remarks prepared by a pair of professional Bush speechwriters; but the teleprompter got to her.

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Alexander Avenarius

Prekladateľ, korektor, tlmočník, učiteľ jazykov, správca serverov. Milovník elektronickej literatúry a mobilných prístrojov (čiže digitálny knihomoľ), študent filozofie a filmov, polyglot, grafoman, hobby-recenzent. Tvorca alternatívneho rozloženia slovenskej klávesnice. Môj alternatívny blog je na adrese extempore.avenarius.sk. Svoje knižné, filmové a iné recenzie posielam – vzhľadom na prehlbujúcu sa nefunkčnosť portálov IMDb a Amazon – aj do blogu kritik.avenarius.sk.