The New York Times

The New York Times 12 May 2020

Why We're Obsessed With Celebrities' Bookcases During Quarantine


Our critic Amanda Hess looks at why scrutinizing a celebrity's bookcase has become a pandemic parlor game.

Rebecca Lowe chats with Jurgen Klopp about what the Liverpool manager is up to and how he is staying in touch with his squad during the Premier League's break.
Talkspace Co-Founder and Head of Clinical Services Roni Frank discusses coping with mental illness during the pandemic. Aired on 5/27/2020.
Deliveries of groceries, packages and take-out food is at an all time high during the pandemic, meaning we rely on delivery people more to keep our lives functioning. But many delivery workers rely on tips to make ends meet, and some are saying that customers have been less than generous. One Instacart shopper says she was stiffed on a $55 tip. We spoke with etiquette expert Thomas Farley about why tipping during pandemic is so important. He recommends tipping double what you usually would.
Justin Herbert talks to Peter King about his daily routine and how he's continuing to get ready for the NFL with limited options available. #ThePeterKingPodcast #NFLDraft2020 #JustinHerbert

… show captions ↓
TV news programs used to signal a person’s expertise
by superimposing a photograph of skyscrapers
behind their head or maybe a shot of the world
lit up at night.
But now, experts are forced to assemble
their own TV-ready backgrounds.
Enter the credibility bookcase, the background
that makes you look like you know
what you’re talking about.
The bookcase has emerged as the background of choice
for politicians, executives, celebrities and anyone
else hoping to add a touch of authority
to their amateurish video feeds.
And an anonymous Twitter account,
Bookcase Credibility, emerged in April to track the trend.
Its tagline is: “What you say is not as important
as the bookcase behind you.”
Take Joe Biden’s bookcase.
It contains a worn leather football
which says, “I too am a finely aged American antique.”
The British politician Liam Fox
has a hardcover copy of “The Da Vinci Code,”
which says, “I have taste” …
“Dear God.”
… maybe even bad taste.
And the Broadway actress Melissa Errico
displays a volume called “Irish Erotic Art,” which says,
“We like to have fun here.”
“What do you think the book says about a person
that another background might not reveal?”
“It tells us what they’re kind of intellectually
curious about, how much they’re following the trends
and how much they sort of have their own pursuits.
Prince Charles, almost his entire bookshelf
is just like horse books.
Jane Goodall, a pretty serious individual,
had this sort of cheesy crime novel.
But the one that really got me is
Cate Blanchett’s complete 20-volume
Oxford English Dictionary.
You know, I think we’ve always thought of her
as a sort of rare creature, and this just kind
of heightened that sense.”
But for pundits, politicians and the expert class,
the physical appearance of your bookshelf
can be more important than the books themselves.
These are the superficial choices
made by people who pretend to reject superficial choices:
leather binding, fine-polished wood,
Encyclopedia Britannica.
The credibility bookcase signals class, education
and money.
Suddenly everyone looks like they’re
Zooming in from their private law office or the set
of “Beauty and the Beast.”
“And nothing screams credibility as much
as a suit.”
We don’t often talk about the aesthetics of credibility,
but intellectual authority actually
has a specific and highly inflexible look.
In this country, it’s a dark suit on a white man.
And if you deviate slightly from that mold,
some enforcer of the status quo will take notice.
Remember when Obama wore a tan suit?
“The president stands behind the decision
to wear his summer suit at yesterday’s news conference.”
And when the Congressman Pete King
went on CNN to slam the color of the president’s suit …
“And I thought the suit was a metaphor
for his lack of seriousness.”
… he did it in front of a credibility bookcase.
“This actually looks pretty legit.”
Traditionally, treating books as purely decorative objects
has been seen as anti-intellectual.
Until recently, the bookcase aesthetic
has been dominated by the design sensibilities
of Instagram in which books are often
arranged not by author or subject,
but by color and height.
“And if you have some old books but they’re a bit ugly,
you can always put them with the spines facing inwards
because the pages go with anything.”
When the lifestyle influencer Lauren Conrad filmed
a tutorial video in which she slashed into books
and put their hollowed out husks on display,
she got so much hate for it that she
deleted all evidence of what she did,
or at least she tried to.
So it’s remarkable how quickly the bookcase
has been reclaimed as an intellectual accessory,
and integrated into the brittle
aesthetic rules of authority.
When we see these in the background of a talking head,
it’s strangely reassuring.
It makes us feel like the levers of expertise
and professionalism are operating normally,
even though, right now, they are very much not.
“Yep, that’s me busted wearing shorts on GMA.
My casual bottom-half going viral.”

Share Video:

Embed Video:

Recommended News