The ‘Credibility Bookcase’ Is the Quarantine’s Hottest Accessory

From The New York Times:

Imagine that you are a member of the expert class — the kind of person invited to pontificate on television news programs. Under normal circumstances, your expertise might be signaled to the public by a gaudy photograph of skyscrapers superimposed behind your head. But now the formalities of the broadcast studio are a distant memory, and the only tools to convey that you truly belong on television are the objects within your own home. There’s only one move: You talk in front of a bookcase.

As the broadcast industry shelters in place, the bookcase has become the background of choice for television hosts, executives, politicians and anyone else keen on applying a patina of authority to their amateurish video feeds. In March, when the coronavirus put the handshaking and baby-kissing mode of presidential campaigning on pause, Joe Biden conspicuously retreated from public view for several long days as his team scrambled to project an air of competence from within Biden’s basement. When he finally re-emerged, it was in front of a carefully curated wall-length bookshelf punctuated with patriotic memorabilia like a worn leather football and a triangle-folded American flag.

In April, an anonymous Twitter account, Bookcase Credibility, emerged to keep an eye on the trend and quickly accumulated more than 30,000 followers. Its tagline is “What you say is not as important as the bookcase behind you,” and it offers arch commentary on the rapidly solidifying tropes of the genre as well as genuine respect for a well-executed specimen. YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki appears before “a standard credibility wallpaper presentation in the unthreatening homely style.” The migrants’ rights activist Minnie Rahman’s Encyclopaedia Britannica collection “is a lazy hand wafted at convention.” And the British politician Liam Fox’s “bold grab at credibility is somewhat undermined by the hardback copy of The Da Vinci Code.”

. . . .

The bookcase offers both a visually pleasing surface and a gesture at intellectual depth. Of all the quarantine judgments being offered right now, this one feels harmless enough. One gets the sense that for the bookcase-background type, being judged by their home libraries is a secret dream finally realized. 

. . . .

But often the titles of the books themselves are not legible through the screen; all that can be ascertained is the overall vibe. The presence of gilded, leather bound volumes can overwhelm the expert’s own expertise, recalling the props in an ad for a personal injury lawyer; a library so extensive that it requires a “Beauty and the Beast” style ladder inspires grudging respect.

. . . .

The credibility bookcase, with its towering, idiosyncratic array of worn volumes, is itself an affectation. The expert could choose to speak in front of his art prints or his television or his blank white walls, but he chooses to be framed by his books. It is the most insidious of aesthetic trends: one that masquerades as pure intellectual exercise.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

On the other hand, if you’re going to have an important videoconference and don’t have the time or money to purchase books, you can always just buy a bookcase backdrop from Amazon.


But, why limit yourself to Amazon backdrops?

With a little computer magic, maybe with a green screen or maybe without, you can have a library that will put all your fellow celebrities to shame.

5 thoughts on “The ‘Credibility Bookcase’ Is the Quarantine’s Hottest Accessory”

  1. Why not get entirely crazy… There was this one Dr. Who episode set on the planet that was one giant library.

    On the other hand, there are the little people that don’t get the services of a set advisor. One clip I watched the other night had a network minor financial analyst on, with her bedroom in the background. (Although she may be in NYC – where her studio apartment would probably cost more than my mortgage on a three bedroom house used to be.)

    • A recently prominent case had the interviewed person doing the telecon from the kitchen…
      …backed by two giant industrial freezers holding two decades worth of expensive chocolate ice cream. An unassailable sign of credibility.

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