What is it with PBS's NOVA program using the present tense?

By | Thursday, March 15, 2012 1 comment

What is with NOVA's disdain for the past tense? It is driving me nuts; I have been waiting and waiting (or in NOVAspeak "I am waiting and waiting") for them to wake up and go back to speaking English. Do they think their viewers aren't smart enough to understand the past tense? It's even worse when the announcer uses the (incorrect) present tense, and then an interviewee uses the correct past tense. The announcer says "40 minutes later the first wave strikes land." [sic] Then the expert (correctly) says "That was when the first wave struck land."

I almost can't stand to watch the programs anymore. I find myself shouting at the screen "STRUCK, you moron, it's STRUCK! It happened in the past! Use the past tense!"

Just to help out the good folks at NOVA with a few examples:
  • There WAS an earthquake in Japan. The tsunami STRUCK the power plant. There is no earthquake going on right now. 
  • Leonardo da Vinci PAINTED a painting. Leonardo is dead. He is not currently painting a masterpiece (so far as we know.) 
  • The US BOMBED Hitler's dams. Hitler is gone. WWII is in the past. We are not bombing Hitlers dams. Or, if we are, we'd better let the President know, because there will be some serious explaining to do. 
  • The molten lava COVERED Pompeii. It KILLED people. Molten lava is not currently covering Pompeii. The eruption is not killing people. If there is a volcano erupting at Pompeii right now, I think that would be better reported on the PBS News Hour. 
I could go on [or, in NOVAspeak, "I am going on..."], but I suspect PBS understands my point. However, perhaps they should be reminded that they are an EDUCATIONAL channel. They should use the correct tense.
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1 comment:

  1. Although the events have occurred in the past, the use of present is accompanied with a reconstruction of the events of the past as they occurred to imply the viewer should view them as if they are happening at that moment. This increases the dramatic tension and involves most of the viewers more directly in the reality of the event. The implied introduction to the show would go something like "Imagine if you will, you have been transported to the hot, dry island of Pompeii, on August 24, 79 a.d. You look over at Mt. Vesuvius, and as if responding to your impertinent ogling, it releases a great black cloud of smoke. This is only the start. A few moments later, a plume of red explodes from the peak, and a lethal grey cloud of superheated gas cascades down the mountainside...."

    Present tense didn't rule, it rules!


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