I saw an advertisement recently for an app for an insurance company. The ad starts with a dark sky and stormy night over a large house with flickering lights. Scary music is playing and an old guy is looking terrified like it’s haunted. Cut to a family having dinner and a baby is flailing away at a smartphone. Voice-over says “These days, you can do anything from your phone. Even file a claim with yada yada” and so on. Pretty clever. I thought it was cute. EXCEPT. Right after the voice-over says “you can do anything from your phone,” the mother grabs the phone and says “Oh look, she was turning the lights off and on at the house.”
Yeah. I know. And now it’s not clever or cute anymore, it’s just irritating.
‘Showing’ in a very clever way THEN telling is so much worse than just telling. If you want to tell, just tell!
Imagine this version:
The same family is sitting around the table having dinner, but with the addition of grandpa. They are laughing and eating. “The lights were flicking on and off, and grandpa thought the house was haunted! But it was just little Betty controlling the lights from my phone, wasn’t it dear?” Baby coos “Is she that scary, Grandpa?” Cut from laughing baby to grandpa looking embarrassed. Then have the voice-over say the same stuff. This ‘all tell’ version is not as good, but not so infuriating either.
Why is ‘show then tell’ so annoying? Is it because it’s ruining something clever? Is it because it feels condescending, like explaining a joke right after you tell it? Is it just me?