December 24, 2005

"60 Minutes" doomed to repeat itself

About halfway through the fourth quarter of the NFL matchup between the Indianapolis Colts and the Seattle Seahawks, one of the announcers for the CBS telecast delivered the standard rat-a-tat promo for upcoming shows on the network:

Tomorrow on "60 Minutes"... A year after the tsunami. In a culture that has no concept of time, how did one group of people know ahead of time that it was coming?

Yes, it's the return of the Moken, the "sea gypsies" living on islands in the Andaman Sea that a "60 Minutes" crew visited in the wake of the tsunami. Back in March, Bob Simon informed us (extrapolating wildly from sketchy comments by anthropologist Jacques Ivanoff) that because the Moken language doesn't display the temporal markers that Western languages do, the islanders therefore have "no notion of time."

Now here we are again a year after the tsunami, and the show is still peddling the same "Whorf Lite" nonsense. It almost makes you wonder — despite the tick-tick-tick of Western modernity emblematized by the "60 Minutes" stopwatch, perhaps it's American TV journalists who live in an unchanging, ahistorical present tense, not those "primitive" islanders.

Posted by Benjamin Zimmer at December 24, 2005 06:49 PM