The Perverse Thrill of Having Your Room Rated by RoomRater

Thank you for approving of my house, stranger.

On Wednesday morning, I appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” to discuss my new novel How Lucky, which is available wherever books are sold this very second. It was a fun conversation with Willie Geist, Claire McCaskill and Mike Barnicle, and it featured the following screenshot, which is the sort of screenshot one appreciates when one is trying to sell books.

But the highlight of the appearance was, without question, having our front room featured by Room Rater.

For those who do not know, Room Rater is a pandemic-specific Twitter account that assigns scores to the setup each television news program guest has for their interview appearances. Ten is the highest score. Zero is the lowest. You do not want a zero. The Washington Post did a fun story last year about how Room Rater had become oddly partisan, which was inevitable: What wasn’t oddly partisan in 2020? Even interior design couldn’t escape.

I’ll confess, knowing my “Morning Joe” appearance was coming, I was already thinking of Room Rater. I even hired an interior designer to frame my backdrop — my wife, Alexa Stevenson, who runs a successful interior decoration business and would style my shot in a way that would make it look great and still emphasize the book I was trying to sell. (Had I my own druthers, we’d have done the shot in my office, which is basically just St. Louis Cardinals bobbleheads and empty Diet Coke cans.) I almost feel like I cheated the system, like I brought in a ringer. Though she remains insistent that the Room Rater is wrong, that turning on that lamp would have been a mistake.

As we come to the end, or at least the low dip, of the pandemic in the United States, there has been much discussion of what norms and mores will snap back into place when we are through this, whatever “through this” even means. But one innovation that strikes me as someone that should maybe stick is having these sort of remote hits from home for news programs. The pandemic has been going on so long that it’s easy to forget how new this concept is. I have been on “Morning Joe” many times before the pandemic, and I had never once been out of my home: I was either in person or a television studio. I doubt they’d even fathomed doing such a thing. But now that they were forced to, I bet they never go back.

There is something sort of personal, even sweet, about seeing the home of a person on television. You can find out more about them or, more to the point, how they want to be seen, which often tells you more about them than they even might want to. My Room Rater does say something about me. It says I take television appearances seriously enough to dress up for them. It says I trust my brilliant wife to make the design decisions for me that have built up her excellent business. And it says I care enough about what a stranger thinks of my home to make sure I styled it for their approval.

And yeah: I was proud to score a 9. It’s silly and pointless. But what’s so wrong with silly and pointless? I’m glad people I don’t know got to see a little part of my life today. And I’m glad they liked it.

Will Leitch writes multiple pieces a week for Medium. Make sure to follow him right here. He lives in Athens, Georgia, with his family and is the author of five books, including the upcoming novel How Lucky, released by Harper on May 11. He also writes a free weekly newsletter that you might enjoy.

Writer, New York, NYT, MLB, WaPo, others. Founder, Deadspin. Author of five books, including “How Lucky,” in bookstores now.

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