While we’re locked away in our homes with nothing to do but make loaves of sourdough bread, count reserves of toilet paper, and watch gray hair sprout like weeds, it’s been easy to become a bit, well, for lack of a better word, catty.
Seizing upon our cranky, cabin fever-induced zeitgeist, a Twitter sensation has emerged. It’s called Room Rater, and it’s casting a sometimes critical, and sometimes tongue-in-cheek eye at the room decor of personalities who appear in parade-like fashion through Skype, FaceTime, and Zoom on cable news. Claude Taylor started Room Rater, and within a few short weeks, he found himself with a viral Twitter account that is rolling with the momentum of the boulder that once charged after Harrison Ford in “Raiders of the Lost Ark."
He’s now got 139,900 followers.
Room Rater, which Taylor started with his girlfriend shortly after the coronavirus pandemic shut down the United States in March, consists of Taylor tweeting out short, pithy, and comical reviews of the rooms that he sees behind all of those talking heads on cable news with a rating on a scale of 1 to 10. Celebrities are also fair game. Taylor and girlfriend Jessie Bahrey are simply doing what the rest of us creepy, cable news-addicted voyeurs are doing from our living rooms — judging the decor of every personality who is video chatting on air.
He wonders if late night host James Corden is living in his parents’ basement, chides Jimmy Fallon for living in a hobbit house, and refers to Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s empty, white room as a scene from “a hostage video.” Hostage video is shorthand for anyone who appears in a barren space.
Many of these rooms include a bookcase (does everybody have a home library?), a suspiciously placed orchid (is it live or from Home Goods?) and the aforementioned bare walls that resemble an East German prison circa 1982. We’ve all turned into interior design critics, even if we happen to be surrounded by piles of unfolded laundry that have since been co-opted by our animals to become makeshift pet beds.
“We just started tweeting what everyone else was already talking about,” Taylor said from his home in Washington, D.C. “At least those of us who are stuck at home and happen to be news junkies. We’re really making it up as we go along. My girlfriend has better taste than I do, so she’s able to weigh in a little bit more. She also has a much better-looking Skype room.”
Sometimes we look up from schooling teenagers or bedroom yoga sessions to see Beto O’Rourke trapped in what appears to be a decaying basement (perhaps it’s a cave with plumbing?) or Elizabeth Warren in a gorgeous room with floor-to-ceiling windows getting kissed by her dog Bailey. All are fair game for Taylor and Room Rater. O’Rourke (“Oh, dear god. Organizing rescue mission. Blink twice if you can hear me. 0/10”) and Warren (“Floor to ceiling windows, plant, swing, chair. Beautiful room. 9/10 + Bailey. 10/10”) are just two of the hundreds that Taylor has rated since cable news became all COVID-19, all the time.
“I thought [O’Rourke] was in physical danger. I really did,” Taylor said.
It’s as if Taylor has somehow gotten into our brains and scooped out the contents into his Twitter account. We’re scouring book titles that are tightly packed behind professors and senators in those omnipresent shelves, or gasping at the terrible lighting and bad camera angles, thinking, “This man is both a doctor and a professor, yet he’s angled a camera up his nostrils?"
Taylor is no interior designer but that doesn’t stop him from telling it like it is. It also hasn’t stopped Vogue from praising his keen eye. What’s most surprising is that some of his high-profile Twitter targets are taking the comments to heart and working at bringing up their scores.
When Taylor called out Al Roker of the “Today” show for putting a large computer monitor with the “Today” show logo prominently at his shoulder, he chided the weatherman for a room that Taylor said had “a tad too much branding.”
Roker took that tweet seriously, and the next time he appeared on air the giant monitor was gone. Roker tweeted, “Point taken.”
Taylor, 57, a former White House staffer and professional photographer who is self-isolating, and Bahrey, 52, who manages a commercial greenhouse on the opposite side of the continent, on the outskirts of Vancouver, British Columbia, have even caught the eye of Hillary Clinton. The former presidential hopeful snagged a 9 out 10 rating, but she tweeted back to Taylor, “I’ll keep striving for that highest, hardest glass ceiling.”
Room Rater hits its peak at its shadiest moments, because the barbs are always spot on. Of Anderson Cooper, Room Rater offered “Dark and pendulous. Looks like the set from a vampire film. 2/10.” Anderson subsequently brought up his score. NBC reporter Ben Collins got “Bleak. Almost dystopian. Hygiene may be slipping. 2/10.” He often saves the most scathing reviews for conservative talking heads. He heads the anti-Trump Mad Dog PAC, so politics inevitably find their way into reviews. He told Steve Bannon, “Excessive branding. Not even the Italian fascists could stand the odor. 0/10.” Dr. Phil got “Dark. Like your soul. Oprah got you wrong. 0/10.” Mike Pence was told “Unimaginative. It’s mother, isn’t it? Come out. Be yourself. 2/10.”
But, more importantly, what to make of all of those bookcases in everyone’s shot?
“I almost feel like there should be two types of rating systems,” he said. “One for book-dominated Skype rooms, and one for non-book-dominated Skype rooms. I think it’s fair to go in either direction, and we don’t discount a room because it doesn’t have books, and we don’t discount a room that is all books. But the trick is you have to pull it off, either way. If you do something just completely heinous, like color code your books, you’re starting with an automatic three-point deduction."
Astute viewers, meaning those of us with nothing better to do than freeze the television and carefully study the books located behind cable talking heads, realize that titles are often louder than words.
“There are a lot of crimes to be committed with the bookcase and the choices of books,” he said. “If you’re putting yourself in front of your bookcase, you’re really opening yourself up.”
Taylor parsimoniously doles out perfect scores. Queen Elizabeth, Michelle Obama, and Ellen DeGeneres received the prestigious rating. But he’s noticed that in the month since Room Rater began, the quality of the backdrops has improved.
“The rooms have actually gotten better, and I’m not so self-centered that, that’s our doing,” he said. “I think everyone is examining it all closely, and as this period of forced self-isolation has continued, people are stepping up their games. I’m seeing way more eights and nines than I did 20 days ago."