The loudest voice in the room

By Caitlin Kelly

One of my favorite Toronto sights — the ferry to the Islands

I come from a quiet culture.

Canadians are socialized to be polite, non-confrontational, conflict-averse.

Like the British, one of our founding nations, we prize a stiff, silent upper lip.

We’re suspicious of draaaaaama and shiny, empty promises.

Unlike Americans — trained to compete hard for everything, to sharpen their elbows and throw them as needed — we generally value community harmony over individual triumph and ego gratification.

A recent study finds some not-so-nice views of American behavior.

From Alternet:

if all the world’s a stage, America is a prime player: a rich, loud, attention-seeking celebrity not fully deserving of its starring role, often putting in a critically reviled performance and tending toward histrionics that threaten to ruin the show for everybody else. (Also, embarrassingly, possibly the last to know that its career as top biller is in rapid decline.) To the outside onlooker, American culture—I’m consolidating an infinitely layered thing to save time and space—is contradictory and bizarre, hypocritical and self-congratulatory. Its national character is a textbook study in narcissistic tendencies coupled with crushing insecurity issues.

How to reconcile a country that fetishizes violence and is squeamish about sex; conflates Christianity and consumerism; says it loves liberty yet made human rights violations a founding principle? In conversations with non-Americans, should the topic of the U.S. come up, there are often expressions of incredulity and bewilderment about things that seem weird when you aren’t from here. Talk and think about those things enough, and they also start to seem objectively weird if you are from here, too.

Maybe it’s why I find loud voices, and the enormous egos behind them, let alone those who kowtow to them, so difficult and unpleasant. People who feel a constant need to draw attention to themselves and their concerns, certainly past the age of 12 or so, strike me as exhausting.

I’ve been taking a jazz dance class for a decade and enjoyed it greatly, until this year.

A woman, 48, feels compelled to talk, often and loudly, throughout the class, offering her opinion on everything from the music we’re moving to to the latest show she’s seen.

I asked the teacher, twice, to ask this woman to be quiet, to no avail. I know another student (British origin, interestingly), also complained.

I’m now looking for a new dance class.

I see the same phenomenon on-line, where some people are all-angst-all-the-time. Their neediness sucks all the air from the room and leaves me wondering why, as with the woman in dance class, they feel compelled to dominate every possible space, real or virtual.

The current Presidential election has proven the point as well, with Donald Trump garnering  huge, (i.e. disproportionate), volumes of airtime and headlines through his incessant bullying and bombast. This week he added personal insults — “You’re a beauty” — to injury when he attacked journalists who dared to challenge him at a press conference.

(FYI, that’s our job.)

It’s gotten so bad that journalists — who admit they’ve given Trump far too much airtime and ink — are now, belatedly, trying to redress that imbalance.

From The New York Times:

For broadcasters, turning down an interview with a candidate is anathema to a news culture trained to pursue maximum access. Yet the starkly different strategies of the candidates are straining the industry’s bedrock notions of evenhandedness.

“The two candidates are running two different kinds of races,” said John Dickerson, the moderator of “Face the Nation” on CBS, who has interviewed both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump on his show.

“At every opportunity possible, you invite both of them on to share their views and answer the questions of the moment,” Mr. Dickerson said. “But a lot of this is on the candidates. If they believe a point is better expressed by their surrogate, or not talking at all, that’s sort of their choice.”

Networks are seeking novel ways to maintain balance, like staging voter town halls that provide candidates with equal airtime; seeking a wider spectrum of on-air contributors and campaign surrogates; and bringing more fact-checking into segments, as Jake Tapper has done recently on CNN to some acclaim.

Still, the presence of Mr. Trump can be irresistible, especially in an election in which viewership and advertising rates have soared, generating tens of millions of dollars in additional revenue for an industry threatened by digital competition.




29 thoughts on “The loudest voice in the room

  1. So true. So true. We Americans think we know it all, and yet we can’t seem to find our way out of the messes we create. I hope to God Donald Trump does not become President. It will be a devastating day in our history if he does!

  2. I knew you were going to mention the culture on the Internet. People think that it’s completely anonymous online and that gives them leave to do whatever they wish or say whatever they wish. It’s pretty crazy, especially when it comes to politics or nerd culture.

      1. I’m actually very glad you brought it up. It’s really crazy how people are starting to act online. Us-against-them mentality on steroids, and then the nerd and geeks who freak out whenever a property or franchise makes a move they don’t like. I actually read an article the other day on the latter, and I found it very informative on the subject.

      2. Fatima

        I noticed that too. I watch The Walking Dead and read the first volume of the graphic novel. People just bemoan EVERYTHING and it drives me nuts. I have started to stay away and not engage those loudmouths. People need to turn off the computer and walk outside.

      3. Fatima

        It’s such a small thing so people don’t do. What is up with people? Dance class lady has major issues or minor issues needing to be major.

        Same with nerdy gatekeepers.

      4. I see those guys on Facebook and YouTube occasionally. My policy is to just pretend I’m watching small animals fight each other. Kittens often play fight, for example, and it’s totally normal, so you just leave them at it. So when trolls start making a fuss at me or at each other, I just pretend they’re a couple of cats play-fighting each other. They’re ferocious, but ultimately harmless.

      5. Most of the ones who do are just trying to scare us or voice their displeasure. Unfortunately, there are a small minority that will carry them out, and they’re terrifying. Anita Sarkeesian had to cancel an event a few years ago in Utah because someone sent a letter saying feminists had ruined his life and would cause a shooting if she spoke at the state’s college, and the state’s gun laws wouldn’t let them outlaw guns or check for them at the venue. It’s those types we definitely need to be worried about.

      6. Given how many states now have a carry law…

        I once went to the police after an online threat of personal violence. This was about 5 years ago and the cop was ready to laugh me out of the station, but I insisted. The guy lived in Florida (I was told) but I wanted to be sure of that.

      7. Florida. (*shiver*) Now there’s a freaky state! George Zimmerman and Casey Anthony. And that’s just the tip of a very scary iceberg. Trust me, when I’m old and grey, you won’t see this member of the tribe retiring to Florida!

      8. Fatima

        I watch Lindy West and Roxane Gay deal with idiots every.Single. Day. I don’t like Donald Trump, but it doesn’t mean I will tweet at him. (Insert Eye Roll.)

  3. I’ve never considered the trait you describe as strictly “American,” though I know exactly what you mean in terms of how people from other countries perceive us. I loved the article you linked — so many statistics in the US that overwhelmingly perplex me. I see it more regionally within the US – certain areas and tribes are more individualistic than others. I’m hopeful because I frequently hear friends who are (mostly) American speak disdainfully of this very individualistic and ego-driven behavior — though these are open-minded and better educated folks, for sure. AND, as parents, I see more people attempting to raise their children in a more community-minded way. Still, with the lack of homogenized culture within the US, unfortunately, the worst displays of behavior get lumped into an overall description of Americans, making us all look horrid — and I absolutely agree that those traits are horrid. I might come unhinged on the dance class woman. That’s highly annoying. I wish I had a better solution for you — I definitely see an increase lately in people who feel the need to not only express their views, but who can’t read a room and recognize that everyone else is annoyed by them. And worse, there’s an increase in those who DO recognize it AND derive twisted pleasure from being loud and obnoxious. DONALD TRUMP for one. The fact that he secured a nomination for the presidency is a testament to the perplexing yet interesting times. Trump as president seems like one big joke — but a terrifying possibility.

    1. I think many people are unable or unwilling (who can blame them?) to take these people on…so they wrongly assume their behavior is welcomed.

      As for Trump. Scared to death.

      Thanks for such a long and thoughtful comment!

  4. i am also bothered by loud, boorish behavior. it’s as if the person has no care for anyone else, and feels the world is theirs to pollute with their volume. there is nothing about that kind of delivery that draws me to that kind of person, it only serves to repel me.

  5. I grew up in Toronto with a mother who was a living example of the considerate Canadian who would never seek dissent and a father who adulated all things American and was vocal (to say the least!) in his opinions. Somehow I have retained bits of both. We Canadians, while polite on the surface, also have a feisty side that will not sit idly by and witness the Trumps of the world without speaking up. Thanks for doing just that!

    1. True!

      My mother is American and my father Canadian and both (!) — imagine that?! — are very outspoken in their opinions, but also well-traveled and well-read so it’s usually carefully considered.

      It’s been interesting living in NY since 1989 as a Canadian, and as a journalist (sometimes paid for my opinions.) As much as one thinks Americans are SO outspoken, I often see quite the opposite because “discussion” so quickly degenerates into ugly angry confrontation. That really stifles lively, civil debate in a way I find really unfortunate.

      Thanks for such a great comment! 🙂

  6. I have a loud voice. My husband often has to ask me to lower it, and I do, but then I forget and start speaking loudly again. And I can get defensive about it. I try not to, but I get tired of being asked to lower my voice when from my point of view I’m just speaking regularly. I have done some research on voice volume. I learned that a) it is one of the hardest aspects of voice to self-measure, that is, a speaker is rarely aware that he/she is speaking louder than necessary; and b) people with loud voices often have hearing loss in their families. Both are true for me. I don’t believe loud voices are always about ego. I know it’s uncomfortable, but have you considered approaching the woman in the jazz dance class yourself?

    1. Thanks…I agree with you. And thanks for your insights on this.

      My first default (truly) is assuming the person might be deaf or have hearing loss, and that can be one reason.

      But the larger point is this: you don’t talk during a concert or a movie. (It’s rude!)

      You speak in low voices at a museum or gallery out of respect for others who are there to enjoy a specific experience. There is NO NEED to offer a running commentary of your opinions, unasked, in a dance class. People are there to focus on music and rhythm, to exercise, to relax, to get away from the constant noise of life beyond the studio.

      Seems obvious enough to me, so not sure why this woman can’t get it.

  7. Interesting re: the woman in your dance class. I know someone I used to enjoy spending time with–life changed for me–and now I see her with completely new eyes. Always wanting attention. And it bugs me. But I wonder why we find it so distasteful? Why we can’t just look away, right? Now Donald Trump, that one there is no wondering about . . . hate mongering is always distasteful and more . . .

    1. I wonder if (?) because you and I come out of journalism — i.e. listening to others for a living and being quiet observers of others — this is especially annoying.

      I also think that not challenging shitty behavior = agreement with/complicity.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s