Sunday 19 September 2021

Turn down the volume

We live in a country where being loud, even when carrying on a normal conversation, is considered perfectly normal.

I often remember the experience of an acquaintance, a British woman who had just moved to Malta, who told me how startled she was to hear her neighbours in what sounded like a full-blown fight, only for her to discover that they were merely ‘talking’.

She was so taken aback by this incident that I had to laugh, but it brought home to me (not for the first time) how we must sound to those who are not Maltese speaking. It must seem like we are constantly at each other’s throats, when in reality we could just easily be asking to borrow a carton of milk.

Over time, this penchant for speaking at an ear-splitting volume has replaced the normal tone of voice to such an extent, that those who are low key have become the odd ones out.

Not only that, but because they don’t go round yelling at the top of  their voice,  people automatically assume they are pushovers;  timid little flowers who can be walked over like a carpet – or to use a couple of particularly descriptive colloquial adjectives, a quiet-spoken person is a fidila and a nghixa.  I should know because I get this all the time, with those who don’t really know me jumping to the conclusion that I can be easily bullied. Of course, eventually they find out that they have completely under-estimated me.  Just because I don’t blow out your eardrums with a raucous voice does not mean I take anything lying down.

The reason I am bringing up this subject again is that after watching (and participating) in several discussion programmes, it is apparent that, for many politicians, being loud and aggressive during a debate means you are right. If you can manage to also wear a belligerent scowl so much the better. Inevitably, I always end up speaking less than I intend to during programmes which turn into a “I can drown out your voice” contest, because I just shut up and let the others shout at each other to their hearts’ content.  I simply find the whole thing so unbecoming and rude. I start picturing viewers at home zapping to another channel in disgust. It is about time that TV producers realized that no-one can understand a thing when the programme degenerates like that. Sure you still get the kind of viewer who relishes a snarling, no-holds-barred fight, “kemm iggieldu!” they say with undisguised admiration. But I’ve got news for you: more and more people are fed up with that kind of thing.

Similarly, I’ve noticed that every time a low key politician is on a programme, the feedback from some parts of the public is that he/she was “weak” and “not assertive enough”. Proof yet again that we have come to equate being a good politician with being loud and obnoxious. I watched George Pullicino, for example, yelling his head off in the face of the soft-spoken Edward Zammit Lewis, and wondered why some people don’t know how to debate in a civilized way. You know – like asking a question of your political opponent, but then actually allowing him the time to answer, rather than interrupting him and answering the question yourself?  And you have to be loud, of course, don’t forget, LOUD!  It’s like a microphone and a TV camera give them the license to be bulldozers and they can just ram their way through the political discourse, in the belief that the viewers at home are rooting for them with fog horns and a Mexican wave for all the world as if it were a football match. Well, you may be impressing your own loyal canvassers, but moderate voters are giving you a thumbs down.

For the same reason, I am averse to the old school Labour politicians who go on programmes to bluster and shout their way to their point. The way I see it, if you have a good argument and can make it persuasively, there’s no need to raise your voice.  Yet, this style of TV debating has become so entrenched that I wonder how easy it will be to move away from it.

Earlier in the week, depending on who you believe, Chris Cardona was either not credible enough, or was not given a chance to open his mouth during Bondiplus.  Unfortunately it has not yet been uploaded so I have not been able to judge for myself. But the contrasting comments I’ve read on the programme were interesting in themselves. The thing is, those who are not old hands at this “badger them to death with your loud voice” style of debate, will invariably suffer, especially when faced by a presenter whose M.O. is to interrupt his guest at every turn. Depending on who the guest is, of course.

The same thing happens over at that other shoutfest Xarabank – God help you if you do not have lungs the size of Boiler Number 7 because you might as well stay home.

But what exactly are we getting out of all this shouting, yelling and aggressive finger pointing in your face type of behaviour other than passing on the message that the only way to win an argument is to overwhelm your opponent with noise?

I was listening to Deborah Scehmbri addressing the Labour party conference this morning and her perfectly-pitched calm voice was a wonderful balm to my ears. She is a natural speaker, and as we all know from watching her on TV during the heat of the divorce referendum, even when in a head-to-head confrontation with her adversary she never, ever raises her voice. What a relief. Sanity, reasoned arguments and civilized behaviour at last. As I listened to her on the radio, you could tell she had the audience in the palm of her hand, and she didn’t have to keep pushing up the notch of her volume to reach that  almost hysterical mass meeting crescendo so beloved of some politicians (do they have some kind of “how to address a mass meeting school” where they teach them how to do this I wonder?).

My wish is that our political class encourages the Deborah Schembri style of oratory and debate and leaves the shouting and banging in the past where it belongs. We need to hear reasoned, coherent arguments, but we cannot hear them if you keep shouting.





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