On the BBC 6 o’clock news this evening there was an item about a total solar eclipse that was taking place in America. I always eat my dinner at 6 o’clock and my TV is just out of view so I just listen to the news while I’m eating. While the eclipse was happening all I could hear were whoopings from the crowd. It was like listening to a group of over-excited baboons or some primitive tribe that has just slain the males of a rival village.
I am always surprised when people react to things differently to me. When I witnessed a total eclipse in my back garden two years ago the last thing on my mind was to whoop. Even if I had been in a large crowd I wouldn’t have whooped. I just watched as things got darker and colder and that was that. While it lasted it was mildly interesting but hardly whoop-worthy. I certainly wasn’t ‘reeling’ from the experience and didn’t ‘need time to recover’, as the annoying BBC reporter, Pallab Ghosh, claimed the watching Americans did. Christ! Have they never experienced anything vaguely similar? Never seen documentaries about eclipses, read about them or even just imagined them?
Of course it could be me who is the odd one. Maybe I’m dead inside and am not easily moved. Or perhaps I’m so buttoned-up as not to dare to let out my inner monkey for fear of making a fool of myself.
Yet I don’t think that’s it. Instead I think two things are going on. The first is that many people nowadays are in the habit of getting excited about the smallest things. Everything is ‘amazing’ rather than just ‘quite good’. BBC presenters are especially guilty of this. By whipping themselves into a lather of excitement they hope some of it will rub off on the audience. Maybe their contrived enthusiasm even works on some people – but not on me. I just get irritated and then tired. I would much prefer to watch with the sound down than to have to listen to Matt Baker enthuse over some mundane thing. Of course, better still would be a presenter like David Attenborough or Dan Snow, both of whom strike the right note, neither frothing with excitement nor bored.
The second ingredient in the whooping phenomenon is the desire to be noticed. This occurred to me decades ago when I first noticed how noisy the Wimbledon crowd had become. In the old days spectators would watch rallies and occasionally let out an involuntarily gasp as Rod Laver and John Newcombe battled it out on court. But slowly the occasional gasp turned into regular noise and watching Wimbledon turned from a spectator sport into one in which the crowd participated. It seemed to me that some people just couldn’t bear to be left out. At every opportunity they gasped, cheered and shouted and the time between points grew longer as the crowd finally settled into something approaching silence.
Why this change in behaviour? Didn’t these people get enough attention as children? Were they spoilt when they were young and still believe the world revolves around them? Do they have no self-control, like the thickoes in cinemas who shout at the screen?
In the past I had the impression it was mainly Americans who acted this way but now it’s the Brits too. We might not whoop as much as the Yanks but we have started to want to ‘express ourselves’ at every opportunity. Thank goodness I spend most of my time in Japan. The Japanese don’t whoop or insist on expressing themselves loudly in public. Instead they generally keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves. I imagine this would be considered boring and old-fashioned by those hysterical people who just can’t keep quiet – ever.