Respect the Silences: Thoughts on Flat Notes, Thoughts on Rage

Scenes from the Internet: In which an irate New Yorker berates a trumpet-playing street performer (“you’re a no-talent, self-consumed, mediocre piece of shit”).

So I mean the most basic lesson we can take from this is that you don’t make threats you’re not willing to follow through on. Our apoplectic little music critic loses his credibility the instant he raises that trash bag—not the most frightening of weapons, it should be said, unlikely to provoke fleeing in terror—and just lets it hang up there while our trumpet player plays on.

Now, all of apoplectic little music critic’s ranting is just a trash bag held aloft, really—a bluff that’s already been called. There’s something in all of us that recognizes the blustery tirade as the place-filler for action, hot air expanding the space between ranter and doer like a particularly pissed-off balloon. If someone is the type of person who is going to hit you about something, they just hit you about something.

Perhaps all rage, then, or at least all non-physical rage, is impotent rage. It’s only when there’s nothing to be done—either explicitly or because of the failings of the angriest party—that it makes much sense to shout about it. It’s not just as simple as blowing off steam (though that must help), but about showing everyone else how horrible that trumpet player really is, how offensive his flat notes are. It’s about showing you his rage and wanting you to feel it with him; about empathy, in maybe its most twisted form.

trumpet fight

But then we’re back to the trash bag above the head, never in danger of coming down. Outrage might get channelled sometimes, but seldom is anyone ever whipped up into a frenzy by outrage alone: it’s only the already aggrieved who join the protestors. Generally, we might just be a little taken aback; when the apoplectic little music critics of the world are waving their bags above their heads, we might also snicker, might even fire up our video phones so that the whole world can snicker with us. We are never turned from indifference to manning the barricades against flat trumpet players by even a well-timed rant. It’s something to be watched, not something to join.

Because the question to be asked of the enraged is “Who are you?” Who are you to get so irate? Who are you that you think this is an acceptable way to be? Who are you to interrupt my peace and quiet or this, at any rate, benign afternoon with your ridiculous anger? Who are you to demand my attention, to demand that I participate in your weird, unwelcome demonstration? You’re nothing to me. This performance is nothing to me.

And there’s basically no justification that could even be offered, once the question is asked. We know who the people are who are allowed to ask us for our attention—know them even better, or at least think we do, if they’re allowed to ask for our empathy. I assume this is why charity canvassers wear vests; we can say no, but at least we’re never wondering who they are. So you are educated, and you believe in some cause, and you’re not even asking for all that much; who are you to just approach me on the street?

But then, who am I to even take umbrage about anyone asking for my sympathy? I’m educated, or reasonably so. I have good taste in music and funny Internet videos; that’s what my friends and some of my acquaintances tell me. I have good taste in friends and acquaintances, because none of them have ever—not my knowledge, at least—waved a trash bag above their head and wielded their academic credentials in an endless rage about a trumpet player, even if he does sound flat to (even) an untrained ear. I am not at all prone to overblowing slights, or at least not minor slights, and I am hardly ever angry about anything, and effectively never publicly apoplectic. Sucka.

I am, however, prone to turning someone’s language back at them, and definitely laughing at their absurd little fits, and maybe sharing the video a little before I stopped laughing at it, and accusing them, all of them, of being ultimately impotent, and am pretty proud of not using my education as a cudgel. (Or at least not explicitly; I did just use the word “cudgel.”) And, needless to say, pretty super satisfied that I could turn my sniggering into thinking. Isn’t just the whole goddamn world ripe for my thoughtful consideration?

So I mean the most basic lesson we can take from this is that you don’t make threats you can’t follow through on. And “Who are you?” is one hell of a threat.


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