I recently read something on Twitter about me.
Highly opinionated, but thoroughly recommended.”
The ‘thoroughly recommended’ part is nice.
But the ‘highly opinionated’ sounds vaguely disapproving, as if that’s a bad thing.
I wondered why that is.
Why is it bad, in England, to be highly opinionated?
In fact, is it a bad thing at all?
Isn’t it actually a matter of when and where?
In a conversation, if I force my opinion on you, then that’s a bad thing.
I’m dominating you, and that can’t be good.
But that’s not ‘highly opinionated’ that’s just bullying.
In a conversation, I need to allow time for you to speak as well.
But a podcast is not a conversation.
A podcast is pretty much a monologue.
My feeling is, if I’m self-effacing, diffident and overly polite, it won’t be much use to you.
It will take too long to get to the point.
I will have wasted a lot of your time.
With a podcast, you have the power to turn it off.
You don’t have to listen.
It’s not a conversation, where one speaks while the other listens, and you take turns.
Like any broadcast medium, it’s more like a shop.
You walk around looking to see what they’ve got.
If something interests you, you try it on, if you don’t like it, you put it back.
So the best thing is for me to get my opinions out, quickly and simply, and let you decide for yourself if you’re interested.
I’m not trying to sell you anything.
If you don’t like it, don’t buy it.
I found this was a difference between American and English attitudes.
When I first went to New York I was shy and polite, and careful to express my views in a way that didn’t offend anyone.
And nobody bothered listening to me.
To them, I was just wasting their time.
They just wanted me to get on with it, spit it out.
Never mind the flannel, what are you trying to say?
If I want it I’ll buy, if I don’t I won’t.
So getting to the point really fast was a matter of respect for your audience.
There’s much less pretence.
I once heard an American actress discussing this.
She said, when she was in England, she’d overheard some women taking about her.
They described her as “very assertive’ in a disapproving way.
It took her quite a while to get her head around it.
She couldn’t understand why anyone would think ‘assertive’ was a bad thing.
Where she was from, it could only be a good thing.
I had a similar experience recently.
I got an email from a friend in California.
We hadn’t seen each other since art school in New York.
He’d just read something controversial about me in a magazine.
He wrote and said “Good to see you’re still a troublemaker, Trott.”
And I remembered that was a compliment in America.
But I’d been back in England so long, I’d forgotten.
And at first I heard it as a criticism.
I think it has to do with the DNA of the two countries.
In America they prefer people who are active.
They have a motto: “Either lead, follow, or get the fuck outta the way.”
Whereas in England we prefer people to be passive.
So we have a different motto: “If you can’t be good, be nice.”
When I first got to New York I was 19, and like everyone else I smoked.
The English habit was to offer your cigarettes around before you took one for yourself.
Americans would look at me strangely, when I did this.
I noticed none of them offered their cigarettes around.
They just took one and left the pack on the bar.
This seemed rude to me.
So one day I asked one of my friends why they did that.
He said “I guess we figure, if you want one you’ll help yourself.”
Which again puts everything in a different perspective.
Looked at like that, it’s not rude at all.
It’s actually more polite, and without the rigmarole.
Which is how I feel about ‘highly opinionated’.
If you’ve asked my opinion, I assume you want to know what it is.
As simply as possible, in the shortest possible time.
I don’t automatically assume you’ll like it.
I assume you’ll make that decision for yourself.