Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Stand by me

Two weeks ago, I walked out of one of my voice recording jobs.

It was perhaps a tad petulant of me (but I was provoked!).

It has perhaps permanently wrecked my relationship not only with that particular employer (who was just about the most irritating and incompetent man I've ever worked with here) but with the studio concerned (one of the major educational publishers) and with my recording partner (just about the only person I do this work with any more).  It cost me a few thousand renminbi that week, and untold tens of thousands over the coming year or so.  It's not inconceivable that I may never work recording educational materials again.

But do I have any regrets?  Not at all.  These people were arseholes, and I've never liked working with them.  And I especially did not want to be working on that particular day: it was (as always!) a last-minute booking, and I had a ton of other stuff I needed to do in the last week  or so before Christmas; also, it was way too gorgeous an afternoon to be stuck inside a windowless room for three hours or more.  I felt elated to have escaped from the engagement.

Trouble was, you see, we began with the inevitable dispute about whether or not we were going to read Chinglish (or in some cases, not even Chinglish - which is at least vaguely comprehensible, if jarringly inelegant - but outright gibberish, idiotic typos).  We have this discussion just about every time we record anything.  And we usually persuade the studio to accept our corrections - even if the book or whatever has already gone to press (just because the book's wrong doesn't mean the audiotapes have to be as well).  We will, if really pressed, occasionally record the printed Chinglish versions as an alternative take, but lobby very strongly for our correct English version.  And we willl refuse point blank to read anything that is just nonsense - however insistent the studio engineers or publisher's representative may be.  Always the same rigmarole: we've done it hundreds of times now.  Usually this takes only about thirty seconds or so, because it is such a well-rehearsed routine for both sides, such a token resistance from the studio, such a quietly determined professionalism from us.  But this guy, Mr Irritating, whenever there's any problem at all, talks around it in circles quite unnecessarily for minutes at a time.  It bugs the crap out of me, but I've learned to expect it and put up with it.  However..... on this occasion he just came straight out and said, "If you don't read it like we tell you, we'll find someone else to record these books."  And then he sat there with an odiously smug grin on his face.

Perhaps it wasn't meant to be such a blunt ultimatum as it sounded.  Perhaps he wasn't taunting me with that sneering grin, it just happens to be the only facial expression he's got.  But I'm afraid that really hit one of my hot buttons.  We have been doing this same series of kiddie books intermittently throughout most of the year, and have done some very good work on it; we had been told that we would be retained for the entire series.  Yes, this is a pretty substantial sum of money.  You don't just threaten someone with the sack as soon as there's the smallest dispute over something (well, in China you do, but..... it's not to be recommended when dealing with foreigners).

Paradoxically, I think I might have had some chance of shrugging the insult off if I'd been less financially vulnerable - not much chance, but some.  But in my present desperately cash-strapped state, the threat to the wallet tended to hurt rather.  And I couldn't allow that arsehole to see that it hurt, so..... I didn't feel I had much choice but to walk out.

Ah, but the thing is.... it didn't need to be a walking out walking out.  I'd envisaged it being like the standard haggling tactic in the markets here, where if you walk away from the stalls the traders come meekly running after you offering big reductions on their initial asking price.  My partner and I are about the best at what we do.  And it was the week before Christmas: almost everyone else who does this sort of work had headed home for the holidays.  And the studio was very heavily booked, had struggled to schedule a session for us.  And Mr Irritating had told us that he was under a lot of time pressure, had to get 4 or 5 books done by the end of the week, which meant that he had to get 1 or 2 finished right then and there, that afternoon.  He could not replace us immediately, and would struggle to replace us (with anyone any good) in that week.  In those circumstances, my partner and I had all the power in the situation - and if she had backed me up by offering to walk out with me.... well, I am 99% certain the guy would have come after us and asked us back.  Heck, we wouldn't even have had to walk, so long as we'd both made the threat together.

But she didn't - despite the fact that she had basically initiated the argument, had agreed that we should be unyielding in our principles, had egged me on to make a stand (she told me, in fact, that the sentences in question were re-do's from a session she'd recorded there with another partner a week or two earlier, and that he'd refused to read them, thrown a strop and begun to walk out [before being conciliated and asked to return to the microphone]; and she urged me to do likewise).  No, she didn't back me up.  In fact, she caved in completely... and was on the phone trying to find a replacement for me before I was even out of earshot.

Perhaps she needed the money even more than I did.  Perhaps she is not so passionate about her principles.  Perhaps she's just a bit obtuse in the field of human psychology and bargaining strategies.  Or perhaps she just doesn't like me all that much....

However, I couldn't help reflecting that in general I find women to be disappointingly deficient in this regard: loyalty, camaraderie, solidarity seem to be almost uniquely masculine virtues (which is not to say that men are not sometimes lacking in them as well, but... not as often as women are).  Perhaps it's some sort of genetic imperative in them to always seek conciliation rather than confrontation; but there's a difference between 'conciliation' and completely undermining your companion's position.  Women don't seem to realise that these 'conciliatory' behaviours are often inappropriate, that they can serve to exacerbate confrontation.  There are times, I have come to believe, when you simply have to back someone up in an argument; whether or not you think they are in the right, whether or not you really understand what's going on at all - you have to back them up.  Or, at the very least, not sell them down the river by dissociating yourself from their position (especially if it is one which you had just a few moments earlier avowed!).  Because if you do that - if you abandon someone in a moment of conflict, or fail to give them adequate and appropriate support.... you will make the situation worse.... you will leave your friend completely up shit creek.  Women, alas, almost never seem to understand this.  End of rant.

Anyway, I thought this was a good excuse for a classic song.  I was going to post John Lennon's great cover of Ben E. King's Stand By Me, but I just discovered on YouTube this marvellous compilation of street performers around the world doing it (I've seen Grandpa Elliott play in N'Awlins - awesome!). It's part of a project called Playing For Change, and there's a lot more glorious stuff on their website and their YouTube account.

[The wonderful Ben E. King original can be heard here.  And - great YouTube oddities!! - here's a studio video of Iranian singing star Andy Madadian performing it with John Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora (JBJ sings part of it in Farsi!)]


Julius said...


Anonymous said...

Oh, Froog, you touch on a subject I grapple with a lot (and more especially now for rather awkward reasons). And I had a whole reply typed up that took forever to write but I have erased it because I sounded Victorian and priggish.

I agree with everything you wrote. And that agreement is painful, but not for the reason some people might's painful because it's a recognition of my own inadequacies.

Froog said...

Why, thank you, Julius.

But what exactly are you applauding? The musical selection? My lonely battle against the forces of Chinglish? My quixotic willingness to make painful financial sacrifices on a point of principle? Or my denunciation of the female gender??

Froog said...

Well, I'm sorry to miss your essay, CW. You're a tremendous writer - and "Victorian and priggish" intrigues me! (If you still have it, you could send it to my e-mail address, rather than put it up here in public. I really am interested to know what you said.)

And don't be too hard on yourself. As I say here, I think it is a common 'failing' amongst womankind - you're somehow 'wired' to respond to crises differently to us. (But there are, presumably, - evolution being the scarily efficient engine that it is - compensatory benefits to this that perhaps we little suspect.)

And we all let people down at some point in our lives. I'm much harder on men who fail to come through in situations like this.

Once, while an undergraduate in Oxford, walking to a kebab van late at night with a couple of fellow students, after a heavy evening in the pub, we brushed past a group of young 'townies' - who took offence at the fact that we were students or we sounded 'posh' or something, and turned around to start taunting us. We turned around - curiously, not provocatively (but with an awareness that we needed to assess the situation, guard against being attacked from behind) - to face them. I think they outnumbered us 4 to 3; but I am convinced that if we had stood up to them, shoulder-to-shoulder, they would not have fancied a group scrap - and their ringleader would not have tried to single me out if I was flanked by two buddies. When I heard the terrified footsteps of one of my companions clattering down a side alley at high speed (it was Magpie Lane - if you know Oxford at all?), I realised I was probably going to get hit. Cowardly little scumbag never said a word to the other two of us, just upped and ran (and embarrassedly avoided us for weeks afterwards, too; I've scarcely spoken to him again since; never did like him much, anyway). And it was that abandonment that precipitated the fight.

Luckily, it wasn't much of a fight. The other lads were much more drunk than us, barely able to stand. And only the ringleader wanted to get stuck in. He somehow identified me as the 'ringleader' of our suddenly diminished group, walked unsteadily up to me, and threw one rather weak and wobbly punch at my face; I scarcely even felt it at the time (although I had a bit of a bruise the next day, since I'd just stood there and taken it, without attempting to pull away at all); but his honour was satisfied, and he lurched off into the night.

I am not at all a fighting man myself (that is one of only a handful of occasions in my life in which I've been faced with such a prospect, and I refrained from attempting to return a blow); but I have a few times been in similar situations, where someone I was with (not necessarily someone I knew particularly well, or even liked all that much) suddenly had someone squaring off to them (for reasons I didn't know), and I was faced with the choice of either standing alongside them or walking away. Both times, I stood alongside - because I knew it was the best way of avoiding a fight. (Although, if it had come to a fight, I wouldn't want to leave anyone facing a fight alone - especially if outnumbered.)

This is 'how men think', I suppose. Women tend to think it would be better to cower behind the furniture until all the unpleasantness is over. I can't really blame you.

Hopfrog said...

"loyalty, camaraderie, solidarity seem to be almost uniquely masculine virtues"

I disagree. The males I work with exhibit none of these qualities. Whilst some of my most loyal friends are female. I think because you were just burned by a female that your lashing out a bit and overgeneralizing. Yes, I'm sure your already mentally coming back with "but I said not ALL males...".

Good on you for telling the arsehat to stick it. Bad on you for letting your emotions cause you to lash out on the whole bunch due to one bad apple. I've been on the planet for quite some time now and I can't honestly say I've noticed much difference between the two genders based on the aforementioned criteria.

Froog said...

Glad to have you back, HF. I was beginning to think you'd deserted us.

I wouldn't at all disagree that in many ways women make 'better friends' - more emotionally and practically supportive in many situations. It's just in this one particular situation of backing you up in a public argument that I find them consistently wanting.

I would be very surprised if your experience were so very different in this area (fertile ground for more exploration and analysis, if it is); I suspect that you were considering male-female interaction more broadly, not focusing on this one area.

Anonymous said...

The bit that most interests me about Froog's post is how it refers specifically to a BUSINESS situation, not simply a "stand off" situation or an emotional relationship (friend or lover).

Again, I have just written a complete dissertation on this subject, but I fear it is too...oh, I don't know. All raw and earnest, somehow. I'll get my thoughts less disjointed and shoot it to you, Froog, in Secret Agent Lady Penelope format, but you'll need to point me in the right direction; I'm afraid the last place I remember reading where to find your email addy is all a fog.

As for your scrap in Oxford (and no, I am not familiar with trips to Europe have never taken me to England other than stop-overs at Heathrow), I do like this vignette immensely! Not because you got popped in the mug, but just the whole scene. Class tension, tacit even in the choice of food (a kebab van) and the sotted, alcholic haze of the players. And there is also something distinctly British about it as well, which is, of course, appealing.

Anonymous said...

Haven't gone anywhere, you just hit on a string of topics for a while back there that provoked a lot of commentary. As the blog roll keeps expanding I find I need to budget my time for commenting a bit more prudently, but I am still a faithful reader.

I'm looking back on my experiences with women both as friends and colleagues and I am finding that its not so much of a case that one gender over the other has been willing to take a stand, its more of a case that NOBODY is willing to take a stand anymore. Its truly become a "me, me, me" world and damn the other poor bastard.

As far as friendship goes, its not even close, my male friends are the 'better' friends, but its simply because I have more in common with them. I happen to be a big sports fanatic and its an area where most of my female friends just are not able to contribute. As far as emotional support, I suppose you may have a point there, I couldn't imagine going to a male friend with some issues that I would easily approach a female friend with.

I'm a bit embarrassed to admit it, but I had a 'Survivor' habit for a few seasons, and there was one thing I always found fascinating. When given an opportunity to choose alliances based on age, race, or sex, it always and I mean ALWAYS, came down to men vs women, and it had nothing to do with 'physicality' but everything to do with 'who do you trust'. When a million dollars was at stake it suddenly did not matter what color your skin was, but whether or not something was dangling between your legs. If for no other reason than that, the show was an interesting social experiment.

I'd also be surprised if your experiences differed much from mine. Yes, I don't recall many females standing by my side as colleagues when I have taken a stand, but quite frankly, I equally don't remember many men doing it either and I haven't experienced much of a statistical anomaly that would point me in either direction.

Anonymous said...

Let me add a postscript as I have been thinking about this topic quite a bit this morning. Looking back, I honestly, have had roughly the same experiences with gender 'standing by me', but will say it does slant towards the males 'standing by me' a bit more. Now I've tried to come up with why that is, and I think its honestly because those males (the few who have stood up) were my friends who I've spent a lot of time with going to bars and watching sports. Now the significantly smaller portion of female friends have also stood by me, but I honestly think it has nothing to do with gender but more to do with the strength of friendship. If a colleague is not also a friend, they simply do not stand by your side.

I also started thinking back on those survivor episodes. Yes its a silly show, but really, its about as neutral a social experiment that many of us are familiar with that I can conjure up to use as a reference point. I thought back on that very first season when not only did race or age not matter, but neither did sexual orientation, political stance, or profession. An old admitted homophobic ex-marine easily allied himself with a younger gay man while an older and younger female allied during the finale. The two women turned on each other and the two guys who were different as night and day stood by each other.

So I thought, dang maybe Froog has a point. But then I went through all the other seasons, and while it continued to remain a men vs women affair, there were pretty much an equal number of instances where the men turned on each other and the women stood by each other.

Honestly I don't think males are particularly more adept at 'standing by' one another, but I do find it odd that when given the choice of who you want to 'stand by' you, women will almost always choose women and men will almost always choose men.

Froog said...

CW, I would be delighted to hear from you.

I believe I had to leave an e-mail address when I registered to leave a comment on your site. Can you find that?

Froog said...

Darn, HF, I really seem to have opened up a can of worms here.

Fascinating social psychology experiment though these Survivor type of programmes are, I think the artificial intensity of the environment and the situation probably leads to some rather untypical behaviours. I mean, I think it's quite possible that most of us would stab someone in the back (metaphorically, at least) for a million bucks - particularly if we're in a situation where we know that this is 'normal', this is what we're expected to do - but I'd hope that we might be more principled where smaller sums of money or more ephemeral advantage are all that's at stake. You also have to figure that the screening of the candidates for these reality shows favours more, erm, 'extreme' personalities. I really don't think I'm capable of that sort of betrayal, not matter how much is at stake, or how 'culturally acceptable' it may be in the context of a game show.

The reluctance to cross gender lines in making alliances is curious, indeed. I haven't watched very many of these shows (well, probably NONE in the last 8 or 10 years), but I seem to recall that in the first couple of seasons of the UK one there were some boy-girl pacts.

So, maybe it's a Transatlantic cultural difference phenomenon as well....?

Froog said...

You know, I am kind of disappointed that no-one has mentioned THE MUSIC yet.

The music is GLORIOUS. I probably should have just posted the video on its own.

Hopfrog said...

Well I am glad you mentioned the music, it prompted me to watch the video. Great song, cool video. Just watched a very entertaining documentary tonight called "Exit Through the Gift Shop" which is about street artists as well. Check it out.

The thing about it Froog is that while a reality show may cause people to exhibit atypical behaviors and attract certain personalities, it is still a magnified view of the human psyche which clearly illustrated to me that people will create bonds with those that they most have something in common with. Its clear to me, from my experiences, that those things with which we most find common ground are related to gender above all else. And its those bonds which decide whether or not someone will stand by you.

I'm sure there is some spurned woman somewhere out in the cosmos screaming out to anyone who will listen..."you can never trust a man"

Froog said...

Ah, well, if inter-gender distrust arises mainly from disappointments in sexual relationships, that opens up a whole new substratum for speculation, HF - how do gay people factor in this analysis? Do gay men bond better with women than straight men do? (The movies would always have it so!). And does your observation hold true for 'gender roles' within same-sex relationships - are more feminised gay men more likely to trust and bond with others like themselves, while the more butch and dominant types have their own macho clique? And likewise with lesbians? It seems very possible, but I don't have a lot of experience in this society myself.

I have to agree there's something thrillingly attractive - beyond the mere rarity value - of a woman who appreciates sports.

Happy New Year to you, anyway. Thanks for all the stimulating chat these last few months.

Hopfrog said...

Do gay men bond better with women than straight men? Are the feminised gay men and dominant gay women more likely to bond with others like themselves?

Well, yeah, I would think so, thats the whole point I have been trying to make. It seems commonality is the key to forming strong bonds which lead to trust and loyalty. Of course there are exceptions to everything in life, but in thinking about this issue a lot this week, its the personal conclusion I've come to.

As far as women, as a general rule, being less likely to stand by someone, it just doesn't hold water for me. Heck, one woman even wrote an homage to the notion....

I think we've gotten a fair bit of mileage out of the topic and I've come to the "agree to disagree" marker.

Happy New Year to you as well Froog.

Anonymous said...

HF & Froog, you've both provided me with some chewy food for thought. Thanks mucho as melikes chewing.

Froog said...

Tammy?? I can't help having a sneaking preference for the Blues Brothers version - so wonderfully incongruous for those bluff, macho men!

Of course, in the C&W world, 'standing by your man' usually means putting up with him being a louse and a drunken and love cheat. I fear women rather too often do have that kind of 'loyalty', an irrational willingness to endure in an unsatisfactory or abusive relationship.

But in this narrow field of manifesting appropriate support in a conflict situation, the more I reflect on this, the more strongly I stand by my original suggestion; whenever I have found myself getting in an argument about something (not that I happens a lot, I would hope; but I am quite an assertive personality, and I don't put up with shit from anybody!), and there has been a woman - friend or girlfriend - present, every single time, every single time, they have made an Inappropriate Intervention.... siding with the other guy, throwing out all that "Well, maybe he's got a point. Let's not make too much out of this." kind of stuff, etc., etc. Which I usually find way more annoying than the original source of the dispute. And which does, most of the time, tend to aggravate rather than soften the confrontation. I think it is a knee-jerk impulse to conciliate - without having any awareness of how, and when, conciliation actually works.

My experience is that, on the whole (or much more commonly, anyway), guys do get this. And, in a barroom confrontation particularly, men will sometimes intervene to back someone up - to prevent the situation escalating into a fight - even if it's someone they don't know particularly well.... even, sometimes, a total stranger. It doesn't necessarily have much, if anything to do with friendship or shared interests - it's just about understanding the psychodynamics of conflict.

You seemed to be thinking mostly about instances of whether people had backed you up in a dispute at work, HF. I think that's kind of a special situation. I was thinking mainly about public disputes with strangers (or, in the original anecdote above, at least a dispute with a guy who I only see very occasionally and is only responsible for a small percentage of all the freelancing work I do). Where you're in full-time employment, the work environment gets a bit claustrophobic, and the aftermath of any conflict can linger on unpleasantly for months or years. I can understand people being hesitant to stick their necks out in a situation like that, particularly if you're confronting your boss about something.

Anonymous said...

Woah, harsh, man! I hope you don't actually mean that, and this was just a fit of pique.

Just hypothesizing, since I know nothing about the situation or damsel in question, but maybe she didn't agree with your walking out - I know some people are raised to believe it is more important than anything to have a job, while others are raised to believe making a statement is much more important (I know this can cause friction - I have both types in my family). Or maybe she really needed the money.

Froog said...

Well, you can always get another job - especially when it's just freelancing, piecework, not the entirety of what you do. And it wouldn't have ended in walking out if the partner hadn't aggravated things with her Make a stand, make a stand, make A STAND.... of, course, I'M not going to... attitude.

If you followed all the comments here, WDM, I think the key to it is what I dubbed in one of them 'Inept Intervention'. In many, many similar situations - centred on myself and on others - I have seen a woman feel compelled to chip in, in a way that is massively UNHELPFUL.