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The Power of Obnoxiousness?


The Power of Obnoxiousness?

Written by: Santosh Desai

There is good reason to believe that in the world of today, obnoxiousness is a legitimate virtue, made particularly attractive by the fact being good at it involves arresting one’s mental and emotional development at the age of four. One gets to throw tantrums, grab at whatever one wants, believe that one is the centre of the universe, make inflated promises and break them without second thought, and above all call other people horrible names all the time. All this, far from making you universally despised and shunned, can build you up as a successful TV anchor, a social media star, a PR tycoon or if you are really lucky, Donald Trump.

Trump’s obnoxiousness is well documented- one needs to be made of a special fibre to be able to make fun of the handicapped, ascribe a female journalist’s tough questioning to her menstruating, insult the parents of a martyr, call people from a neighbouring country rapists and criminals and boast about the size of his equipment while trying woo people to vote for him. To the bewilderment of about half of the US electorate and 95% of every other living being on the planet, this has actually given him a real shot at being the most powerful man in the world.

And he is not alone.

In so many other parts of the world, obnoxiousness seems to resonate. Russia, Philippines (where President Duterte has been distinguishing himself in quite a noteworthy way), Turkey and even the UK all have prominent leaders whose lack of regard for maintaining civil appearances has actually helped rather than hinder their prospects. Social media of course is the place where the obnoxious from around the world gather and practice their own particular brand of honesty. Every single conversation has a good chance of turning into rabid abuse.

A key element at work is that what is being spoken of here is a form of performative obnoxiousness, a protocol of actions and statements that use nastiness and grandiloquence in a pointed way in order to create a certain deliberate effect. Earlier obnoxiousness was an involuntary overflow- the projectile vomiting of a diseased self into the world. It was that part of oneself that could not be contained and most often came from an absence of self-awareness. The current mode of obnoxiousness has a better sense of itself and grasps that there is enough oxygen available in the atmosphere for nastiness to become disproportionately productive as a strategy for personal advancement.

In a world that seems to many to have been made unbearably complex by the insufferably intelligent, there is a search for greater clarity. The extreme carries with the virtue of not being confused for what lies adjacent to it, for in most cases nothing does. The shallow ensures that one is always on firm ground, that one’s feet do not have to flail about perpetually in nameless depths for some sense of certainty. Complexity gets seen as deliberate and vested obfuscation. Nastiness is the easiest disguise worn by those that wish to be seen as strong.

The idea of truth has become so severely compromised that professed strength is seen to be a substitute for it. In a world where everyone is deemed corrupt, calling other people names without any restraint becomes decoded as a sign of honesty. Cursing everyone else puts them on the defensive and in most cases, the other side cannot muster up the obnoxiousness to respond in kind. When the obnoxious are attacked, they deny everything, concede not an inch of ground, and look to always to stay on the attack. No conspiracy theory mounted in defence is too far fetched, no claim too ridiculous, no allegation too fanciful.


Simultaneously, one’s own greatness is trumpeted without any trace of modesty. Those that promote themselves hard actually do media a favour, for they can be picked up for coverage off-the-shelf. Even the search for greatness today is lazy- celebrities can simply claim to be so and in most cases, their bluff is not called. Criticism, disdain, sarcasm all bounce off the individual- indeed they serve to strengthen rather than deflate. Channels and newspapers are full of people who are important for mysterious reasons- some claim to be film makers, others are faded performers, and still other that are famous largely for appearing on television as famous people.

The great advantage in perpetually aggrandizing oneself is that the self-important lay down the terms of engagement with them. Eventually, the bloviating braggarts gets our attention and become reference points; we follow them or hate them, but they become important enough for us to have a view on them. The strategy of saying- I am amazing, I am awesome, other people suck is a form of behavior training- admiration or at the very least a sense of their significance is taught by employing the methods of repetition and amplification.

The self-promoting loudmouth is everywhere.

In media, in business, in politics, speaking at conferences and festivals where they invariably get the loudest cheers. The notions of depth and quality are seen as strategies that have kept the elites in power, and there is a sense of liberation when a new kind of voice is heard. The directness, the uncomplicated self absorption, and the primitive nature of the promise combine to create a compelling force that we find easy to give in to. But by far the most important reason for the success of the obnoxious is that they are always entertaining. They are our reality shows in real life. We need to watch them compulsively even when they make our skin crawl. There is never a dull moment when they are around, and what can be more important than that today? Public attention is the most universally recognized currency of the time and nastiness trumps reason every time on this front. So, perhaps it is time to sit back and watch the show as it unfolds. Its going to be awesome, people. You have no idea. Its going to be so fantastic. Believe me.

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