Boooooooooo! Horrible noise, isn't it? An extended, derisive moan of obliteration, it's worse than a heckle because it means that your audience wants to drown out your words (or your very presence in the hall) by any means available. Unless you're Bruce Springsteen, at whose concerts the noise means a worshipping "Bruuuuuuuce", you have to think about what you're doing there on stage. If you're a politician, you'll stand there thinking, "Oh shite, this is being filmed. It'll be all over YouTube in an hour and all over Twitter in two" – and you have to work out what to do, while the boos reverberate around the stadium like a ghastly wind. Laugh it off? Run away in tears? Adopt a pained expression? Try a two-handed "Calm down everyone" gesture?
Recently there's been a minor epidemic of boos/jeers/catcalls at public events, and a variety of boo-management tactics were on display. When George Osborne appeared at the Olympic Stadium to dish out the medals to the winners in the men's 400 metres, the mention of his name provoked a chorus of boos. Maybe the crowd held him responsible for signing up Atos as a Paralympic sponsor. Maybe it was because of the recession. Maybe it was just his eager-schoolboy face. His response was to laugh, as if it was a joke he was in on. But his eyes flashed with momentary panic. (Thank goodness the athletes agreed to bow their heads and let him hang medals around their necks; if they'd refused, he really would have been in trouble.)
Mitt Romney took a big chance last month in addressing the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People convention and trying to persuade them that he would do more for black Americans than Barack Obama. He was heard in an at-best mutinous silence until, halfway through, he vowed to abolish Obamacare. In the ensuing 15-second crescendo of jeers, he adopted the sitcom-actor tactic of freezing his expression as though waiting for an interlocutor to stop talking.
In the run-up to the presidential election in Russia, Vladimir Putin was loudly booed at a martial-arts contest in Moscow by voters clearly sick of having their voices ignored. Putin himself did a brilliant job of ignoring the tumult, as if the barracking was about someone else (and Russian TV duly reported that the boos had been for the American opponent in the sporting bout).
YouTube has a nice clip of Justin Bieber at a New York Knicks game, looking around for the source of the crowd's booing and realising it's because a close-up of his lovely face has appeared on the big screen. His response is to drop his eyes to his lap and breathe deeply, possibly telling himself: "It's just the guys… they're all jealous."
They could all take a lesson from Barack Obama, who is a master with booers and hecklers: he has the rare ability to talk through the storm, laughing, raising a hand, throwing in a self-deprecating remark like a seasoned vaudevillian, and saying: "You gotta know your crowd…" It certain beats George Osborne's glassy grin.Reuse content