For example, it is common on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, where I live, and where I saw the preview for W. Hissing, wherever it takes place, is always, or almost always, hateful. It is sinister, menacing, sneaky, insidious. (Note how those words sound like hissing itself.) It is sort of anonymous, hiding itself, rather than being out in the open. I like what another reader — not from Gilbert — wrote me: “Hissing is underhanded, and it expresses disapproval without accountability. People can hiss with their lips and jaws in a neutral position — and they can drown out that which is disapproved while obscuring the source."
One time, on the Upper West Side, there was no hissing — like the dog not barking. And it was so remarkable, I wrote about it in my NRO column, on June 24, 2002. An ad for the Marines came on before a movie. My stomach tightened: Uh-oh. And no one hissed. There was not so much as the beginning of an ess. I wrote that this showed something different about the culture, for surely they would have hissed pre-9/11. The non-hissing took place more than six years ago, of course. What would the Marines bring today?
I myself have been hissed a number of times — and not just when speaking about politics. I was hissed at the Salzburg Festival once! What happened was this: I was conducting a public interview of a famous singer, and I mentioned what had happened to song recitals: Everyone had to have a “theme” now, rather than a mixed program. “You know, you have songs to texts of Rilke, or songs about water, or songs by left-handed Hispanics.” Most people laughed or chuckled — including the interviewee — but one woman (I think it was a woman, somehow) hissed. I have never forgotten that hiss: It cut through the general appreciation and good feeling like a knife.