Over in the land of professional tennis, there's been a lot of talk lately about so-called "grunting". It seems certain tennis player make a noise when they hit the ball. And whether you call it grunting, or screaming, or growling, or "I-hate-that-turn-it-off," opinions can be found everywhere from USA Today to FOX Sports Australia to every tennis blog, forum, and TV commentator. Every time you turn around, somebody else has something else to say about it.
It's horrible and distracting. It's borderline gamespersonship, and the players should complain. It's not actually that bad, and people should just put the TV on mute on if they don't like it. It's not actually that bad live; it's just the microphones that make it seem loud. It's even worse live, you can hear it from the next stadium over. It's contrary to the spirit of tennis; it's a sign tennis is evolving beyond its country club roots.
So, naturally, I have some feelings about this too. And my number-one feeling is, get over yourselves! Here's why.
Exhibit A: Some other nice-sounding things that other people like
I give you this: grunting is a wonderful sound which you should enjoy.
Why? Well, here are some other nice sounds that many people like:
On your upper-left, something called gamelon music. Note that this not some strange experimental music, noise-as-music, or atonal music—it's been played for thousands of years. It's considered beautiful, exciting, interesting, by people with perfectly normal physiology. And yes, to people who haven't been exposed to it, it sounds remarkably like noise.
On your upper-right, one of the greatest opera arias ever written. Yes, it largely consists of high-pitched squealing. This is an analogy. (Hint, hint.)
To the lower-left, some more music. People who like the opera probably won't like this. It's loud, there's screeching, there's growling. And yet, thousands and thousands of people think this is the best music ever made.
And finally, to the lower-right, a man compares and contrasts the sounds of various automobiles to determine which is best. Let me repeat this: some people like loud cars. In fact, the louder and higher-pitched, it seems, the better.
Why do people like certain categories of sounds? Because they're used to them. Because they grew up with them. Because they mean something (see: cars). Because: randomness.
It's purely subjective.
Exhibit B: You may be a sexist pig...
... if you only complain about the women.
Women, on average, have about the same amount of energy available to apply to a sound. Due to lighter vocal chords and a smaller resonating chamber, these sounds tend to be higher-pitched. Even the loudest grunters, aren't actually very loud (in absolute terms) when heard either from the TV or the crowd. The threshold of pain is not involved. So any dislike is mostly arbitrary.
For whatever reason, modern westerners think that higher-pitched sounds are annoying. Stereotypes of whining, nagging women, methinks.
Not discriminating against people based on the pitch of their voice would seem fairly obvious, no?
Exhibit C: Just listen without judgment for a moment
Most sports—basketball, football, boxing whatever—involve huge quantities of noise. The crowd screams and chants constantly. The coaches yell until their faces turn red. The players shout instructions at each other, or to celebrate a point, or to scare the opponent.
So just listen to this for a moment. Keep in mind that it's possibly the loudest match-up in women's tennis.
Yes, to the uninitiated, it sounds a bit odd. But so does the gamelon. So does death metal.
So just consider for a moment. For one thing, notice that the tennis match as a whole is still incredibly quiet. The crowd is nearly silent during the points. The announcers are as well. The players themselves are making a bit of noise, but not when their opponent is hitting the ball. And it's not so loud that the sound of the racquet hitting the ball is drowned out. Can you imagine an NHL playoff game being anywhere near this quiet?
Better yet, and unlike the sounds of a basketball game, the grunting is more than just atmosphere. Think of this—with each shriek, you get some sense of what the player is feeling as she hits the ball. If a mistake is made, you can hear it immediately. If a player is tense or nervous, it comes through. And so on.
I promise, if you just listen and try to appreciate the sound, it won't seem any stranger than the roar of the crowd at a basketball game, chanting "D-D-D, Defense!" You might even learn to like it.
One author suggests that we might eventually be unable to imagine tennis without grunting. (Last paragraph). I honestly can't see how this could be anything but good.
But folks, even if you can't stand it, and never learn to like it, at least do us this favor: stop acting like grunting is inherently annoying, and that because you don't like it, it must be inherently wrong. This is not a moral issue. It's just you, and your own personal taste. Really.
* Note that I didn't touch on whether player are being hindered by the sound. If they are, that's obviously an issue. But it's also their business, not the fans'.