Two years ago, my mom shared a story with me about her life. Almost 30 years ago, she had just graduated from UCLA and was working in a journalism firm. She was asked by her boss to interview a film producer. He was young and new as a producer but was beginning to make a name for himself. My mom called him to set up an interview and he obliged, asking my mom to meet him that Thursday night at 9PM at his house. This seemed like an odd request to my mom, but she didn’t really know what to do; she had just gotten this job and didn’t want to make a fuss. She didn’t say anything to her boss and drove to the producer’s house on Thursday night. When she arrived, she walked up to the house and was suddenly overpowered by this weird feeling that she shouldn’t go in. She didn’t, and thank god she didn’t because the man on the other side of the door was Harvey Weinstein.
Weinstein is clearly a public figure that I dislike. This made listening to his voice challenging but interesting. I was surprised by my ability to detach myself from Weinstein’s actions and listen to the qualities of his voice as if I didn’t know who he was.
First, I watched Harvey Weinstein’s speech at the New York Gala. During the first half of the speech, Weinstein thanked many people. He sounded sincere and caring. He went on to discuss his filmwork and I could tell that he cared about what he was talking about.
The second video I watched was of Weinstein’s interview at the Zurich Film Festival. I was again surprised by how normal Weinstein’s voice made him seem. Through his stories and the way his voice told these stories, Weinstein came off as emotional, curious, and focused. The audience in the video picked up on the same qualities; they were engaged throughout the entire speech, laughing at Weinstein’s jokes and reacting approvingly to his stories and ideas. It is very interesting that voice can have this effect on people. The transaction between the speaker and listeners is fascinating because it takes on so many different forms. In this case, the transaction is dominated by the ways in which Weinstein draws his listeners in.
There are two other qualities that I noticed when listening to Weinstein. The first is that he is very smart. As he explains his work, it is clear that his brain works in a unique way. He is well-educated and he used his education not only in his career but also when speaking to people. He knows how to draw certain emotions and responses out of people when speaking, whether it be through inflections in his voice or with specific facial expressions or hand gestures.
The other quality that I noticed is very different. This was rare, but as I listened to Weinstein speak, he sometimes came off as cocky and arrogant. As he talked about himself and his success, he occasionally flashed an inflated ego. This was interesting to me because this is what I had expected from Weinstein before listening to him speak. But 95% of the time, he was the opposite–charming, charismatic and easy to like.
So I wonder if the 5% is a better indicator of Weinstein’s character than the 95%. Based on his actions, it would seem like the 5% matches his personality better, but I can’t know that. I can’t know if the 5% is just a small part of who he is or if the 5% is exactly who he is. I have a feeling that it is the latter and that he tries to hide his essence as he speaks, but I really can’t know.
All I know is what I observed as I watched Weinstein speak. The problem is, you can tell so much from a person’s voice but you can also be left searching for more answers. This is where I am at as I write this article. I know that Weinstein committed many terrible actions, but aside from that, who is he really? Is he the keen and caring person that audiences loved for decades? Or is he the cocky and brash man that I was barely able to pick up on when watching him speak? I don’t know and I probably never will, but the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. What is definite is that Weinstein’s voice exposed a lot about what voice can do. Voice is powerful, its power is unique and diverse, and it can be used to make one seem very similar to and also very different from who they are.