I Think About This a Lot is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.
There’s an episode of Shark Tank that aired back in 2015, during the show’s sixth season, in which the entrepreneurs in the Tank — a pair of men in contrasting blazers — were looking to convince the Sharks to invest in a “patented sunscreen spray application machine.” Their pitch went poorly, and the follow-up questions stymied them further: their answers were so mealy-mouthed that the Sharks began to visibly stiffen in their Eames knockoffs.
Any Shark Tank fan knows that while most men who come on the show may appear to be pitching their product to all six “Sharks” — (the six successful business people on the show’s panel: Barbara, Daymond, Lori, Mark, Mr. Wonderful, and Robert, whose childlike spirit and watery blue eyes have long suggested to me that he’s a ghost) — they really are only pitching it to one: Cool Shark Mark Cuban. I get it! Mark wears his shirts unbuttoned at the neck. He owns the Mavericks, a basketball team. So when the sunscreen peddlers finished their pitch, they turned to Mark first to determine his response.
Which was, well, hatred. He hated the men and he hated the pitch and he hated the product, enough so that he felt moved to explain its flaws point by point. The ensuing exchange was difficult to watch — particularly so because Mark Cuban, unlike the sweaty men pitching the doomed machine, is an extremely effective explainer. He’s confident and articulate and he does this thing. The thing lands somewhere between a vocal tic and a debate strategy, a well-placed word that ensures he will — as I imagine he might say — crush the argument every time. The thing is this: while arguing or explaining, Cuban finishes his sentences with the word “right.” He disguises the right as a question, but really it’s the opposite: a flat, affectless confirmation of whatever he himself just said, a brief affirmative pause between one confident statement and the next. The answer to Mark’s right isn’t yes or no — it’s a shameful, conciliatory nod.
Here is how Cuban employs the right while tearing apart the sunscreen machine. “You talk about retail,” he says, “but you don’t have any retail customers, right? There’s nobody at retail to sell this to, right?” One of the entrepreneurs cuts in, perhaps to say not right, there is a retail market for a sunscreen machine. Mark doesn’t want to be told there’s a retail market. He wasn’t asking a question — he was stating a fact. “There you go again, right?” he says, his arms flailing hysterically at the interruption.
Mark Cuban did not invent the right and he’s not the first or last man (or woman, but really: man) to use it to aggressively prove his (or her, but really: his) point. Ever since Cuban opened my ears to the right, I’ve noticed it near constantly, used frequently by pundits, podcast hosts, TED Talk speakers. On one recent commute to work, I plugged in my headphones and turned on an episode of the Atlantic’s podcast featuring an interview with Israeli chef Mike Solomonov. Moments in, I realized we had a veritable war of the rights on our hands. The conversation was about the cultural appropriation of hummus and when it grew heated, as conversations about hummus inevitably do, both men began aggressively peppering his point with the word — each seemingly trying to right the other into submission. “The ironic thing about food is that all of it comes from other places, right?” says Mike. “But the hummus argument is a stand in for the argument about who is indigenous though, right?” the host shoots back. And on and on, and on.
Panelists on the political podcast Lovett or Leave It use the right so frequently that, during one episode, their guest Sarah Silverman brought it up for discussion — in between an analysis of Trump’s proposed health-care bill and a gleeful send off to a then-recently departed Sean Spicer. She defines the right to the show’s host John Lovett thusly: “It’s a new thing where people will be saying a declarative fact, like: 22 million people are going to lose coverage under the new health insurance plan. And then add, right? It’s like: I’m going to tell you something that you don’t know, but I’m going to act like we both know it.” “I first noticed the right at the ends of sentences from Yale Law Grads,” Lovett mused in response. “So I think it’s a virus that spread from New Haven.”
“I’m going to tell you something that you don’t know, but I’m going to act like we both know it” is the perfect distillation of what is so irksome about the right. “But it’s just a filler!” one might respond. “As innocuous as ‘um’, or ‘like’, or the Canadian ‘eh.’” To which I and probably Sarah Silverman would respond: not really, because the right is a decidedly intentional tactic. An intentionally condescending tactic. Because, really, is there anything more patronizing than pretending to ask a question about something you’ve already decided you know the answer to?
But while the right is irritating, it is also effective. It projects an easy confidence, a total authority. And because conveying authoritative confidence isn’t exactly my strong suit — and because I wish it was — I’ve recently noticed the right seeping into my own vocabulary. While explaining the premise of book I liked to a friend: “it’s about a group of Vassar graduates in the 1930s, right?” While discussing my dubious new skin-care routine: “My bathroom is now crowded with serums, right? But my skin still looks basically how it did in college.” Which is to say that my feeling on the right is now basically: if you can’t beat the confidence men, join the confident men. By sounding exactly as self-assured as they do.
Recently, my friend sent me a cartoon from the New Yorker. In it, a man and a woman sit at a table — the man is explaining something to the woman, and the caption reads: “Let me interrupt your expertise with my confidence.” I don’t know what those two were talking about, but I’m damn sure whatever that cartoon man was explaining was rife with rights.