Saturday, June 7, 2014

Things I Don't Get #1: Applause

Concluding that we need a new series around the blog and that it should be of a kind which can go on indefinitely, I hereby inaugurate this series, Things I Don't Get.

I dislike applause, a dislike magnified not only by the popularity of the practice today, but also by the esteem which the custom has held seemingly everywhere and at all times. Imagine the sadness of your humble blogger not finding a single invidious reference to this hideous practice. There is no greater show of approbation, it seems, than to plaudere, to clap. We may cry O tempora! at foul times but may we say in sufficient despair when it is every age which knows such plight?

First off, through all its variations the sound of applause is cacophonous. Sometimes the clappers smack, sometimes they pop, they even wallop, a diversity owing to individual preference for clapping palm-to-palm, fingers-to-palm, and that rare spectacle, clapping fingers to the top of the hand. The thwackers are the worst though, emitting that infamous high-pitched crack which slices the air through to the ear. Ouch!

If the sheer sound is not enough to torment, though, why is the duration of applause always at the discretion of the crowd and not an objective standard or tradition? Applause, if it must go on, should go on for a specific duration like any reasonable approbation. Excessive praise with words is said to be servile, obsequious, and such, so likewise should we consider excessive applause in poor taste. I propose a tiered system of three, five, seven, and at most ten claps. Aside from accommodating a reasonable hierarchy and minimizing noise, this system would be easy to quantify. I can see it now:
Phil: How do you think the audience liked the speech, Fred?
Fred: Well, Phil, it sounds like he got about seven claps tonight which is three more than last time and two more than his competitor tonight. I'd call this a big win.
None of the usual unrestrained discord is ever enough, though. How often do we hear, most frequently at the insufferable spectacles of pep rallies–the horror!–the invocation to "make some noise!" We're told that we need to show support by making noise. You see, noise is support. Don't feel bad for having missed that apparent truth, for it eluded me too. Don't write a reasonable, even passionate, response after reflecting, or anything so characteristically humane, just make some noise of approval right away. Homo sapiens yields to homo plaudens.

Worst, though, is the contradiction between what and how we celebrate. Why should we celebrate an articulate speech with rabbling applause, a practiced, controlled display of art or sport with unrestrained noise?

No, it's not reasonable to expect everyone to go home and reflect in thoughtful prose about every occasion, but neither is applause is not the answer. If a noisy rabble befits beasts, then the gesture which most eludes man and requires the most practice should be with what he expresses honor and approbation, and that gesture is silence. 

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