Clapping and cheering are signs of appreciation. However, applause also feeds a mob mentality. Case in point: I remember attending a high school spring musical production that was painful to watch. It was not a matter of the students being young and inexperienced on the stage. Rather, they simply did not care that they were on stage. Most had not taken the time to learn their lines, their marks or their cues. The dialogue they did know they recited with less enthusiasm than the cast of the last Twilight movie.
One student in particular seemed to have no reason to be on stage. His cast mates literally whispered his lines to him and stood awkwardly waiting for him to act. But each time he came on stage, he raised his arms to the audience with all the entitlement of a presidential candidate on a campaign tour. The few actors who took their roles seriously cringed and raged as he stole the spotlight they deserved.
The roar of the crowd
The play dragged along, and each time the young man came on stage and mugged for the audience’s approval, the appreciation for him grew. At curtain call, the audience erupted in whoops and hollers when he stepped on stage, his arms raised above his head. The chant for him carried through—
—as the leading boy and girl took their feeble bows.
I found myself applauding half-heartedly, but my mind sought a justification for this cast member’s popularity. I imagined that earlier in the school year, he had been in a terrible car accident that doctors feared he would not survive. Against all odds, he fought back, learned to walk again, and returned to school with a grateful outlook on life. He could no longer play football, but he devoted his time to his new thespian friends.
Before I knew it, I was rising with the rest of the crowd, smacking my palms together, tears streaming down my face. I cupped my hands to my mouth and let out a rebel yell.
The cast did not bother to call the director to the stage. Besides, she had probably been slouching on a bar stool at Maloo’s Tavern since the end of the first act.
Anyway, that’s an entirely exaggerated story. But it illustrates my point that when a crowd gets riled up, we may find ourselves cheering for something we do not entirely support. We lose our own opinions. We fear judgment.
I think Ellen DeGeneres is one of the funniest comedians around. However, I can’t watch her TV show. I simply can’t stand the screaming, hysterical audience who cheers shamelessly and laughs uproariously each time Ellen’s facial expression changes. (Oprah’s audience is the same way, but there are other reasons why I don’t watch her shows.) A few minutes into Ellen’s monologue, I feel the aura creeping up behind my eyes. I know if I don’t turn the channel, my personality will split, and my picture will end up on a wall in the post office.
A round of applause for higher learning
Perhaps this was the thinking behind the recent decision by the University of Oxford to discourage applause and cheering during future commencement ceremonies. Yes, this is not a joke. Students are instead to use jazz hands to show their appreciation for one another. The point is to avoid marginalizing those with anxiety disorders or hearing impairments. Clap if you approve.
Some argue that this is another example of institutions of higher education babying students. One professor worries that decisions like banning applause increase the rate at which students question their own mental health. Of course, some feel the ban limits students’ rights to freely express their gratitude, approval or appreciation. And others wonder if banning audible applause discriminates against blind audience members.
At least for now, you can still cheer for your favorite Oxford athletic team, although the university boasts that most of these events are “relaxed competitions,” meaning they probably don’t keep score. My main question is this: What is the “jazz hands” equivalent of a slow clap? Because I’d like to start one for the University of Oxford.