Hold the phony ‘applause’ |
Featured Commentary

Hold the phony ‘applause’

I was commenting to my freshman class on a just completed series of presentations, a harrowing process of public speaking while being observed, taped and scored by professor and students alike. “You stepped out of your comfort zone,” I understated. “And that’s a good thing. I can guarantee you only one thing that will happen if you stay in your comfort zone. And that is: nothing.”

It was a nice little sermon about the fact that growth and learning are rarely relaxing. When I ended, applause erupted. It surprised me and made me think about that near universal sign of approval, the clapping of hands, at times accompanied by shouts and cheers.

That sign has been cheapened and worn thin in many venues, where the standing ovation has become an all but required token of mild approbation. You can see this on TV shows like “Dancing with the Stars,” where every dance brings a strangely overexcited audience to its feet in paroxysms of unmitigated hysteria. And that’s for performances scoring 6s.

I’ve seen the same prodigality on “Ellen,” where the simple appearance of the star causes such a stir that the rest of the show is an anticlimax.

This is not the case in a college freshman lecture on management. The undergrads are stingy with such demonstrations. There was a time when noted professors entered the classroom and were greeted by stamping feet or a solemn act of rising from seats to show respect for the learning and the learned. Such reverence is now reserved for those who have reached a different peak, the shaky pinnacle of mass exposure we call celebrity.

The absurd nature of these outbursts is well exemplified by satirist Stephen Colbert, who draws all applause to himself, the purported newscaster, even when welcoming guests as formidable as a former Supreme Court justice. Colbert’s unrepentant narcissism is emblematic of an age of unearned notoriety and fame devoid of accomplishment.

Discerning audiences do still exist. I recently went to Broadway to see “Matilda.” The only performer who deserved a standing ovation was the principal, and he got one.

Derek Jeter’s choreographed exit from the baseball diamond received proportional applause (a lot), with an added jolt of well-earned exclamation when he hit an unchoreographed walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth.

Applause that celebrates a moment of extraordinary achievement is thrilling, a testimony from those present that they were privileged to witness something epochal.

Then there is applause that celebrates a culmination of years of achievement, like Jeter’s and those of so many others transitioning off the arena where they made their mark.

So, let’s reinstate applause, not as a moronic response to a TV producer’s command to clap, but as a spontaneous recognition that something memorable has occurred. Let applause be reserved to celebrate the privilege of being present at an event of significance.

Then, if those freshmen never clap for me again, I will be totally fine with that. Because, if they do issue a round of applause, I’ll know I’ve earned it.

Orlando R. Barone is a writer in Doylestown, Pa.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.