Standing no, or, follow the herd

Last night, I joined SH and JZ for a lovely supper, and then we watched a college production of August Wilson’s Fences. During the curtain call, amidst slow-to-moderate clapping, someone stood up. My first thought concerned rudeness: this oaf couldn’t wait to head back to his house for a rousing late night  round of scotch, Parcheesi, and stimulating conversation of the “pass the remote” variety. Wrong. His seat-mate stood up, too, triggering a slow-mo ovation akin to a tepid attempt to start the wave at a ballgame:

Eventually, everyone stood up, even the lame-ass in seat H113 who most definitely thought that while the performers offered an admirable interpretation of the characters, they missed ovation quality by a Josh Gibsonstyle home run—or two.

So, why rise? Why contribute to the fraud? Certainly the performance didn’t move the audience to a spontaneous outpouring of vertical love. Perhaps fear of scorn generated the sloth-like journey up the Everest of praise. Indeed, JZ later quipped that the students’ parents and friends might have shot us some icy stares had our butts remained in our chairs. Nobody wanted to seem like the last physical hold out, even though most of the audience mentally resisted the whole charade, as the sheepish side-long glances and confused, polite smiles attested.

Maybe the evolution of the standing ovation from rare commendation to routine civility illuminates our actions. When I mentioned the scene later to SP, she half-jokingly attributed it the culture of self-esteem and its throw-confetti-for-mediocrity ethos. In this vein, one wouldn’t require an electric thrill from the play to jump up and heap accolades on the actors (translation: Because this experience moved my soul, transformed my core, I want to shower you with love and recognition). Instead, one might rise—over the course of a painfully long minute—as if to say, “Your play adequately met my theater-going needs for the evening, and thus I’ll stand just as I will when somebody changes my oil and remembers to change the filter or someone gives an unenthusiastic but competent presentation at my committee meeting on Monday.” Who need enthusiasm, really?

In The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling (a book that I read in a Sociology of Work class as an undergrad), Arlie Russell Hochschild writes,

Feeling as it spontaneously emerges acts for better or worse, as a clue. It filters out evidence about the self-relevance of what we see, recall, or fantasize. (28)

She continues that

We are capable of disguising what we feel, of pretending to feel what we do not–of doing surface acting. . . In surface acting, we deceive others about what we really feel, but we do not deceive ourselves. (29)

The gap between the act and the thought devalues the former and threatens the latter. When I reveal my emotions, when I tender my love (little l or otherwise), I desire as little distance between deed and idea as possible.

I, coward and hypocrite, want my ovation back.


~ by Moldorf on March 7, 2010.

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