Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Curse of Loud Whooping - Peter Whittle on Radio 4's Front Row

When Connie Fisher takes her bow at the opening of The Sound of Music next month, she can be sure that that is the sound she will hear. Whether the show is good, bad or plain indifferent, she’ll be greeted not just with thunderous applause and cheering, but with the sound of a massive pack of whooping hyenas creeping towards her from beyond the lights.

But as she should remember that this ear-splitting demonstration of appreciation is not necessarily for her. Far from it. Now, in the narcissistic spirit of our age, it seems that the only way in which an audience can truly congratulate a performer is by drawing attention away from the stage and firmly onto itself.

Whether it is in the theatre, or increasingly at the ballet or opera, ear-splitting whoops, which have in all likelihood been practised and prepared for silently in the closing minutes of the last number, grande jete or aria, have become the audience’s own special way of putting itself firmly under the spotlight.

It’s not simply that good old-fashioned clapping and cheering is no longer adequate when it comes to showing your approval. We haven’t, after all, suddenly arrived in an era when artistic expression is so transcendentally perfect as to render the traditional ways obsolete. After all, Nijinsky, Callas and, perhaps, Julie Andrews herself reached legendary status on waves of communal clapping and cheers.

No, it is perhaps that these simple, tried and trusted methods are just too, well, altruistic for our self-absorbed times. Far too many of us, even when it comes to expressing our approval of others, have to be saying something about ourselves. And this is what grates with those of us who resolutely cling to the old ways: there is something so egotistical, so essentially thick-headed, about whoopers.

As the curtain comes down, you can almost sense them getting ready next to you. Even those who’ve shown every sign of utter boredom during the performance – regularly checking their mobile phones perhaps, or, heaven help us, slipping off into a light doze – even these manage to rally themselves enough to whoop like an audience being warmed up for a TV game show.

It’s not simply another crack at the Great Satan to point out that, yes, whooping is yet another import from across the Atlantic, like Trick or Treating, or ordering food ‘to go’. The practise has been established long enough in America for the New Yorker critic Arlene Croce to bemoan its first appearance there many years ago. ‘Is it another mark of the Me Generation?’ she asked. ‘All the traditional audience vocables – Bravo, Oles – say ‘You were wonderful’; they’re directed at the performer. These woodless woofs say, ‘I’m wiped out.’

She was right of course. Whooping makes the self-centred feel part of the artistic process. You’ve had your moment, they seem to be saying, now I’ll have mine.

Of course, as anti-social behaviour goes, this is hardly Asbo material. But then neither is queue-jumping, or using train seats as foot rests. It’s not a problem which is going to make Panorama. What it is however is just another nasty little practise which, while flying well under the radar of arrestable offence, impoverishes our experience of public events.

So please, let’s turn over a new leaf on Connie’s first night. Think before you whoop, and rediscover that wonderful warm feeling which comes from doing something for somebody else.


DST said...

IS whooping (and the allied phenomenon of HIGH FIVE-ING) not just a manifestation of the glorious exuberance of Blair's Britain?

I await the arrival of these behaviours at the Wigmore Hall with bated breath.

mewmewmew said...

For all their belief in artistic freedom, and their willingness to offend Christians, the modern day cultural elite holds lightly to its beliefs when really put to the test.

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