Why has booing someone off stage become a negative thing? For whom? All the polite people? The actor stares in my face and asks me a question, am I not allowed to answer him however I please?

By: | Post date: January 12, 2017 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Culture

More cultural relativism, people. I think Adam Hartline has said it best: Vote #1 Adam Hartline’s answer to Why has booing someone off stage become a negative thing? For whom? All the polite people? The actor stares in my face and asks me a question, am I not allowed to answer him however I please?

I’d like to answer a related question.

In the 18th century, it was normal to chat during a classical music concert. It was normal not to pay too much attention to the stage. It was normal to interrupt music with applause, it was normal to applaud at the end of each movement, and it was certainly not unheard of to boo as well.

The cultural construct of what a classical music concert was about was different then.

Fred Landis is actually getting close in his answer to where I’m going with this. In La Scala, you can still applaud or boo a tenor in the middle of the performance. It’s part of what makes me take opera less seriously as an art form.

But you see, there are two different constructions of classical musical performances going on. The earlier one is a fun night out, with room for audience participation. It’s survived in La Scala, and it’s persisted in jazz concerts (they applaud the solos) and pop and rock.

The conflicting construction is classical musical performance as secular religion. It was pioneered by conductors like Mahler. It said that this is a goddamn religious experience you’re having, not a fun night out, and you’re going to goddamn keep your mouth shut till the end, and not spoil it for everyone else.

I subscribe to the latter, even when it isn’t a classical concert. But one isn’t intrinsically superior to the other. It’s just a different social understanding of what the performance is about.

OK then.

It used to be, OP would argue, that audience disapproval was part of the deal. That if a performance was crap, you had the right, if not the responsibility, to vote not with your feet, but with your catcall.

That comes from a construction of performance which did not elevate the performer, but the audience. It does not treat the performer as a divine messenger (the secular religion take) or as a cherished asset to be nourished, or a fellow citizen who deserves civil engagement (which is I think other respondents’ take). It treats the performer as a hireling. And the audience not as fellow churchgoers, or as fellow citizens not to be impinged on—but as paymaster: if we don’t like the job you’re doing as a performer, we’re going to let you know it. Loudly.

You can argue that a hireling–paymaster relation is grotty, and it’s a good thing we’ve gotten away from that. You can argue that respect in the theatre and concert hall for the audience and performer is a good thing, because it reflects civility in the society at large.

But I’d prefer it if people acknowledge that these are contingencies. People used to think differently. In different contexts (say, standup comedy) people still think differently. The standup comedian is not inherently less deserving of respect than the classical pianist. People’s ideas of what a performance is about have changed; and people’s ideas of what a performance is about are not set in stone for the ages.

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