Applause, Applause!

by lisa st john

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ap·plaud: verb \ə-ˈplȯd\

: to strike the hands together over and over to show approval or praise

: to express approval of or support for (something or someone)

 

Othello, this year’s headliner for the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival at Boscobel, was, as always, beautifully tragic. The evil Iago (in love with his general) remains a master of deception. After “honest” Iago gets Cassio drunk, Cassio laments his lost reputation and states, “O God, that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains! that we should, with joy, pleas-ance, revel, and applause, transform ourselves into beasts!” Yes, Cassio, people drink and lose their minds and “party until we’re like animals.” It’s just the way we are. But “applause?” What an odd concept if you think about it. Why does clapping our hands together signify praise?

 

Not knowing the history of applause does not stop us from using it, however. At our high school’s graduation ceremony this past Friday, an interesting student asked this very question. Why do we do it? As the graduates walked past, we (the faculty) applauded them. As the graduates came up one by one we applauded. “When we applaud a performer,” argues the sociobiologist Desmond Morris, “we are, in effect, patting him on the back from a distance.” This makes sense. I do pat every single kid on the back who manages to graduate high school. It’s not the difficulty of the grades or classes that makes me say this. It’s the difficulty of surviving teenager-ness in tact (at least partially). From what I have seen in only 18 years of teaching, teens are experts at survival. I applaud the 80% of American teenagers who make it. That’s right. 20% do not. The numbers sound vague, at least to me. I am not a number person, so what does 18 years mean? What IS 20%?

 

  • According to an article in Smithsonian magazine, an estimated 20 percent of people are “especially delicious” to mosquitoes.
  • 20% of people in the Midwest have bed bugs.
  • Pareto’s Theory involves an important 20%. “The 80/20 Rule means that in anything a few (20 percent) are vital and many(80 percent) are trivial. In Pareto’s case it meant 20 percent of the people owned 80 percent of the wealth. … Project Managers know that 20 percent of the work (the first 10 percent and the last 10 percent) consume 80 percent of your time and resources. You can apply the 80/20 Rule to almost anything, from the science of management to the physical world. Google does a great job with 80/20. Their engineers “are encouraged to take 20 percent of their time to work on something company-related that interests them personally. This means that if you have a great idea, you always have time to run with it.”
  • One in five is the same as 20% so,
    • 1 in 5 people would have sex with a robot.
    • 1 in 5 road accidents in Sweden involve an elk.
    • 1 in 5 American children have a mental health problem.
    • 1 in 5 children in 37 states live in a “food insecure” household.
    • A woman’s chance of being raped in the United States is 1 in 5.

 

Numbers and emotions are oddly intertwined. “…tens of thousands of children die every day around the world from common causes such as malnutrition or disease” Not feeling much, right? We need comparisons.“That’s roughly the same as a hundred exploding jumbo jets full of children every single day.” Now that is heart-wrenching. But make it even smaller and it’s real in a way that large numbers are not real. “At the age which most children begin to communicate, Franciso Santoyo’s parents discovered he was deaf and losing his eyesight quickly.”

 

We cannot feel bad about not caring as much about the ‘tens of thousands of children’” as we do for Francisco. As K.C.Cole states in her revelatory book, The Universe and the Teacup, “It’s just the way our minds work.”

 

But rather than condemn ourselves for not empathizing with large numbers, I applaud us for caring at all. Bravo to the teenagers who graduated. Bravo to Chive Charities. Bravo to all the artists who create and share. And I applaud Whitman for knowing all of this so many years ago.

 

The Learn’d Astronomer”

 

WHEN I heard the learn’d astronomer;

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;

When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;

When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,

How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;

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Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,

In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,

Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.


In the silence of night I have often wished for just a few words of love from one man, rather than the applause of thousands of people.” Judy Garland

 

 

 

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