Be sparing with those standing ovations

Contributing WriterFebruary 8, 2014 

I don’t know which kind of boisterous praise is suitable in this era of excessive applause for presidents speaking to Congress and for touring musicals like “Porgy and Bess.”

However, cheering a home run or a touchdown is usually natural and sincere.

I recently encountered three diverse examples of crowds trying to salute a performance, only one of which was totally spontaneous and heartfelt.

One involved President Barack Obama working the legislative crowd at a joint session of Congress. Congress applied the usual binge of standing ovations to most of what he said, especially including his brave admissions of loving puppies and this country.

Then one night, Sharon and I watched a competent traveling company of “Porgy and Bess” where overly excitable members of the audience tried to lead us all into a standing ovation for a good but not great performance. Theater nerds adore standing ovations. They are always eager to pressure the rest of us into the belief that we have just witnessed the equivalent of Meryl Streep winning her 40th Oscar.

The third example of crowd wowing was something that did deserve a raucous response. I was watching on television, but I was lifted with excitement from my couch potato position. That was me screaming my lungs out as Percy Harvin of the Seattle Seahawks ran a kickoff the length of the field for a touchdown that pretty much locked up the Super Bowl victory.

That was so emotionally welcome for chronic Northwest losers like me that we older ones were all flirting with a stroke. Our reaction was involuntary because we had never before seen the home team win a Super Bowl.

Touchdowns and home runs differ from most congressional and theatrical ovations. Most are spontaneous. A rookie goes to bat in the ninth with two on, two out and our team behind 5 to 4. Suddenly that eager kid takes a desperate swing that sends the ball high over the right field fence, winning the game.

When that happens, you don’t even think about it. In one unified motion, your legs lift you out of your seat and a mega-cheer escapes from your throat.

On rare occasions, something similar happens in a joint session of Congress. The president announces he is proposing a $100,000 a year salary increase for members of Congress. And just like a home run in baseball, an additional perk for senators and House members fills their spirit with joy and greed. Even though most of them are terribly old, they spring to their feet involuntarily, dancing in the aisles, cheering their suddenly beloved president.

But that’s rare. On most nights, all the standing ovations in a speech to Congress are orchestrated and phony.

On the other hand, a well-deserved standing O in a theater usually involves a show stopper, a singer who delivers a sad song with such power and emotion that, without even realizing it, you are on your feet banging your hands together with tears in your eyes.

By contrast, pseudo, regimented ovations that occur in the theater cheapen real showstoppers by awarding undeserved ovations to all actors including those klutzes who have been lucky enough not to stumble and fall off the stage.

A standing ovation is the ultimate compliment. It should not be handed out wholesale to every actor in sight every night. Otherwise, we could be falling into that mindset that believes every kid in a foot race gets a ribbon and every actor should be lied to and told he was stupendous when he was not.

Why would a kid want to try hard for life’s ribbons if he knows he will be given one whether he tries or not?

Bill Hall can be contacted at wilberth@cableone.net or at 1012 Prospect Ave., Lewiston, ID 83501.

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