Tuesday, March 2, 2010

WISDOM OF THE CROWD

I remember thinking "this is awful" back in the nineties, when I was watching Arsenio Hall's show -- he'd do his fist pump, making a circle and sort of barking, then the audience expressed itself -- not with applause -- with barking, pumping/cranking their fists.

I remember this show -- Clinton played the sax, and then he and Arsenio chatted.


No doubt about it, Arsenio was fun, but the crowds got noisier, bolder in their responses. "Good Lord, where's this heading?" I wondered. Back then, I was touring the college campus circuit, and a hooting, barking audience was not what I wanted to fill the theaters, where I and my dance company were performing.

But it's what audiences do, nowadays. Dignified applause is gone from tennis tournaments. Opinions are expressed with cheers, jeers, and shouts, Applause after aa play or musical, is quite often an ovation (whether the show's a hit or not) -- whistles, hoots, barks, cat calls.

When we watch a television series, laughs and applause are generally dubbed in. Audience approval -- waving arms, rhythmic clapping, loud comments, is more or less what a crowd is expected to do at award shows, and pop music concerts.

The crowd's reactions -- cheers or jeers -- are measured, weighed, and evaluated by pollsters in politics, as well as the MC at the Apollo Theater on talent nights.

What's significant to me, nowadays (what bugs me), is the bad taste, blatant lack of courtesy, often stupidity -- gross ignorance -- of the crowd. Quite often I think the crowd is wrong.

Wait a minute, am I saying the crowd is stupid? No, I'm saying that the crowd reacts to itself.

The other night at a dress rehearsal for an off-Broadway play, I didn't feel that a standing ovation was appropriate, but finally, I had to stand up and clap my hands, because row by row, everyone else was on their feet, excessively cheering, loving it.

Loving what? The show with their friends and loved ones in the cast -- the performers, and the creators -- telling them, "You're great, love your work!"

The show may or may not become a hit. It becoming a hit depends upon the mood of what's happening in the theater world, and what the director and writer decide to work on. The audiences reaction affects them, and sometimes leads them in a wrong direction.

I remember the crowd in Grant Park last year, the huge display of love, approval, excitement when Obama walked onstage.

It had a great deal to do with pride and thrill, that a black man (that he was educated, articulate, honest, eloquent was part of it), that a black man had won. That he was going to be running the country was an event in history that we'd participated in, and that brought tears of joy to our eyes.

The people in the crowd and those watching it on television, felt that electing Obama was the right thing to do. It was people connecting with each other, trusting each other, believing in their wisdom -- the wisdom of people banding together.

What about the crowds that heard McCain concession speech? The Republicans, the Joe-the Plumber-people, the people who've become Tea Partiers, the thousands buying Sarah Palin's book, the millions who listen to Limbaugh and Beck and other Fox commentator stars? They get energy, and belief in their wisdom, affirmation from each other, and have banded together in feeling the wrong man won.

What I'm saying, and feeling is -- what's cheered, loved and celebrated is not always the best, the wisest, right way for the country.

The crowd can be wrong. FDR had a struggle, selling the nation on the New Deal. Hitler came to power in Germany because he was loved by the crowd.

We elected a Black President and we were thrilled, but now that time has passed and some things have changed, we're not sure where we're heading.

Right now, there's a lot of race prejudice in the air. We hear statistics on who feels what about which thing the President is doing, and we encourage the statistics, by paying attention to them.

We loved Obama's eloquence, but now, columnists are complaining that's he's too eloquent -- he's not doing the right thing -- he needs to be more emphatic, or less emphatic, or whatever ...

We let other people's conclusions -- sometimes stupid remarks infect/affect us like is he a citizen, is he a Muslim, a socialist? Didn't he promise us ... ? What happened to what he promised?

We blame him now, for taking on too many projects for his first year in the White House. But we wanted him to take on all those projects, immediately right away -- and he did.

We express to our friends, and loved ones, and poll-takers that we're disappointed, not satisfied with what he's doing, and has done.

I'm just saying to myself and to anyone who reads this -- don't go with polls, and reports about what the majority is thinking. The wisdom of the crowd is often ignorance.

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