Days 17–19, August 10th–12th: applause!

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I got interested in the anthropology of applause when I worked in Finland. Not professionally interested, like—though I do remember once hearing a paper which talked about co-ordinated audience applause rhythms with elaborate names at Roman games, with Imperial agents going around with sticks to beat people up who clapped out of time, which I have never ceased to find an appealing concept. But anyway, I’ve come to keep an eye on applause because there I was, back in 2005, newly started at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies, and it was the first of our weekly Collegium seminars, where fellows would gather from their array of disparate disciplines to listen in bafflement to one another and collectively to think great thoughts. I regret that I can’t remember what that illustrious first paper of the academic year was about, but it finished and, instinctively, I applauded. Because that’s what you do, right, in the UK, at the end of an academic paper.

Downtown Toronto

Film time in downtown Toronto

It’s not that my two hands clapping were met with stony silence, but there was a definite sense of, erk, what, one of the foreigners is clapping, what do we do? Er, better join in! And ever thereafter there was, at least in my imagination, this do-we-don’t-we tension over whether you should clap at the end of the paper. I’d forgotten that in Finland people mostly don’t.

I think I must, you know, relative to most people, like clapping: I often seem to start applauding before other people; I like the different noises you can make; and at graduation, I kind of view the clapping less as a chore and more as a good opportunity to practice. (For example, my left-handed clapping has, since I came to Leeds, got almost as good as my right-handed clapping.)

Inflatable screen!

And since I came to Toronto, right, I’ve followed the Dutchman’s filmgoing and have been finding the city’s reputation for cinema well deserved. Day 17 was a free outdoor screening on this big inflatable screen in David Pecaut Square (no, I don’t know who he is), of Fiddler on the Roof. Not something I’d normally choose to see, but an outdoor movie in the middle of Toronto seemed a cool thing to do, and it was, with these spacy high-rise buildings around us and the clanging of the trams in the background. And actually a really amazing film too, rising above the lame pseudo-Ukranian accents and pedestrian plotting with some beautiful directing and a great ending. A few hundred people sitting outside in the warm evening to watch a film felt quite festive: some people evidently knew all the words, and there were these little showers of applause at key moments in the story (‘even a poor tailor is entitled to some happiness!’). And then there was a round of applause at the end. And I was, like, that was weird, I guess people were just pleased to have a film on outside for free. I mean, no-one claps after films in Britain, or Finland or Iceland, or as far as I remember Spain or France, which I think are the other countries where I’ve been to films. But then I’ve never been to a film outside in any of those countries. Maybe it’s different when you’re outside.

And then on Day 18 we went to the Center for Medieval Studies film night, to see Highlander. Which is, of course, such an incredibly bad film that the audience deserved to give themselves a round of applause just for sitting through it. Still, I was, like, hmm, is this a pattern? Or just a co-incidence? After all, some seminar room in the CMS is no more a proper cinema than David Pecaut Square.

And THEN on Day 19 we went to the first screening of the Toronto Bicycle Film Festival, which was a series of short films, and people clapped after EACH ONE. And now I’m, like, wow, this must be what people do in Canada!

In a way I’m, like, who are we clapping to? Those people up there are just pictures, they can’t actually hear us. Or maybe we’re clapping to the guy in the projector booth? Or maybe it’s just that there’s something fundamentally lame about getting to the credits and just standing up and shaking off the popcorn crumbs and fishing your bag out from under the seat and leaving. I like clapping, and so far I like Canada.

I think my favourite film today was Le Tour de Kagawa, a seven-odd minute documentary in which five young Japanese gentlemen cycle from one place to another to eat udon (which I hadn’t heard of before). But alas, it doesn’t seem to be on Youtube, so here’s another bike short, featuring a couple of other places I’ve been recently (admittedly not by bike), through the recommendation of the Dutchman.


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7 Responses to Days 17–19, August 10th–12th: applause!

  1. Hmmm. This is interesting but I think a little more data needs to be collected. I have the impression that it’s customary to applaud films at film festivals both in Britain and in N America, so you still need more information on practices after non-festival in-cinema showings. But to drop in some US evidence, a few people clapped after Harry Potter yesterday in Evanston – though this felt a bit unusual – and so you are probably right that there is more tolerance for applause this side of the pond.

  2. Ashwood says:

    Having destroyed the palm of one hand, last night I spent the duration of the Edinburgh Tattoo learning to clap with the Wrong Hand. It is remarkably challenging. But it is good to stretch oneself…..

  3. alarichall says:

    Hmm, yes, enquiries during my social round today suggest that applause is indeed conventional at film festivals (data from Russia); not at routine screenings (data from USA, Canada); but that exceptions are attested in respect of cinema screenings of old classics (_Back to the Future_, Canada), which is consistent with the _Highlander_ evidence. I was thinking of taking myself to a big out of town cinema for further research but have heard that they are terrifying palaces of consumerism and am currently inclined to stick to the random cinemas downtown.

    Dr Ashwood: hope your hand gets better! Sounds reminiscent of the consequence of an ill-fated hall-of-residence abseiling exploit during my first term at University. But you will be glad of your newly developed clapping skills, I am sure.

  4. Viqueen says:

    Applause conventions seem extraordinarily variable. When I worked in Germany many years ago, it was the convention for students to applaud all lectures, which seems nice in theory, except that it wasn’t hand-clapping as we know it, but everyone knocking on their desk – in a large lecture, a sound more threatening than rewarding! The same knocking was meted out to visiting speakers.
    I’d never experienced students applauding their ordinary lectures until about 3 or 4 years ago I noticed that students at Nottingham at least had started doing it too (mercifully only the usual hand-clapping sort). The change came so suddenly I couldn’t help wondering whether they had been instructed to do so at induction day, but I’ve never really found out. I confess I quite like the idea!

  5. Pingback: Lots of days! Days 16–24, August 9th–17th: all about Toronto! | alarichall

  6. Because that’s what you do, right, in the UK, at the end of an academic paper.

    … Except at the Institute of Historical Research Earlier Middle Ages seminar, which has to be explained with embarrassment almost every single occasion.

    Also, this year just gone, the students were prone to clap at the end of lectures here in Oxford history. This was apparently something that hadn’t happened last year, and it certainly wasn’t instructed—Oxford is too decentralised for that to work easily. I guess one group started it after a particularly bravura lecture by somebody or other, others heard it through walls or from outside, the new students thought, “ah this happens here” and now it’s established, at least until a new intake don’t quite get socialised and it drops off again. I found it quite embarrassing, really, as I didn’t think I’d done anything worth applauding…

    • alarichall says:

      Yeah, our second-years did that in my first year at Leeds: apparently the whole year group did it right through their degree. Which is really sweet, but in practice meant that if you gave a really great lecture, you’d get this half-baked drizzle of applause, in recognition of the fact that you deserved more than the heart-wrenchingly lacklustre smattering that they usually offered… Still, it’s nice to mark the end of a lecture I think. After all that effort, it feels a bit flat to just cast around looking for your pen-drive while the students pick up they bags they packed up five minutes before.

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