Jewish World Review July 26, 2002 / 17 Menachem-Av, 5762

Lori Borgman

Lori Borgman
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Consumer Reports

Hold your applause --- please! | Another national problem has come to my attention. Please don't applaud my noticing. The problem is clapping.

We have become a nation of clappers. Relentless clappers. Unstoppable clappers. We clap for anything and everything.

It hit me that we may be bordering on psychotic while watching a cooking show. You know the one with the animated Italian and the live studio audience? He put a clove of garlic into a baking dish and the audience applauded. He added another clove and they applauded again.

Is this really America? Do truly intelligent people sit around applauding garlic? Naturally, this leads to an obvious question: How can I get these people to come to my kitchen?

Is there anything for which people won't clap? A promo for one of those reality shows featured a man threading a green snake into his left nostril and pulling it out of his right. You know when they show the full clip, the audience will give a rousing round of applause. If the audience had any sense, they'd all lean over and quietly vomit into their laps. But no, these days we applaud.

At numerous graduations this spring, family and friends were asked to hold their applause until the end. They tried, they really did. Some tried knitting, some tried sitting on their hands, others asked strangers to sit on their hands. Such strategies worked for about five seconds and then they were clapping. For hours at a time. For people they didn't even know.

We've even been doing more clapping in churches these days. I have a recurring dream that in a church somewhere on a Sunday morning there is a special music presentation and the congregation responds with polite applause. Then a pastor makes the announcements: "The deacons found we didn't have enough money to pave the parking lot, so we're simply going to blacktop it." The congregation applauds. The pastor continues, "We're not giving up on pavement though, which is why we're going to have another fund-raiser!" More applause. This is when I wake up shaking, in a cold sweat.

I blame the medical profession and public schools for the clapping epidemic. I remember the infant well-check when the pediatrician asked if my baby could clap.

"I don't recall that he's attended live theater," I said. "And I would have noticed him crawling out the door in a tiny tux."

"No, no," the doctor said, "Casual clapping. It's a sign of intelligence."

I raced home and began teaching the baby to clap. It was a rough go. His uncoordinated little hands kept missing each other and he wound up slapping himself. Two black eyes and six arm bruises later, the little guy was finally able to clap.

We thought that would be the end of the clapping obsession, but then a few years later he went to kindergarten. Do you know what the first thing is that kids do in school? Sit in a circle and clap. If you're happy and you know it clap your hands! CLAP! CLAP! What? They couldn't be happy by observing a moment of silence?

Some believe clapping is a tradition passed down to us by our ancestors who lived without benefit of central air conditioning and spent hot, humid evenings smacking giant bloodsucking insects between their hands. Psychologists think clapping is natural, a sign of excitement and joy. ("Yippee! I got another mosquito!")

Before we clap ourselves on the back for being sophisticated and intelligent, we should remember that chimpanzees naturally clap, too. And I've yet to see a single chimp applaud a clove of garlic.

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JWR contributor Lori Borgman is the author of I Was a Better Mother Before I Had Kids. To comment, please click here.

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© 2001, Lori Borgman