Posted by: Nathan | June 2, 2008

Bring Back the Boo Birds?

Our culture is overly critical by default, so perhaps it seems odd that I’m even considering the idea of returning booing to the public performance arena. Truthfully, it feels a little mean to suggest it. We are never grateful for the many blessings we have. Why should we be more critical at theaters, sporting events, speeches, and concerts? My answer is two-fold: too many poor-quality performances are applauded and booing has an important function.

Before we get to the argument, let me begin with qualifiers. This is usually a bad way to begin, but I think we need to be careful in matters like these. Booing is a power negative statement, and it should be used sparingly. No one should ever boo at youth events, no matter how poor. Crappy high school plays, bad band concerts, poorly performing little league teams are not boo-worthy. The folks involved are young and trying their best (probably), and whatever they’re performing or doing is not their profession. I suppose you could boo referees in high school events, but be careful there, too. These refs are engineers or construction workers most of the time.

Onto the poor performances. I’ve been to professional events that were quite bad, yet the audience applauded one everything concluded. This sort of applause is counterproductive. Booing, when used well, can be a useful tool in letting the organizers of a given event know that the product put forth is recognizably bad. Hopefully, these folks will take steps to ensure future events will be better. And, though I hate talking about money, at professional events we the audience pay to see the performance. If I buy a car that doesn’t work, then I’m justifiably upset; the same should be true of paying to see a good show and watching a bad one instead. Additionally, if we’re discussing opera, ballet, theater, concerts, or sports, the event can be very expensive. If I spend $50+ on my ticket, I expect a lot and should receive it.

Secondly, booing will restore applause to its appropriate fuction, namely that of a reward for a good performance. An accurate gauge of audience opinion is the goal. We reward excellent performances with standing ovations, we clap for average ones–why shouldn’t the worst sort receive boos? In this way, the performers could measure the audience’s collective opinion. A “thanks for trying” ovation is a misrepresentation. If the given event sucks, why not say so?

Now we come to my reservations about this idea. First, there is the matter of taste. Lots of people have bad taste, though I suppose they could say the same of me. Thus, I do not trust the public’s opinion for most matters. These leads me to my second hesistation: given permission to boo, it is quite possible that we would abuse the privilege. I do not advocate frequent booing; save it for obviously and unusually bad performances! Refraining from clapping is another option.* Lastly, booing should never NEVER become violent under any circumstances at any event. If you’re displeased, let the performers know and go home safely.

If this post seems divided to you, dear reader, it’s because I’m divided on this one. I like the idea of being able to show your opinion of a public event regardless of what it may be, and I’m certain that applause has become an empty gesture sometimes (though not always). But if feeling like one can boo leads to further disruptions and hooliganism, I would much prefer the current system. Additionally, I distrust public opinion–call me an elitist if you must. In any case, booing, if used, should be used in small amounts and only for extremely bad performances. How’s that for a vague conclusion?

*On a related note, please save your standing ovations for amazing performances. I have and will refuse to stand if I think it’s not called for. Let applause be the expected outcome and use the other two judiciously.


  1. I’m on the fence with you on this one. I’m not sure we necessarily need booing to convey displeasure at a performance. What if the societal norm of applause were simply removed? Then poor performances would get only a smattering of applause; surely that would be enough to signal unhappiness?

  2. I’m all about honesty when it comes to responding to a performance. We could just not clap, but isn’t it more fun to boo? Not saying that I actually do it much…

    And I think we should boo little kids. “C’mon, Jimmy, kick the ball!! It’s RIGHT THERE! You call that a kick? Boo! BOO!” Kids all get trophies for everything nowadays, I think we need drastic measures to set things straight.

    Also, Nathan, this is the time to return to the NBA! This is the greatest match-up for a title since the days of Jordan! Kobe’s putting in MJ-like performances and being less of a jerk, and seeing him up against Garnett and the Celtics will be incredible. Two legendary teams returning to prominence and they’re packed with star athletes. I’m only going to watch a little of game 1 probably, but I’m going to try to see as much of this series as possible.

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