This posting in the Telegraph on our lack of silence raises several deep questions, including ones about manners, but doesn’t do so in a condescending way:
Perhaps we shouldn’t read too much into The Sun and its night at the opera. Applauding after each aria may not be the done thing, but it is not as great a crime against music as applauding between the movements of a symphony, as happened last year at a Proms performance of Mahler’s Ninth, a meditation on life and death which can only be appreciated fully as a whole, as opposed to four parts broken up by applause.
But applause in church is a more worrying trend. They did it at the memorial service for Alastair Cooke at Westminster Abbey four years ago, too. And I suppose it was at the Abbey that the fashion started, with the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales. Whenever I think of that moment, when those watching Earl Spencer’s speech on screens in the park began applauding, and the applause carried like a wave into the Abbey, my toes curl upwards involuntarily. It is partly that I hated seeing the Queen humiliated in that way, partly that it seemed so, well, inappropriate.
The problem with postings of this sort is that they can turn into screeds of “what happened to the way things used to be,” romanticizing the past and completely ignoring the real reasons why we are in the current situation we’re in now. The opinion presented here goes right to the serious questions and avoids that trap:
- What does it mean when people can’t keep silent at a funeral, even during a moment of silence (see the article for the precise situation when this happened)?
- Is applause a way of holding power?
- Is there a link between freedom of conscience and thinking for oneself that requires something that is more or less religious?
- What does it mean that concert halls and churches might have to learn from movie theaters in terms of showing people how to be respectful? Do we educate in manners at all? What would an education in manners look like?
- What does it mean that listening to music is increasingly a solitary experience? (on this note – what about dancing at a club vs. waltzing?)
One can answer the “what does it mean” questions by arguing that the questions are irrelevant. People are mannerful enough that no one is getting killed, plenty of people are nice to each other, and everything is going fine otherwise. But maybe the purpose of manners is something more than order for the bare minimum of security.