Singer Amy Winehouse has been booed by an audience after appearing to be drunk. When is it acceptable to express one’s disapproval this way? It’s a noise every performer dreads, but every regular attendee of live music, comedy and, especially, sport will be familiar with the onomatopoeic sound of booing.
Amy Winehouse is the latest high-profile figure to suffer this fate after she was booed by a crowd in the Serbian capital Belgrade after appearing to be too drunk to perform. One can leave aside whether this audience was right to anticipate that a performance by Amy Winehouse should be a spectacle of monastic dedication and sobriety. Their reaction was a display of a crowd’s most simple and effective method of communication.
Sometimes, of course, boo-ees are vindicated by history. Those who booed Bob Dylan for going electric at the Newport Folk festival and subsequently cried “Judas!” at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall receive little sympathy from most latter-day rock critics…
… For this reason, Neil McCormick, the Daily Telegraph’s chief rock music critic, regards booing as a uniquely democratic practice. Too often, he believes, rich and cosseted performers, accustomed to adulation, take for granted those who pay their wages by taking to the stage late, or refusing to play familiar material. In this context, McCormick argues, to boo is to offer a timely corrective.
“A lot of artists get so used to approval, a little bit of booing keeps them on their toes. Often the booing is when they come on late and I think that’s absolutely right. I just hope the boos permeate backstage so they can hear it.”
Critics may regarded booing as symptomatic of a a society in which good manners have been degraded but, in fact, the practice can be traced back to ancient Greece. The first written record of an audience vocally expressing their disapproval come from the Festival of Dionysus in the sixth century BC, when the Athenian noble and democratic reformer Cleisthenes insisted it was the civic duty of ever citizen not just to applaud good plays, but to whistle bad ones. The Romans, too, saw jeering as an intrinsic component of public spectacle. In gladiatorial competitions, the reaction of the crowd could determine life or death, the Latin word explodere meaning “to drive off stage by clapping”.
The verb “to boo”, however, is more recent, dating back to the 19th Century. Since then, the practice has become familiar in the UK, along with the slow handclap, though European crowds may prefer to vent their disapproval by whistling.
Comedian Jenny Eclair says that a chorus of boos can, in fact, come as a relief to a performer if it hastens their exit from a disastrous performance.
“There’s something very final about being booed off. The decision has been made. You have to go. There should be more booing in shops and restaurants and places like that when when the service is bad. If you’ve had a poor breakfast in a hotel, you should put your knife and fork down and boo.”
It’s a suggestion of which Cleisthenes would surely approve.
via BBC News