Exploring when booing an artist is appropriate

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Graphic by Fani Hsieh
Graphic by Fani Hsieh

Think back to the last time you were at a local show and the quaint intimate atmosphere turned sour. Either the performer wasn’t what the collective audience had pictured or some obvious mistakes were being made. Try to recall the inevitable reaction of a hostile crowd and focus in on the dull droning sound of the boos that filled the space.

Maybe you stayed quiet, maybe you joined in by way of mob rule, maybe you spearheaded the vocal protest, who can remember?

Now, did you ever consider what that actually projects?

Is it ever an appropriate time to boo someone who has mustered up the courage to offer themselves and their talent to the public tribunal that is a live show?

Booing seems harsher than the criticism we would give face-to-face. It’s intimate and confrontational, but still done anonymously, as your voice gets lost in the cacophony of displeased voices following suit.

It also projects no reason other than, “I don’t like this/you.” To hate something as subjective as a performance by a local band, you would need a reason behind it, such as poor playing or offensive lyrics: something concrete to hitch your criticism to.

Booing is nothing more than anger made audible, a protest noise to counteract whatever you are experiencing and a signal to the performer that this audience enjoys the sound of their own detestation more than whatever song they are playing.

Now, I am not suggesting that it is not okay to hate something, but a public forum may not be the best way to vent your dislike.

Speaking from experience, playing to a crowd of people whom you don’t know is nerve-wracking.

The thought that their presence can become hostile by the mere utterance of a spiteful onomatopoeia, for a reason you may never know, makes it all the worse.

Standing up on stage requires a degree of bravery and courage that I feel deserves a degree of respect. Booing only requires you be loud and angry.

A lot of the time, people who boo at a live show are only going with the predominate mood. It’s a social phenomenon more than an actual opinion of what you are watching, an activity like the “wave” that lets the audience participate in the performance to some degree.

Sometimes, let’s face it, people are just being pricks and shouting things just because they can (or they’re drunk).

So, how do we voice our opinion of a performance that isn’t so self-aggrandizing and disruptive?

I’ve always felt that no reaction is always more powerful than a loud noise at an affective level.

Booing often incites the performer to get frustrated and see the crowd as unappreciative and self-serving, assuring that nothing will be learned and he/she will never improve.

No reaction is a visceral confirmation that whatever you did registered at no level, that even the collective fun of voice frustrations isn’t worth it. Booing is heard, but silence is felt.

Yes, there are times when booing is justified. A band shows up unprepared (or they’re drunk) and clearly not playing their material correctly, challenging the audience with violence, or just generally refusing to give you your money’s worth.

However, as a means of voicing your opinion of the show’s quality, it comes across as crass. You don’t have to like what you are watching, but you don’t have to supply your own entertainment at the risk of looking like an asshole.


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