31 August 2009

Obama on Kennedy got more applause than 'normal'

I mentioned in an earlier post an observation, first reported in my book Our Masters’ Voices, about there being a standard or ‘normal’ burst of applause that, in many different settings and across several different cultures, lasts for about 8 seconds. Less than 7 seconds and it sounds feeble; more than 9 seconds and it sounds more enthusiastic than usual.

The most powerful piece of cross-cultural evidence came from a group of Iranian students who had collected some tapes of speeches by Ayotollah Khomeni after the Shah had been deposed. Applause had been banned as a 'decadent Western practice' and replaced by chanting ("Death to the Americans..." "Down with imerialists..." etc.) .

The students reported that the chanting occurred immediately after Khomeni had used exactly the same rhetorical techniques as the ones that trigger applause in the West and, even more interestingly, regularly faded out after 8 plus or minus 1 second.

The last time I remember the congregation applauding a eulogy was after Lord Spencer finished speaking at the funeral of his sister, Princess Diana.

But it happened again on Saturday after President Obama’s eulogy at the funeral of Edward Kennedy, where the clapping went on for 35 seconds or just over four times longer than a standard burst of applause.

In this clip, you can check out for yourself what 'longer than normal' sounds like to you:


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