5 May 2010

Lukewarm support for Brown from cabinet ministers during his speech yesterday?

Cutaways from a speaker to the audience can sometimes be quite revealing, as was illustrated in a clip from the third TV debate I posted a few days ago HERE (and in an earlier one showing a woman in the audience anticipating and agreeing with a rhetorical question being posed by David Cameron HERE).

In the USSR during the 1930's, being seen to be the first to stop clapping could have dramatic consequences, as was vividly described by Alexander Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago (pp. 60-70):

At the conclusion of the conference, a tribute to Comrade Stalin was called for. Of course, everyone stood up (just as everyone had leaped to his feet during the conference at every mention of his name).... For three minutes, four minutes, five minutes, the 'stormy applause, rising to an ovation,' continued. But palms were getting sore and raised arms were already aching. And the older people were panting from exhaustion. It was becoming insufferably silly even to those who really adored Stalin.

However, who would dare to be the first to stop?... After all, NKVD men were standing in the hall applauding and watching to see who quit first!... At the rear of the hall, which was crowded, they could of course cheat a bit, clap less frequently, less vigorously, not so eagerly - but up there with the presidium where everyone could see them?... With make-believe enthusiasm on their faces, looking at each other with faint hope, the district leaders were just going on and on applauding till they fell where they stood, till they were carried out of the hall on stretchers!...

Then, after eleven minutes, the director of the paper factory assumed a businesslike expression and sat down in his seat. And, oh, a miracle took place! Where had the universal, uninhibited, indescribable enthusiasm gone? To a man, everyone else stopped dead and sat down. They had been saved! The squirrel had been smart enough to jump off his revolving wheel.

That, however, was how they discovered who the independent people were. And that was how they went about eliminating them. That same night the factory director was arrested. They easily pasted ten years on him on the pretext of something quite different. But after he had signed form 206, the final document of the interrogation, his interrogator reminded him:

‘Don’t ever be the first to stop applauding.’

Mandelson, Burnham and Cooper for the Gulag?
Scroll 1 minute and 50 seconds into this clip from Gordon Brown's speech in Manchester yesterday and ask yourself whether you think his cabinet ministers are applauding enthusiastically enough.

Pay particular attention to Lord Mandelson, who isn't clapping at all, Andy Burnham, who's the first to stop, and Yvette Cooper who stops a fraction of a second later.

I suppose you could argue that none of them should be clapping a commendation from their leader. On the other hand, you could say that none of them seems to be showing quite as much enthusiasm or excitement as they should be doing so close to polling day.


mannerofspeaking.org said...

Great post, Max and nice use of the piece from Solzhenitsyn!

Remind me not to stop clapping when I hear you speak!


John Zimmer

Barny said...

The reason they're being half-hearted is surely due to having been just commended by the PM. In fact you could argue the reason that they clap at all is because a) they're not listening or b) the trigger mechanisms for applause are so strong that they start before realising they're clapping themselves and so stop as quickly as possible without appearing rude.

Max Atkinson said...

Thanks for both of these.

John - I've only ever been applauded once while speaking. It happened in the pre-PowerPoint era, when I heard myself saying: "The more I work in this area, the more I'm coming to believe that the overhead projector may be the biggest single obstacle to effective presentation ever invented." Later the managers told me that they'd just suffered death from OHP slides from one of their company's top directors.

And John - I think you may well be right about them stopping because they realised people might think they were clapping themselves - In which case, maybe Mandelson was the only one who'd been listening close enough to know not to get his hands apart in the first place.