War, hunger, and disease are all terrible, tragic occurrences that should rightfully get us upset and motivate all caring people to do what they can to bring those situations to an end. But there is something else that is so pervasive, so insidious, so annoying, that it demands our attention and our efforts to wipe it from the face of the Earth forever: forced crowd participation at concerts. Don’t we have to endure enough abuse and humiliation in life without having this additional helping shoveled over us?
You know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s been a long day. You’re dog-tired. You paid a lot of money for the tickets to impress that special someone. All you want to do is sit back, relax, and be entertained. Watch the show, hold hands with your date, not be part of the show. But no. For some ego-driven reason, the performer needs to see and hear you enjoying the show, and/or becoming a part of the show, at the exact, frequent moments he or she or they desire. It’s sick, it’s sad, and it’s deeply, profoundly disturbing.
Let’s take it offense by offense, examining each desired reaction the performer attempts to force from us by entreating us with the following:
“Put your hands together!” The mother of all forced crowd participation commands. Let me translate: “Because I realize that my show is not nearly exciting enough to inspire you to react loudly and spontaneously on your own, I will hereby swallow my pride and beg you to clap along with my music, knowing that since you’re all sheep, once the sheepiest of you start clapping, the rest will be powerless to avoid joining in.”
“Everybody on your feet!” Translation: “Standing ovations happen all the time, on their own, for talented performers. But this is me we’re talking about, folks. And unless I ask you for it, you and I both know it’s not going to happen. Oh, and once these first few rows get up, they’ll block the view of everyone else, so you’ll all have to get up, too. That’s the beauty part of it. Ready, sheep? Up!”
“Come on, sing along, you know the words!” Translation: “I’m so sick of singing my own songs that the only thing that’s capable of keeping me awake up here, allowing me the opportunity to pop a pill or take a swig, and massage my giant ego, is to get a stadium full of fans to sing those lyrics with and/or instead of me. Yeah, I know it sounds horrible, but, hey, it gives you the illusion that you’re a performer and it saves my voice. Now that’s a win-win situation.”
“Shake Hands With/Say Hello To the Person Directly Behind You!” This is a sad attempt to create the Woodstock Generation/Come Together Right Now feeling that we’re all friends and happy to be there together at this very special moment. News flash: we’re not all friends. Woodstock was well over 40 years ago. And not only do we not know the people sitting behind us, we invariably do not want to know them. Especially when they shake our hand after having just finished eating their greasy chicken dinner.
“Okay, For This Next Song, I Need a Volunteer!” And usually, because people are generally too bright to subject themselves to this kind of humiliation, the “volunteer” must be chosen at random and pulled up onto the stage, against his will, to be subjected to some kind of lame, embarrassing, unfunny, scripted participation bit, after which (see above), we are once again begged to put our hands together and applaud his shame, “for being such a good sport.” Gag.
“Feel Free to Get Up and Dance!” Translation: “So my ego can once again be gratified by watching members of the audience move to my music.” But you know what? If I wanted to dance, I would have gone dancing. And if your music is so wonderful that it moves me to dance, I’m fully capable of doing it on my own; I don’t need you to guage my excitement level and determine that now is the time I must get up and dance. In fact, why don’t YOU dance? Perhaps it will be a welcome addition/distraction from your complete lack of stage presence.
“This Half of the Room Sings This Part, The Other Half Sings That Part!” Okay, now I have to compete with other members of the audience I don’t know, and have to feel motivated to sing louder/better/with more feeling than they do. Like that’s important. Like I care. Like I’m back in the third grade. Like it’s vital to have pride in my half of the auditorium simply because I’m sitting there. On second thought, this is pretty much the foundation of U.S. foreign policy.
Please don’t misunderstand — I love attending concerts. When the music’s right and you’re with someone special, it can be magical. It could be the start of a life-long romance. I love seeing a good show. I just don’t love being the show. Or being forced to be a part of the show via performer commands that invariably elicit responses that can’t possibly be genuine.
So, please, performers, just focus on doing the best show you possibly can. And if you do, I guarantee you’ll get the audience response you want without having to beg for it. And it’ll be genuine. And earned. You may even see both me and my date out there in your audience, dancing with wild abandon. If you do, all I ask is that you not turn up the lights and suggest that we shake hands with the person behind us. Speaking for myself, I’ll do that when I’m good and ready to do it. Which will be never. But at least that’s my choice and it’s genuine. Thank you. Now, everybody, all together — stop reading!