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July 26, 2006

Doug Says...

by Joshua Kosman

"the setting drips with expectation about how you're to behave," as though that were a bad thing. I've never understood this notion that the existence of social norms in a particular setting is a daunting obstacle or some kind of fatal buzzkill. Yet it's a fairly common theme in discussions of how to make classical events more "welcoming." People can't be comfortable at concerts, the thinking goes, unless they understand exactly what kind of deportment is expected of them; and acquiring that knowledge is far too onerous.

Well, phooey. The other week I attended Catholic Mass for the first time, and of course it was hilariously easy to figure out how to behave. You stand when the people around you are standing; you sit when they sit; you don't holler "Yo! Bishop! Over here with the wafer!" unless someone else does it first and no one seems to object. Yes, you're always a beat behind the congregation, but so what?

Those simple rules work just fine at classical concerts, too, even for first-timers. And conversely, I believe -- though I could be wrong about this -- that the existence of a code of behavior ties in with Andrew's point about cost implying value. Having to leave behind your tub of beer and your garlic sausage is a kind of cost, and the imposition of that cost tells you that something is happening here that may well reward your sacrifice. It makes the event special. One of my favorite sights at the Symphony or the Opera is to see a young, even teenage, couple, out on a date and endearingly overdressed for the occasion. They know that this is a big deal, a cool thing, and that it calls for the cool-event costume -- even if they're not clear on how far to go with it.

Posted by jkosman at July 26, 2006 10:37 AM


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