Standing Ovations: Sit On It

fans sitting at fenway parkSitting: This is how you do it. (Photo by slidingsideways on Flickr.)

Standing can be a real pain in the butt. I’ve been arguing this for years. I know standing desks are all the rage (we even have a few folks here at Boston magazine world headquarters who insist on making the rest of us feel lazy by staying upright in their cubes all day), but really, sitting down is just so comfortable. And then there’s the actual physical process of getting up: you’ve got to apply pressure on your knees and actually exert effort — what a mess!

You won’t be surprised to know, then, that I am in full agreement with the column on the front of the New York Times today decrying the standing ovation. Theater critic Ben Brantley argues that since every play and musical gets a standing O these days, the gesture has come to be meaningless. He writes:

I would like to make the case, officially and urgently, for the return of the sitting ovation. Because we really have reached the point at which a standing ovation doesn’t mean a thing. Pretty much every show you attend on Broadway these days ends with people jumping to their feet and beating their flippers together like captive sea lions when the zookeeper arrives with a bucket of fish. This is true even for doomed stinkers that find the casts taking their curtain calls with the pale, hopeless mien of patients who have just received a terminal diagnosis.

The S.O. (if I may so refer to a phenomenon that no longer warrants the respect of its full name) has become a reflexive social gesture, like shaking hands with the host at the end of a party.

Or, to put it in cruder and more extreme terms, it’s like having sex with someone on the first date, whether you like the person or not, because you think it’s expected.

What an interesting dating life Mr. Brantley must have! Of course, it’s not like this is a new phenomenon (so much so that the genius @NYTOnIt Twitter feed gave it the Times Is On It treatment), but that doesn’t make it any less true. And while I must confess that it’s been quite some time since my last trip to Broadway, the scourge of the Standing O has equally afflicted Fenway Park.

Now I don’t have a problem with people jumping up and whooping after a strike out or home run — you’ve got to do that, you’re there to cheer. My beef is more with the ovations fans give when pitchers leave the game. Increasingly, over the last few years, it seems like if the starting pitcher gets anywhere close to a quality start, he gets a standing ovation on his walk to the dugout after getting pulled from the game. Say someone gives us three runs in six innings: boom, standing ovation. Yuck. I think Tim Wakefield used to get standing O’s for just getting out of bed in the morning.

Since the standing ovation is so cheapened now, as far as I can tell, we have two options. One is that we could invent something even better than the standing ovation. But what? A jumping ovation? That seems impractical and, given the amount of alcoholic consumption at Sox games, a recipe for a real disaster. The only other option, then, is to dial back our standing O’s. So I say let’s keep to our seats. Reserve the standing ovation for a great, Pedro-esque performance. Because, of course, when it’s truly deserved, I don’t mind going to all that trouble to stand up at all.