As of last Thursday, Manchester University Student Union has banned clapping. Instead, it is encouraging students to adopt the British Sign Language equivalent of ‘jazz hands’ to show their approval of something so as to ‘avoid triggering anxiety and improve accessibility’. Obviously, the world has gone mad.
Of course, the best place to go to in order to find out just how mad the world has gone is the Daily Mail website. It really has gone very mad indeed. You only need to look at the comments that other readers have left on the article to find eloquent expressions of that lunacy: ‘What about the majority who love the euphoric moment, the instantaneous expression of joy that clapping and whooping represent[?]… I am all for consideration but why do the majority have to be the only ones who have to be accommodating? Too much!’; ‘If you suffer anxiety on hearing clapping, then what about when a door closes, or a car backfires?’; ‘They didn’t ought to be at uni if they suffer from anxiety and sensory issues. I wonder, do they ever go to pop concerts or have a night out on the town, I would have thought they were much noisier’; ‘How will these students survive in the real world. It is really scary that the left have so much control on future generations of workers’ and so on. The article itself explains how Piers Morgan, on ITV’s Good Morning Britain robustly took the piss out of such attempts at inclusivity: ‘“If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands” – that’s going to have to go now, isn’t it?’ He goes on: ‘If you’re happy and you know it and you want to clap your hands, be careful – it may trigger anxiety. So, if you’re happy, don’t clap your hands, children.’
Scary, huh? In fairness, though, I’m much more scared by Piers Morgan and the Daily Mail readers than I am about a student union voting to consider its member with sensory processing issues, anxiety and autistic spectrum condition in what is clearly an attempt to improve accessibility and not some massive idiotic campaign to spoil ‘normal’ people’s fun. In fact, I’m not scared about that at all. I’m actually rather reassured by it. And I’ll tell you why.
You know on signposts and door plates and boxes of medicine there’s always a little braille bit? Use them yourself? Probably not. Seen anyone use them? Probably not. Think that it’s only right and proper that they’re there? Yes. Of course you do. Because blind people need them. I would imagine that you’ve not seen anyone use the strips because they’re not for you and only a very small percentage of the population need them. But you don’t think that they should be removed because they’re no real inconvenience to you and – and this is the important part – because you thoroughly believe that there’s a condition called blindness (and all its variations) which you can empathise with. The same is true for disabled access to public buildings. It’s probably not for you but you’re okay with it because disabled people obviously exist and, if you think hard enough about it, you can see that it’s really unfair for people to be denied access to those buildings because of something that they have no control over. Ever had to wait while disabled people in wheelchairs negotiate ramps to get on to buses and trains? Do you ever talk about how your consideration of them is getting in the way of you striding on to trains immediately, like you use to do? No. Do you talk in angered tones about how it’s always the majority who have to give up its nice things so that other people can participate, too? No. Ever moaned that you don’t see the disabled people making sacrifices like you’re having to? No. Because you can see the problem, you believe in it, and you’re not a massive cock.
That a university student union bans clapping reassures me that there are institutions out there which know that accessibility is such an important issue that they are prepared to consider the needs of all their students and to make improvements to their rules and guidelines to promote it. Someone on the Daily Mail page actually said ‘they didn’t ought to be at uni if they suffer from anxiety and sensory issues’. That’s lunacy, right there. You shouldn’t go to uni if you have a mental health condition? Try replacing ‘anxiety and sensory issues’ with ‘physical disabilities’ or ‘blindness’ and see how it sounds. ‘Do they ever go to pop concerts or have a night out on the town’ wonders one Daily Mail contributor. ‘I would have thought they were much noisier’ they say. Yes, they are. And that is why the people who are being considered in this decision don’t go to them. There are no attempts at empathy here. Possibly the worst, though, are those people who say they themselves have anxiety but, actually, clapping doesn’t bother them. Or that they have autistic kids but, actually, clapping is a good thing to teach them. These are the very people who really should know what empathy is, that it isn’t telling other people that they should feel as they themselves do or that sufferers of specific conditions are suffering too much because they themselves can cope. That’s the opposite of empathy.
One of the biggest signs that something is very wrong with the typical Daily Mail reader reaction is all those references to children, their happiness and development. Even Morgan has to drag them in, too. Will nobody think of them? This isn’t about children. It’s not about child development. It’s not about spoiling any child’s fun. It’s about adults who are finding it difficult to access events at a place of education, for which – incidentally – they are paying. Children can still clap if they’re happy. You can spontaneously clap if you find something funny or exceptional. Sustained, loud noise, though, distresses some people – particularly if they find themselves in the middle of it. It doesn’t annoy them, or irritate them, or piss them off. It distresses them, confuses them, unsettles them, stops them from functioning ‘normally’ – and, if we can do something about that in places these people have every right to be, then we really should.
But what about our right to clap? What about our joy when we burst spontaneously into applause to show that something is excellent or magnificent? We can grow the fuck up, that’s what. Clapping is not the only way of showing approval. It’s convention – and we can change it in order to better support those of us who find sudden loud and sustained noise extremely troubling. And once it’s changed, eventually, it won’t be second nature to burst into thunderous applause and the world will be a slightly nicer place for some people without it having done any real damage to anyone else. This is not the needs of the few outweighing the needs of the many. You don’t need to clap. Not clapping wont’t distress, confuse and unsettle you. It won’t ruin your day or prevent you from doing what you need to do for the next hour or day. All it means is that you’ll have to find another way of showing how pleased and happy you are, one that doesn’t make quite so much damn noise.
Jazz hands, of course, is an excellent way to demonstrate applause to deaf people. Personally, I think it’s a bit silly as an actual replacement for applause, though. Finger-snapping seems much more appropriate: it does make a noise, just not such a bloody loud one. The University of Michigan’s Men’s Glee Club has used it as a replacement for clapping for a long time. It argues that ‘snapping is less disruptive than clapping during speeches and announcements’, which is fair enough. More interestingly, though, ‘you can’t clap and hold a beer’ at the same time – or with ‘jazz hands’ either. Making sure that whatever you do in order to express your delight includes being able to hold a drink whilst doing it is undeniably a good idea. Personally, I think it’s hard to do jazz hands without looking like a bit of an idiot or as if you’re taking the piss a little. I’m more in favour of finger snapping.
I can’t let this go without talking about Jeremy Vine’s tweet: ‘Glad some brave souls decided to ignore the difficulties caused by sudden noises 100 years ago’. I was going to ignore it because it’s such a low and shitty comment, but I can’t. First of all, so many people were traumatised by those very events that to raise it as evidence of other people’s basic cowardice is reprehensible as well as, it seems, considerably missing the point. Aren’t there some statistics showing that so many men were so shocked and terrified by what was going on around them as they walked across no-man’s land that they couldn’t even pull the triggers on their revolvers? Surely that’s evidence of what trauma does to people, not that we should happily be inflicting trauma on others if we can help it. Much more ridiculous, though, is Vine’s implicit suggestion that people who are distressed by sudden, loud and sustained noise are in some way being disrespectful to World War One soldiers. That’s a low blow. And that these distressed people need to ‘decide’ not to be bothered by loud noises. Once again, just because it’s not visible and doesn’t effect us, we assume that it doesn’t exist. Worse, though, is raising the First World War in the first place. Presumably, Vine knows that, once he has mentioned it, any disagreement is ‘automatically’ a slur on our brave and noble dead. If you like, it’s a way to make sure that he wins the argument whilst admitting that he doesn’t have much of one to start with. Banning clapping is not a cocked snook at soldiers. It is an attempt, rather, to make the world a little more bearable to everyone.