Everyone is worried about the economy, including the inflation of the U.S. dollar.

But I wish to express my concerns about a different kind of inflation: ovation inflation.

Years ago I came to the term “ovation inflation” independently, but after I googled the term about a month ago, I realized, once again, that I am not as unique as I thought. “Ovation inflation” has been discussed in blogs, online magazines, and even the Wall Street Journal. In her WSJ article, Joanne Kaufman called ovation inflation “one more example of our society’s tendency to supersize every experience, emotion and commodity.”

I definitely agree. My wife and I are regular patrons of the arts, including performances here at BYU. We have seen many remarkable (and mediocre) performances, at BYU and elsewhere. But mediocre or not, you can almost bet that a standing ovation will occur at BYU.

It’s almost always the same story. The show ends, people begin clapping. After several seconds (sometimes longer), one or two or five enthusiastic souls rise to their feet. Within seconds, many, many more people stand up, no doubt spurred by the semi-conscious thoughts of “if a few people are standing up, well, I guess I should too,” or “yes! I have an excuse to stand up — when I stand up it makes me feel good,” or “well, my date/spouse/friend/etc. is standing up, it would be awkward if I didn’t too.” At this point, there are still several people sitting, but most of them eventually stand, some reluctantly because they don’t want to stand out, or simply because they’d like to see the stage. A few brave souls (usually my wife and I included) sweat it out on their seats the whole time.

Now, I could go on and on about how this cheapens what a standing ovation means. What would one do if they REALLY liked it? Jump up and down? Take off their shirt and wave it in the air? This problem should be fairly obvious, but perhaps not as appreciated by those who are not as initiated into the culture of the fine arts (as opposed to the culture of the rock concert). I regularly hear, though, from performers that standing ovations mean very little to them and they would prefer it if they were much more rare (I felt this way when I was on BYU’s Mens’ Chorus, where we would have a long standing ovation every time no matter what).

It is clear that ovation inflation is a problem all over the place. Popular Broadway performances apparently always receive them. But maybe you could expect that for Broadway and the Disney-loving crowds that they attract nowadays. But I wonder whether this problem might be more pronounced among Mormon crowds. I can certainly say, from my experience, that the exchange rate for a standing ovation is much cheaper at BYU than other venues I have attended. This is the case even for many other performing groups in Utah, such as the Utah Symphony or Hale Center Theatre. Standing ovations for these performances, from my experience, are fairly rare. Especially the Utah Symphony — I’ve been to dozens of their performances and only one — a Hillary Hahn concert last year — had a standing ovation. And it deserved it: right as the performance ended, a man shouted “Brava!” and the crowd rose to their feet — in unison. That is the way standing ovations ought to be.

I think that regular patrons of the arts are far less likely to stand. This is evident even at the BYU performances: the front 3-4 rows (saturated with season ticket holders) have a lot of sitters (though part of this may be because they don’t have to stand up to see).

But I still am suspicious that ovation inflation is more prominent among Mormons, at least the BYU or Utah area variety. One reason I think this is because standing ovations are very, very common at performances on Temple Square. And just a hunch I have. But what I really need is a comparison with performances from non-LDS universities , especially those outside of Utah or Idaho — can anyone help me out here?

My recommendations for the person who has a knee-jerk reaction for standing ovations:

  • As the concert is in its final moments, ask yourself if you would like to stand. Then — stick to your decision, no matter what. That means you will stand even if everyone else sits. And you will sit even if everyone else is standing, including your companion (first dates might be an exception — if you must, stand — but do so only if your date stands first).
  • In general, limit your standing ovations to once a year (maximum). If you attend less than 10 performances a year, then limit yourself to 1 in 10 performances (maximum). These of course are just general rules of thumb — it’s possible for you to have attended two phenomenal performances in a row. (So, coming back to the first point, you might think, am I willing to use this as my 1 in 10?)
  • If you want to ensure people that you really liked the performance (even though you’re not standing), clap loud and high. If they inquire later, you might even talk to them about the problem with ovation inflation :)
  • If you didn’t really like the performance that much, respectably clap quietly while sitting. Almost every performance deserves clapping, however reserved (simply for effort).

Well, my wife and I are going to the H.M.S. Pinafore at BYU tonight. We’ll see if it receives a standing ovation. And if it actually deserves one.

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