(if this post gets a standing ovation from anyone, I’d be more impressed with the appropriateness of that response than the fact that something I did was worthy of applause)
Commonly, standing ovations are well-known, as applause from an audience delivered while standing up. However, the term ‘standing ovation’ is painfully vague when you think about it; the ‘standing’ suggests that an ‘ovation’ by itself refers to applause, but people don’t ‘ovate’ after seeing a play, they clap. Therefore, it can be said that ‘ovation’ refers to standing-up clapping, but does that not render the ‘standing’ qualifier entirely pointless?
There are also differences in the definition of a ‘standing ovation’ that we’re starting with: the ever-reliable Wikipedia says members of a ‘seated audience’ stand to give applause, placing particular emphasis on the standing as a form of great appreciation, while the bespectacled logo of The Free Dictionary only defines it as a form of ‘enthusiastic recognition’, with no reference to the seating position of the ovators.
And I draw attention to this because of an event in my own life; a Theatrical Badass accompanied me to a performance of Macbeth at the Globe earlier this year, to which we applauded at the end. However, we were on the ground (I call it the Pleb Pit), and so stood up for the entirety of the performance, and so applauded on our feet by practical need, not artistic appreciation.
The fact that levels of appreciation – sitting applauses for good performances, standing ovations for great ones – is discriminatory here, as we were forced to give a standing ovation. The subjectivity of art confuses this means of expressing approval further; some of us in the Pit might have thought it was crap, and so ovated out of necessity, while others, such as myself, clapped on our feet because the show was deserving of such a slight physical movement on our part. This makes it hard for the actors and producers to judge their own performances too; they will have their opinions of how it went, but the ‘success’ of a show is largely based on its impact on an audience, an impact that becomes totally muddled if we are to use the standingness of an ovation as a measure of artistic quality.
I would like to suggest a new form of showing different levels of recognition, but I can’t think of anything workable: different volumes of cheering would be based more on the vocal strength of an audience, not their enjoyment of a show; Strictly Come Dancing-style numbers would become too cluttered to be practically useful, and all the nines would be defaced into penises by teenagers displaying our generation’s excuse for wit; and live-tweeting responses to a performance to its actors as it finishes wouldn’t work, as then you’d have Macbeth checking his phone as soon as the curtain starts to fall to see if he presented his death with a suitable level of heroism.
Therefore there is no obvious solution to the impractically vague and Pleb Pit-discriminating practice of standing ovations that will work on a large scale. As ever, we’ll have to accept that a part of our society sucks, but we can’t change it for everyone; I’ll just change it in my own way, leaving the ovating to you folks, while I shout ‘It didn’t suck!’ though a loudhailer.