Why don’t they boo more at the opera?

From Freakonomics blog:

Terry Teachout, meditating on a rare outburst of booing
at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, wonders if classical music and
theater are being diminished by a superabundance of standing ovations
and a scarcity of negative feedback. What if theater and orchestra audiences behaved more like blog commenters?

What are the options?  You might argue that older people are less grumpy but I'm not sure that approach will succeed.

"Signaling refined taste" comes to mind but that, taken alone, requires some negative feedback as well.  Try listening to what informed viewers say to each other in art galleries.  There is plenty of negative mixed in with the positive, even if you think the blend is a phony one.

I believe that the opera-going demographic wishes to signal "magnanimity."  When these high-status people are slighted, as they might be by a bad performance, their privately optimal response is to ignore the slight.  Reacting to the slight suggests that they have let it bother them; it is a sign of low status to be bothered by what are ultimately low status entities.

Magnanimity is an underrated concept in signaling theory, in part because it has such quiet manifestations.  It is Holmes's "dog that didn't bark." 

That so many people signal magnanimity in the very public opera house, but less so in the private art gallery, is a telling indication of how you should interpret much of the positive public feedback you receive.

How many of you are into signaling magnanimity?


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