Jazz Hands

4th November 2019

Numerous of the issues such as noise when people clap, persistent attention seeking amongst children when they grow up, overly emotional or out of proportion responses to trivial setbacks when growing up are existential problems which people need to manage since they are part of existence.

The following  Radio New Zealand article explains the difference and why our present “style” of response (medicate and elevate subject to “special status”) not fails to deal with the problems but makes them worse.

The significance of the article is that far from being simply advice to “harden up”, it provides reasoned explanations for what is occurring and a means to respond which goes further than simply rejecting what is “clearly rubbish” as anger rises.

"Oxford University's decision to insist on 'jazz hands' instead of applause at student events is grotesque gesture politics, a British sociologist says.

Frank Furedi is emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Kent. He is well known for his work on the sociology of fear, education, therapy culture, paranoid parenting and the sociology of knowledge.

He is the author of How Fear Works: Culture of Fear in the 21st Century

Jazz hands is the British Sign Language expression of clapping, and the university union hopes that by doing away with clapping, whooping and cheering, events will be more accessible to people suffering from anxiety and those with hearing problems.

Listen to the full interview with Frank Ferudi duration8′ :42″ 

Furedi says such policies are fuelling a mood of institutionalised anxiety.

"I think there is a growing tendency in higher education to reframe the problems of life, the ordinary distress and tensions that you encounter as a student as potentially traumatic, as triggering anxiety and almost creating a mental health problem," Furedi says.

The thinking behind jazz hand applause is that traditional clapping can cause some people distress.

"What's happened is that a lot of student unions have decided that applauding is too noisy. It upsets too many people and could cause a medical issue. There's no absolutely no research evidence for that.

"And that's why I call it as a kind of gesture where you perform your vulnerability and your powerlessness. And this becomes a way of gaining distinction for yourself."

Applause can unify, he says.

"One of the great things about applauding, or applauding people, is it brings people together it's a kind of solidarity and you see it in sporting events in concerts, in all kinds of public situations.

"And if now, what you do is you kind of marginalise that very human way of identifying with each other. I think that has a very negative effect on the spirits."

Ferudi is a long-time critic of a style of parenting and teaching that he believes medicalises ordinary life challenges.

"I always remember when my nine-year-old boy came back from school one day and struck me as sounding like someone who had just read Sigmund Freud because he's saying 'Dad I'm really depressed', 'I'm stressed out', 'a little bit anxious'.

"And I noticed that him, and a lot of his classmates, were using psychological terms that they couldn't possibly understand, but into which they were being socialised."

He believes this has infected universities, 'jazz hands' being just a symptom of this.

"It weakens students, it disempowers them, it encourages them to interpret their problems in medical terms, rather than as existential ones."

Although no fan of the traditional British "stiff upper lip" he says the pendulum has swung a long way from the cliché of British reserve.

"I think we've gone the other way, a long, long, long time ago. And I don't mind that, I'm not a big fan of the British stiff upper lip. But I think that the present focus on our powerlessness means that rather than cultivating the independence of our youth, we kind of make them very dependent on other people and on adults."

'Jazz hands' applause is relatively trivial, but Ferudi says it is indicative of a deeper malaise.

"There are a lot of parents, a lot of teachers, who have adopted a child-rearing sort of approach, where instead of encouraging our children to take risks, to give them a sense of their independence, allowing them the freedom to explore the outdoors, we've tended to very much psychologise their behaviour, and almost adopted a therapeutic approach where for example, teachers are told not to criticise children.

"At my university, we stopped telling students that they had failed, we just tell them that they hadn't passed, and we adopted a language which continually avoids criticising or challenging young people.

"I think under those circumstances they will, some of them at least, will lack the moral and intellectual resources they need to conduct an independent lifestyle."

Thanks to Radio NZ for this article.

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