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Je Clappe, Tu Clappes, I am Clapping!

Is it just me or has anyone else noticed the sheer volume of clapping generated at HBS on a day-to-day basis? Just in case you hadn’t noticed, let me remind you that we clap for guests, that we clap for good comments during lecture, that we clap after your comments if you have a guest present, that we clap after lecture, that we clap at the end of each semester, and, by the time Friday rolls around, we are usually entangled in a clapping frenzy during Sky Deck Awards…mon dieux!
You see, the problem is not the clapping in and by itself (even though it sort of is , but the fact that it has gone unnoticed, uncensored and, dare I say, encouraged by the HBS community? Nothing against being happy, guys, but do we have to clap so much? Does anyone else — but me — wake up suffering from palm contusion, a classical case of excessive clapping?

The other interesting thing about the clapping phenomenon is that HBS is not exactly full of happy-go-lucky students, the type that you would expect to encourage (and indulge) in clapping sessions. HBSers, according to most unbiased accounts, are hard-working, over-achieving, hyper competitive individuals – not exactly your typical “clapping profile.”
Hence, I decided to spend the better part of “Hell Week” agonizing over the source of our clapping problem, fiercely determined to get to the bottom of it. It finally dawned upon me while watching footage of Bush’s State of the Union Address and observing the reaction of his audience. Compared to these guys, we’re clapping amateurs; we’re not even on the clap-o-meter. These guys really know how to clap!

During Bush’s speech, and after what his speechwriters assured him was an important point, the President would pause for a few seconds, allowing the room to erupt in a clapping hysteria. after recovering and uttering a few more sentences, he would pause again only to enjoy yet another round of roaring applause. In fact, one could argue that the entire speech was structured around the clapping, and when the clapping was less energetic than expected, the speaker (e.g. GWB) was compelled to “step it up,” by raising his voice, and add more drama to his speech in a desperate attempt to increase the clapping rate (this might be a plausible explanation for the “axis of evil” comment). Needless to say, I was relieved to have found out why HBSers clap so hard: they are all practicing for the moment they are deemed important enough to be invited to the State of the Union. Now that made sense to me!

The cynical reader would ask, not entirely unjustified, “well, what about the foreign students? I mean, they are also enthusiastic clappers even though they can’t run for office or become important Senators, so what are they practicing for?” (The slightly more cynical reader might even dare to ask what this piece is doing in the “Worldly Views” Section, hence my desperate attempt to tie in anything “foreign” to this article so that it can squeeze by the editor-in-chief!)

Well, the fact of the matter is, foreign students are accomplices with not-so-innocent agendas: the ones that read novels like The Great Gatsby and remain adamant believers in the American Dream have not given hope in obtaining a Green Card and becoming U.S. citizens, which would qualify them, after many years, to run for office and potentially receive an invite to the State of the Union. The others, perhaps slightly less ambitious (the ones that prefer reading Kafka’s Metamorphosis instead of The Great Gatsby) hope to get invited in one of two ways: One option is to accumulate enough miles to receive a free invitation to the State of the Union courtesy of their favorite airline (Tony Blair was the proud recipient of such an invitation after he overtook Arafat for the British Airways Frequent FlyerPlatinum Card. All he had to do was shuttle to India and Pakistan four times in five days, stand next to Pakistan’s Musharraf, and reassure us that all is well in the world). The other option is being subjected to a U.S. military invasion (Hamed Karzai is this year’s winner, appearing in pseudo Versace gear next to Bush and clapping with enthusiasm).

I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of anything more exciting than receiving an invitation to next year’s State of the Union clapping extravaganza. Until then, I shall continue practicing at HBS.

February 25, 2002
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