Thursday, July 22, 2004

the official jfw karaoke recap: often imitated, but never successfully replicated

(two guys I don't know, but who, even if they don't realize it, owe virtually the whole of their karaoke mojo to sociology)
This year with grandpa's help we have asked a man who has speakers to play the 40, 50, and 60's music, called Karoecke (sp) music, with a TV and the words to the song on the TV to play before the King and Queen crowning.

I will have to find out how to spell Karoeche before i start the ads for the King and Queen crowning. Every year I put ads for the King and Queen in the [local ad circular], [local paper], [local radio station], on [local television station].

--From an e-mail forwarded to me yesterday by a reader whose grandmother organizes a King and Queen contest for senior citizens at here local county fair
I've had karaoke-recap writer's block because one of my colleagues today referred to me as "the greatest social psychologist." After watching me at karaoke. Not onstage, but in the audience, and while I explained my general theory of karaoke audience participation. A full exposition of which would scroll for several minutes, and includes a discussion of the Fundamental Attribution Error of Karaoke: too much credit/blame for how a performance goes is given to the person on stage, and too little to the audience. Two simple observations: (1) Karaoke performers do better when they have confidence, (2) the confidence of karaoke performers is largely in the hands of the audience. Which, in turn, boils down to two urgings I have uttered before: (1) do not wait until the end of the song to cheer and (2) cheer for people you don't know as loudly (or, in the strong version of the theory, more loudly) than the people you do know.

The colleague, I think, was especially impressed because I began explaining all this while a guy not with the sociology group was getting up on stage early in the evening to do "Hey Jealousy." He looked enthusiastic enough but was a little unsure and tentative. A deer who could either be caught in the headlights of self-doubt or released to lope freely across the vast plains of karaoke possibility. "See, we need to give this guy confidence," I said, "Watch." By the end of the evening, this guy and his friend had drawn the only logical conclusion given the reaction they were getting: that they were Karaoke Gods. And indeed, once they got going, they were in fact pretty good. (I was not, however, responsible for the later successful urging for one of these guys to start unbuttoning his shirt during "Kokomo," although I did take a photo as evidence of the powerful effects of social forces.) If sociology hadn't stepped to the plate and started cheering these guys from their first chorus when they first got onstage, they would have left fifteen minutes later, sullen and bored, perhaps to go on to finish the evening with a vandalism spree or some other hooliganism. I believe that, if everyone would just cheer raucously enough, we could save the world through karaoke, one Beach Boys song at a time.

And, so, I have come to think of myself as the karaoke equivalent of one of Lance Armstrong's humble teammates, laboring in the pelaton so that someone else can reach the top of the mountain in glory. I have no singing ability; I can, however, shout and clap and make high-pitched whooping sounds; this is the humble toolkit God has given me; I try to contribute how I can.

Other karaoke developments: (1) the widely acclaimed Wisconsin Sociology debut performance of an excellent karaoke enthusiast, whom I later had the honor of introducing to the emeritus professor who is one of Our Karaoke Founders; (2) the affirmation that "Total Eclipse of the Heart" is the best karaoke song ever; (3) the just decision that if two people both want to do "Proud Mary," the person whose birthday it is should get to be Tina; (4) the arrival of one of our karaoke regulars in a doleful mood--however, with a sufficient sense of style to express this foul mood not by frowning or scowling, but instead by showing up in a t-shirt reading "I Hate Myself and Want To Die"; (5) the thoroughgoing demonstration that (at least?) one of our karaoke regulars, when she finishes her dissertation, needs to be given some kind of Lifetime Karaoke Achievement Award in gratitude from our department.

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