The Sound of Two Hands Clapping, by Tom McAllister

NOTE: This post is part 8 in an ongoing series of reviews of syndicated daytime TV shows by Barrelhouse editor Tom McAllister

What is applause? What does it mean? What is laughter? What does it mean? What does applause sound like? What does laughter sound like? You think you know but you don’t know. You think you’ve applauded and you think you’ve laughed but you haven’t laughed. If you want to truly applaud, if you want to know the essence of applause, to hear applause in your sleep and to feel it creeping up behind you and then surrounding you, squeezing you like a cheery chokehold, then you need to spend a month immersed in the chaotic circus of daytime TV.

What is applause? Applause is the sound of two hands clapping. Applause is two hands being slapped together in an attempt to convey a message of approval or congratulations. Applause is a bad name for a cat or a dog or a child. Applause is spontaneous except when it’s not. Applause is directed and rehearsed. Applause is a big sign that flashes when a producer wants it to flash. Applause is polite. Applause is doing what you’re told. Applause is motivation and certification. Applause is affirmation of the status quo. Applause is If You’re Happy And You Know it. Applause is the sound of ocean waves crashing on the beach of mediocrity. Applause is an opiate. Applause anesthetizes. Applause comforts. Applause is ubiquitous. Applause passes the time. Applause moves product. Applause shapes narratives. Applause is assent. Applause is a request to be sold something. Applause is a promise not to worry about what it all means. Applause is Live Laugh Loving your way to nothingness. Applause is buying a sign that reminds you to dance like nobody’s watching. Applause short-circuits critical thought. Applause is white noise. Applause is the sound of one hand clapping against the sound of another hand clapping. Applause is the cultural toilet flushing. Applause is empty calories and hydrogenated oils and political rallies and indestructible unrecyclable composite plastics. Applause is an avalanche. Applause is infectious and there is no cure. Applause is the sound you hear when you hold your head underwater and count off the seconds until you can’t hear anything ever again. Applause is the endpoint; there is nothing else beyond applause. Applause is the Fifth Horseman. Applause is the last thing you hear when you die, and in Hell there are thousands of people applauding nothing, clapping for nothing, they are cheering for nothing at all.

You can earn applause by:

Being named Annie.

Being from New York City.

Knowing that Heidi Klum is from Germany.

Suggesting people find a sunscreen they love.

Saying you don’t want wrinkles.

Getting Walmart gift cards.

Being pregnant.

Loving your babies.

Having children.

Saying you love children.

Apologizing for having gained weight during pregnancy.

Saying you like to spend time with your children.

Being the Los Angeles Clippers and winning a basketball game.

Banning Donald Sterling from the NBA for life.

Referring to “karma.”

Boycotting the sultan of Brunei.

Saying we have to learn to live together.

Saying we need to love each other.

Saying princesses need to be stoic.

Thinking princesses are beautiful.

Having seven dogs.

Being from Wisconsin.

Making Youtube videos.

Embracing getting older.

Not using botox.

Adopting kids.

Learning to love yourself.

Liking fennel.

Being a civil rights pioneer.

Pantomiming as if drinking wine.

Drinking wine.

Opening a bakery.

Saying “if you want something go get it.”

Being Puerto Rican.

Initiating sex.

Calling for more equality for women.

Disliking drama.

Wearing designer shoes.

Insisting that dreams do come true.

Telling people to follow their dreams.

Being Mark Harmon.

Asking for more applause.

Getting a free trip to Las Vegas.

Making shrimp étouffée.

Believing in yourself.

Identifying sluts.

Disliking sluts.

Losing weight.

Keeping the weight off.

Shedding extra pounds.

Dropping that baby weight.

Losing the ugly fat.

Moonwalking.

Having dreams come true.

Snoring.

Referring to the existence of sexual intercourse.

Giving away free cosmetics.

Giving away free copies of a magazine.

Giving away free copies of Boy George’s new album

Valuing every day.

Taking a bite out of life.

Living each day like it’s your last.

Sticking together.

Just being so over it.

Kangaroos.

Coming Friday: measles, obesity, and maybe a little bit of Patti Labelle. 


Tom McAllister is the Barrelhouse Non-fiction Editor. His memoir, "Bury Me in My Jersey," was published in 2010, and his shorter work has appeared in FiveChapters, Black Warrior Review, elimae, and some other places. He has a novel forthcoming from Algonquin in Spring 2016. He co-hosts the Book Fightpodcast and you can find him on twitter @t_mcallister.