I think that people believe, for better or worse, they get what they pay for. They’ll excuse something cheap that breaks (“It only cost a few bucks”) even though it was clearly meant to last far longer. And they’ll cheer at mediocrity because if they paid a lot for it, well, darn it, we’re going to extol it.
That explains the exasperating standing ovations for arrant mediocrity, from regional theater to Broadway. I can understand a school production where everyone jumps to their feet for their kid, but I doubt that’s a house full of parents watching Zombies Dance At Midnight at the Helen Hayes Theater on West 44th.
This is why no speakers should ever speak for free, no matter who is in the audience (including their parents). “Exposure” isn’t worth it, because anyone who knows you’re there for free will not think you’re very valuable and may even believe you’re somewhat desperate. On the other hand, I’ve seen very high fees create enrapt audiences even for lousy speakers (many famous business authors are in this category). If I’m paying this much, they must be good (they’d better be good, or I’m the fool, so I’m getting on my feet).
There are exceptions, of course. I would think the production of Spiderman might come to mind, or the importance of a good, cheap cup of coffee.
Nevertheless, I watched Chris Brown lip synch worse than my Beagle could on Dancing With the Stars the other night. The crowd roared. I thought he was pathetic. But I guess they had paid a lot, or assumed he had been paid a lot. I watched it for free, and I wondered why anyone would spend five minutes watching him if they had to pay for it. But maybe if they pay enough, they figure he’s pretty good.
© Alan Weiss 2011. All rights reserved.