Oxford student union mandates that its authorities promote “jazz hands” as a substitute for applause

October 25, 2019 • 11:30 am

I don’t know why, but stuff like this depresses me and makes me wonder what the world will be like in 20 years, when students who passed this resolution are running the UK—and maybe the US. But I’ll most likely be dead then.

This event not nearly as bad as the Right supporting Trump, of course, but everybody writes about Trump while the mainstream and liberal media are reluctant to documenting the Authoritarian Left. (If you’re a reader, by the way, please don’t tell me to write more about the perfidy of Republicans. You can see that kind of discourse, whose sentiments I share, on every other site.)

So the latest occurrence is that Oxford University’s student council voted three days ago not to mandate the use of jazz hands in place of applause, but to “mandate Sabbatical Officers to encourage the use” of “jazz hands”, the British Sign Language equivalent of clapping. In other words, it’s not an absolute stricture but a strong recommendation as well as a requirement for officers.

There are three links below (click on screenshots); the indented bit here is from the Oxford Student.

The first Student Council meeting of the academic year, yesterday, passed the motion to mandate the Sabbatical Officers to encourage the use of British Sign Language (BSL) clapping, otherwise known as ‘silent jazz hands’ at Student Council meetings and other official SU events.

The motion was presented to Council last year by Ellie Macdonald (former VP Welfare and Equal Opportunities) and Ebie Edwards Cole (Chair for Oxford SU Disabilities Campaign), presented again this year by Ebie and Roisin McCallion (VP Welfare & Equal Opportunity).

BSL clapping is used by the National Union of Students since loud noises, including whooping and traditional applause, are argued to present an access issue for some disabled students who have anxiety disorders, sensory sensitivity, and/or those who use hearing impairment aids.

The proposers pointed out that alternatives to traditional clapping have been in place to aid accessibility in some organisations since 2015, when The New York Times for instance declared snapping is the new clapping.

Manchester Students Union made headlines when they led the way in passing a motion in September 2018 to use BSL clapping at their own student council.

Here’s what jazz hands look like:

And a peevish response from comedian Graham Linehan.


This is from the Oxford Student:

From the Times of London:

Now I understand that the desire of the Oxford student council here was admirable: to be inclusive. But catering to what “triggers” people is not a way to deal with the issue of triggering. As far as I understand, exposure therapy is what psychologists use to eliminate triggering, and in this case exposure would mean listening to applause.

Second, “jazz hands” can easily be construed as a racist gesture, even if it is part of British Sign Language. The Atlas Obscura, for examples, describes one proposed origin for the gesture in its article “The Fabulous History of Jazz Hands!

The exact origins of jazz hands are a bit murky, but as with most performative dance, it likely has its roots in African dance traditions. “I see one thread of it coming up through the African-American foundation of jazz dance, and that authentic jazz tradition,” says Rebecca Katz Harwood, Associate Professor of Musical Theater at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. ”In as much as vaudeville grows out of minstrelsy, that’s another step backwards on the family tree of jazz hands.”

It’s likely that the simple act of shaking your hands as part of the performance came into use when vaudeville performers began taking their cues from these traditions. As vaudeville began evolving into film, it brought jazz hands with it. Some people contend that jazz hands can be traced back to Al Jolson’s 1927 film, The Jazz Singer. . . 

. . . Some of Jolson’s moves are reminiscent of what we would call jazz hands, with arms outstretched and hands extended pleadingly to the audience, but his moves lack the signature shake. “When I think of Al Jolson, I think of the blackface and the white gloves over his hands. And of course part of what those white gloves do is draw attention to the hands,” says Katz Harwood.

Remember that The Jazz Singer features Jolson, a white man, in blackface. That, as I’ve said many times before, is reprehensible bigotry and not “cultural appropriation.” If “jazz hands” has its origin in African dance, then its use is “cultural appropriation,” and according to Woke Standards, cannot be used without simultaneous acknowledgment and apology.

Finally, while jazz hands may placate the small minority of people who get triggered by applause, it also disenfranchises the visually challenged, who wouldn’t know when people are displaying approbation for a speech or performance. How you do you weigh those off against each other?

As I said, it’s a small issue, but also a telling sign of the times. Anybody applauding at Oxford will likely be demonized.

Oxford and Cambridge are the UK’s equivalent of Harvard, and all three places are slipping inexorably to an intolerant and authoritarian Leftism. That’s better than authoritarian Rightism, but do we need this brand of authoritarian Diktat at all?  Inclusivity—which I view as conferring respect and equal opportunity on everyone, including access for the disabled and free speech for everyone—does not mean that an entire student body must always cater to what “triggers” a tiny minority. As we all know, this leads to a deadening uniformity of discourse, a uniformity that undermines the very purpose of a university.

61 thoughts on “Oxford student union mandates that its authorities promote “jazz hands” as a substitute for applause

    1. The Oxford Union and the Oxford Student Union are two distinct entities. The former is a posh debating society. Not sure how to describe the other one now!

  1. Loud sounds can be triggering for autistic people and no amount of exposure therapy changes that. However, these types of people aren’t usually the ones pushing “jazz hands”. Wouldn’t it be better if a need for accommodation was instead identified so behaviour under those circumstances could be modified? I don’t know how you’d accommodate if there were two people – one visually impaired & the other with issues around loud sounds. However, I suspect it is rare for people to need this accommodation so doing it ad hoc makes more sense to me and it can be done anonymously. When students need accommodation, the professor is unaware which student needs it, just that accommodation is required.

    1. I’d suggest noise-canceling earbuds for those who don’t like noise. They could listen to the audio from whatever the event is, at whatever volume they like, while background noises are filtered out.

      1. I read a tweet in that thread earlier today that really resonated with me, as someone who has social anxiety. It was something along the lines of: if you have severe social anxiety, how is jazz hands instead of clapping going to ease that? Wouldn’t being in a room with hundreds of people, and hundreds of people doing weird jazz hands no less, already be setting off that anxiety?

        It goes to something I hate most about much of the social justice movement: the co-opting of others’ problems to push their own desired goals and reforms. The people pushing these things often don’t have the issues they claim to be addressing, and they often don’t seem to even be trying to address those issues in good faith. As someone who suffers from mental illness, a learning disability, and other things, I hate being used as a shield for their BS sometimes. I know others who feel the same way.

    2. how do people with autistic spectrum problems such as this learn to handle it as they enter adulthood? I can understand that children in a classroom would be difficult to impossible to teach to be cognizant of the problem. But presumably, adults are in this hall.

      1. They try to avoid a lot of situations (which means less inclusivity), they flee situations to go to a quiet place and sometimes they have meltdowns which can include really losing their shit on someone.

  2. But but but….. won’t ‘jazz hands’ be ‘offensive’ to the visually impaired? I mean, how are the visually impaired going to get a sense of audience excitement if there is no sound? Don’t they know they will be triggering a negative emotional response to certain minority group? …. 😉

    1. Plus, this is very un-multicultural. This means applause in British sign language. What if it means something terrible in Pakistani sign language? What if it means, “I’m a nitwit, please hit me” in Malawian sign language?

      These disgusting imperialists really need to learn about decolonozing applause.

  3. Unfortunately, jazz hands goes only part of the way to solve the problem of those who can’t tolerate noise. Something needs to be done in situations where the audience boos and hisses. I demand that Oxford immediately encourage the use of the middle finger as the universal sign of disapprobation.😊

  4. I seem to remember that ‘jazz hands’ originated with the 19th century minstrel shows, and became mainstream through that infamous blackface performance in The Jazz Singer by Al Jolson. So isn’t it really a piece of rather unfortunate cultural appropriation?

  5. Uniformity is precisely what they mean by Equality on the pop-Left, as we see in a hundred different contexts.

    That aside, I’ve never understood why standard clapping applause at classical concerts is so often accompanied by shouts, whoops, and whistles. I would much prefer the silent applause of International Sign Language. This gesture is exhilarating to see and do, and I never knew that it had anything at all to do with jazz, let alone vaudeville. (In fact, using it could be viewed as a gesture of solidarity with the disabled.)

    1. I could not disagree more. A great applause includes stamping of feet and whoops & whistles.
      If, as an artist I would only get those jizz hands, I would be very disappointed.

      1. “I could not disagree more. A great applause includes stamping of feet and whoops & whistles.”


        And “Bravos” and “Bravissimos.”

        At least at classical concerts attendees (still?) don’t whip out that bloody digital demigod and talk to each other out loud during performances for others around them to have to bear up under. (I’m speaking generally and optimistically as, several weeks ago, someone sitting in on-stage seating at the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra presumed to stick her precious smart phone practically in the face of Anne Sophie Mutter, videoing her as she played a Beethoven violin concerto. Mutter, distracted and infuriated, stopped playing. The offender presumed to stand up to discuss the matter with Mutter. The offender was escorted from the venue by the president of the symphony, to uproarious and sustained applause.)

        I accept the reality of arena concerts, where smart phone-besotted and -addicted Millennial (or whoever) attendees get up and dance and whoop and holler and take selfies and sing their hearts out along with the performer. If I want to hear the performer only, I guess I’ll just buy a recording and listen to it at home.

        This behavior seems to have infected all age groups. A few weeks ago I went to see my favorite 60’s classic harmony vocal group, several of whose concerts I have attended since 1971. Most of the people there were older than me. For the first time, I had to bear up under the onslaught of smart phone lights and attendees around and behind me talking out loud during songs. My dear wife, able to handle it better than me, finally turned around and asked them to not talk. I guess nowadays it’s too much trouble for one to lean over and cup ones hand and whisper to another – if one must talk. During intermission we complained to the head usher who said ushers would monitor that section. We found some empty seats in another section, but of course it was more of the same. I pay a pretty penny for a ticket to hear a performer perform – not to hear Philistines around me yammer and caterwaul (no offense to moggies). A few years ago I attended a Johnny Mathis concert. Two people sitting next to me “blessed” me with their singing (however softly – I still had to hear them) as he was singing. I wanted to ask them if I owed them any money for their singing, and if they would like for me to sing to them.


        1. Not to mention brava/brave. Having attended 3 performances of the Canadian Opera Company in the last 10 days I am pleased to report no cell phone use in my general area, though plenty of bravi and brave. Poor Anna-Sophie Mutter. How terribly rude of that concert-goer😖 I am not shy about (nicely) asking my neighbors to STFU at concerts- or to turn off their phones.

          1. If they don’t like the performance, I think they should utter “shame” like you see politicians do in parliament.

  6. … 2015, when The New York Times for instance declared snapping is the new clapping.

    Thought that’s how beatniks showed appreciation for poetry readings at coffeehouses in Greenwich Village and North Beach in the late ’50s and early ’60s, daddy-o.

    1. If you look at the video of Chelsea Clinton being confronted by the woke, whenever one of the crowd verbally attacks her, they snap their fingers in applause.

    1. Christ. That is demented and alarming. It’s as if they are begging to be sheep. Spoiled, entitled sheep, but sheep nonetheless.

      1. Hear them shout “mic check” at some point ? As they don’t use mics or other devices to carry voice, they all repeat so everyone can hear.

        It’s stupid beyong belief, slows and bogs down everything… But yeah.

  7. I will allow that widespread adaption of this, in displacement of clapping and whooping and so on, is that it will make it easier for the speaker to continue speaking without being drowned out. There is that.

  8. My next submission for words / phrases I hate is “jazz hands”.

    It is a grotesque insult to jazz, not to mention performance in general.

  9. The main function of the OU is to act as a forum for debate. Debates may include examples of belligerence, sarcasm, high-flown rhetoric or (literal or metaphorical) tub-thumping. Are the allegedly vulnerable now going to be allowed to dictate what sort of language can be used in debates, and how loud it should be?

    And where does it stop? No applause at OUDS theatrical productions? No chanting or clapping at the Varsity match? One of these days there might be a bit of a backlash against all this nonsense; and it might not be pretty.

  10. Oxford student union wants to mandate jazz hands:
    Being obsessed with controlling the behavior of others: it’s like a religion.

  11. I think Oxford should do this. Then I think they should invite a conservative speaker to speak on campus. Then demand all the student protestors stop carrying signs and chanting, and instead use jazz hands to show their opposition.

  12. It will be interesting if this trend moves to the “beautiful game”, as the English/British call football (i.e. soccer). The great ebbing and flowing roars of a football crowd silenced and replaced by mime…

  13. Well then, the ulta right have had a “jazz hand” for quite some time and it doesn’t envolve waving them about, quite rigid in fact… makes the authoritive left look pathetic and confused… hmmm.
    What happens when you want to really show your appreciation, vigorously shake them and then visit a phyiso for a wrist brace? meanwhile the persons next to you goes to see the optometrist.

  14. Being a big Al Jolson fan, I don’t agree that his use of blackface was an example of “reprehensible bigotry,” but there’s no question that “jazz hands” were as much a part of vaudeville minstrelsy as blackface. So you’re absolutely right: it makes so sense to condemn one and applaud (or jazz hands) the other. What are these people thinking?

  15. I suffer from bouts of hyperacusis (they can be looong periods of time – my current problem has lasted a year so far!).

    This means that normal everyday sounds sound far louder and become very painful. Clapping is a particularly painful experience for me.

    But when I’m in an audience situation I wouldn’t dream of asking them all to change their behavior and quit clapping just for me. No, if I have an issue I come prepared. I either plug my ears during the clapping or put in earplugs.

    My son is on the Autism spectrum and he has had periods in his life where loud audiences and clapping were a real challenge. He had to deal with it. He coped. He came out stronger and now doesn’t have a problem with it.

    As Jerry says, the far left seems committed to making all the wrong moves, based on what psychologists tell us about managing fears and anxiety.

    1. Not to mention that these jazzing hands might provoke an epilepsy crisis in some epilepsy sufferers. 🙂

    2. There’s a theme underlying the jazz hands and other ‘initiatives’. A whole audience must modify their behaviour just in case there is someone who may be triggered by noise. A whole changing room of females must be prepared to put up with a person who asserts they are a woman. A womens prison must allow a prisoners who declares they are a woman to mix with the other inmates. Lots of ordinary people have to be inconvenienced because it is unwoke to single out potential wrongdoers.

      So the logic of countering discrimination is to place the concern for a victim over the concerns of the many. Some accommodation for the disabled is worthy, to insist the victimhood should be prioritised without consideration for the many is lunacy.

  16. “Second, “jazz hands” can easily be construed as a racist gesture,”

    With respect, that objection is almost as absurd, and as much catering-to-the-wilfully-offended, as the original motion.

    In my view.

    Not that I favour ‘jazz hands’, I think it’s the usual stupid PC gone toxic. What next – a ban on loud music? That’ll go well at student parties…


    1. Perhaps I’m very old or perhaps I’ve lead a very sheltered life, but the ONLY time I’ve ever encountered ‘jazz hands’ has been in the context of ‘blacking up’ minstrel shows. So for me its part and parcel of ‘black face’ and seems just as racist.

      1. Who cares? If ‘we’ decide it’s going to be a symbol of approbation with no racial implications, that’s what it will become.

        Just as ‘we’ have decided that a ‘thumbs up’ means approval, effectively the opposite of the old Roman gesture, so that’s what it means.

        But I think trying to replace audible applause with any specified symbol is absurd, as I stated.


  17. Isn’t it also mocking people with severe Parkinson’s or palsy?

    (Yes I’m being sarcastic. Seems to come naturally these days…)


  18. Jazz hands might increase accessibility for those who can’t stand loud noises, but it won’t work for everyone. I’ve had rheumatoid arthritis most of my life and have had a loss of wrist movement (near complete fusion, referred to as the wrists of a 70 year old when I was 18). I can’t do jazz hands. I could attempt it, with pain, but wouldn’t be able to pull it off. Of course I don’t tend to clap that loudly most of the time (I can by cupping my hands) so I could just stand there or clap silently.

    1. For you, it’s acceptable to take off your shoes & wave your feet about while slouches down on the chair.

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