"Claque": how Trump revived the ancient practice of paid applauders

Trump launched his campaign in front of an "audience" of actors paid $50/each to wear campaign shirts and cheer wildly, and he's brought his paid cheering section with him into the presidency, bringing along staffers to applaud at key moments during his press conferences and other appearances.

The practice has its origin in ancient Rome, where the Emperor Nero deployed his own crowds, called "Augustiani," to cheer at his indifferent poetry and lyre playing. It was revived in 17th and 18th century opera circles, where "claques" were used to "huzzah or hiss their favorite performers."

The claque died out in the 19th century, but everything old is new again, and Trump has revived claques as an integral part of his governing strategy. It's a sharp move: if you can't see who's applauding, you might assume that when Trump draws cheers for damning CNN as "fake news" that the press corps is cheering him on.

One can recognize some key elements of the Neronian claque in its nascent revival. Imperial demands for adulation that abhor a silence that may leave the ruler exposed. The triumph of celebrity rule over stifling norms and propriety.

Indeed, the latter element is why the contemporary claque may win the approval of those who helped elect our current president. The Neronian claque did not simply demand that Romans put aside their critical judgement and submit to a day at the theatre one could not escape, but it did so for specific political aims.

Clackity Claque [Richard Byrne/Crooked Timber]

(Image: Simone Giertz/Applause Machine)

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  1. Digby has a nice piece on this too.

    "Trump is actually reviving a very old tradition — the tradition of the claque. A claque is a group of people whose job is to generate applause. In the description of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, a claque is:

    an organized body of professional applauders in the French theatres. The hiring of persons to applaud dramatic performances was common in classical times, and the emperor Nero, when he acted, had his performance greeted by an encomium chanted by five thousand of his soldiers. … The recollection of this gave the 16th-century French poet, Jean Daurat, an idea which has developed into the modern claque. … There are commissaires, those who learn the piece by heart, and call the attention of their neighbours to its good points between the acts. The rieurs are those who laugh loudly at the jokes. The pleureurs, generally women, feign tears, by holding their handerkerchiefs to their eyes. The chatouilleurs keep the audience in in a good humour, while the bisseurs simply clap their hands and cry bis! bis! to secure encores.

    Trump, probably without knowing about the historical precedent, has revived this old tradition."

  2. I have seen the word "clacque," but I just assumed it meant "clique," which is kind of stupid when you think about it.

    The Bush technique is so much more honest.

  3. We don't deserve it at all. First of all, most of us didn't vote for him. Second, even the people who did don't deserve being shit on, which is exactly what's about to happen. That's like saying an elderly person who falls for a con deserves to lose their life savings. Con artists know who to target, who will most likely fall for their con. In the case of Trump, it was the uneducated working class, and the wealthy. Well, the wealthy didn't fall for his con so much as realized it benefits them, at least in the short term. Regardless, they don't deserve what's about to happen. The best we can hope for is that we'll learn from this and be more resistant to a con job like this in the future.

  4. The media needs to start filming the faux crowds and identifying them on air - it would be a great weekly segment..

  5. Speak for yourself;

    I DON'T DESERVE THIS BULLSHIT.

    I wasn't amused when he first decided to run, I was alarmed.

    I didn't vote for him, and I didn't enable his fuckery.

    I, and most other US citizens, deserve BETTER; even the ones who were foolish enough to be duped by an obvious conman.

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