A Freakonomics Radio Bleg: Do You Boo? If So, When and Why?


We’re working on a Freakonomics Radio piece about booing — when it happens (and doesn’t), who does it (and doesn’t), what it means, etc. We’re looking for good stories and insights, so please let us know in the comments section what you’ve got, whether you were the booer, the booee, or a witness. The story might concern politics, sports, the theater or opera, whatever. Did you ever see kids boo a bad clown at a birthday party, e.g.? Am also interested in how booing breaks down along socioeconomic and cultural lines — does more booing really happen in the cheap seats? In a nutshell, we’re looking for the most interesting, surprising, revealing booing stories you’ve got. Many thanks in advance.

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  1. AaronS says:

    I don’t tend to boo. I’ve never thought of myself as “Not a Booer,” but now that you mention it….

    But why? The reason is that unless it is clear that wrongdoing is taking place, I tend to assume that the referee or player is doing his/her best. In human endeavors, we will have to accept that human error can play a role.

    But when I KNOW that someone is cheating or skewering things (e.g., when Derek Jeter ACTED like he’d been beaned with the ball in order to get to base), then I boo lustily, for I can no longer assume that that person is doing their best. I now KNOW they are a low-life cheater. This might mean a basketball player who pretends to be fouled. It might be a cheap shot by a football player.

    And since so many of these things cannot be clearly discerned as being faked, I tend to not boo. But I always have one at the ready if someone purposely cheats.

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  2. Will says:

    At download festival this year, the crowd was pretty restless waiting for a band as they were about 10 minutes late. So everyone turned their attention to one security guard – now all the security there have to wear these brightly coloured fluorescent vests which have a number on it. So, everyone see’s one of the security chap, numebred ‘836’, and in our heightened bored state everyone bands together to chant ‘EIGHT THREE SIX! EIGHT THREE SIX!’. Rinse and repeat.

    He walks off eventually after not knowing what to do with his new found 15 minutes of fame and every proceeds to ‘BOOOOOOO!!!!’. He graces us with his presence after about 2 minutes later and everyone is pleased. He’s welcomed back with a great cheer, and rightly so!

    836 is thirsty so he goes to drink his bottle of water. Because download is classy, everyone is chanting ‘Down it! Down it!’ But much to everyone’s disappointment – he didn’t. Of course, everyone did what was sensible and started the booing again.

    836 left and the band started. No boo’s for the band just 836 for his uncooperative behaviour!

    I suppose it is just a gesture of people seemingly not cooperating? I guess you expect to be entertained when you see a band/show or you expect to be enetertained or your team to win a sports game etc and when things don’t live up to your expectations then booing somehow seems appropiate. I guess its a universal gesture in that sense – Almost like an open palm gesture on occassions when you want to signal ‘what are you doing?!’.

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  3. Nahaal says:

    A story told to me about a concert in Iran:

    The musical group Dastan was beginning a new concert series in Tehran in 2010.
    Months earlier a few of the members, who I know personally, had recently returned from an international music tour led by the renown Shajarian. During that tour, members of the group spoke a few words against the Iranian government on a BBC interview. The consequences of those actions revealed themselves in the events that followed during the Dastan concert debut.

    The concert began successfully with a sold-out venue. Halfway into the set, a sudden power outage occurred. Under normal circumstances one would pass this off as mere coincidence. In Iran, “coincidences” are usually products of government incentives.
    After some moments of confusion amongst audience members, the announcement came that damages could not be repaired and the power would be out for the remainder of the evening. The audience booed with anger. Anger because they knew collectively this was the work of the government. As the audience grew louder, the boos began to trigger a surge of energy into the musicians. They picked up their instruments, took their proper positions, and finished the show without lights, speakers, or electricity. Raw.
    It was then that the audience and the musicians came together, embracing each other with a strong sense of pride for their country through their music and through their hearts. By removing the power from the concert, the government thought they could remove the power from the people. They overlooked the fact that traditional, delicate instruments never needed a power plug to create a musical experience.
    And no other type of government control can prevent Iranians, so passionate to their roots, from fighting for their rights.

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  4. Mike says:

    I have an interesting story about booing. It concerns the rugby rivalry between South Africa and the All Blacks, Apartheid and family traditions. Now rugby has always been an important part of South African culture, during the apartheid era, it became custom for the ‘Coloured’ or mixed race community in Cape Town to support the New Zealand All Blacks, at Newlands in Cape Town, against the Springboks, it was kind of a passive resistance and a refusal to support the SA Afrikaner government. Sadly this has been passed down to the next generation and even 15 years later, at Superrugby level (provincial) when the home team the Stormers play against the Crusaders, it’s like a home game for the Crusaders side as half the stadium boos the local team. Weird thing is, when challenging their patriotism, many folks I have engaged on the topic claim that it is the style of rugby they love about the All Blacks and how they play such a beautiful game etc i.e. Denial that they’re still influenced by the unconscious need to ‘stick it to the man’ like the parents did. mail me for more if you like.

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  5. Brad says:

    The Madison Mallards, a Wisconsin baseball team in the Northwoods league, features an amusing alternative to booing the opposing team as they are announced. The PA announcer says first name, last name, and then the last name again. This gives the crowd time to manufacture the following conversation…

    PA: Batting fourth, playing center field, DeMarcus Tidwell
    Crowd: Who?
    PA: Tidwell.
    Crowd: Oh.

    It’s all in good humor, and great way to let opponents know that we haven’t heard of any of the people on their Northwoods League team, either.

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  6. Simone says:

    I’m half Yugoslav and was raised in Australia. I have no option but to be big on booing.
    If you throw tribalistic behaviour, injustice and/or sports into the mix it often ends in tears- sometimes of laughter.

    Our whole family can become croaky voiced through booing from attending just 80 minutes of football.
    My brother in particular is proficient due to all his years of yogic chanting. We call it using his ohms as boos.
    It is commonly understood that collectively our family is worth 2-4 points to our team each game due to putting the opposition goal kicker off his game.

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  7. Billy says:

    I mostly boo terrible calls by the refs or dirty plays in sports (only in person, not watching on TV). But I love hockey most of all, which has a strange tradition of lifelong boos for hated rival players. I’m a fan of the Colorado Avalanche and in an infamous black eye for the NHL, Todd Bertuzzi attacked Steve Moore from behind, permanently injuring him and ending his hockey career. Ever since, Bertuzzi has been booed in Colorado every time he touches the puck. If he and another player pass the puck back and forth, you’ll hear “BOOOOoooo… BOOOOOoooo…. BOOOOooooo…” as a constant reminder that we still resent him for what he did. Other teams have their favorite targets – Blue Jackets fans booed Adam Foote for walking away as a free agent, while Chris Pronger receives boos nearly everywhere (ostensibly due to years of bone-crushing checks injuring one star player or another). I don’t know how unique it is to the sport of hockey, but the number of times a player touches the puck during a game lends itself quite naturally to a manageable level of booing.

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  8. Wendy Voelker says:

    Oh, boy do I have a booing story. One that haunts me 30 years after the fact.

    It was 1981. I was in fourth grade, and my elementary school had gathered in the auditorium for the middle school production of Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax”. I don’t particularly remember the play all that well, but I recall the aftermath as if it happened yesterday.

    I was seated in the rear right of the auditorium, next to my best friend Amy and the rest of our class. The play ended, and the auditorium filled with applause. Then, from the front left of the auditorium, came the sound of a lone “boooooooooooooooo.”

    Then another boo from somewhere else, and then a few more, scattered around the auditorium. I thought it was funny. So I started to boo too. Until the principal, Mr. Warner, stormed up onto the stage and started screaming. He demanded that the booing stop, and that teachers grab whoever was doing it. I shut up quickly and sat back in my seat, terrified. Mr. Warner threatened that anyone who was booing was going to be banned from the auditorium for the rest of their days in the Minisink Valley Central School District (an idle threat, as it turns out).

    Some of the booers (booists?) were identified immediately, and some (including me) managed to slip out of the assembly uncaught. Until.

    I was called into the Principal’s office the next day. My mother was called in, too. She had received a phone call from the Principal’s office at some point afterwards, stating that I had been fingered as one of the booers. Prior to my mother’s arrival, Mr. Warner had asked me if I booed. I lied. 9-year olds lie.

    So, I was sitting in the office as my mom stormed in, stomping into his office and demanding to know why he was accusing me, one of the smartest kids in the school, of doing something so heinous. He told her that there were witnesses, including my best friend Amy, who turned me in. The jig was up. I tearfully admitted that Amy was right, and I indeed booed The Lorax.

    We were the smart kids, the good kids. Of course she turned me in. I probably would have turned her in, too.

    I don’t remember my mother’s reaction, but I can’t imagine it was pleasant.

    My punishment for the booing was to not be allowed to go to another assembly for the rest of the school year. I was sentenced to spend every assembly period in the principal’s office with the other booists (all boys, all from the “bad families” in our rural district.) At least the office had air conditioning. Mr. Warner was not able to impose a lifetime ban, and my infraction does not appear on my permanent record. You can even ask my mom – she told me that she did an annual inspection of my record, to make sure it wasn’t there.

    The worst part of that time: Amy and I were in Girl Scouts together, and all of this happened on the day before our troop was to leave on our annual camping trip. We went on the trip, but we didn’t speak to each other at all. I don’t think we were friends for the rest of the year, either. We became friends again afterwards, but never spoke of the incident. I have also only mentioned it to a handful of my closest friends. It’s not something I’m proud of.

    The second worst part: my family WILL NOT LET ME FORGET. I am known as The Booist, and anytime any booing is heard, anywhere, ever, the jokes start anew.

    I have never booed anything since, not even in jest. It pains me too much.

    (For the record, my family was lower middle class, but I was in the upper echelon of my class, academically. My school district was a solidly middle-class, rural district, located in Orange County, NY)

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