October 6, 2013

When TV characters kiss, do girls in the audience scream "Wooo!" anymore?

Now there's a dissertation topic for a grad school flunkie in media / gender studies to pursue. Look through the kissing scenes from the top 10 shows in the Nielsen ratings for each year, and measure how great the audience response is. Of course it's a silly project, but it would be an actual result that somebody might find interesting -- unlike whatever else those people are thinking of for their senior thesis or dissertation.

I was hoping somebody else had already done this work, so that I could just link to them. But nobody seems to have noticed or felt it was worth writing about. Well, they do know what the phenomenon is, just not whether it's stopped and why. TV Tropes has an item about it under the vocalizations expected of the Studio Audience:

WooOOOoo (rising and falling tone)

This is for romantic moments. Like, after three seasons of Will They or Won't They?, the couple finally have the First Kiss. Or an established couple have a bit of dialog with some innuendo and run upstairs to the bedroom together.

This used to happen all the time on teen-and-tween-oriented shows, especially Saved by the Bell. Here is a typical example from a 1992 episode. A quick check around YouTube for something from a more recent teen sit-com came up with this clip from a 2012 episode of iCarly. Man, is that weak! Barely even gets off the ground. Not to mention lots of nervous laughter ("awkward!"). I clicked around the "related videos" to see other contempo kissing scenes, and this one seems to be average or above for level of emotion coming from the audience. Often they don't react at all, or again with only nervous giggling.

What was all that wooooo-ing about, and why has it stopped?

It only or mostly came from the girls in the audience -- the guys didn't shout out "all right!" or whatever. And it was always directed at a female character. How can you tell, when both the guy and the girl are kissing? I don't know, but you just can! The female audience members are empathizing with the female role, so they're letting out the expression they would feel if they were playing that character's role. And it happened whether the girl was the recipient or the initiator. So it wasn't so much about what particular role she was playing, but about the end result that she was locking lips with some dreamy dude.

Girls sure used to heat up easier, didn't they? All it took was seeing one little kiss between actors, not even real-life maker-outers. The swelling, then calming tone clearly echoes sexual build-up, climax, and coming-down. And the swooning chicks in the audience weren't cherry-picked from the local slut brigade -- that's just how the average all-American girl responded back in the '80s and early '90s. Not keeping it to themselves, either, but erupting in a chorus. "I mean, we're all feeling the same thing, right? OK, why be all shy and ashamed then?" Note that they used to feel unashamed of something basically wholesome, if unsettling-to-their-fathers, rather than unashamed of off-putting character flaws like they are today.

In fact, now they're more likely to not respond at all. I can't tell if that's because girls these days are more autistic and have trouble empathizing with the actress, or if they just don't sense much passion playing out before them, and feel little there to resonate with. Likely both. When they do respond, nervous laughter is almost guaranteed. Any expression of anxiety (laughter or otherwise) is a form of heightening their self-awareness or alertness, which slams the brakes on whatever ride they could have been going on. They can't turn off their internal spotlight and get lost in the moment. No catharsis.

What about the fact that it's nervous laughter rather than nervous coughing or awkward silence? If it's laughing-at, then they're trying to send a signal of derision, contempt, sarcasm, or otherwise "being above" something as silly, trivial, or dirty as feeling passion. It's not dripping venom, but even a subtle expression of superiority gets the point across -- don't try to get me excited, because my body and my brain just don't work that way. If it's laughing-with, then it's part of the larger pattern young people have of pointing out their own awkwardness, and trying to get others to laugh-with, so that none of them feels too pathetic for being so awkward. To my ears, it sounds more like laughing-with, so the audiences are communicating, "I know, right? We are too awkward to enjoy kissing, smh."

I'll leave it as an exercise for the readers to find out when all this woooo-ing began to rise toward its culmination on Saved by the Bell. It's hard to find specific scenes on YouTube, so searching for "Brady Bunch kiss" didn't turn anything up. But maybe messing around with the terms will uncover something. I do remember it being a staple on sit-coms of the late '80s, though. And was it only on teen-oriented shows, or would the Mary Tyler Moore Show have had it too? Or Laverne and Shirley?

18 comments:

  1. I saw a movie today, and during an action-packed sequence, these two little kids started shamelessly jumping up and down and dancing.

    I don't know when the "woo" first came into vogue, but I'm pretty sure it was present by the time of "Happy Days" (1974). Afterall, at some point the audience would clap every time Fonzie made his first appearance, so they lacked sarcasm and self-awareness.

    I can't think of many examples of romantic kissing from 50s sitcoms. Does "I Love Lucy" count?

    -Curtis



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  2. I mentioned Gabriel Rossman's data on the length of hit songs recently. Cinemetrics has data on the length of shots in film (or conversely, how rapid the cutting is).

    I don't think I've watched a show with an in-studio audience in quite a while. Three camera sitcoms are the format for crap by Chuck Lorre nowadays, while the good stuff is single-camera. Louis C.K. has done both versions, with "Lucky Louie" for HBO as a parody of the sitcom format (a la "That's My Bush") and currently the more experimental "Louie" on FX.

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  3. I thought about looking into shot length, but knew it wouldn't conform to the falling-crime / rising-crime thing. Still interesting, but not worth my time.

    Editing is super-spazzy these days, but was not during the mid-century.

    Running times fit the pattern, though. I had a post on that last year.

    Stultification shows up primarily in drawing the experience out to dilute the impact.

    I also wonder about tech constraints on editing. When it was all slicing by hand, there must have been a natural upper-bound on the number of shots, without risking a strike by editors. Now that computers do so much of the work, they can indulge their desire for spastic pacing more.

    I'm trying to think of a medium or form that had a similar state of the art from at least the mid-century to now, where "pacing" could be well defined...

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  4. Not to do with t.v., but there was a huge difference between the reception of the New Kids on the Block in the late 80s, early 90s, versus the later boy bands. New Kids were liked far, far more broadly and more intensely.

    Women my age who were into them, pre-teens and young teens, back then (which is all of them and if they say they weren't, they're lying :)) look back with some embarrassment and I think that is largely to do with the fact we got so excited about a band that was cynically put together to make a buck rather than an organic enterprise.
    Not just a later-in-the-cycle thing: women are far more nostalgic about the early Beatles versus the Monkees and similar 70s bands though the feelings felt at the time would have been similar.
    N.K.O.T.B.'s popularity was so huge that people had to reach back past all those late 60s and 70s bands and reach the early Beatles to find something similar. Off topic, but why? Chance?

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  5. Another thing along the same vein, but it may illuminate what happened to the "Wooo!"...

    The only thing since N.K.O.T.B. that reminded me of that phenomenon with the girls somewhat reminding me of myself is the "Twilight" franchise.
    Those are books and movies, not music, and the age range wass much larger, though the die-hard crazed fan seemed to be only a few years older than the New Kids fan, say 14-15 versus 11-12.

    Anyway, the reactions of the "Twi-hards" seemed appropriate for their age: they'd outgrown the screaming and loss of control of the younger girls, but were still obsessed.

    The huge difference I saw between the two phenomena was the reaction of others: guys.

    Back then, we received some teasing from our moms, aunts, and especially older sisters and female cousins, but it was light-hearted and playful. We still hated it, I mean, how dare you say anything bad about Jordan or Donnie or Joey!!!
    Similarly, I remember we younger girls teased our older cousin about her Bon Jovi love; I don't ever recall my cousin or other older teen girls coming in for anything remotely hostile for loving Bon Jovi or any of those hair band guys. The guys, from pre-teen on older, seemed to completely ignore the phenomenon.

    I felt sorry for the Twilight fans. They had such shrill invective that came their way from guys. I don't know about the own boys their age, but what was coming from college-aged and older men was shameful. I think there was even a forty-something in the manosphere who took an image of a chubby girl who looked no more than 16 to mock in order to make some larger point on the awfulness of girls liking Twilight. I even got the feeling that these guys really knew little about the who? of the phenomenon and got it into their heads that a lot more grown women were into it than really were, though this wouldn't explain making fun of middle-teens.

    My little sister read the books when she was about 20 and loved them though she wasn't obsessed. Now, she's ashamed and distances herself from the books; she admits it has nothing to do with the writing and quality, but how others felt about the phenomenon. She still proudly admits to being a Harry Potter fan, though.

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  6. "look back with some embarrassment and I think that is largely to do with the fact we got so excited about a band that was cynically put together to make a buck rather than an organic enterprise."

    Women feel less shame about consuming stuff that is cynically calculated to push their buttons in order to get money from them. If a man spends as much time watching porn as a woman spends reading romance novels, he feels dirty and pathetic. Might not stop them if they're wallowing in self-pity, but they still feel like losers.

    Women are more apt to rationalize that stuff away. "Omigosh, I mean, like, I *know* this stuff is torrid trash, but I just can't help it. And like everyone else is reading it too, whether they'll admit it or not, so it's not like it makes me weird or anything."

    Females seem particularly more likely to rationalize based on "everyone else is doing it, so it can't be abnormal." While dudes have a harder time getting around that -- they know it's still abnormal, and just because everyone else is doing it only means that so many people in the world are that fucked up, desperate, losers, etc.

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  7. I think the embarrassment about New Kids-mania has more to do with Gen X's general awkwardness about how quickly youngsters used to grow up when they were young, and how seemingly out-of-control young people used to be in the '80s, including children.

    These are the ones who have made helicopter parenting such a big thing. They're not going to let their children be as out-on-their-own and exposed to danger, growing up too fast, etc., like their generation was in the '70s and '80s.

    Those who see that world more as one of autonomy and maturity for youngsters, rather than disorder and too-fast-developing, probably don't have kids today, or have fewer. The climate is so hostile to giving your kids the same autonomy and maturity that you enjoyed growing up. It's alienating and demoralizing.

    Plus, surrendering to the other side would still leave your kids with no one to play with or build relationships with, as the helicopter parent majority will still seal off their nuclear household from all external influences, including your kids.

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  8. "Back then, we received some teasing from our moms, aunts, and especially older sisters and female cousins, but it was light-hearted and playful."

    I kind of remember that from adult women toward my female schoolmates. They were like, "this is just cheesy pop music -- how can you get so excited about it, like the Rapture is upon you all?" But you're right, they were still understanding and less condescending. "Well, I guess if they're responding that way, there's something there that I don't get."

    "I don't ever recall my cousin or other older teen girls coming in for anything remotely hostile for loving Bon Jovi or any of those hair band guys. "

    Well, that's because hair bands made much better music. And the guys were older, in their 20s. Being attracted to guys that age is more normal. Going ga-ga over more immature teenage guys looks a little sillier. ("But again, if they're responding that way, maybe these New Kids are more mature than I perceive them.")

    "The guys, from pre-teen on older, seemed to completely ignore the phenomenon."

    New Kids were somewhat popular with the older elementary school kids, though I don't know about middle schoolers. "Hangin' Tough" didn't make you feel like a dork listening to it. And the New Kids were a staple at the roller rink, certainly appealing more to the girls... but if you wanted to get to know your female peers, you had to meet them half-way and get a little into skating around to "You Got It (The Right Stuff)".

    I think only one of my friends had their album, though. We didn't have fan-level interest.

    Likewise, girls used to be more willing to meet guys half-way in their music tastes, especially with rock. Queue up a power ballad, lift your lighters in the air, hold that special someone, and sway back and forth.

    It's weird how culturally far-apart boys and girls are today.

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  9. "I felt sorry for the Twilight fans. They had such shrill invective that came their way from guys."

    That phenomenon was after I stopped tutoring, but from picking up pieces here and there, I think the guys their age are angry that the girls are using Twilight (etc.) as a substitute for real-world boys, as a withdrawal or escape.

    Like, in real life they aren't going to find a guy who has bad boy good looks, yet behaves like an emotional tampon who's OK if his committed gf never puts out. I don't think younger dudes today are totally clueless, and they can see the Twi-hard thing as a desire to soak up as much ego-inflating attention from dreamy guys, without having to give anything back in return. That's how I see it, anyway.

    And the female role model is a frigid attention parasite who never smiles and speaks in a creaky-croaky voice. Young guys see their female peers wanting to be like her, and they understandably dock them 100 points on the test of "normal human desires and aspirations."

    It teaches them that they might as well only care how nice a girl's butt looks in short shorts, if she's going to be so emphatically off-putting and withdrawn in her personality.

    Whereas the New Kids phenomenon was just the opposite in all those ways, so it didn't get guys angry or make them lose faith in girls.

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  10. Yeah, the New Kids were liked by elementary age boys, too. My kid brother had bed sheets, lol!

    The phenomenon I was referring to was that of teen girls lusting over handsome pop culture idols. The boys and men did not care whether the preteens went crazy over New Kids, the older girls went gaga over Bon Jovi, etc.

    The girls that I've observed being into Twilight: wear their shirts and make up the vast majority of the audience outside the theater, are middle-schoolers. Girls who aren't ready for boyfriends, anyway.
    They seem extremely normal to me, reminded me of myself back then, but older and calmer.

    It just seemed that a lot of the fears and frustrations of adult men was heaped on these young girls who were going through a normal phase. I mean, a middle-aged man posting pictures of a homely teen girl to mock her?
    Unthinkable back when I was a kid. Such a guy would have been seen as the biggest loser.

    You said once that some guys let their imaginations run wild about what they're missing out on when there is actually less going on...
    I think this more than anything explains the vitriol about the Twilight phenomenon. My own sister's boyfriend was non-plussed about her reading those books. And what I read from guys like "Whiskey" (at Sailer's blog) about who the average fan was versus what I saw with my own eyes were two very different things.

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  11. On my older cousin not coming in for anything hostile...
    I mean, like us preteens, she didn't come in for any hostility from men. So, it wasn't age or maturity that made the boys and men ignore our infatuations back then.
    The Twilight fans are in the middle, age-wise, and acted like us, but were treated far differently than we were.

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  12. "these young girls who were going through a normal phase."

    We'd have to interview some teenage guys to hear for ourselves, but what I pick up is their frustration with the standard they're being held to.

    In the '80s, it was the lead singer of a confident rock band -- hey, there's something to aim for! Hope I *do* wind up like Bon Jovi! The glory of having armies of fellow dudes cheering me on, plus an bottomless sea of groupies to swim through.

    Y'know, like Bon Jovi had hair on his chest (and showed it), had both a bad attitude but an empathetic side as well, was part of a tightly-knit band of brothers, and girls were eager to give themselves over to him.

    If I were a teenage guy today, this is what I would be expected to aim for in order to meet girls half-way:

    Twilight scene

    He's supposed to be all unassertive, wearing an appeasing grin, giving her constant eye contact, reaching out to her, etc. While she asserts herself (holding back), and does not return eye contact -- hunched over like she's staring at some invisible phone -- wears a smug smirk, and so on.

    Basically, I'd be expected to pour constant attention over her, while not getting any physical intimacy in return (only getting to check out her butt -- but then so can other guys). It's demeaning, and no guy with any self-respect would look favorably on these expectations of his female peers.

    If it were just a phase, then guys would lighten up once they and their female age-mates were in high school or college. But the separation, resentment, and suspicion seems only to have boiled higher. By then, they're in full-on "bros before hos" mode.

    College girls still reading Harry Potter and dressing up for the debut of the newest movie... unfortunately not a middle school phase. "Hey babe, you wanna go out for pizza and come over tonight?" "Oh, sorryyyy, I can't -- the new Harry Potter movie is coming out tonight, remember? Why don't we both get dressed up in our shirts and glasses and see it together?!"

    It's like if some guy said, "Sorry, won't be able to perform sexually tonight -- new Grand Theft Auto just came out. Might see you in a few weeks."

    Teenage / college girls feel the same way about that as guys feel about Twilight. Just mention "guys constantly playing video games" to them, and they all start nodding in annoyance. There's even a song about that by Lana Del Rey, "Video Games".

    Glad my adolescent dating-and-mating days were only during society's initial slide toward re-segregation of the sexes. It's hard to sympathize much with either side of young people today -- non-boyfriends and non-girlfriends deserve each other's non-affection.

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  13. I hear you Agnostic, but I think there's more: the same thing has been happening with those cheap, cheesy romantic novels that (some) women have been reading for decades with the buff models on the covers.

    What happens at high school age and older, you've covered very well and I don't disagree. The Twilight girls were younger and their biggest detractors were grown men.

    Cheap, cheesy romantic novels: these have been read for decades, but men did not care, even though they could never compete with those too-perfect men. The women who read them might come in for some teasing, but that was all. Suddenly, in the past five years or so, I've been hearing about the scourge of these books and how they warp women's expectations.
    I remember some lower-class girls reading them in high school and once a guy friend grabbed one, searched out the most embarrassing lines to read out loud and in the most dramatic fashion possible. All of us, including the reader, laughed ourselves to tears.

    That was the dominant attitude of men toward all those idols whether in movies, books, music, etc. Mostly ignore, and sometimes tease.

    Another big difference between back then and today in reactions: then, the object of derision (too strong a word) was the idol, not the girls. The teasers didn't hate the guys, they just wanted to get under a girl's skin a bit. So, Bon Jovi was called a "girl", "gay", whatever, but it was in good fun. The girl fans of idols were never put down. The very worst thing ever said was probably "teenyboppers" about New Kids fans.

    I don't think I've ever heard the Twilight guys put down. If Fabio can get called "Manboobs", Bon Jovi a "faggot", etc. what's stopping them from putting these guys down? The attitude is "those guys are such perfect perfection and I cannot compete". Put down the girls, instead, "I mean, who do they think they are with their plain looks?"

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  14. Dahlia age 11 ;)

    From this photo archive of New Kids fans.

    One thing I notice is that the Twihards (at least those shown on Google Images) don't show the facial expression of pain, yearning so bad it hurts.

    Like Beatlemaniacs and New Kids fans, they might have their eyebrows raised in surprise, and mouths agape, like "Holy shit, it's that famous thing we all love!" But their eyebrows aren't pinched up in the center, their eyes squinting, and their chin dimpling up like they're about to cry or collapse.

    Twihards show obsession -- like the object of their obsession is just a, well, object for them to gawk at or manhandle however they please. It's like a child who sees their new favorite toy on sale at the toy store.

    With fans of the Beatles, the Monkees, Wham!, New Kids, etc., it was the fans who were the objects, powerless and under a spell. Feeling such a total lack of self-control is unnerving, so it's more likely to produce pained faces than OCD directed at celebs.

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  15. well I do feel pity for them, they really didn't have a chance. I think many can be saved also if they are taught the right things.

    -Curtis

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  16. I remember New Kids being a thing when I was young, but I didn't see what was supposed to be so great about it, or any other music for that matter. Not until I heard Nirvana really.

    Twilight isn't just hated by dudes. A friend of mine from high school's wife is a fan of "The Hunger Games", and since the movie came out around her birthday I went to see it with them. There was an advertisement for some upcoming Stephanie Myer novel and said wife was really pissed that someone even thought there was an overlapping demographic of fans. Myer being Mormon could be the cause of some of the hatred from women though.

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  17. I'm not sure it's only hated by older dudes either, now that I think about it. About two weeks ago, I recall a kid in about 8th grade standing around the train stop with a couple of friends, and out of nowhere he shouted something that I couldn't make out, but by the tone was clearly an insult. And not at me, since he was looking and facing someone else.

    I thought he was saying "try-hard!" like "poser!" But that's a pretty mature insult for an 8th grader -- he must have been saying "Twihard!" to some girl at the train stop.

    So perhaps the online diatribes are coming from middle-aged men, but that could just be because 8th grade kids aren't into writing long screeds on the internet. The Urban Dictionary entry for "twihard" looks like its main contributors are all high school or college kids.

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  18. Robert the Wise10/9/13, 6:32 AM

    "I also wonder about tech constraints on editing. When it was all slicing by hand, there must have been a natural upper-bound on the number of shots, without risking a strike by editors. Now that computers do so much of the work, they can indulge their desire for spastic pacing more."

    I thought about this last night while watching Mad Max and The Road Warrior, two brilliantly edited movies.

    Back then, rapid editing was done WHEN NECESSARY, not for fun.

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