The Washington Post

Nascar crowd boos Michelle Obama

What’s the matter with crowds these days? Republican debate attendees boo soldiers. They cheer executions.

Now a Sunday NASCAR crowd booed Michelle Obama and Jill Biden.

Admittedly, the boos were faint. It reminded me of the Sarah Palin booing on Dancing with the Stars.

And Rush Limbaugh rushed immediately to the airwaves to shove his foot into his mouth repeatedly about it, as is his wont, using phrases like “uppityism.

If you subscribe to the theory that any time a crowd anywhere boos someone, it is a sign of Deep-Seated Malaise, then there is plenty to be said about What All This Meant.

Maybe the crowd was sick of being told to eat its vegetables. The First Lady earlier addressed a barbecue for servicemembers’ families, telling them, “You guys are leaders in your own right. You’re taking care of your parents. You’re getting good grades. And I know you’re eating your vegetables, right?”

First they try to take pizza out of the vegetable category, and now this?

Maybe the crowd just thought Michelle had too many L’s in her name. “Michele Bachmann gets by with just one,” they point out. “Any more than that is wasteful, and taxpayers should not be expected to pay for it.”

But maybe there was no larger message. People are emboldened by being in crowds and by drinking. And Nascar crowds, like those at football games, often combine these two characteristics.

But perhaps it’s time to be more dubious about the wisdom of crowds.

I think there’s a book dedicated to the Wisdom of Crowds. But perhaps it’s like that British bestseller, entitled What Every Man Thinks About Apart From Sex, which turned out to be blank when you opened it up. Crowds come up with a lot of curious ideas. The French Revolution was largely the work of crowds, and it involved people swearing oaths on tennis courts and renaming all the months things like Thermidor and Fructidor, which sound like those features you accidentally turn on in your rental car that beep constantly and won’t turn off. Crowds come up with rhyming slogans. Crowds are like individuals, but more so, and you know how individuals are. Individuals are odd, often wear mismatched socks, and write sentences like “Crowds are like individuals, but more so.”

And as any Who Wants To Be A Millionaire contestant will tell you, although a silent majority of any crowd may be right, there will always be that 10 percent who think that Topeka is the name of a character on Boy Meets World, and that a coup de grace is something French people drive around in. It’s a pity that this time they were so audible. It certainly wasn’t the whole crowd who booed. It seldom is. It’s the people emboldened by anonymity — as powerful as alcohol when it comes to inducing people to do things they otherwise might not. It makes crowds stupider than individuals. It makes them boo. It’s the same force responsible for the majority of online comments.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She is the author of "A Field Guide to Awkward Silences".


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