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What Is a Slow Clap?

A “Slow Clap” is a dramatic movie device that has woven its way into pop culture. Essentially, it is part of that common dramatic or inspiring ending where a stunned crowd—moved by the hero’s great speech / triumph-over-tragedy—starts to clap. First just a few people do it, in a slow and rhythmic way; then others join in, with the clap increasing in tempo and volume. Finally, the whole audience is on its feet, cheering and shouting, with the camera zooming in for close-ups to capture the expressions of the most important characters.

The “slow clap” is such a staple in cheesy teen movies that critics tend to group it (with marked disdain) with other favorite devices, such as the “freeze frame ending” and stereotypes like the ugly duckling-turned-swan. Nevertheless, there is a reason for the “slow clap” popularity. Most teen movies (or, for that matter, feel-good movies) center around a character that is unpopular or insecure. But the turn of events reveal their skill / personality / gift / potential, which eventually earns the respect or admiration of a stunned crowd. Naturally, this plot mirrors the secret wish of almost everyone in the movie audience—giving them, at least vicariously, their 5 minutes of adulation and fame.

Another version of the “slow clap” takes place in crime and adventure movies, when the hero reveals the villain’s plot (and all its evil twists and turns) and is rewarded—sarcastically—by the villain’s “slow clap.” Usually this scene is followed by an attack of the henchman, a rousing action scene, and finally the criminal being carted off. So who’s clapping now?

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