Monday, September 14, 2009

Triumph of the Rude

Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount punches Boise State's Byron Hout after a game, and has to be restrained from punching fans, because he doesn't like what they said to him.

South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson interrupts the President of the United States during a nationally televised speech to Congress to call him a liar, because he doesn't agree with the President's statements.

Serena Williams threatens to shove a tennis ball down the throat of a line judge for calling a foot fault on her.

Kanye West interrupts Taylor Swift's acceptance speech after she had won Best Female Video at MTV's Video Music Awards, because he didn't think the right person won.

In each case, even though there are still those who chide such boorish, vulgar behavior, especially when exhibited on a national stage, voices rose up actually supporting these folks behaviors! In each case, the person didn't seem to think there was anything wrong with what he or she had done, and found many, many others who agreed. In each case, a half-hearted "apology" was only offered after someone in authority demanded it be given. In each case, the offender stole the spotlight from someone else and benefited from the publicity.

When did the concept of socially acceptable behavior become passe? How have we let ourselves reach a point where society celebrates the scandalous, where actions that once would be the source of great embarrassment are now points of pride? We as a culture seem to be teaching our own that such outbursts are the way to express disagreement, that if it satisfies our own needs we should do it without a thought given to those around us, that the old saying "no publicity is bad publicity" is really true, and as long as you have your people release a hastily worded press-release of an apology, everything will be just fine. In fact, better than fine: it'll make you a household name! You'll be a star!

We have reached a point where the governor of a state can admit to having an extra-marital affair and to misusing state funds for personal use, and still stand before cameras straight-faced declaring it unfair to judge him because "other governors have done the same things," as if that somehow gives him a free pass. Our national "news" coverage consists more of supposed adults calling each other names than of actual journalism. The President himself can call the police stupid, and we all smile and nod approvingly.

When did we all become so rude?

Some friends and I recently challenged one another to identify the last time someone engaged in publicly scandalous behavior and was actually embarrassed, was actually chastised uniformly by both critics and supporters with no voices rising to defend the indefensible. Exactly how long ago did scarlet letters become badges of honor? The most recent one we came up with was almost twenty years - a full generation - ago, when Pee Wee Herman was found having a little more fun with himself in a movie theater than he should have been. He was the last we could think of who apologized because he truly felt ashamed of and sorry for what he had done. Nowadays, people only apologize because they have to.

It's a sorry state of affairs, and I'm not sure what the solution is - or if one even exists. We live in a world where adults behave in a manner that most parents I know would be horrified to see their children behaving in. How very, very sad for us.

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  1. You are right on with this post Watching MTV last nite made me sick. How is this even close to acceptable. MTV and Kanye should be ashamed.

  2. Remember tennis' John McEnroe? The biggest, foul-mouthed baby on the court. Kanye a few years ago saying "George Bush hates white people."? The boos W got from Congressmen during a speech when referencing the Iraq war?

    It IS unprecedented to have a congressman yell "You lie!" at a president during a speech, and it should NOT have happened. It was a breathtakingly boneheaded thing to do. I think the congressman has demeaned his office as well as that of the president.

    Nevertheless, I don't think we're any more rude, as a society, than we ever were. It depends a little on the period to which you’re making a comparision. It’s all relative. Some past eras have been worse, some better.

    Also, our collective memories tend to be quite short. In our own era, we do have a tendency to think that we are always becoming a more coarse society. That the younger generation is "going to hell in a handbasket." We bemoan the current lack of manners, or mores, or morals of our culture, compare them to a past that has grown to mythical proportions in our minds.

    Nostalgia can do crazy things to perspective.

    And by the way, President Obama didn’t call any police stupid. What he did say was that what they did was stupid. To me there is a big distinction.

    And I agreed with him on that. What that policeman did in the Boston incident was stupid. The cop had the upper hand, and had the power to defuse the situation. He didn’t. He escalated by arresting the professor. It WAS stupid.

  3. @Rachel - The sad thing is, Kanye will probably benefit from the publicity, being able to get his name out there in front of everyone as makes the talk show rounds to "apologize". It was a calculated career move, as well as a plainly rude thing to do.

    @Glen The examples you gave (except for McEnroe) are all since the Pee Wee Herman incident, which seems to be the line in the sand. And while McEnroe was whiny and prone to tantrums, he was never malicious. He never threatened to "shove a tennis ball down [a line judge's] f****n' throat." I think that's the difference that really has shown its face in recent years: there's a much darker side to the current rudeness.

    But go back 20 or 30 years, and things like this, though they happened, were not celebrated the way they are now. There was contrition for acting that way, and people rarely benefited from the event.

    As far as Obama, even if I concede your difference in semantics, no, the policeman did not act stupidly. He was called to a reported break-in and was dealing with a belligerent individual who refused to identify himself. Perhaps he might have taken a different tack with the professor, but what he did was not "stupid." It was what police do when confronted with a belligerent unknown individual in a situation that has not yet been fully defined. Regardless, it was a poor choice of wording for the President to use.

  4. Seriously? This was not an unknown individual. Belligerent, yes. You also seem to forget that BEFORE the professor was arrested (in his own home), he had already shown his ID.

    Of course the prof was upset at the treatment he was getting by the cop, in HIS OWN HOME. He could have handled the disrespect and embarrassment of being arrested in his own home in a much better way. And should have.

    Of course the cop could have taken "a different tack" and should have.

    The only reason he arrested the professor, in his own home, was because of the belligerence. Of course he had the right to arrest him; of course he shouldn't have. It was stupid.

    Poor choice of words by the president? Maybe. He was right, though. It was a stupid thing to do. It was only about a cop getting back at the professor for his disrespect. Never a good reason alone to arrest someone, even if it is legal.

    I think you may be forgetting that McEnroe's abuse of officials was constant and pervasive, and involved the use of the same kind of language Williams used on ONE occasion. And apologized for.

  5. Re: Professor Gates - if you're going to be belligerent and uncooperative with a police officer, you're going to be arrested - or at the very least handcuffed until the officer has the situation assessed and has determined there to be no threat. Being a Harvard professor, or being in your own home, does not give you a free pass to antagonize a policeman who is called to a supposed break-in. Again, not stupid. Rather, par for the course. If the officer was not satisfied with the ID produced, it would hardly be acceptable police work to back down because the individual was being aggressive. Sorry, I side with the officer in this one. We'll have to agree to disagree. We'll have a beer over it.

    Re: McEnroe - not arguing the language, not arguing the rudeness. I'm saying, go ahead and find me one example of McEnroe threatening physical bodily harm to a line judge. Guess what? You won't find it. There was a line he never crossed. Williams steamrolled right over that line.

    Further, even if I fully concede both arguments to you, it is little more than the same flimsy argument that Gov. Mark Sanford has been using: "why are you upset with me, other people have done the same thing?"

    Even if McEnroe HAD done the exact same thing, are you arguing that it would give Williams a free pass to act that way? Even if we call the police officer's actions in the Gates case stupid, does that make it right for the President to call those actions stupid BEFORE he even knew the whole story?

    It's about simple decorum. I happen to agree with the President, for example, that Kanye West is a jackass; still, I am highly embarrassed that our President called him a jackass, even if off the record. Calling people "stupid" and "jackass" is hardly Presidential.

    It's rudeness, plain and simple. It is more pervasive and more celebrated than in the past. Were people rude before? Sure. My take is that it is more accepted and even praised by society today than it has been even in my lifetime. I have yet to hear compelling argument against that point.

  6. For the sake of variety on the topic,I'll venture to suggest this trend of rudeness and formerly non-acceptable language being a standard for recognition has its roots in media - all forms. I have no doubt that ill wishes and "bad" language have been around since our feral ancestors first attributed meaning to each others grunts. However, once we started to agree on symbols to represent our words and thoughts, we opened a world of possibilities.

    Now, forgive my broad strokes and rapid progression through time, consider that it was print media that made it possible for de Sade to gain notoriety from prison with his somewhat questionable predilections.

    Warp ahead to recordings, and Moms Mabley and Redd Foxx became celebrities with raunchy jokes. Another short leap and we have Lenny Bruce being arrested - but earning a nice salary - for his use of "fuck" and "nigger" in print, on recordings, in videos and live performances (he is still hailed as a comic genius). The list of musician and comic millionaires who rely almost exclusively on "bad" language is encyclopedic. George Carlin's infamous "words you can't say" are now routine on daily radio, television and films.

    Before I wander too far from your discussion, I guess my point is that being rude, insensitive, crass, belligerent and just plain ignorant are natural offspring.

    I do not support or believe in it, but for the sake of civility, I do usually condone it. It seems to be a generic part of our being.

    Just felt like offering some thoughts...