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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