Monday, March 23, 2009

"A Certain Coarseness"

I haven’t quoted or linked one of my favorite pundits in quite a while, and it’s past time I do so. Recommended… highly recommended… for your perusal is Victor Davis Hanson’s “Thoughts about Depressed Americans.” Excerpt:

3.) A Certain Coarseness. We also are wearied by a certain crassness in American society in ways we have not seen before—or at least since the mid-19th century. Sorry, I don’t want my President joshing about the Special Olympics on Leno. I don’t want him on Leno at all in his perpetual PR mode. I don’t want him drawing out his picks for the final four on TV. I don’t want him paid for rewriting/revising/ condensing/whatever his earlier book while he’s supposed to be President, or ribbing Gordon Brown about his tennis game in patronizing fashion, or giving the British a pack of un-viewable DVDs after they, in exchange, offered a tasteful gift of historic importance.

I was always an advocate of informality, of casualness, but now when on a plane, in a restaurant, at Starbucks, I am struck by the rare well-dressed person who does not crowd. How odd the extra-polite woman, who conducts herself with charm and grace at the counter, or the gentleman who opens doors, says excuse me, and whose intelligent conversation I enjoy listening in on—like a dew drop to someone thirsting in the desert. In contrast, when the punk walks by, with radio blaring, mumbling obscenities, flashing the ‘I’ll kill you’ stare,” it all leaves me in depression.

Worse still, on the opposite end of the scale, is the master of the universe who elbows his way onto a plane while he blares on the telephone and blocks the aisle. I feel creepy after walking through an electronics store and seeing some of the video game titles and covers.

In short, I don’t want to hear any more Viagra or Cialis ads, no more douche commercials—please no more talking heads about penises that are enlarging, hardening, stimulated on the public air waves.

The sum of these foul parts is smothering us. I don’t want to know that there is a new sex clinic opening in Fresno, or hear another ad about how I can skip out on my credit card debt, or that some sort of food is stuck to my intestinal walls like spackle and paste unless I buy some gut cleansing product.

At some point, we need to say enough is enough, and try to find some sense of honor and decorum in these times of crisis. My god, the entire country has become some sort of Rousseauian nightmare, as if the Berkeley Free Speech Area circa 1970 is now the public domain, as if the culture of the Folsom cell block is now the national ethos.

Just so. At considerable risk of sounding like the proverbial Cranky Old Man… I’ll just say Mr. Hanson speaks for me. It’s always been true that the current “older generation” has harped on the habits and foibles of the upcoming young; I know MY father never tired of pointing out how clueless and stupid my generation was, at the time (which would be during the '60s and '70s).

The unfortunate aspect of my Ol’ Man’s harping and carping was that he was right in so many respects. A great deal of the problems we’re experiencing today have their roots in the attitudes and mores of The Boomers… the ultimate “me first” generation. But I digress, and there’s been a veritable sea of ink spilled on this topic. I don’t have any unique insights to add in this space, other than the fact I witnessed, first hand, a lot of the madness as it “went down.” And to vouch for the veracity of my father’s observations.

That said… “things” DO seem worse today… a LOT worse… than they did five or ten years ago. Or, Hell… even eight months ago, for that matter. I know I can chalk some of my angst up to nostalgia for a “more simpler time,” but that ain’t all of it. All one needs to do is re-read the excerpt I posted above and remember that we weren’t exposed to even a third of those things Mr. Hanson is on about in the near past. Depressing, indeed.

The excerpt above is but one out of five items… and I encourage you to “read the whole thing” if you haven’t already. All of Mr. Hanson’s points ring true to me, and I’m on a semi-crusade to change things for the better. Well, except for giving up my well-worn jeans and tee shirts. There are SOME things My Generation refuses to abandon.


  1. I agree. Does that mean I'm getting old, too?

  2. I too agree. I've seen it everywhere but never moreso than now - whilst on crutches.

    The incredible cluelessness of the great unwashed never ceases to amaze me. I've had a few positive experiences, but for every one of those there are 3 that aren't so positive.

  3. I experience a good amount of good manners and thoughtfulness where I live (small town) but also a lot of sloppy behavior as well as downright rudeness. I think the poor behavior comes mostly from those who feel "less than" - being pushy and self-centered feeds a sense of self importance that they don't otherwise have. Self respect has to come from being a productive member of society. There is the rub in my mind.

  4. Well mannered doesn't have to mean well dressed and "proper" (in the Emily Post sense). Courtesy simply means you care -- it means being more concerned about others than you are about yourself. We all fall short in that regard, but the trend has definitely been headed the wrong way.

  5. The downfall of manners! Once described by someone (can't remember who) as "necessary social lubricant," I personally subscribe to the "More is better!" theory in this space. I'm doing my best to raise a young gentleman and am often rewarded with people noticing what a good boy Sean truly is! I have to thank my parents for THANKS DAD!

    People notice and remember.

    My .02$ on this subject...


  6. I agree with these sentiments wholeheartedly. Respect and manners seem to be the exception, rather than the norm. Not in my house, however.

  7. Jenny sez: Does that mean I'm getting old, too?

    I ain't touching THAT with a ten-foot pole, except perhaps for a generic statement to the effect of "we're ALL getting older." :D

    Kris sez: I've seen it everywhere but never moreso than now - whilst on crutches.

    I hear ya, Kris. Your blog post in this space was just more fuel for the fire.

    Ann sez: I experience a good amount of good manners and thoughtfulness where I live (small town) but also a lot of sloppy behavior as well as downright rudeness.

    Same here, in the same sort of environment. I have to say the rudeness I experience in P-Ville is a LOT less than in any major city I've ever lived in, though. That... and there's merit in your theory. Respect begins at home, to coin a phrase.

    Bob sez: Well mannered doesn't have to mean well dressed and "proper" (in the Emily Post sense).

    Thanks for that. I look like a real bum sometimes (faded, torn, and patched Levis being the principal cause) but I think I'm always polite.

    Buck: On the quote... Heinlein, perhaps? And Sean IS a very polite and well-mannered young man. You and Erm have done well.

    Buckskins sez: Not in my house, however.

    Funny how this trait tends to run in military families, eh? :D

    I was taking my life in my hands... almost literally...if ever I was ill-mannered in my father's house. Many's the time I got a pop in the mouth for a slip of the tongue... and I'm not particularly damaged from the effects, either.

  8. I read the article and most of the comments.


    I too, am sick up and fed of most of the mindnumbingcrap (one word) in our world.

    The commercial that creeps me out? Those ED ones where the couple are sitting in separate bath tubs in a fargin' meadow. Huh?

    Pisses me off that someone would THINK of this trash.

    Get the hell out of those stupid tubs, and get back home and work on improving your relationship!

  9. Thanks to my parents strict discipline, I still struggle calling someone older than me by their first name, Mr. Pennington:) There is something about being raised in the 70's that makes me love my t-shirt and jeans - clean and nice, but comfy. I think a nice pair of jeans looks better than some polyester pants I have seen that are considered "dressy." Besides, if I didn't wear jeans and a t-shirt most of the time, no one would notice when I realy did dress up.

  10. BagBlog jogged a long, lost memory...we never called adults by their first names growing up.

    When I first moved to MT and was a Mrs., a family in the neighborhood had their children use titles and it totally confused me to be addressed as Mrs. Brooks, who was my mother-in-law... And Maam makes me feel old. It is, though nice to be asked by a young person how they might address me - respectful and good manners. To this day, I do not address an older person by their first name unless they introduce themselves that way.

    That brings up another manners thing - making an introduction which is another almost lost art.

    And, oh yeah, identifying yourself when you phone someone :)!

  11. I think the distinction needs to be made between private crassness and public crassness.

    For instance, I'm lewd and obscene, sometimes, on my blog. People have to make a conscious effort to access it, though. If they find my writing distasteful, they need not return. I will not hunt them down and be rude at their place. That would be private crassness, and I consider as acceptable now as when Twain wrote "1601", his infamous treatise on farting.

    Public crassness is epidemic and needs to be annihilated as soon as possible. I, too, am sick of hearing ads for erectile dysfunction and tampons and birth control and every other function of the human body (those not sexual, but scatological, included) on my airwaves. Enough. And if I never hear another public cell phone conversation, I will die a very happy man.

    I don't know if you've ridden AMTRAK lately, Buck, but they have an innovation called "The Quiet Car". It is a part of the train wherein those who enter agree to not use cell phones, computers, etc., even limiting conversation to a minimum. It is a wonderful innovation and I would like to see something similar brought to fruition in all aspects of our lives. I'm not sure how something like that could be accomplished at, say, a baseball game, but I sure as hell will scream at the next person I sit beside who is making a phone call while I'm trying to enjoy the action.

  12. Ann, When I first started teaching, I was not much older than my high school students. I could not help calling some of the teachers, who were old enough to be my parents, by titles - until one of them told me to stop it.

    I was taught to always introduce people and to add some info that the people meeting might have in common - that way if you left them to chat, they might have a topic to discuss.

  13. One of the things I notice about my colleagues and friends - even if they are the most courteous and lovely people - is that they are SHOCKED when, say after attending a dinner at their house, I send them a thank you note. I *always* get an email/txt/phone call after they received it saying how "nice" it was of me to send a thank you.
    Seriously - my grandma and ma drilled that one into me, but I guess that's just not common in today's world...

  14. Lou sez: Thanks to my parents strict discipline, I still struggle calling someone older than me by their first name, Mr. Pennington:)

    You may call me Buck, Lou. :D

    Seriously, though... I was raised the same way you were and always use "Ma'am" when speaking to women, regardless of age, to this day. And "sir" in the case of men, but that's a semi-military thing.

    Ann: Your "that's my mother-in-law" story is familiar... I've heard that and variations on that theme quite a bit. It would be an interesting thought exercise to compare the levels of acceptable address by age or generation, but I'm not at all up to that... at the moment.

    Jim sez: I think the distinction needs to be made between private crassness and public crassness.

    Well put and your examples were spot-on. We're of the same mind on ALL points.

    I haven't ridden Amtrack in years and years but I DID read about the "quiet car" thing. I think that's a GREAT idea... and wish there was a way to get people to consider the concept involved when it comes to the larger public sphere.

    Katy: I have a friend who still sends thank-you notes (always!) too, and the reactions she gets to her acts of kindness/social graces are identical to those you receive. I think it's SO sad that these sorts of things have gone by the boards.

  15. Thanks for sharing. I have had many conversations about this with close friends. I have read opinions and perspectives by persons of various age groups. I do agree with you on most of this. Also, thank you for serving.


Just be polite... that's all I ask.