Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A civil discourse

It's been a tough week or two for good old-fashioned manners.

From my perspective this started with the University of Oregon football player who, after being part of a loss against Boise State, took offense to something an opposing player said at the close of their game and punched that player. The Oregon player was suspended for the remainder of the season.

Then Congressman Joe Wilson, a South Carolina Republican, yelled "you lie" at President Obama in response to a statement Mr. Obama made during his speech on healthcare reform to a joint session of Congress. Rep. Wilson apologized to the White House shortly thereafter but has since refused to apologize also to his colleagues in the House of Representatives and was officially reprimanded yesterday.

Then tennis star Serena Williams completely lost her cool after being called for a foot fault (that's when you cross the back line of a tennis court while serving, if I remember correctly) during a critical point of her U.S. Open semifinal match. She apparently told the linesman (a woman) that she felt like shoving a tennis ball down her &%$ throat, or something similar. She also subsequently apologized via her own blog, via Twitter and other means.

The final act in this set of indiscretions was at the MTV Video Music Awards, an awards show that is somewhat less relevant now than it might have been fifteen or twenty years ago. Young Taylor Swift had just taken the stage to accept an award when Kanye West also mounted the stage, took the microphone from Swift and essentially proclaimed that the wrong person--Swift--won the award when another performer's video---Beyonce--had been so much better in the same category. I didn't see this, but it's my understanding that Beyonce exhibited some class by later ensuring that Swift had ample opportunity to thank her fans, etc. for this great honor.

Uhh....

Ever heard of the "social contract?" The basic premise is that we ask each other how we are, when we often don't care or don't want to know. I know people who are very disengenuous about this ("What about you? Everything good?") and don't care at all about the other person, but they ask because that's what society expects. That's how adults are supposed to behave, isn't it?

But now, in our modern age, when we're all so enlightened, it's looking more and more like there's really no need to edit oneself, or to hold our tongues when we really want to say or do something in response to a given situation. And the fascinating part is that there's always someone there to notice, and if you're even the least bit famous, there are also cameras and some enterprising soul who's ready to post this stuff on YouTube or sell it to TMZ.com.

A good friend of mine often says he was born too late, that he would have been much more comfortable in the 50s. To this end he likes Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin recordings, loves the television show "Mad Men" and has rather arcane views of a lot of social mores. Much more arcane than one would expect from someone who hasn't yet hit forty.

But he is right in one respect....that era might have been better because if people felt something they often did a good job keeping it to themselves. Or if they didn't hold it in successfully, the entire planet didn't know it, via the Internet.

If we can't all just get along, as the saying goes, can't we at least keep our animosity to ourselves?

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