by RIP RENSE
I've had it. I'm such an anachronism.
irrelevant as a dial telephone.
I am. . .the last polite man.
Okay, I'm not polite all the time. Once in a
while, I suggest that another human being be subject to untold physical and spiritual
agonies, perhaps involving the devil and a red-hot poker. But this is the exception in my
Courtesy is gone. Gone as black-and-white
I write about this often, with attempted
ness, in the "Less Than Satisfying Encounters With Humanity" (LTSEWH) series,
but my heart is heavy today. No levity here. Discourtesy---no, make that hostile
aggression---is irretrievably inculcated in the infrastructure of the id. Things are ugly
out there, folks. Uglier than Oprah Winfrey's ego. Doubt it? I give you one word:
Stop signs are infringements on
personal freedom, as is driving the speed limit in a school zone. Do less than 70 on
the freeway---in the slow lane---and someone will tailgate, or pass on the shoulder,
giving you the finger. Often as not, that someone will cut you off by inches, nearly
cutting off your lifespan. Try to cross in a crosswalk, and you become the frog in
"Frogger." Stopping, starting, backing up, leaping. . .to avoid cars turning in
front, behind, and at you.
I give you another word:
"Customer Service" is the most
laughable oxymoron since "charitable institution." Explain a problem to a
"customer service representative," and prepare to be interrupted, talked over,
ignored, humored. Protest, and you are turned over to a "supervisor" or
disconnected. Swear, and you are suspected of terrorism. If, by some accident, you do
manage to get your explanation across, you get a pre-fab answer that has nothing to do
with the problem. Complain about AT&T phone solicitation, for instance, and you get
"We're working hard to meet our customers' special needs."
It's enough to make you. . .rude.
Today, you are nothing less than
a fool if you comport yourself with simple etiquette including a smile, a
"please," a "thank you." It almost guarantees, for starters, zero
compre- hension from the target party. Courtesy does not compute with many people under 35
(possibly 40.) You will be regarded as weird, wimpy, or whacko. "Please" is a
quick ticket to no response.
Graciousness is the much-exalted glue of
civilization, and the glue has melted. It's survival of the snittest, now.
How did it happen? A bunch of factors can be
cited---from economic stress, to more humanoid rats in the computerized marketing maze.
But it's not that simple; the roots are deep. There was the "do your own thing"
narcissism of the '60s. Or at least the commercial exploitation and marketing of that
"ethos"; most of what was healthy about thuh sixdies was fast
perverted for the purpose of making a fast buck. You know you were in trouble when when
middle-class adults began saying "groovy," and Nixon barked "sock it to
me" on "Laugh-In."
That eventually morphed into the disco years, when callous
exploitation of one another--- largely sexual---became cocaine-fueled sport.
I would point a larger finger at the
"me generation" of the brutal Reagan years. The "greed is good" lot. A
more loathesome "philosophy," a more efficient machinery for dismantling
decorum, is hard to imagine. This is certainly where manners came to be equated with
Then came "political correctness,"
which turned politeness into the the science of being pathologically inoffensive. Which,
of course, offended the hell out of most everybody. What's going to put tension and
hostility into public discourse more than laying lots of entirely new breach-of-etiquette
landmines? Weren't there enough already, before newspapers hired million-dollar
consultants to come up with style guides that weeded out such criminally repugnant
terms as. . ."Dutch uncle?" Before the duly reviled "colored people"
was somehow acceptably reborn as "people of color?"
Pop culture must also be faulted. Heavy metal
and Rap lyrics have as much to do with promoting graciousness as Osama bin-Laden. Nothing
teaches self-adoration like MTV. Sitcoms center around hee-haw references to the
"butt" and premature ejaculation. "Roseanne" long ago set the slovenly
tone for attire and attitude. Howard Stern made crudity a cause.
And one must, of course, congratulate
the demographic-driven corporate media, amorally milking prevailing
"sensibilities," no matter how boorish and crass, for money, money, money.
But there is a more subtle culprit, I fear:
disingenuousness disguised as deference. Courtesy has joined cowardice as the last refuge
of scoundrels. Think about it. Who speaks more politely than slippery elected officials,
and layoff-happy, cream-skimming corporate heads? Listen to official statements from
disgraced Enron guys, and you will find the sweetest language this side of Hallmark. When,
after all, do you hear people referred to as "gentleman" or addressed as
"Miss" or "Mrs."? Two circumstances: TV pundit-fests when a rant
turns particularly sarcastic, and every time a cop refers to a suspect. "The gentleman
(suspected of killing and eating 150 people) is in custody."
No wonder nobody wants to sound nice anymore!
Only phonies and crooks sound nice!
And yes, me, the last courteous
fool---er, man. I just can't make the adjustment. Being nasty, rude---even
blunt---makes me feel lousy. Stress aside, it puts me in an unwinnable position. Either I
start out well-mannered, and sink into disgruntlement as it proves increasingly futile. Or
I just start shouting. What the hell do you mean, you're writing the ticket anyway?
The &$#@!! meter is broken!
Well, maybe the courtesy crowd was a
"sport generation," as scientists say---a fluke. Maybe it was just a post-World
War II "Leave it to Beaver" idyll; as freakish as efficiency in government. If
so, it was nice while it lasted.
BACK TO PAGE ONE