Oh how I long for the halcyon days of last week, when we texted with our pinkies in the air and referred to each other as Sir and Ma’am in each and every social transaction.
Of course, that was when Civility was amongst us, hale, hardy and ruddy-cheeked, attending 90-minute Bikram yoga classes 3 times a week and consuming at least 30 grams of fiber each and every day.
Alas, Civility is dead — asphyxiated by the tennis ball Serena Williams shoved down its throat, unable to defend itself against the vulgar accusations of Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) as Kayne West snatched the microphone from its hand.
These are the ugly details that make up the myriad obituaries decrying Civility’s unfortunate demise. Many also point to a fourth perpetrator in the crime, and ultimately the puppet master of Civility’s massacre: The Internet!
The Internet, with its Twitter and Facebook and Craigslist, et al, is destroying society; surely you’ve heard. Even before Civility’s lonesome death at the hands of three completely unrelated incidents, various surveys and studies of specious methodology “proved” that our increasing time in cyberspace is making us stupid, porn-addicted, socially isolated, anonymous sexting bullies with Attention Deficit Disorder.
It was only a matter of time before this toxic binary code leaked from our laptops and destroyed what Americans have always held so very near and dear for more than two centuries of existence: Good manners!
Indeed, as a society, we were all shocked (SHOCKED, I tell you!) by the bad behavior perpetrated by three people who happened to be on the tee vee, yet not a one on a reality show. (Not yet, anyway.)
But listen, if you buy the media hype that this is the harbinger of a cultural shift into the irredeemable negatives, someone’s selling the Brooklyn Bridge on eBay and you should probably stop reading now and lock that baby down with the “buy now” option before some rude, Internet-lurking jackass snipes that valuable real estate out from under you.
What, you think I’m kidding? Why, your ability to buy the Brooklyn Bridge on eBay is every bit as real and serious as the Internet’s destruction of Civility the pundits are currently pounding down our throat.
Look, I’m more than happy to pile on and cry “narcissism” on Twitter and wherever else you think it’s necessary to tell the planet you had pancakes for breakfast. In fact, I get paid tens of dollars to do just that. I continue to be shocked, but never surprised, at the vitriol people pour on each other when they can do it anonymously on the Internet.
But the Internet is not causing a deterioration to our complicated, brutal species any more than it invented pornography. There are certain evolutionary aspects of behavior that find their way on whatever platform humans are occupying at the time.
Yes, three things happened last week in which people, far from the anonymous safety of the Internet, engaged in what is universally regarded as bad, albeit entertaining, behavior. And in fact, the number three is significant, here. It does have meaning. The number three means that the media has exactly enough examples, no matter how thinly related, to create some delicious material with which to feed the news hole. And that’s all three means.
“It’s as ridiculous to bemoan the end of the Civilizing Process as it is to bemoan the end of the corset,” wrote academic/author Laurie Essig, in her True/Slant column, “How’s the right handling Joe Wilson and the end of civility?”
“If anything is universally true about humans it is that we change over time. What is highly acceptable behavior at one point becomes utterly revolting at another (do you know Medieval Princes were encouraged to pass wind?).”
(Talk about rude!)
Meanwhile, if this Civility of which you speak was truly gone, we wouldn’t be spending so much of our valuable lives freaking out about, say, Kanye West’s innocuous interlude in yet another meaningless awards show. Society is pretty good at policing itself, and that happens on the Internet as well. This is evidenced by “Ima let you finish,” the most delightful meme since the Banff photo-crasher squirrel.
We've got a Facebook quiz now (“Where will Kanye interrupt you?” ), you can Kanyelicio.us your Web site, and the Internet is lousy with Photoshopped examples of West interrupting everyone from Jesus telling the “Interrupting Cow” knock-knock joke to the delightful image accompanying this story, in which the hip hop histrionic interrupts Banff’s favorite rodent.
(Actually, I made my BFF Ree Hines make that for me because I can’t believe none of ya’ll got around to doing it yet! WTF?!!!!)
Memes are how we exhibit our social mores, InterWebs-style. Kids, it’s how we somewhat painlessly and without lecture reveal what’s expected … and what will happen to you if you don’t toe society’s line. You can’t just decide to make a meme. It has to be the zeitgeist, a community’s closing of the ranks.
(Let’s hope Kanye appreciates his meme, because it’s really hard to get one of those things.)
If I’m wrong here and Civility truly is dead and gone, it must have spent the last few millennia in a witness protection program because we sir, haven't seen it in a good long while. No doubt Civility spent its time in a single-story ranch in Albuquerque, hiding out from jazz music, comic books, TV, abolitionists, bobbed hair on young ladies and all the other societal maladies that have been after its blood since the dawn of time.
Help Helen A.S. Popkin destroy the last vestiges of humility and whatnot by following her on or friending her on . C'mon ... all the kids are doin' it!