Monday, September 14, 2009

A Note on Public Behaviors and Decorum

I suppose it's fair to say that most of us have examples of "open mouth, insert foot" episodes. It's part of being human and not always controlling our respective linguistic output. However, there's a difference between calling out, in jest of course, someone at your Thanksgiving table as opposed to yelling at a public figure when millions of people all over get to experience you in all of your unencumbered verbal glory. That has got to be as a good a reason as any to go into therapy. Or anger management. Whichever is easier to get into. If I had a dime for every time I've heard people say 'where have manners gone?!', I'd probably have an unlimited supply of Starbucks.

I've been thinking about public outbursts of bad linguistic behavior lately and this past week was, alas, fecund when it comes to illustrating this very point. Let me start with last Wednesday night when President Obama delivered his health care speech at a shared session of Congress. When the president was still mid-paragraph, Congressman Joe Wilson of South Carolina interjected: 'you lie!' The incident may be viewed here.
I felt embarrassed. For everyone involved. I don't know if Rep. Wilson has Tourette's or if he has general impulse control issues. I really don't know nor am I interested in exploring the question. This is an example of total disregard for place and decorum and with a public job comes an obvious sense of responsibility.

Naturally, it is hard at times to keep one's self from reacting somehow when hearing things one might find controversial, difficult to accept, comical, and so forth. I am still reminded of an episode back in grade school when the teacher was scolding the class as a collective and I had this unctrollable urge to laugh outloud. If I knew back then was anyerisms were, I would have thought I was about to give myself one. But still, I knew I had to do all in my power to hide the laughter and appear serious if only to avoid unpleasant consequences. Consequences, I could understand. Maybe Rep. Joe Wilson didn't have a strict education growing up. Or maybe he skipped dinner and as a result his blood sugar was out of whack. Maybe. Be that as it may, when the representative of the highest office in the land speaks, it sort of makes general sense that you listen even though the content might not necessarily align with your own views.
Ouch, very ouch.

Enter episode two from Saturday night when Serena Williams was playing against Kim Clijsters at the US Open semifinals.

On match point, Serena Williams was penalized a point for unsportsmanlike conduct. Protesting the line judge's call, she went over, shouting and cursing, pointing at the judge all the while thrusting the ball toward her.
Some of what Serena said was: "If I could, I would take this ... ball and shove it down your ... throat." Hmm.
Now, Serena was obviously under a lot of pressure and the call was not correct. It happens. Unfair treatment happens but it's probably not a good idea to get into a battle. And again, there are cameras out there, folks.
However, I do have to say something here about gender.
Back in the day when John McEnroe used to throw tantrums, most people would be understanding and John would usually get a 'oh, he's a boy being a boy.' Still, Serena was fined $10.000 among other things so she is facing the consequences of her behavior.

Episode Three: The Video Music Awards

I did not watch the Video Music Awards last night mostly because I privileged the season finale of Hung over on HBO and also because the majority of musicians who are featured on the VMA's don't play an active role in my playlists, ergo, there wouldn't have been much of novelty and therefore interest for me to consider it. The only act I was interested in seeing was Muse and that, thanks to YouTube, I got to experience this morning.

When I woke up this morning I noticed that Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC's Morning Joe was talking about Kanye West stealing the thunder from Taylor Swift and radically embarrassing himself on the VMA's. You may consider this particular incident as yet another sabbatical from decorum here. Very ouch.

People say that Kanye is a genius and therefore all the temper tantrums are somehow forgivable. No, not quite. Another petpeeve of mine is how easily we throw the word 'genius' around. I don't know why Kanye is a genius. I don't know if we should believe such a title because, well, he tells us so. Be that as it may, genius should not preclude the need for manners and decorum for without them how can we maintain order and civility? In all candor, I have found myself in public spaces where they play "Stronger" or "Jesus Walks." My first impulse reaction is to say, "Oh, please, play something else. Please!!" But I don't say so outloud because, obviously, a lot of people like Kanye's music. Respect needs to be conferred irrespective of who gets it. I'd rather hip and hop to T.I., but de gustibus non est discutandum.

In sum, maybe a bit of anger management and a visitation of the lessons learned in kindergarten, would do these folks some good.

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Becca said...

I've been thinking about this overall lack of manners, too. When did it become ok to be rude and completely self-obsessed?

Becca said...

I didn't see the VMA's as all I wanted to see was Muse. Unfortunately, I didn't really feel seeing a bunch of things I have no interest in, just to see Muse live. I can always see them in concert, which I prefer anyway.
And I'm glad I didn't ahve to see the Kanye spectacle. Poor Taylor. It'll be good publicity for her, though.
And lucky Jay Leno gets to have Kanye on tonight. Ah, the publicity gods are busy at work ;)!

Anonymous said...

They do need to go back to kindergarten, I agree. All of these huge egos and prima donnas. I mean, really!

Dieter said...

And Kanye, no, I don't know about genius.
I'd rather give that title to Beyonce, in all honesty. She's got class too, on top of all sort of other better things than you possess!

Unknown said...

Right. Ooh, I'm a tortured artist and a genius, rules don't apply to me. Please. Just, get over yourself, Kanye and take a lesson from Beyonce. That's how it's done. Good heavens, what a prima donna!!

Dana said...

The Serena thing was odd, no doubt. The thing is other players act up all the time. Her language was awful, though and if were that line judge I'd be a bit scared, no doubt.

Sra said...

It's weird how there are so many incidences of bad behavior in one week. A symptom of our loss of manners as a society. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar, they say. Even if someone has a legitimate gripe, it is in their best interest to address it in a respectful manner.

Candace said...

That's the thing, civility and decorum are not a luxury, they're a social necessity!