Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Inelegant and Rude

We are in an inelegant and rude age.  If I look for definitions of the word ‘inelegant, I get ‘unstylish, unsophisticated, tasteless, vulgar, unpolished, clumsy’ and ‘awkward.’ If I dig a little deeper, in a thesaurus, say, I find ‘gawky, graceless, maladroit, ungainly, splay,’ and ‘uncouth.’ I particularly like the word splay, which I did not know existed until a few minutes ago. The Encarta dictionary defines inelegant as ‘lacking grace, sophistication, and good taste in appearance or behavior.’ Which I think pretty well defines these times.

I dislike today’s über relaxed styles. I’m offended by 14-year-old girls with uplift bras that have little to lift, and 14-year-old boys trying to emulate pimps. The fact that we have taken baseball caps and made a fashion statement of wearing them backwards makes as much sense to me as crotchless men's underwear. I am only slightly placated by the fact that in the 16th century, it was considered elegant for aristocratic ladies to grow their pubic hair long and tie bows and ribbons in it. Two centuries later, the height of fashion was false eyebrows made out of mouse skins. So maybe being a kid who likes to wear his pants around his knees is OK. He doesn’t know better. We can’t say the same for buyers of high-end jeans who have made a utilitarian pair of trousers into largely useless pre-faded pants that will never see a day’s hard work. In fact, I’ve often wondered about the purpose of a $200 a pair of denims. Is the wearer pretending to be a worker among workers, or mocking the working class as a whole by implying his pants are worth more than a day’s labor and are dry-cleaned? It’s all pretty mysterious.    

What irks me more than the uselessness of fashion in our times (though I am relieved we no longer use cod pieces) is behaviors that seem to have crept in at about the same time we started inventing more and more ways to say less and less. I find it incredibly odd to see a young couple sitting at a table, each engrossed in their phone or tablet. I wonder about young parents whose children are running amuck in public spaces, and it strikes me that I have never seen anything like this in Europe.  Perhaps Pamela Druckerman, author of the bestseller Bringing Up Bébé, is right in thinking that “the French, (who in her world are educated professionals living in the Paris area) handle pregnancy, childbirth and early childhood better than obsessive, competitive American hyper-parents.”

I am certain as well that inelegance has crept into the way we drive nowadays. We’ve become aggressive, rude, impatient and careless. We talk on the phone and text while at the wheel, and think nothing of blocking intersections and driveways. Statistics show that cops are issuing more moving violations, and traffic courts throughout the country are handling more cases than ever. For a while, road rage was front page news. Now we seem to have accepted its existence as part of living here, much as we’ve accepted handguns, mass murders (defined as the killing of more than five people), greenhouse gases and tasteless tomatoes.

So inelegance and rudeness are close cousins. Public Agenda, part of The Pew Charitable Trusts, found in a study that “most Americans surveyed say rudeness is on the rise in our society and 41 percent admit they too are sometimes a part of the problem. Unhappiness with reckless drivers, cell phone abuse, poor customer service, swearing and litter came from big cities and small towns in all geographic regions as large majorities of Americans say they believe life truly was more civil in the past. And American business is paying a price for the lack of manners - nearly half the people surveyed (46 percent) say bad service drove them out of a store in the past year.

“Among the report’s key findings were:

·        79 percent of Americans say lack of respect and courtesy should be regarded as a serious national problem;  

·        73 percent believe Americans did treat one another with greater respect in the past;

·        62 percent say that witnessing rude and disrespectful behavior bothers them a lot and 52 percent said the residue from such episodes lingers with them for some time afterwards;

·        Six in 10 believe the problem is getting worse, and;

·        41 percent confess to having acted rude or disrespectful themselves.


One of the more noteworthy findings in the Public Agenda survey was how little respect rudeness has for boundaries: experiences with bad behavior were virtually the same whether one was from the North or South, rich or poor, living in a big city or a small town.


Gee. We’ve finally found something the entire country does well.









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