Good Manners And The New Radicalism

08Apr08

In these times of institutionalized rebellion and state-sanctioned nonconformity, what are the last true radicals to do? There was a time when sticking one’s fingers in the air was an act of defiance, when dying one’s hair or cutting it at odd angles was edgy and cool, a display of bold individuality. No more.

Tattoos? As risky as Wednesday night A&E and with all the character of the average dumpster full of consumer electronics waste.

Poor spelling and grammar? The new vernacular of a generation raised on pop-up ads, perpetual pornography and Ritalin.

Punk rock? Co-opted by the mainstream, churned through the marketing/focus-group machine and polished to a blinding sheen, fresh faced and freshly inked.

‘Intelligent’ discourse? Dead: everyone thinks they’re a genius these days, spawned by overindulgent parents and nurtured by a society that would rather bomb another country into oblivion for their natural resources than risk offending a stupid person by calling them ‘stupid’. Below-average IQ? Don’t fret, with the right name and enough money, you too can become leader of the free world.

Balaclava-clad, fashionably cause-oriented activism? The domain of upper-middle class kids who want to kill some time between backpacking around the developing world and their eventual admission to law school and consequent life in party politics and gated communities.

You could always chuck a fire bomb through the window of a Wal-Mart, but they have no windows and, besides, our obsession with ‘terror’ has nullified any romance once attached to the venerable Molotov cocktail. After all, what’s the point of doing something if the thrill is gone? Blow up a Wal-Mart and you’d just end up with Target knocking on your door, looking for an endorsement and some marketable bad vibes, maan.

So what does one do to shock and unsettle in this age of shit?

Be polite.

Now, hear me out.

Manners used to be associated with the stodgy establishment, the genteel-accented upper crust that kept us in our place with regimented language and social codes, and perhaps they still are in some circles, but this matters not, because the fact is, most people are too busy chasing a dollar to pay attention to the courtesy rituals they were raised to value. Ignorance is bliss, after all, and my god are we an ignorant bunch.

Common courtesy, taking the lead of its cousin common sense, has become a thing of the past, confined to dusty novels and Rockwellian scenes of whitewashed domestica from an era predating the cell phone. Manners are the ivory-billed woodpecker of daily interaction; people do not know how to react to them anymore. For example, here is a recent exchange I had with a coworker during lunch break one evening:

Me: <buuuurrrp> Excuse me.

Him: What?

Me: Um, I burped, so I said ‘excuse me.’

Before wandering away, he stares at me with confusion intact for another five seconds as though I had sig heiled or told him I had a thing for twelve year-old girls. What the hell?

Ok, fine, perhaps he was caught off guard by my belch — it slipped out before I could do anything — but really, is this the state of civilized human interaction, circa 2008? I burp, I say ‘excuse me’, then you say ‘certainly’ and everything is peachy… no awkwardness, no strife, no regrets. A good system, no? Apparently not.

And just try holding a door for someone.

Most every Saturday, I walk to the local farmer’s market to get a donair, a few wontons and maybe a German pastry or three. The market is usually quite busy, with constant heavy traffic through the doors which I invariably end up holding for upwards of five or six people at a time. Do I receive a simple ‘thank you’ for this service? Maybe one time in ten, if I’m lucky, but at this point a simple acknowledgment of my presence would suffice — fleeting eye contact, maybe even the hint of a smile. But no.

So, fuck the world. Eff. Tee. Dubbleyou.

I’m gonna be polite even if it kills me. I’m gonna flaunt my good manners, say ‘please,’ ‘thank you,’ and ‘excuse me’ when I expell gas. Hold doors, smile at people in the street, help the elderly at crosswalks and laugh at jokes even when they’re dreadfully unfunny (Dane Cook notwithstanding).

It’s all I can do, until someone decides to replace the anarchy symbol with a happy face and figures out an effective way to picket bad manners. But until that day, brothers and sisters in righteous decency, all we can do is join hands, raise them to the sky and scream in unison until someone hears our cry…

COMMON COURTESY NOW!

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5 Responses to “Good Manners And The New Radicalism”

  1. i’m working as a shelf stacker now and i can safely say that here(ireland), older people are far less polite than younger people.

  2. 2 arsebundren

    Fer sure. I didn’t mean to imply that any one demographic is more or less rude than any other, sorry. I worked at a corner store for nearly two years and encountered rude, miserable people of all ages on a daily basis. Luckily, the nice ones are the ones I remember most often.

  3. i remember none except the one who gave me the ten euro tip and the freakishly tall woman that must’ve been nearly 7’0″

  4. 4 Lovely lovely

    haha you should definitely read the book “talk to the hand” by Lynne Truss

  5. 5 arsebundren

    She’s the “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” one, right?


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