We’ve gone from smiley faces to ‘in your face’ indignance

September 10, 2002 9:04 AM


Chivalry may be long dead, but now civility is on life support as well. Nastiness in all forms is taking over American life.

Hopefully the first day of reckoning will come for the slobs who call the shots on nighttime television programming. Sooner or later people will revolt against the standard trash fare now offered, with V for violence, AC for adult content, AL for adult language, and of course N for nudity a caveat, or perhaps a come-on, for the majority of late night shows.

Of all the vices I have been charged with over the years, prudery is not one, and I defer to no one in my admiration for nudity, in the right place at the right time. But I cringe for the serious young actresses, many of them high school or college dramatic stars seriously intent on a career on stage or screen, who are told as a first requirement to take off their clothes and hop in bed, on camera, to feed the grist mill that grinds out grade D productions for late night television. Of course, late night in the east is prime time Pacific, and somehow on-screen sex at dinner or during dessert also annoys me, and grieves me for those raising young kids today.

The terminal illness of civility extends far beyond nighttime television, of course. It permeates every aspect of daily life, from conversation to dress to good taste to plain old manners. 

In Ohio, a Congressman who is drummed out of Congress as a crook vows he will run again, regardless. In New Jersey, the current senatorial race finds the incumbent spending most of his time defending his record that Congress declared scandalous with a serious reprimand. In New York Andrew Cuomo, pulling out of the gubernatorial primary, wonders in print if he wouldn’t have been better off if he had tried a negative campaign against his black opponent.

The scene in college athletics is so bad that the New York Times devotes almost half a sports page to a column with the headline, "Simply No End in Sight To These Transgressions," saying, "Here we are at this uncomfortable juncture at which serious crimes committed by college football players and cheating by athletic programs are no longer unusual or occasional but almost commonplace."

One of the problems feeding this player lawlessness is the conduct of frantically insecure football coaches and athletic directors who, terrified at the thought of losing a key player who can’t tell right from wrong, conjure up some wimpish excuse or meaningless penalty to make sure he isn’t lost to the team, not even for a game.

None of this should be surprising in an era in which corporate morality and ethics have run amok and virtually disappeared. What is really needed is not a restatement of corporate profits, but a restatement of morality in general, and a long look at the cesspool into which we have descended.

Manners, of course, seem an antiquated subject in the overall scheme of things today. If I were back courting ”” a pleasant but wistful and wishful thought ”” I could become an overnight star simply by opening a door or giving up a seat.

Which reminds me of an incident on a crowded bus, where a comely lass hops on, sees no seats, and asks a clod near the door if he would mind giving up his. He stays seated and looks at her sullenly, until she tells him she is pregnant. Embarrassed, he offers his seat and says, "I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you were pregnant. My wife is seven months pregnant, but in her case it’s really obvious." Now seated comfortably, the lady replies, "Well I’m only 40 minutes pregnant, but I’m so damned tired I just had to sit down."