Thursday, March 22, 2012

Did You Forget Everything Your Mother Taught You?

I apologize to the memory of Will Rogers, to whom I have mistakenly attributed a quote for many years. The proper reference is, instead, from Winston Churchill, who said "If two people agree on everything, then one of them is unnecessary." I substituted the second phrase "...then one of them ain't thinkin". I always liked that line; it captured the wry, yet kind nature of the wit of this unique American character. The point of all this: it's acceptable, even rational, to have disagreements.

I have been rigid in my opinions for as long as I can remember. I can still recall my father's stern admonition that other people were not necessarily stupid, just because they had a different point of view than my own. He must be spinning in his grave now, given the current state of discourse in the land.

It's been eight years since Jon Stewart famously caused Crossfire to disappear from the airwaves. If you have forgotten that incident, he accused this standard of political debate of failing their opportunity to elevate the discourse. Within weeks, the show was gone. I purposely ignored that show, as I did not observe any debate on issues; instead, the people representing the different sides mostly tried to speak louder than the other one.

Since that time, the conversation has become much less civil and, if possible, more polarized. Issues have become so charged that it is no longer acceptable to disagree. Some examples:
  • The most-watched evening political tv show host tarred a physician in Kansas with the epithet "Tiller the Killer". After the man was gunned down, this host denied any responsibility for the act, while inferring that it was a good deed.
  • During a Presidential address to a joint session of Congress, a representative from South Carolina loudly yelled "you lie" during part of the speech. This rude character saw a large spike in his fundraising.
  • It may have been in the same address, when the President stated that a recent Supreme Court decision would have severe consequences, leading to more involvement of money in politics, one of the Associate Justices mouthed the words "that's not true". Actually, it has proven to be so.
  • The leading Republican Presidential contender has spent more money on negative television ads than all his competitors have spent on all media ad buys. While "going negative" is believed to be a winning formula, the end result is that fewer eligible voters participate in each successive election cycle, as they have become so disenchanted with the process. I think the fairy tale about the golden goose is applicable here.
  • The most popular host on talk radio recently spent the better part of three days accusing a young woman of having negotiable virtue. His apology, issued only after the bulk of his advertisers ducked for cover, was, at best, half-hearted.
  • Regarding that episode, the host's minions immediately responded with the argument that folks on the other side have done the same thing, which, apparently, makes it acceptable.
Good grief. In all my years, I have found that most everyone had a mother who instilled the same basic tenets of good manners in their children. Such aphorisms as:
  • If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.
  • It's rude to interrupt another person while speaking; allow them to finish before you speak.
  • Don't call people names. While sticks and stones may hurt more, words can still harm.
  • Everybody's different.
Finally, about that whole notion of equivalency, that many have used to rationalize that radio host's uncivil harangue: The fastest and easiest way to lose an argument with my mother was to justify my behavior by stating that someone else did it or said it. If it was something verbal, I would get the threat to wash my mouth out with soap. As I truly believed she would do this to me, I would not repeat the offense.

Disagreeing with another is a hallmark of a free society. I can have a differing point of view than someone else (which I do, with many), but I do not hold up a sign of them with a Hitler moustache. I do not shout them down. I do not accuse them of being a socialist, fascist, wingnut, parlor pink or idiot.

While I wish I could state this as eloquently as Will Rogers, I'll merely wonder why so many people who are in politics or television seemingly neglect everything their mothers taught them. It's nothing a time out or a good bar of soap couldn't cure. In the meantime, I would prefer to hang out at the final bastions of courtesy remaining on the planet: a golf course or a Chick-Fil-A.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

I'd Rather Be Ironic

In my life, I have found a few campaigns that warranted my support. There was the quest to call out those who leave shopping carts wherever they deem fit in a parking lot. You know, those ill-mannered sorts who cannot take the additional 60 seconds required to return said cart to its rightful place. Another nit that sticks in my expansive craw are those who chew gum with mouths open. Age and its subsequent accumulated wisdom has taught me, however, that sometimes the juice is not worth the squeeze. I cannot unlearn years of boorish behavior by ranting about gum-chewing habits (including that nasty one of discarding said wad wherever one chooses) or people's neglect of others' cars in parking lots.

A few weeks ago, I wrote of the continuing presence of one of the most overused words of 2009. No, my friends, that post was hardly iconic. In that brief span of time, I have seen this dreaded word in the following contexts:

In reading a discography of Diana Krall, mention was made of her marriage to the iconic rock singer, Elvis Costello. While his aim may be true, I would no more rank Mr. Costello with the ilk of Frank or Ella than I would liken Jonathan Papelbon to Mariano Rivera. I will concede that fewer years are required to merit this exalted status in baseball. I would caution the writer who elevated Mr. Costello: when he functions as one of the great practitioners of his art for a half-century, I will place him in the pantheon with Ms. Fitzgerald and Mr. Sinatra.

An ad for Coach purses: "Classic style, iconic design." I would only give such an appellation to a hotel designed by Morris Lapidus, or to a museum designed by I.M. Pei, not to some over-priced handbag.

A headline today: "Iconic Mall Razed". Does a building that has sat empty for 3 decades achieve this status merely by appearing in the Blues Brothers movie?

Billboard on I-75, north of Atlanta: "Be Iconic", with a picture of Usher as a boy, who, apparently, was a member of a Boys' Club. I would venture a guess that, as a lad, young Raymond may have expressed a desire to be famous or talented; I doubt he aspired to be iconic.

Is there no escaping this dreaded part of the lexicon? Will I have to join the ranks of Zonker Harris (the Doonesbury character who, in the mid-70's, embarked on a doomed campaign to ban leisure suits) in the listing of Sisyphean causes, unconquered?

This appears to be a battle I will not win. Instead, if this word must be cast about, some guidelines: For an athlete, only if they can dominate their sport for more than a decade. Music or acting? As Meryl Streep has been nominated for an Oscar in each of the past 5 decades, I would hold that up as a standard that warrants the term. A building? I would recommend one that is revered for its originality for at least a half-century to be included in this club. I would not, in contrast, cite all those big league lookalike stadia that sprung like mushrooms in the 70's (Three Rivers, Riverfront, Veterans, etc.). For shopping malls, well, let's just omit them from the list altogether.

If it's all the same to you, I'd just as soon be called ironic.