“The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars,
But in ourselves that we are underlings.”—Shakespeare
If we are going to consider ourselves and call ourselves “the civilized world,” then we are going to have to act like it.
My mother was a lot of things, some of them psychologically interesting, but she was also an English teacher. A good one. One who knew not only that words mattered, but that sometimes words mattered more than anything else.
And both she and my father shared a common belief that parents were obliged to instill in their children and reinforce through their own actions a simple and non-negotiable rule of behavior: females were both required and obliged to act like ladies and males were required and obliged to act like gentlemen.
And in that, they were far from alone. There was a time—because I lived in it—when that was, if certainly not hard and fast, at least more the rule than the exception in this country, and a time in which those who did not adhere to that standard were looked upon as well, tacky.
But clearly that time is past, that standard has been discarded. And as a nation and as a people, we are much the worse for it.
As much as I hate to say it, contemporary America is, more times than not, rather inexcusably tacky.
Much ado (sadly, for reasons mainly political than propitious) is being made over two of the most recent examples of that, respective regrettable public pronouncements by what we are (euphemistically?) calling comediennes Roseanne Barr and Samantha Bee.
Both have long been provocateurs; neither has recently been referenced as a lady.
And both last week crossed the sometimes difficult to define (especially in matters of comedy or satire) line of what at least used to be common decency. But you know what? Even if I might have problems defining that line, just like art and pornography, I—and I suspect a lot of you as well—know it when I see it.
I think most folks have either read or heard by now, and I have no intention of contributing to the delinquency of discourse by repeating them here, but in case anybody remains in the dark on this, let’s suffice to say that Barr’s remarks were racial epithets of the worst order in reference to a former Obama advisor and Bee used (not for the first time) what I think might just be the single most despicable word that one can say about any woman in reference to the president’s daughter. (I am no prude, and I can even appreciate the value of a little creative cussin’ from time to time, but that word even offends me.)
Barr’s TV show was promptly cancelled by ABC, and as this is being written, calls are loud and abundant for TBS to do the same with Bee’s show.
For the record, I’m no fan of censorship, in any of its forms.
And neither will I fall into the ethical trap within which so many now squirm by trying to justify one of those remarks as being somehow worse than the other. That is nothing more or less than politically inspired sophistry, and unworthy of many now employing it.
But far more important, it seems to me, far more revelatory in a big picture sense, is not that these two unfortunate women said these two unfortunate things, but rather that they felt as if they were able to say them. That it was—now, in the current environment—somehow “OK” for them to say what they did—one to her conservative followers and the other to her liberal followers.
And it is not, people. It is not OK. It is, what it always has been—tacky—and were my mother still alive, she would suggest they both need “their mouths washed out with soap.”
And consistent with the Bard’s Roman tragedy, we have no one to blame for this but ourselves. Oh, no, we didn’t say these things, but we allowed them to be said. Acquiescence equals acceptance in courts of law and public opinion and the more boisterous among us take their cues from our silence, are emboldened by our indifference.
We must demand a return to what at least those of us of good upbringings know to be common decency. We must insist that the current coarseness of culture be softened to the level of acceptability.
And for the love of heaven, we, ourselves, at very least must stop making things worse.
We can differ absent anger, which turns to hate; we can even argue, without those arguments devolving into epithets and obscenities. We can insist that those we elect to public office and those to whom we extend the privilege of entertaining us do the same.
We can return to civility, again. It remains right where we left it.
Ray Mosby is editor and publisher of the Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork.