An Old Fogey sounds off on coarsening of language, dress, music, and manners

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imagesHas American culture become gross, coarse, vulgar? If I say yes, I no doubt will be dismissed as an old fogey. Well, I do say yes, so there. And if you disagree, I say you are blind, deaf, zoned out or just plain stupid. Now take that!

I will be the first to admit that sometimes old-fashioned manners needed to be modified with changing times, and I’ve had to laugh at myself more than once because of ingrained habits.

When I started in the legal profession, women lawyers were rare. Now they are at least half the profession, but when I first took the bench I was accustomed to standing when a woman entered the room. Needless to say, I quickly realized that I would become a Jack-in-the-Box if I didn’t modify that rule.

I’ve had many a woman law clerk over the years, and passing through a door could be an ordeal, with me competing with my clerk over who opened the door and allowed the other person to pass through first. Sometimes it was like dancing a minuet in front of the door.

As I tell this story, it occurs to me that some readers may not even know that in the “olden days” a gentleman always opened the door for a woman companion, and the man always allowed the woman to walk ahead of him. Then came the Sixties, and soon some women were acting offended if you offered to open a door for them. How many times today do I see a man walk into a restaurant or around a store with a woman trailing behind like a puppy at heel? Too many, for my taste.

But some old habits hang in there like tattered shirts on a clothes line. A while back in a restaurant in Door County I saw a family hopping and jumping up whenever a female member of the group left or arrived at the table. All the young men at the table wore blue blazers. In today’s casual culture, especially in a summer vacation venue, the clothing and performances seemed stilted. Still, notwithstanding the awkwardness and silliness of it all, there was a certain charm in the valiant attempt to cling to the manners of yesteryear.

But I digress. When I speak of the coarsening of America, I am not primarily focusing on manners. I am talking about the virtual abandonment of what were accepted standards of decency and courtesy in entertainment, language, and dress. It’s hard to know where to begin. Stand in line at a department store and listen to teen-agers bandy about the F Word as the all-purpose adjective. Take the time to find out what’s in the lyrics to the latest iTunes song your children love. Or listen if you dare to the hate-women lyrics of rap. You may shudder—or, now that I think about it, you may chuckle and laugh it off as the way kids are nowadays, in which case you are part of the problem. In fact, you are the problem.

And then there was the high school sports coach who described a talented player in our family newspaper as “frigging good.” I suppose we should be grateful that he used a euphemism for The F Bomb. To be sure, having been exposed to the military life, I am aware that in certain subcultures rough talk prevails, and I accept that, but from a high school coach?

Speaking of the Sixties (they seem so tame now), that decade saw the birthing of the Sexual Revolution, ballyhooed as so beneficial to women. One could only feel pity for the single woman who recently told an advice columnist that dating couples are pretty much expected to sleep together by the second date. I guess there’s nothing like getting to know one another. I can just hear the guys hee-heeing all the way to the prophylactic shop.

Yes, yes, I know, times have changed. It’s all part of the leveling of America. None of that snooty English manners stuff. We are all equal. . . .Equally vulgar, that is. Is it true that Miley Cyrus is being considered for Time Magazine’s Person of the Year? Surely, that’s a joke. Speaking of Miley, is she the new Madonna, only worse? I know a young woman whose best defense of Madonna was that she is a good businesswoman. Hmmm.  And then there’s Lady Gaga.

Of course, every older generation sees the final collapse of society in the behavior of young people. Elvis’s gyrating hips were too much, and Ed Sullivan’s TV cameras were not allowed to show them. Close dancing was frowned on. Nowadays schools have to battle to keep kids from simulating the sex act at the school prom.

And then there’s politics. The filth directed at women that has spewed forth from the mouths of a few TV personalities makes a sewer seem like a swimming pool. But I’ve sounded off about them before, so I will calm down and do something useful like shovel snow. Come to think about it, the snow nowadays is a lot worse than it was once upon a time.

About Stan Latreille 66 Articles
Stan Latreille is a novelist, blogger, lawyer, former newspaperman, and a retired Circuit Court judge. He is the author of "Perjury" and is working on a new novel, tentatively titled "Absolution."