As I listened to some Rolling Stones the other day (as follow up to the clip I included in my post) that ^^^ line, from Sympathy for the Devil, leapt out at me as it often does. It is such a well-turned phrase. ‘Well-learned politesse.’ The very words scream decorum. In an understated way, of course. And so applicable to us here in Canada. Where we are internationally stereotyped as being so very polite that we will apologize those who run over us with their cars. We must have somehow been in the way.
Politesse is often used derogatorily- as if the courtesy displayed is somehow over the top, or insincere. I get that interpretation- hyper-politeness is something that pops up every now and again. I admit to using it myself. If someone is being rude, I have a tendency to pull out all the stops as far as excessive manners- and mannerisms- go. Politesse can be a weapon. Although it’s not one that seems to be at the top of the list these days.
Relatively recently, and for the first time, I watched a couple of episodes of Due South– that amusing show about an RCMP Constable (in full red serge get-up and complete with deaf, but sign language understanding, wolf-dog- named Diefenbaker. Love that) who finds himself as the liaison with the Chicago Police Department. The show, starring the talented Paul Gross, plays up the stereotypical differences between us and our neighbours south of the border. Constable Fraser is constantly looked at askance for his polite responses and intrinsic courtesy. The series is based on one of the go-to beliefs about us Canadians- that we are unfailingly polite in all circumstances.
Not so much anymore, it would seem. We are losing it. Or perhaps we’ve already lost it, and those few people who retain manners and common courtesy are the exceptions that prove the rule.
I don’t get it. How hard is it to extend a little respect to each another?
Manners, like most mores, are culturally and temporally relative. Things like personal space, (in)appropriate touching, spitting (ugh), horn honking, gesturing… all these actions and sensibilities are shaped and affected by environment. Toronto is a very multicultural town. It’s one of the things I love about it. I’ve always thought that we do a pretty good collective job about respecting the intricacies of navigating the cultural divides that are part of life in this city.
I’m starting to wonder. And I’m not sure if the lapses in courtesy can rightfully be blamed on these cultural differences anyway.
I have been hearing an inordinate, and distressing, number of low-grade racist comments lately. Some of them are feedback from the idiocy happening in Quebec, but some seem to be rooted in the realities of the economy and the tensions that arise between ‘natives’ and immigrants when the job situation is miserable. No excuse, and I make every attempt to shut it down when I have the misfortune of hearing ridiculous comments, but I do have to say that I am noticing it more and more.
Distressing as that is, I think there is a real and growing issue that has nothing to do with prejudice but nonetheless is representative of mass-ignorance and a lack of basic respect. Its symptoms can be seen across our many means of communication- and there certainly seems to be a quiet acceptance of the idea that bellowing obscenities at the top of one’s lungs is now well within the realm of what is deemed okay. In politics OR polite company.
I’m not a prude. I can talk some trash with the best of them. In more than one language, actually. Sometimes an expletive is just the ONLY way to fully and adequately express the depth of chagrin one feels in a particular situation. Words are powerful- and the way in which they are used can be extremely illustrative of any number of things. That’s not to say that some words haven’t been invested with more baggage than deserved- they are just words after all. Context in use of language, as in history, is everything.
This trend toward a complete lack of manners goes beyond words, of course. The other morning, on a crowded subway, I was the only person who even bothered to offer my seat to a heavily pregnant lady- who accepted it with such relief and obvious gratitude it made me embarrassed for the rest of my fellow travelers. That there were people considerably younger than me who sat and stared straight ahead, pretending not to notice as she struggled to find a space to stand comfortably, made me more than a little angry. What are we teaching kids these days?
And then I started seeing the editorials about the latest Ford crap (yes, I said crap– sometimes not using an expletive carries its own power) and I realized that there is little wonder that we are losing our collective sense of propriety and common courtesy. Look at who is running the city. And the brother he rode in on. Yet these guys are celebrated for their ‘earthiness’, their ‘non-elitism’, their ‘salt-of-the-earth-ness’.
There is a difference between being ‘one of the guys’, a ‘good ol’ boy’ and plain-spoken and sounding like extras on a show like Trailer Park Boys…
That’s why this had to be said. Just when you thought the guy couldn’t sink any lower in an estimation of dignity and decorum… The free-fall continued. And dragged his wife- and her lady bits- into his descent.
And yet Sun TV (our Canadian equivalent to that wonder of journalistic integrity, critical thinking and fact checking- FOX News) has just given the brothers Ford a TELEVISION show…
Since the move, I now have access to a cable package with a different variety of programming than I had previously. I can catch up on The Walking Dead (assuming I overcome boredom with the whole zombie thing) and get into shows like American Horror Story (what’s this fixation with the dark side all about. Never mind. I know the answer to that) when I have some free time. I also get Discovery now- a station with shows about science and such that I very much used to enjoy. Now it seems to be showing a whole load of programming about hillbillies making and selling moonshine. One of these moonshiners has even scored his own spin-off, it would seem. Much of this programming requires sub-titles. Even though they are, ostensibly at least, in English.
Why are we all about the lowest common denominator lately? Why are the Honey Boo-Boos and the ‘Worst Drivers’ and the Duck Dynasties being given forums in which to display the depths to which we are sinking?
Okay. I have to admit that I’m currently hopped up on methamphetamine (meth is made with Vicks cough syrup, right? I haven’t watched any of Breaking Bad so I’m a little out of the make-your-own drugs loop) due to a brutal cold that I can’t seem to shake, so between the meds and the cough drops and the lack of adequate sleep, I might be overreacting
Perhaps it’s because our elected leaders are
allowed encouraged to speak as though they barely graduated high school and want nothing more than to party with the boys at the weekend.
This article sums things up pretty well.
The opening segment on Saturday Night Live last was, of course, about the mayor and his ongoing descent into infamy. Was it funny- with the use of the stereotypical Canadian ‘accent’, peppered with ‘ehs’ and ‘aboots’ and the like (we really don’t speak like that)? It was. Bobby Moynihan (I LOVE ‘Drunk Uncle’- he has to be one of my favourite current characters) did a great job as the blow-hard that is acting as our Chief Magistrate.
But. Along with the exhaustion that came along with awareness that our city has now been featured on EVERY major comedy outlet I can think of, was the reality that Bobby’s impersonation was really faaaaaaar too articulate and courteous to reflect the reality of the man he was sending up.
His Rob Ford- presented as a comedic caricature- was a much more dignified character than the real Rob Ford. With whom we remain forced to contend on a daily basis.
The first ‘news’ story I saw this morning, when I turned on the tv to get the weather forecast, showed Ford entering the Sun TV studio to film his new television program.
I weep for the future. Of this city. And for this society that increasingly encourages and rewards boorishness while deriding politesse and common courtesy. I’m just OUT of words. Expletive or not. In any language.
P.S. Today is a big day for the city of Toronto. It’s Santa Claus Parade Day- the 109th annual, making it the longest-running children’s parade in the world. The organizers asked that the mayor NOT show up to to walk (as mayors traditionally do) so that the focus would not be removed from the children. Kudos to the Santa Claus Parade peeps.
AND… the Grey Cup Champion Toronto Argonauts are about to meet their arch-rival Hamilton Ticats, just next door at the Dome, for the Eastern Final. Oskee Wee Wee, my ass. The Argos organization (Pinball Clemons is among the classiest men I know) ALSO reminded everyone that they have no direct affiliation with the mayor. Especially necessary since he was wearing an Argos jersey when he made those oh-so-classy comments about his wife the other day. There does seem to be some sense rearing its head here and there in town. ARRRRRRRRRGOSSSSSS!