Wednesday, September 16, 2009

'Mr. President, no lie, I'm gonna take this ball and...'


I don't like this latest incivility spree any more than you do. As many have pointed out, this week served as something of a nationwide case study in just how rude we've become. First House member Joe Wilson heckles the president during a major speech to Congress, then Kanye stages an impromptu protest over what he views as a snub of Beyonce during an awards show, then the tennis players weigh in at the U.S. Open*: Serena melts down, threatening in a profanity-laced tirade-for-the-ages to force an intimate relationship between a tennis ball and a tiny cowering official, which prompts frustrated men's favorite Roger Federer to show that he knows all the nasty words, too. (Speaking of frustration and not knowing how to be gracious, I got a kick out of the way Federer later framed his young opponent's victory, and I wonder how many tennis fans caught it. "Maybe I look back and have some regrets," said Federer during the usual post-mortems, "but, you know, you can't have them all and you can't always play your best [emphasis added]." Which of course implies that 20-year-old Argentinian pituitary case Juan Martin del Potro** could not have won unless he happened to catch Roger on a bad day.)

Getting back to Wilson, though, we may be losing a bit of perspective here. The Brits, after all, have a reputation for being almost surreally polite and circumspect in their use of language...but Jesus, have you ever watched a meeting of Parliament? This one is pretty mild and relatively good-naturedI didn't have a lot of time to scour YouTubebut it gives you some idea. Makes the goings-on in Congress seem syrupy-sweet.

* These are not necessarily listed in sequential/chronological order, for those of you who obsess over sequential/chronological accuracy.
** He appears freakishly tall on TV, even at six-foot-six.

10 comments:

Steve Salerno said...

And to show you how thin-skinned we've become, I actually got a comment just now accusing me of "racism" for using the Serena Williams vid as my illustration for the post. Interestingly, the comment was quite vile in its own right. I guess my accuser has no sense of irony. I've also heard it said that you can't really fault (NPI) people like Williams for their profane eruptions, in the same way that you can't fault the NFL's black wide receivers for their elaborate and sometimes oft-putting end-zone celebrations, because it's "just part of the culture." That may be all well and good...but how far do you take it?* Hell, bashing people's heads in with a Louisville slugger may be part of my culture, but I don't expect others to just look the other way when it happens. ;)

* And incidentally, that's why I always admired the great Barry Sanders for his style of play. No muss, no fuss when Barry scored: Just put the ball down or hand it to a ref and trot over to the sidelines.

RevRon's Rants said...

What I find most disappointing is how we seem to celebrate the lowest common denominator in human behavior. An idiot who screams loudly will usually get more attention than a genius who speaks softly. A legislator who screams lies gets bigger headlines than does a president who actually works to solve problems. And the cameras seem to lock in on the athlete who acts out, while ignoring the ones who put a workmanlike effort into the entire game.

Even giving a tacit pat on the back to a boorish politician (which I readily acknowledge was not your intent) by stating that his boorishness pales in comparison to the Brits' behavior in Parliament is, IMO, a perpetuation of this negative trend.

I guess that when everyone else is shouting, it becomes almost necessary to join in, just to be heard. Pretty soon, nobody even tries to just talk...

Steve Salerno said...

I think that's an excellent point, Ron. At times we fall into the Nightline syndrome: Ted Koppel used to deplore the celebration of violence in America, but then he'd do a show about the plague of violence in America, which, in some backhand sense, was celebrating it all over again...

Once in the course of researching a book (which never got published, but that's a whole other story) I attended a murder trial daily. The judge, who'd been brought in from another district after the original judge recused himself, gave all of his rulings and instructions from the bench in a near-whisper. He believed that by talking softly he forced the lawyers and others to lower the decibel level of their own lawyerly rants--even to shut up entirely--so that he could be heard. It worked. All of the regular beat reporters agreed it was one of the quietest (and also best-run) criminal trials they'd ever covered.

Anonymous said...

Steve: I don't think you're a racist tho I definitely think racism is behind alot of the tea parties and other protects directed at Obama. I too was struck by the whiteness of the crowd in DC last weekend, also so many of the things being said about Obama sound like the typical covers for racist attitudes.

Noadi said...

It's been a good long time since we've had something like a senator beating another with a cane during a session (look up Preston Brooks and Charles Sumner if you think I'm kidding). So we have gotten used to civility in Congress and I think that's a good thing.

I don't fault Serena too much because it was in a heat of a match. Adrenaline is going, she was frustrated, so she lost control. That sort of thing could happen to anyone in such a situation, doesn't mean it wasn't wrong or shoudl be condoned just understandable. Joe Wilson and Kanye West it wasn't that sort of situation, even if they were emotional about things it was a situation where they should have been able to control themselves.

Debbie said...

Isn't that interesting. Here in Canada, we're more used to a Brit-style Parlaimentary session. I quite enjoy listening to them. They make me chuckle.

However, I did think Kanye West was waaay out of line. Suck it up, bud. More members voted for Ms. Swift.

Hypocritical? Maybe. I guess I've just grown up expecting certain behaviour in certain situations, and government sittings do not equate to awards ceremonies in my book.

Steve Salerno said...

Debbie: Yes, I could be wrong, but I think I recall a memorable exchange between Mulroney and members of your Parliament once, though perhaps I'm misremembering, as our own intellectual leader, George Bush, once put it.

And hey, if Kanye thinks Beyonce got slighted, imagine how I must feel watching jazz (and its more serious, inventive practitioners) go virtually ignored in awards shows year after year after year.

Soylent_Greenis said...

Stick former Australian prime minister Paul Keating's name into You Tube and you'll see we very much practise the rowdy British parliment model as well. The man was famed for his ability to insult people during Question Time

Cal said...

I would love for the U.S. to adopt the British model. It would be terrific for POTUS to have to answers questions from members of Congress instead of these useless press conferences and speeches to Congress. I guess I'm kinda tired of the forever campaign rallies, even after a person is elected President.

As far as tennis, the sport is quickly becoming just like the others in that being extremely tall is almost a requirement now.
Two instances for me:

1) In seeing Melanie Oudin at first, I thought she was a midget. Just kidding (a little). I mean every one of these female players she played was a giraffe. But Oudin is 5'6", which is taller than the average female in the U.S.

2) I watched John Isner play Andy Roddick and the whole time I said to myself that this guy can't be as tall as he seemed to be on TV. I thought maybe it was the camera angles. But then in the press conference after he lost to Isner, Andy Roddick said, "You can't teach 6'9"."

Steve Salerno said...

Cal: Or as we say in my resident idiom of baseball, "Speed never has a slump."