Every once in a pretty long while, on the TV evening news, say, and simultaneously in "The Kansas City Star" and the current "Time," magazine, I suddenly notice a sizeable gathering (well, two or more) of brief news stories on the always-interesting subject of human boorishness. You know, so-called civilized adults behaving, for a moment or more, as if they'd somehow been exempt from the laws of human evolution?
A whole tribe of Conan the Barbarians reborn in the post-Emily Vanderbilt age of IBM and ATMs. Well, get used to it! It's coming your way, if it hasn't already taken refuge in your very own house!
My first example: the honored, duly elected U.S. Senator (Sorry, I've already made a point of forgetting his name! ) who, in the audience to hear President Obama speak to all of us Americans on urgent matters, shouted to momentarily drown him out and let all the people listening know that he personally thought the man was a "liar." As many presidential addresses as I've seen and listened to in my lifetime, that one's got to come in an easy first as the most cowardly and boorish. May the benighted people of the state that elected the man to his Senate seat have the good sense to vote him out of office as readily as they voted him in.
Oh, sure, the boor apologized for his shameless behavior the next morning. (Don't they all? Didn't the upstanding Mr. Vick, shortly after his arrest for bloody cruelty to a multitude of killer-trained dogs, come to his senses and express deep-seated feelings of shame for having deprived his football team of his own highly-paid services?) The long-range effect, however, is that once such an elected official loses control of his mouth, there's always someone else who'll copy him -- in the so-called "copycat syndrome." After that, it's all but certain to become habitual.
And now, just this past weekend, tennis star Serena Williams managed to spoil the amazing victory of her dismayed young opponent (Just look at the near-panic on the girl's face!) by losing control of her own blazing temper and becoming momentarily anything but serene. Maybe the woman's had scant experience in putting a lid on her temper in defeat. She doesn't, after all, lose a lot of games. But, in front of millions of TV viewers, she really "let it all hang out," as they used to say in the '60s. Her language, directed at the line judge, who was just doing his job, but whose call had ignited a fury just itching to be ignited, was not the kind I used to hear on "Mr. Rogers's Neighborhood."
Her classy, pricey aluminum tennis racket? After her little snit, it looked like the "Twentieth Century Limited" had sped over it -- a few times.
Not too long ago, tennis star John McEnroe introduced us all to the shabby art of insulting and flipping his lid at tennis judges, leaving these poor but highly conscientious souls to look around them in despair. What should've been done -- and by whom -- to nip McEnroe's bad, to say nothing of time-wasting, habit in the bud? Suggestion: his father, on the Long Island courts where his precocious son was learning how to serve -- should, at first sign that John had a temper, taken the lad behind the barn and whaled the tar out of him with his belt, the way dads did in those days of yore. In the old days, tennis players barely grunted from fatigue. Now they all moan and cry out like farm animals in heat.
So, where did this new (well, in the last half century, say) boorishness come from? My own hunch is that it stems indirectly from the fairly recent (during the reign of the excessively influential John Dewey, say) notion that repressing a child's innner most urges will lead to neuroses and other funny-labeled troubles later on, when he's / she's an adult. Don't stifle a child, in other words, even if you don't quite understand why he's drawing green stick figures all over the pages of your century-old family Bible. OK, let him cut the tail off the 10-year-old family beagle, Porgy; you don't want to curtail his innate creativity, do you? John McEnroe, Michael Vick, Serena Williams -- they're only exercising their God-given creativity. Leave 'em be!
We all seem so smug about having the technology to send a person into space, to fix a telescope while we're up there. But what can we say about the record number of Americans we have rotting in our prisons these days? How do we explain and excuse a U.S. senator getting up and accusing a fellow-Congressman of lying? How do we explain to a promising young tennis star why a rich and renowned athlete, whom she's suddenly in the process of taking to the cleaner on the courts, erupts like nothing more than a spoiled brat? In terms of much that matters, we Americans, once the envy of the world, seem to be progressing -- but backward.
If you think I'm wrong, let me know. If you think I'm right, it may not be too late to paddle your erring youngster's behind.