• Fri, Nov 4 2011

A Polite Southern Response to the Stupidest Article Ever

I’m gonna call it: This is THE STUPIDEST ARTICLE EVER.

Let’s break this shit down, ya’ll, beginning with the title:

A Last Bastion of Civility, the South, Sees Manners Decline

Admit it. Those commas are terribly hostile.

If you click over to the actual article (which I highly encourage you to do because the “Civility on the Brink” slide show is priceless), you’ll see there’s seven paragraphs of stereotypical blahbitty-blah race/gender conflict stuff that’s totally valid, but not entirely interesting due to its stereotypical blahbitty-blahness so let’s jump on down to paragraph seven, where it becomes clear that this is THE STUPIDEST ARTICLE EVER:


“The Tavern at Phipps case, and a growing portfolio of examples of personal and political behavior that belies a traditional code of gentility, have scholars of Southern culture and Southerners themselves wondering if civility in the South is dead, or at least wounded.”

Oh, heaven’s to Betsy! Swoon! We Southerners are betraying our “traditional code of gentility” and there’s a whole freaking “portfolio of examples” attesting to this. Wait. Let me consult the Important Documents Concerning Southern Civility in my attaché case because I am a southerner and we carry shit like that around because…

“’Manners are one of many things that are central to a Southerner’s identity, but they are not primary anymore. Things have eroded,’ said Charles Reagan Wilson, a professor of history and Southern culture at the University of Mississippi.”

Yes, manners are “central to a Southerner’s Identity.” Once upon a beautiful southern time, they were “primary” to the Southern identity. Indeed, our manners were the absolute most important thing about us… but now “Things have eroded.” Completely.

Never mind that….

“To be sure, strict rules regarding courtesy and deference to others have historically been used as a way to enforce a social order in which women and blacks were considered less than full citizens.”

” In the Jim Crow era, blacks and whites lived with a code of hyper-politeness as a way to smooth the edges of a harsh racial system and, of course, keep it in place, scholars of Southern culture say.”

 

OMG, our “strict rules regarding courtesy and deference”- which have “eroded” and which we are mourning the loss of right here in this, THE STUPIDEST ARTICLE EVER- totally camouflaged the fact that we were, like, majorly not polite to black people and women. And they reinforced our “harsh racial system,” which kept 2/3rds of the population a position of inferiority. Obviously there will be dire political consequences now that we’ve no manners to keep the black people and the women in their place…

“[Y]ou have a situation where saying ‘thank you, ma’am’ isn’t good enough anymore.

‘There are just so many more complexities,’ Professor Wilson said. ‘Manners and a code of civility can’t help you negotiate everything.’”

Because, for reals, the world is far more complex when the veil of “courtesy and deference” is removed and our “harsh racial system” is exposed in its full glory. You can’t just “Thank you, ma’am” that shit away. That’s a good thing.

[A brief aside re: this...

“Some say the South’s great cities seem to be losing civility faster than country communities, where stopping to ask for directions can still end in an invitation to supper.”

Dear whole wide world,

If you’re traveling in southern country communities and stop to ask for directions, there's maybe a .02% chance you'll be invited to supper. And that's only if you stop at my grandparents’ house and mention my name.

“As a result, reliable affinities once based on race or religion are gone. ‘It used to be that an African-American could trust an African-American down here,’ she said. ‘Those days are long gone.’”

Now that the one thing “central to a southerner’s identity” has “eroded” and we've lost the “courtesy and deference” that held together our “harsh racial system”, and “manners and a code of civility” are no longer an available negotiating tactic (ie. “The ability to pour Southern charm over the political process”), we have “no reliable affinities.” Trust other people at your peril, my friends!

(Again: do not ask for directions expecting invitations to dinner.)

Who or what, pray tell, can we blame for the destruction of the “Bastion of Civility”?

“But [Dana Mason, who teaches second grade in Birmingham] and others point out that manners are on the slide everywhere. Mrs. Mason blames a faster pace of life and the demise of the home-cooked family meal.

‘You don’t need to know all your social graces to sit down at McDonald’s and eat a burger and fries,’ she said.”

Yes.

Truth.

Obviously, the loss of the “courtesy and deference” that was the glue holding together our “harsh racial system” and through which we built all of our bonds with one another is due to “the demise of the home-cooked family meal.”

Incidentally, dear Mrs. Mason, I think you are not from the South. Because a real Southerner would know the one truth that all Southerners hold dear: the reality that, if anything is holding the South together, it isn’t manners or civility. It’s air conditioning, biscuits and barbecue.

At this point, I assume you, dear readers, are all totally convinced that the apocalypse is nigh because the Southern system of good manners has crumbled beneath our satin dancing shoes. But take as deep a breath as your corset will allow because there’s more. So much more.

Like, for instance, the revelation that Southern brides are total bitches…

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  • Eileen

    I think that a long time ago The New York Times was a respectable paper?

    But I’m reminded of Lilit’s post from a year or so ago in which she pointed out that etiquette and manners are really just a test to make sure you’re coming from the right social class and know how to play the game. And also, as you pointed out, of the fact that the South has a shit-ton of problems that have nothing to do with the fact that they’re capable of being as impolite as us Northerners.

  • Maggie

    What kills me is that, as a southerner, I will say most of the men I was romantically involved in, shall we say, had some of the finest manners, yet were the biggest dicks. Oh, sure, they opened doors, suavely offered seats, etc. But at the core? Terrible people. And I swear, it took me longer to realize that because I had to get through all the manners first!

    Current boyfriend is a city-slicker from Chicago. I don’t know that he’s ever sprinted around the car to open a door for me, but I can tell that he genuinely loves me from other, non-manner-related, genuine actions.

    So what if “manners” are slipping? They were just a thin facade anyway to brush over all the social injustice that were around. I don’t need a seat offered to me anymore because I’m not about to faint due to my corset restricting my airways. And I’m kickass at opening my own doors.

    I hate sifting through BS when dating someone, so the death of superflous manners is fine by me. I will, however, always hold on to “bless their heart.”

  • traci

    as a Louisiana girl, i will admit i will still yes ma’am and no ma’am you to death. that is just how my momma raised me. but come onw now ya’ll. really!?!?! and my interpretaion of bless your heart is ” you poor dumb bastard” hahaha

  • oline

    @e, i agree. even if it’s not intentional now, the culture of manners certainly has its roots in keeping everyone in their right place- whether that be based on class, race or gender.

    @m, AMEN, sister. my experience has been similar and politeness only goes so far in masking a core of dysfunction.

    and @t, i’d be curious to see whether “bless your heart” translates differently across state lines. is there anywhere in the south where it actually does mean “god bless you”?

    • alexandra

      No. It means, “fuck you.” Everywhere. Sometimes in Virginia people don’t know what it means, but then they tend not to say it.

    • Maggie

      I think my boss put it best when he said, “Now I’m from the South, which means once I say ‘Bless their heart,’ I can say whatever I want after.”

    • oline

      @m, i vividly remember sitting in a chicago bar a few years ago while the north carolinian i was dating attempted to explain that principle to my friend from detroit. her mind was blown.

      @a, this makes me want to go to virginia and bless everyone’s heart just to see if they comprehend.

  • JLee

    Maggie, I too have noticed how southern gentlemen have that honey tongued, well-mannered, chivilrous thing going on. I’ve always felt that they seemed thoughtful, not necessarily out of kindness, but because they thought that being a female caused one to be half retarded…therefore requiring them to be kind and well-mannered to us lesser homo sapiens. SCREW YOU DIXIE.

  • Sarah

    I agree with most of the comments here. I just moved to New England from Southern Missouri. Not exactly the South, but close enough. People here are definitely not as polite but I find people much more honest and overall nicer. Manners, by definition, are somewhat phony. And I think that encourages an overall state of being kind of disingenuous. At first it was very jarring to have people be so blunt with me, but now I really appreciate it. In conclusion, manners are nice, but honesty is better!

  • Kathy

    I’m a Savannah (southern) woman and a teacher. I expect courtesy and respect from my husband, students, and sons. Teaching manners and expecting children to respect elders and one another makes for a wonderful classroom climate. Don’t ridicule southern manners. It’s not a false veneer but a disappearing nicety in a world filled with hate and ugliness.

    • Leigha

      Yup, filing a claim for $3 million dollars against men who wouldn’t give up their seats in a bar…we need more of that in this world. And courts ruling in favor of the bars doing it, now that just makes EVERYTHING cheerier.

      You know, except that those men were paying customers, and they were their first, so there is absolutely no way they should have been expected to give up their seats, and it’s ludicrous that any court would do more than just dismiss that case out of sheer stupidity.

  • MR

    Well as is, my family has had a winter residence in North Carolina the last 5 years – thanks to my grandmother. Yes, the residents are all very pleasant, but in my limited experience – I’m usually only there during the Christmas holidays – I’ve always felt there is this pulse below the surface.

    I like history and have read a lot of it and think to really get the South, you’ve got to understand the Civil War. The North (that is, the Union) fought not to free the slaves, but to preserve the Union. Hmm, could this be why it took all the way til the early ’60s to finally poliitically and legally adress the race issue in this County? And yes, what disgrace. But the truth is the North wanted a ‘single’ wage earner, based economy that didn’t include slave labor. The South (that is, the Confederacy) fought to preserve the slave labor component, mostly to the benefit of a small political and economic elite, also known as the Planter Class.

    I think the North’s ‘Wilderness’ battle campaign and its objective, the final destruction of the South’s army, says it all. There in the last year of the War, the North’s full military and industrial economic weight, including all its male population advantage, crashed down on the non industrial South. 5 times during it, the North (Grant in command) hit the South (Lee in command), and each time the South pivoted and faced the North again. Grant knew overtime he could break the South (Lee) under such pressure, but the South (Lee) didn’t run and wasn’t overrun.

    You know if it weren’t for Lyndon Baines Johnson’s (LBJ’s) balls, that is his steerage of the ratification of the Civil Rights amendment in ’64, who knows where we would be today. The South and the rest of the US are now one, and the debacle of Vietnam aside, that will always be LBJ’s legacy. So Southern politeness is being undermined? Then so be it.

  • len132

    I definitely think the article was a bit strange, and verged on stupid. However, I am a southerner, I have been my whole life. There are a whole lot of problems here, many which are rooted strongly in our history of agrarian economy. If you look at other countries, the same pattern has occurred. Regions with more industrialization are more educated and liberal, precisely because they are richer as a whole.

    I think a lot of our problems, and why they have persisted so long, is because of regionalism in the United States and how we are perceived. I have a slight southern accent, and you would not believe how it changes the way people treat me. If I turn it off, I am a smart, educated woman. If I go with it, I am an ignorant southerner.

    We are people. Many of us think it’s crazy not to say “ma’am” or “sir” or not to open the door for the person behind us. That doesn’t mean we are secretly judging you or implicitly racist. And yes, there are plenty of racists here, but there are also plenty of people who hate racism just as much as you do. We just won’t talk to “yankees” about it, because it has been made perfectly clear what you think we are.

    • MR

      I realize I’m northerner, and yes, my comments are meant to be objective. You’re right. LBJ was a southerner (Texas fought with the Confederacy) and only a southerner could address the problem. JFK gets too much credit, but was all LBJ. Cause only he, a southerner, could hold all the marbles that delivered the solution. Just so you don’t think I’m too snarky, and cause I wanted to prove I got thick northerner skin :) , this past summer, I hiked in the Appalachian Mountains in the South. First, in northern Georgia and then very eastern Tennessee. Yeah, I found race is still a very sticky issue. But a Georgian helped me immensely; helped transport my rental car, which I leased in Atlanta, back to Atlanta. She let me push on without the car drop off detour in Asheville, NC, which was suppose to be part of my rendezvous with my brother.

  • Shiantric Gozon

    Indeed a very stupid article :)

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    Dildo