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…

“Civility is also waning at that most civil of events, the Southern wedding. How comfortable a bride made guests feel was once the mark of a successful event. Now, weddings are more selfish affairs, said Barbara S. Clark, the owner of An Elegant Affair in Raleigh, N.C., and a graduate of the Emily Post Institute.

‘It’s more about the bride and groom and what are we going to get out of it,’ she said.”

Selfish sluts! Imagine wanting to enjoy your wedding day. Lord, have mercy!

So, hey, I know you’re dying to see some of this new, uncivilized South for yourself. Fear not! We (ie. the whole country) are going to have front row seats to the freak show come Fall 2012.

“The country will have a chance to see Southern civility on display next September, when Charlotte, N.C., hosts the Democratic National Convention.

Life in Charlotte is not as pleasant as it once was. Like many other American cities, it has its share of road rage and rudeness. And although crime rates have dropped, in May the city called out its Civil Emergency Unit and arrested 70 people who rioted two hours after the end of a Nascar event.

But in the best of Southern tradition, the city will try to lead with its manners come September.

‘It’ll be all sweet tea and hush puppies,’ says Michaele Ballard, a writer and lifelong Southerner.”

I’ve given you a lot to take in here. A veritable buffet of Southernness and, as all Southerners know, that shit’s rich. As a good southern hostess, it’s customary to give your guests a moment or two between courses to digest, so let’s take a step back and spend a few moments here reflecting.

We are now in the 32nd paragraph of THE STUPIDEST ARTICLE EVER, which has been published in The New York Times. Thus far, it has peddled a version of the South wherein the region’s biggest problem is its loss of manners, an assertion so flat out ignorant that I can find no appropriate end for this sentence.

Yes, there’s a paltry two-sentence nod in the general direction of the admission that those manners attempted to conceal racism and inequality but— aside from the opening anecdote, which is presented as a novel, though grievous, loss of chivalry rather than a continuing social ill— there’s no notice paid to the continued existence of that racism and inequality.

We’re talking about a region of the country with high illiteracy, high poverty, epidemic obesity, imperiled educational systems and massive wealth disparity. Nine out of our nation’s ten poorest states are located here.

An article on any one of those topics could have drawn attention to issues that continue to plague the region. But- and this is why it fucking sucks to be a Southern writer, because you can see so clearly what needs to be said and you know The New York Times is never going to say it- when people look at the South, they’re either blind to these issues or they’re too polite to tackle them seriously. Instead they observe that our manners are slipping, as though that were our biggest problem.

We need righteous anger, not musings on civility.

Oh, sweet Jesus, bless our hearts.

But back to that paragraph, the one full of shockers… Life is not pleasant in Charlotte? Southerners experience road rage and rudeness? Fetch me my smelling salts!

There’s something deeply sinister happening here but I can’t quite tease it out. It’s somewhere in the fact that it took people “two hours after the end of Nascar” to organize a riot and the cool, calm assurance from the “lifelong Southerner” that the DNC convention will “be all sweet tea and hush puppies.”

But, really, there’s got to be more to this death of manners. Aside from “the demise of the home-cooked family meal,” who else can we blame for the erosion of southern gentility?

“Mrs. McLeod [who has spent decades teaching thousands of children ballroom dance] attributes the slide of civility on the stress of families with two working parents and children who have not been held accountable for their actions.”

Ah, yes, “families with two working parents.” And children. Let’s blame the kids just for kicks. And let us also draw reassurance from Mrs. McLeod, who is not discouraged by the selfish weddings nor the loss of the “courtesy and deference” and the “home-cooked meals” that were “central to a Southerner’s identity” and the backbone of our “harsh racial system.”

“[S]he is undaunted.

‘I will not give up,’ she said, firm in her belief that Southerners still want to raise children who are kind and well-mannered.”

I would like to end with this:

 “Manners also helped create the South’s famous ‘bless your heart’ culture — a powerful way of seeming to be polite without being genuine.”

First of all, New York Times, points to you for the adjective “famous.” I would not have gone there. I give you props because you did. Second, further points for the civility of your definition: “A powerful way of seeming to be polite without being genuine.” Because, as every Southerner- lifelong or otherwise- knows, “bless your heart” is Southern-speak for “fuck you.”

This is a guest post.