Public Decorum: A Thing of the Past?

(Originally published in Main Line Life 3/5/08)

Warning: If you experience any of the following symptoms while reading this column, please either call your physician, listen to the Beatles White Album backwards, or fold this newspaper in fourths and whack yourself in the face. Symptoms may include shortness of breath, uncontrollable laughter, blurred vision, bloating, blind rage, boredom, constipation lasting more than four days.
I hope you aren’t eating breakfast, or lunch for that matter. Because the topic I am about to discuss is not a pleasant one – in fact, it is just plain gross. Nevertheless it is a subject that needs to be addressed. Somewhere along the way, decorum in our society has been eroded away, and now we are continually bombarded with nauseating images and icky people on television and in real life as well.
I use the word “decorum” with some trepidation. I do not consider myself to be all that prudish, but it seems to me that certain topics that were once considered unmentionable are now being discussed openly and freely with no thought to propriety. At the same time, a sense of decency in how some people dress in public also seems to have gone by the wayside.

This thought struck me the other evening as I was eating my dinner in front of the nightly news. I was tuning in to get the latest breaking political news from the revolving cast of celebrity pundits when a commercial came on for chronic constipation, something you don’t really want to consider when you are eating dinner, or ever, really. A few minutes later, a new commercial featured some lovely older women who had the exact opposite problem. Eeww.

I had just plunged my steak knife into a nice, juicy sirloin when suddenly the top news story came on – an expose on inhumane treatment of cows, along with a side story on beef recalls and mad cow disease. There were horrible pictures of sick and mistreated cows, and believe me I am totally for the humane treatment of our precious cows. But couldn’t they just save that story for a Michael Moore movie?

There are just certain words and phrases that we all know, but that perhaps we don’t want to be reminded of when we are relaxing at home watching American Idol or the Presidential debates. I count among those words anything to do with: diarrhea, bowel obstruction, four hour erection, flaking and itching, the heartbreak of psoriasis, male pattern baldness, hemorrhoids, maxi-pads, or basically anything to do with “that time of the month.”

If you have children at home, it is even worse. When your kids are young and the commercial comes on with the ladies who have the “going problem,” or the guys who need a little boost in the “love action” department (I’m trying to be careful here, after all this is a family newspaper), it is just so embarrassing to have to give them an answer when they ask, “Mommy, what’s a four hour erection?” (“Go ask Dad,” is the correct answer.) But it is just as embarrassing when your children are older. When commercials come on for “feminine products” (see I can’t bring myself to even mention them), or one of nine million other formerly unmentionable products, I can barely make eye contact with my son, who is twenty-two.

Maybe this squeamishness is just a generational thing. Maybe twelve year-old girls with Juicy plastered across their backside, or guys with their pants hangin’ low and exposed are cool and trendy. Maybe there is no reason to have your bra straps tucked in or your underwear covered by actual clothing. But personally I don’t care to see the tattoo on your left cheek, or your thong underwear.

In this age of instant information, we are subjected to an onslaught of all news, all the time, without any filters. I don’t want or need to hear about the sex lives of politicians and other celebrities, especially faux celebrities. I don’t want to hear about dresses with questionable stains on them or be exposed to kinky videotapes or discuss any bodily functions whatsoever. Some things are simply meant to be private.

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