The Unraveling of Civilization

The Greatest Generation, The Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y, Generation Z, “Boomer,” “Buster,” “Millennial,” “Silent,” “Lost.” Wow! We live in the age of classifications, and there’s a tag for every generation of people. And each generation possesses their own brand of music, art, values, and lifestyle. Keeping any sort of traditions, status quo, or consistency going across the generations is always a struggle. Change, for better or worse, is what it’s all about. And more often than not it’s for the worse, at least in the last hundred years or so anyway.

Fads and fashion come and go with every generation. Few people today know or care about the “passing fancies” of long ago. Things that once seemed so culturally important to people at the time have, to coin a phrase, been relegated to the dust bins of history. Raccoon coats from the 1920s, women’s snoods and rat hair pieces from the 1940s, Hula Hoops from the 1960s, Baby on Board signs in cars from the 1980s – all gone and forgotten, which is okay because lots of it was unimportant stuff.

What isn’t so okay, however, are the finer things of the past which we’re losing. So much of the little niceties and refinements which once were an important part of our culture are disappearing with such frequency that you can almost see them dissolving right in front of your eyes. “POOF!” There goes another one, see it?

Refinement, manners, and courtesy were the hallmark of those once called “ladies and gentlemen.” The very terms “cultured,” “refined,” and “well mannered,” sound archaic by today’s standards, or rather lack of standards. Our parent’s generation, certainly our grandparent’s generation knew the “right things to do” in public, the correct way to behave. There were rules of the road back then.

The simple act of saying “thank you” and “you’re welcome” has been displaced with grunts and “no problem.” Our language is liberally laced with obscenities and vulgarities, women and children use the terms and words as much as men do. Public demonstrations of courtesy to women are considered taboo or insulting. Open a door for a woman and instead of a smile and a thank you, you will be ignored or even get a dirty look. Stand up when a lady enters a room and people will think you’re crazy or just simply laugh at you.

Certain things were considered “private matters.” People went into a phone booth and shut the door when they wanted to make a call. They kept their voices down when speaking in public places so as not to disturb others around them. Radio and television advertisers were careful not to offend their audiences. When selling products related to personal health or bodily matters, euphemisms were used out of respect for the greater broadcast audience. Now common street terms are boldly and graphically used in the most vulgar descriptive ways when selling personal hygiene and toilet products. Matter of fact, most advertising is vulgar now.

Changes in clothing, how we dress, are indicative of our culture as a whole. Think about it. Causal dressing fits in with casual manners, casual values, and casual morals. Most young people don’t even know that once upon a time it was normal to dress for dinner. Dressing for dinner once meant black tie, then it was relaxed to a suit or sport coat and tie, now dressing for dinner means no tank tops.

Dressing up for an occasion showed respect. Not dressing up projects indifference. And most people feel better about themselves when they dress up. When people dress exactly the same way to go to church as they do to mow the lawn or wash the car, that’s a sure sign we’ve lost something as a society.

Some fashion styles and cultural fads last for only a few years while others stick around for decades. But why is it that the ones that last and last are always the ugliest? The elegance of wearing hats and gloves is gone, never making it beyond the 1950s, while wearing denim blue jeans goes on decade after decade. Droopy pants and other prison gang wear is the way the new generation wants to look. Low class is the style of choice. It goes with multiple piercings and billboard tattooing.

Consider popular music. What we call the big band or swing music era had a life span of only about 15 years or so at the most. Traditional 1950s doo-wop rock and roll lasted around 10 years before it was overtaken by harsher forms of rock. But Hip Hop, Rap music has been going strong for over 20 years now and it continues to be popular to this day. It is the longest running style of popular music in the last 100 years. The uglier the music, the longer it lasts. Why?

The music matches the movies and the television shows; i.e. vulgar, ugly, and in your face. All of it contributes to the erosion of common manners and civilized demeanor. Yes, cultured and refined had a shelf life, it was temporary. Crude and vulgar goes on forever. You can learn to live with it, or you can join me and live in the past. Come on, let’s get dressed up and go out for dinner. Jackets required.