Thursday, February 21, 2013

Stop Being Brutes

Who could hold up to this scrutiny?  Says Mantel,
"It may be that the whole phenomenon of monarchy
is irrational, but that doesn’t mean... we should
behave like spectators at Bedlam. Cheerful curiosity can
easily become cruelty... We don’t cut off the
 heads of royal ladies these days, but we do
sacrifice them, and we did memorably drive one to
destruction a scant generation ago..."
There was an uproar in the United Kingdom recently over the comments of Hilary Mantel, apparently a well-known English author, describing Dutchess Kate as "devoid of personality" and "without the risk of the emergence of character."  In fact, I'm sure the lovely Kate does indeed have a personality, but, in today's culture, as a public figure, it's always best to not show it.  And then, of course, she is criticized for not having a personality.  So, she can't win.

There was a time when journalists withheld information regarding public figure's personal lives.  Martin Luther King, whom I hold up as an example to my daughter when teaching her that the right and moral path is always more difficult than the easy, amoral path, had extramarital affairs, and the press was made aware of this fact.  Apparently J. Edgar Hoover taped these encounters and leaked the story to reporters, and Mrs. King!  But, this revelation was not made public until 1989 in an autobiography of one of MLK's associates.  In any case, I think the journalists of the day exercised restraint, and rightly focused on more news-worthy stories than the sex life of a hero.

Today, we would surely not only know about this personal indiscretion, we'd probably be able to watch the video tapes, and his mistresses would have their own reality television shows and designer handbag lines.  Just ask David Petraeus if the media shows as much compunction about airing private matters as they once did.  Just because people respond to such stories and the news outlet gets "buzz" doesn't mean that the public has the right to know.  Sex sells, we get it.  So do guns, alcohol, violence, drugs, cigarettes and the gross.  That doesn't mean that everyone's job is to satiate these lowly instincts.

I see every day the results of this crass, hateful influence.  My students are engorged with the basest forms of behavior possible at their age.  It is truly shocking how skewed their priorities are and how sad it is to realize that they aren't allowed innocence.  They swear, they show no respect to elders, their peers, authority, or themselves.  They don't value education, character, their surroundings or themselves.  Where is innocence these days? 

I am trying to raise a daughter in this environment.  It will be hard for her to navigate this small-minded world.  It is always easier to fight injustice with guns than with kindness.  It will always be more fun to play violent video games than to study.   It will be difficult for her to not feel the pressure to sext, hard for her to trust that, although she will be judged by others by her appearance, it does not matter what those haters say.  I find myself hoping that she is an outcast, since most of her peers will have fallen prey to corrupt influences.  I hope she will find like-minded friends with a future.

Which takes me back to Hilary Mantel.  In the end, I think she is mostly correct in her take of the princess.  It isn't an indictment of her, it takes aim at the press and the public, and how curiosity can easily become cruelty.  She knows the history of the royals, and I think she understands that they once put forth a pre-rehearsed facade, leading Britons by example, but now their entire lives are fair game for scrutiny.  "I'm not asking for censorship.", she says, "I'm not asking for pious humbug or smarmy reverence. I am asking us to back off and not be brutes."


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