9780312263898 / 0312263899

A Short History of Rudeness: Manners, Morals, and Misbehavior in Modern America





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About the book:

If Americans value civility and good manners so much, then why have they made celebrities out of people like Jerry Springer, Howard Stern, and Dennis Rodman? How is it that political discourse came to be dominated by discussions of semen-stained dresses and mutual accusations of immorality and civic unfitness? Is the United States a nation of hypocrites? No, suggests Mark Caldwell, it's just really confused. "We want to be free, but we long for restraint," he writes. "We insist on openness and cringe when we get it; we strain at trivial offenses and swallow camels of iniquity."

A Short History of Rudeness flits around the obsession with good manners and moral behavior, touching upon a number of aspects of public life (the workplace, mass transit, the Internet) and private (child rearing, home design, sexual politics). Along the way, Caldwell strings together an array of primary sources--including newspaper articles, business etiquette manuals, and South Park episodes--that help explain why people pay attention to Martha Stewart, whether Dr. Spock is really responsible for multiple generations of spoiled brats, and how users of the Internet developed a blunt discourse that, while superficially crude, exhibits a desire for decorum at its core. (Why do we feel justified in flaming spammers? Because they violate our sense of privacy.) The cultural obsession with manners and morality unfolds as part of a deeper anxiety over class. While the individual sections of A Short History of Rudeness are not always revelatory, Caldwell's slow but steady approach is at least innovative in the particular way he chooses to fit together these pieces of the social puzzle. --Ron Hogan

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