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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Celebrities, recession fuel interest in etiquette


    When Britney Spears exited that car without underwear, was she displaying poor etiquette? I don't know- is it poor etiquette to excite the interest of people all over the world?

    Reuters has a hilarious article about the recession and celebrity misbehavior inspiring more people to study etiquette. That's what the headline states (see the title of this blog post).

    First, I would like to look at some definitions of "etiquette," since I am unclear as to what it means. Merriam-Webster defines it as

    * Date: 1750

    : the conduct or procedure required by good breeding or prescribed by authority to be observed in social or official life


    Being an anti-authoritarian myself, that sounds a bit sinister to me. Dictionary.com has (an) even more thorough definition(s):

    1. conventional requirements as to social behavior; proprieties of conduct as established in any class or community or for any occasion.
    2. a prescribed or accepted code of usage in matters of ceremony, as at a court or in official or other formal observances.
    3. the code of ethical behavior regarding professional practice or action among the members of a profession in their dealings with each other: medical etiquette.


    The third one I suppose I can't find fault with, since I expect there to be accepted standards of practice in something like medicine, as long as it doesn't lead to rigid do-it-the-same-way-every-time thinking. Every patient is an individual, after all. As to the other two- again, who makes these rules? Why are they accepted?

    There's also another definition:

    n. The practices and forms prescribed by social convention or by authority.


    Again, that word "authority." I don't like it. One should question authority.

    Wikipedia calls it

    a code of behavior that influences expectations for social behavior according to contemporary conventional norms within a society, social class, or group. Rules of etiquette are usually unwritten, but aspects of etiquette have been codified from time to time. Rules of etiquette encompass most aspects of social interaction in any society, though the term itself is not commonly used. A rule of etiquette may reflect an underlying ethical code, or it may reflect a person's fashion or status.


    That's pretty vague. These are unwritten rules according to contemporary conventional norms within a society. This could mean anything. Today, for instance, a lot of people are "sexting." Is that bad etiquette? What if it becomes the "contemporary conventional norm within a society"? (CBS News says that "sexting" is "shockingly common among teens.")

    But the article suggests that something like "sexting" is the opposite of etiquette:

    Misbehaving celebrities and the recession have pushed more people to improve their etiquette in a bid to gain an edge over job rivals and inspired lifestyle books such as "How to be a Hepburn in a Hilton World."



    Did anyone ask Lindsay Lohan's nipple for an opinion on the etiquette question?

    The "misbehavior":

    [Paris] Hilton is infamous-for a lewd sex tape that became and Internet hit, [Lindsay] Lohan has long been gossip fodder due to her public drunkenness and [Britney] Spears was splashed across tabloids partying without underwear.


    First of all, if you're "inspired" in any way by the antics of these women, then you probably have too much time on your hands. I'm not one to judge. Second, read the paragraph again. Ignore the spelling/grammatical error ("sex tape that became and") and read the words I highlighted. These are famous women, attempting to be more famous. As famous as possible. Their actions have helped to keep them famous. It's helped them to "gain an edge over job rivals." Within their "social class or group," being photographed without underwear is a good thing (I believe they've all been photographed exiting cars without underwear). Lots of young celebrities have sex tapes, and those are becoming more common every day. As is, of course, "sexting." (Again- remember, CBS News says that "sexting" is "shockingly common among teens.")

    In other words, Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Britney Spears are the vanguard of the new etiquette. The author of the Reuters editorial, and the author of the book "How to be a Hepburn in a Hilton World" are laggards.


    Paris Hilton is at the forefront of a new etiquette movement. As a result, she is vilified by those being left behind.

    And if it really is a "Hilton World," why would you want to be a "Hepburn?" Maybe if you were an anti-authoritarian, or a contrarian. But if you're interested in etiquette, it's in your best interests to conform to the norms of the society in which you find yourself. It might be distasteful to the author of the book to be photographed exiting a car with no underwear, but- as the title of her book says- it's a "Hilton World."

    But author Jordan Christy's agenda is something else:

    "For too long this 'stupid girl' behavior has been burning the daily headlines and I really think there's a lot of people out there who wanted to see a return to our feminine values...I hope that the book serves as a call to action to the young women of this generation to stand up and take back our dignity and our values and our self respect. It's great that we have seen this resurgence in etiquette and manners and self respect."

    Does she really think that Paris Hilton is lacking self-respect? Does she think it's stupid for a person trying to be famous to engage in activities that keep her name in the news?

    Just because you disagree with the way someone conducts herself, does not mean that she lacks "dignity." One could call the author a prude, if one were as judgmental as she. But one is not. So one will not.

    You'll also note that she conflates etiquette with manners and self respect. Etiquette and manners are not the same. I don't feel like getting definitional again, but look at Merriam-Webster's definition of "manners":

    plural : social conduct or rules of conduct as shown in the prevalent customs c : characteristic or distinctive bearing, air, or deportment d plural (1) : habitual conduct or deportment : behavior (2) : good manners e : a distinguished or stylish air


    It starts off poorly, with that vague "prevalent customs" term. That could be "etiquette." But then it says "characteristic or distinctive bearing, air, or deportment." You can't tell me that doesn't apply to Paris Hilton et al. They certainly have a distinctive bearing. Of course, "distinctive baring" is what so troubles the author of the "Hepburn/Hilton" book.

    I think it is bad manners to criticize someone's etiquette, when there is no way of knowing what the words even mean.


    Miss Manners is a talented writer who gives serious advice. It's only too bad the Reuters article had to conflate her with Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Britney Spears. Miss Manners' articles can be found here.

    The article continues with this howler:

    That resurgence has also generated popular reality make-over TV series such as VH1's "Charm School" and Britain's "Ladette to Lady," which see wild young women compete against each other as they are taught how to behave like a lady.


    Clearly, this person never once watched "Charm School." She didn't even read my fabulous recaps. If she had, she'd know that "Charm School" was silly and arbitrary, and designed for the aggrandizement of the people in charge.

    Oh, wait. I guess that's what etiquette is, after all.

    (As for "Ladette to Lady." That's a much better, more focused and serious show than the tawdry "Charm School," and the two shouldn't be mentioned in the same sentence, which is why the first sentence of this parenthetical was awkwardly structured.)

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