The Endangered Class


Jon Minus Kate is Great!

Back before he sold Jell-O pudding and became the patron saint of black gentrification with The Cosby Show, Bill Cosby hosted Picture Pages and was the creative force behind Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids.  He did all the voices of the kids, including one little wannabee pimp named Rudy.  When he disapproved of someone’s behavior he would come up with a rejoinder “Man, you are like school on Saturday.  No class.”

Classiness is an endangered species these days.  Some of us were foolish to believe that the recent election of a cerebral president who thinks before he speaks, weighing his words carefully, always with the big picture in mind, would usher in a new era of politeness.  But alas, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad is yet another false dawn.

Look around the world of sports.  Over the weekend, former Arsenal striker Emmanuel Adebayor scored a goal for his new team Manchester City over his old team.  Following longstanding tradition, players do not usually celebrate goals against former teams, at least not overtly.  Instead, Adebayor broke with tradition by running the length of the field to taunt the Arsenal away fans, inflaming an acrimonious situation.  And for the record, delibrately stepping on an ex-teammate’s face isn’t going to win him any Lady Bing trophies either.

In college football, you have University of Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin trying to rouse his fanbase (and unsettle his rivals) by accusing University of Florida coach Urban Meyer of cheating (when he, uh,  didn’t) and boasting about how he looked forward to singing Rocky Top all night long after beating the Florida Gators at their home stadium (before he has ever coached his first game).

Michael Jordan is inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame and gives a speech dripping of egotism, basically saying “Fuck You!” to everyone who didn’t believe in him, somehow missing the point that he is widely celebrated as the greatest athlete of all time.  As I was born in Chicago, I am appreciative of everything he has done to lift the city’s spirits as a sports town, and while I admire him as the preeminent basketball player in history, for all his charisma he doesn’t strike me as very likeable.

The gentile sports of tennis and golf are not immune.  At the U.S. Open Championship, Serena Williams threatens a line judge with bodily harm, in the process forfeiting a semi-final match.  And whenever Tiger Woods hits a bad shot, you should probably tell your kids to earmuff it.

Not that the world of showbiz is a place to look for ideal behavior, but look at what has transpired over the past few months.  With Kanye West’s outburst, everyone was shocked, but it became front page news because he raised the bar on unacceptable behavior.  I think a lot of people, even as they shook their heads, were secretly thrilled to take notice of something notable over the mass media cacaphony.

These days we cannot even expect our leaders to behave, as the right-vs-left internet proxy war has bled into the halls of Congress, with Joe Wilson yelling out “You lie!” during President Obama’s address to the nation regarding health care.  Rational argument has taken a backseat to polarizing soundbites, while circus barkers like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck command more attention than sedate eggheads like David Brooks, and they are not above calling the President everything from a socialist  to a racist.

We in Thailand don’t really have much room to criticize, having elected the combative Samak Sundaravej as a Prime Minister and massage parlor kingpin Chuwit Kamolvisit to the house of representatives, while strongman Chalerm Yubumrung is still big pimping as House minority leader.

What happened?  Is there really more of a lack of good manners or does it just seem that way because of the immediacy of today’s media?  Only a decade ago, the story of John McCain making an insulting joke about First Daughter Chelsea Clinton died like a fart in the wind.  Today, elements of the blogosphere and Twitterati regularly magnify molehills into the Mount Everest of the day through sheer hyperbole and fiery rhetoric.  Are we just more sensitive?  Has political correctness evolved (or devolved) into a disingenous sense of moral outrage?

Perhaps it is media attention itself that makes people go mad.  Maybe Jon & Kate’s marriage was on shaky ground to begin with (statistically speaking, parents of multiple births are more likely to divorce than one-at-a-timers), but the media microscope has focused the public’s scrutiny like the sun’s rays, frying their little ant brains. 

Look on any comments section of a newspaper story, where a chance to comment on a story usually degenerates into name calling, political backbiting, and ad hominem attacks on the writer and other posters.  Barely veiled racism and sociopathic rants are fair game within this anonymous realm.

There are a few glimmers of hope for our species. Beyonce inviting Taylor Swift up to the stage to finish her acceptance speech.   Ludacris quietly gives away 20 cars to people in need.  David Robinson, inducted in the same year as Jordan, gives a heartwarming speech that shows a man whose greatness at the game of basketball was only a glimpse of his true character. 

As long as these instances of kindness and generosity are the exception and not the norm, and as long as we prefer boorishness to lead the news, society will get worse instead of better.  This is not something we can legislate or donate towards, it is even harder because we have to do it ourselves.  After all this I don’t feel like I am preaching to the choir, only talking to a chair.

I always end my broadcast on MET News Report with “Stay Classy, Bangkok.”   At first it was a joke, an homage to The Anchorman’s Ron Burgundy.  But what started out as funny has become more of a plea.   I sincerely hope that something changes, before we irrecoverably take the civil out of civilization, and as Rudy might say, school is out forever.


I hate to end on such a downer, and with the sad news of Patrick Swayze succumbing to pancreatic cancer, let’s end with a tribute.  Here’s a nice eugoogely from The Guardian.  And when it comes to male striptease, the classiest gang around are the boys of Chippendale’s.   Here is possibly the greatest Saturday Night Live skit of all time starring Swayze and the late Chris Farley.

Stay classy, everyone.


1 Response to “The Endangered Class”

  1. September 23, 2009 at 9:18 am

    great post Jack, I totally agree with you. Even in society I wonder what happened to class, I see little girls behaving with what they think is rebellious behaviour, when instead its just lack of class act

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