Picks and Pans Review: A Short History of Rudeness
"Attitude" has replaced civility. "Doing your own thing" has replaced doing unto others. "Road rage" has replaced right of way. To some people, this is the Age of Computers. To literary critic Caldwell, it is the Age of the Breakdown of Common Courtesy. Yet the current obsession with the rising tide of vulgarity, he points out, is nothing new: "Americans have undergone periodic anxiety over their manners since the dawn of the republic."
Ironically, Caldwell himself occasionally lapses into questionable taste (e.g., an extended discussion on the niceties of flatulence). Worse, he deals with the effects of social class on manners but largely ignores the impact of the do-your-own-thing selfishness of the '60s and beyond, the smugness of political correctness and the celebration of "in your face" behavior. While his book admirably calls attention to a troubling aspect of the American culture, it does so with surprisingly little passion. In the end, rudeness doesn't seem to bother him all that much. (Picador, $23)
Bottom Line: Too nice, waffling analysis of a worrisome trend