Boy, can I step into a fire, or what? I probably use Facebook too much and lose sight of my own dictum that social media does not contain nuance and tends to absolve false premises, but I do enjoy laughs and posts that can stimulate debate.
Sometimes I will repost a meme that I thought was funny or triggered something I’d been thinking about. I reposted a meme with Cary Grant in an elegant 3-piece suit, an overcoat and carrying a fedora. Next to Grant was a picture of a young man in high waisted shorts, loafers, and an ill fitted tie-dyed t shirt. It wasn’t fair to that man because his context for dressing that day clearly was not the same as Cary’s, but the headline was: Something has gone terribly wrong since 1947.
To a lot of people the young man appeared to be gay and I was accused of being a bigot, homophobic, anti-LGBTQ and embracing toxic masculinity. And worse. I sincerely did not think a comparison of masculine imagery was the intention of the meme and I wrote back: “Are you saying he looks gay? Does gay have a look, and wouldn’t THAT be a bigoted stereotype?” A legitimate question that was met with even more hostility. So much for logic in a firefight.
I don’t like to offend people and I could have easily taken it down. But I didn’t. In fact, I doubled down because I had a point to make and I wasn’t going to let a hijacking of my intent determine my narrative.
For quite some time I have made an observation that American culture is getting more and more casual. And while I understand that natural progression toward individuality as we become more enlightened, I also believe that some aspects of that evolution have made our societal transactions too casual.
Customer service, for example, is a pet peeve of mine, as I have witnessed its decay in my own work life. Things I was taught by employers as a young man seem to have gone out the window when I ask for service at many places today. Simple things like acknowledgment, eye contact, a smile even. Not all, mind you, but too many. How often are we dissatisfied with the way our problems are handled at the front desk? In my view- too often.
I owned a nice restaurant in Cedar Falls and when people came in dressed up a little, it gave me a sense of satisfaction because they were complementing our efforts. Not everyone came dressed up, in fact, guys with baseball caps and t shirts were very common. It wasn’t a big deal and I didn’t treat them any differently and gave them the same respect I’d give anyone…but I noticed.
My wife and I always dress for dinner at nicer establishments because we like the effort they are making and we enjoy participating. Not everyone sees it that way, but we do. And we like it.
My mother was a flight attendant in the 50s and would tell me how everyone would dress up to fly. It was like being in a high-end restaurant at 35000 feet. To this day, I put on a jacket when I fly to emulate that feeling. I’m the only one in coach with a jacket 9 times out of 10, but I have my preference. I equate that preference with respect for the flight attendants, like my mother, who have a difficult job.
That’s just me. No one has to agree. Not one single person. When I saw the Cary Grant meme on a friend’s Facebook page, I reposted expecting reactions like my own: “Wasn’t it nice when people dressed up on the street, in restaurants, on airplanes…?” And I expected: “I like the guy on the right! That’s more my style!”
At which point I hoped for a conversation about the issue that was on my mind: Are we becoming too casual? Is there such a thing as too casual? Could it be possible that some of the formality of the past was a reflection of respect? The way I felt in my restaurant, for example. And the way some customer service techniques have dwindled?
Perhaps, there is no correlation at all. But wouldn’t that have made a more useful conversation? Couldn’t it have possibly been an interesting conversation? It would have been to me. Certainly, more fun that being called a toxic, bigoted, homophobe.
I honestly thought the worst thing I would get would be “OK, Boomer.”