Friday, 1 May 2009

The death of discretion

Discretion in modern society is dead. It has been eroded by the abrasiveness of the information age, the in-your-face media, and the idiocy of the celebrities that are forced into our daily lives. Most of all, the death of discretion can be attributed to the ease with which we have chosen to accept this offensive barrage of the sensationalised and the stupid, and have allowed it to penetrate our skin. Worse, we have allowed it to penetrate to our very cores, our runny liquid centres, and as a result it has become part of us. I thought us Brits were respected worldwide for our Great British Reserve, our stiff upper lip, and our impeccable manners. Here I do not wish to bemoan the disappearance of ‘Golden Age’ customs, we must remember that those days saw no problem with slavery, and thought smoking was good for your health. Rather, I think I need to call upon the American phrase: ‘a little too much information.’ All day needless information, mostly complaints and unfounded opinions, attack us like an angry flock of birds, and with the sheer amount of information in circulation, poor old discretion is being ushered to death’s door.

Allow me to include some examples here to illustrate my point. Facebook, the social networking site, is an arena in which anyone can be heard. You can write a ‘status’, you can ‘comment’ on a status, and you can ‘thumbs up a comment’. It’s a layered mesh of opinions and feelings that, unfortunately, are mostly ill-considered and brainless. It is a pointless lasagne of social commentary. I opened my Facebook home page the other day to read ‘John Smith (fictional name) why does it burn when I pee?’ Another humdinger that caught my eye was ‘Joe Bloggs (fictional name) takes it up the ass!’ Good, I thought. Thanks for sharing. Now I do not wish to be overly critical on the authors of these ‘status’ comments for it is entirely possible that they have been ‘Facebook raped’. This term refers to the action of hacking into someone’s account and altering their status in a humorous way. Now, forgive me for coming across all ‘Hotel Rwanda’ here, but although hacking someone’s account may be embarrassing for the victim, I would not go so far as to liken it to rape. In fact, likening ‘Facebook rape’ to sexual assault appears about as coherent as describing the act of ringing someone’s door bell and running away as ‘Knock Down Murder.’

Terms of genuine importance become further distanced with the acts they depict as they fall deeper into the mainstream of society. I apologise but I must again use the word ‘rape’ to make a point, this time in the context of ‘Yawn Rape.’ This is the act of inserting your finger into someone’s mouth whilst they are enjoying a yawn, thereby ruining their pleasant experience. Whilst waiting in line at a cafĂ© I witnessed a customer ‘Yawn raping’ an unsuspecting barrista and guffawing about this with a friend. Wanting to join in the fun I inserted my finger deep into the heart of his chocolate tarte, and informed him of the act of the ‘Cake Rape’ that had just occurred. My victim failed to see the funny side, and I failed to see the difference.

If we let allow discretion to become extinct within our society then we risk losing something that is quintessentially British, something that is part of ourselves. I read an article the other day that claimed that 40% of Britons, if experiencing heart attack symptoms, would ‘wait and see if they got better’ rather than calling ‘999’. This is foolish of course, but there is something within the stoicism, the desire to keep one’s problems to one’s self, which I find deeply admirable. I feel that our media is to be held partially responsible for the problem, for it seems that there is almost no limit to the irrelevance and indignity of the stories that receive column inches. It is often celebrities that highlight the lack of discretion in British society, both through their own behaviour and the feelings that they induce in the British public. The ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ sensation Susan Boyle can be used as an example here. Following her sterling performance on the show, the panel could not help but express the surprise they felt, effectively stating their shock at how such a beautiful voice could come from such an ugly person. Perhaps it was a surprise, but can they not just comment on the lady’s voice alone? For me, the fact that her voice is rated in relation to her appearance undermines her achievement. Could panellist Amanda Holden not praised Boyle’s beautiful voice and then simply stopped? There was no need for her to say what the entire audience was thinking, yet she felt compelled to. The recent death of Jade Goody is another example. Never has the slow death of a young mother released such vitriol and scorn from so many. Goody’s flaws were obvious, she never tried to hide them from anyone, but people demeaned themselves by slating a dying woman, a woman who was simply trying to make money for her family and cling on to the hellish fairytale of the life she’d been given. Of course, Jade is as guilty of poor taste as anyone. Her verbal bullying of Shilpa Shetti on Celebrity Big Brother was notable for a glaring lack of thought and compassion. Her words were steeped in ignorance and spoken within a society in which everyone always has something to say.

The universal freedom of speech is a keystone of our society, and thus we must all express the points of view that we hold; it is exactly what I am doing here. It is necessary however, to realise the extent to which modern society is a connected web of networks that have served to make the general public both the speakers and the audience simultaneously. We must bear this responsibility with dignity and consider the crowds of people that we unknowingly perform to each day. It is unlikely that you would stand on stage and announce just how many times you had vomited the previous night to an audience of friends and family, but it is necessary to realise that the public forums of the Internet offer the same information to the same people. This is an opportunity to spread knowledge, advice, literature, jokes, but for the sake of our selves we must not give out ‘too much information’. To paraphrase the American saying, some things should be kept private, some things should be left unsaid. And when you’re taking advice on manners and tact from the Americans, that’s when you know you’re in real trouble.

1 comment:

  1. I find your comments both insightful and trenchant. I am an American, and I chuckled to myself when I read your closing sentence. I found your writing style to elevated and elegant. I have added you to my list of blogs I should read. Write on.