The video at the bottom of this post is a commercial that caught my attention the other day as emblematic of how coarse our culture has widely become. And, as I watched it I thought “We have lost a lot in the recent cultural revolution.”
I suppose I shouldn’t expect a lot from a commercial for hard liquor (Skinny Girl cocktails). I have nothing against such products intrinsically, and even enjoy a usual nightcap of a shot of Bourbon (just one) mixed in a diet cola. But honestly, alcohol, by definition, doesn’t usually promote sober reflection and, if anything, it encourages stinkin’ thinkin.’ And frankly there’s a lot of “stinkin thinkin” in this commercial.
In the first place it ridicules the culture of the 1950s and early 1960s. The woman who exemplifies that era in the commercial is shown as stuffy, pretentious and extreme. She is finely attired in a pleated skirt, heals and a pearl necklace. But her “big hair” and poorly layered clothing seem intended to make her look “frumpy” and frankly, a big fake. Her unnaturally sultry voice also ads to the impression that the 1950s were “fake and stupid.”
Disclaimer - There is no claim here that the 1950s were some sort of idyllic period. Surely like any era there were problems and troubles. I am also under no illusions that all housewives strolled about like June Cleaver in heals and pearls, with a skirt perfectly fitted to their hourglass figures.
But as the commercial rolls on, I think we see that we have lost a lot. The picture flashes away from the elegantly dressed woman, careful for modesty and dignity (though excessively portrayed), to the modern scene where we are suppose to rejoice and approve at how far women have come.
And what do we see? Half drunk women, with painted nails and flip flops, liquor bottles in abundance, and the indelicate and boorish behavior of those who have been drinking too much. Further there are numerous displays of immodest dress, immodest posture and unbecoming behaviors. In effect, if you ask me, it is a celebration of all in our culture that is boorish, immodest, indelicate, and excessively informal.
To the ad to its credit, does not show these women exhibiting these behaviors before men. But the overall effect remains the same, a “celebration” of how far we’ve come from the uptight 1950s. Yes, look how far: crass, boorish, indelicate, inelegant, lowbrow, rough, rude, uncouth, unrefined, and largely vulgar behaviors, a mighty long way from what we once knew. As if to say, “Take that 1950s with all your formalism and restrictions…take that traditional values…We’ve come of age!”
Now of course folks in the fifties knew how to have fun and relax, it just doesn’t seem they had to be so boorish, under-dressed and uncontrolled to do it.
I did not grow up in the 1950s but did have a substantial period of my early years in the early to mid-sixties, before the revolution really set in. And again, we knew how to have fun, and even dress down occasionally. But as a general rule we were expected in those years to observe higher norms, to have manners, to dress up to go to restaurants, to Church, and to behave in certain ways in “polite company.” As a you young man I would never think to go to Church without trousers and a button down shirt with a tie. I had special clothes for Sunday. We might rough-house in the back yard in shorts and a tee-shirt, along with sneakers. But when we went into town, we “put on decent clothes.” This was true even when going to the grocery store (see photo upper right).
When company was coming we were expected to dress for the occasion. Table manners were important, and a young man was expected to treat a lady like a lady. Language which might not always be perfect around “the guys” had to be cleaned up when a lady or girl was in the room. Further, our posture and behavior were to be adjusted in the presence of a lady, and also when adults were in the vicinity. Respect and decorum were important ways of showing honor to others.
These days, much of this has been lost. We almost never dress up any more in our culture. Perhaps the closest we get is work. Beach attire seems more the norm in places where such attire would have been unthinkable in the past, places like Church, restaurants, movies, and other public gatherings. Manners are usually considered pretentious, as the commercial below mocks them. People laugh and look incredulous when someone suggests any sorts of limits to informality in most occasions: “What do you mean I should wear a shirt with a collar, what business is that of yours?”
I am under no illusions that we are going to make a sudden return to the more formal (and I would say polite) world I knew briefly in my youth, but the main point is simply that I think we have lost something. If, perhaps we were too formal and stuffy in the past, I think we have over-corrected. If perhaps, in the past we were somewhat phony, it does not follow that full disclosure and sociopathic, no-limits “honesty” is good either. Maybe in hot weather it is nice to wear cooler clothes, but it is interesting to me that in the years when air-conditioning was almost unknown, we managed to wear a lot more clothes to cover our nakedness. Somehow, despite the heat, we thought decency and modesty mattered.
I don’t know, look at the Commercial and tell me. Have we lost something? It is not necessary to use all or nothing logic, as if the 50s and early 60s were all good, and we are all bad. Perhaps there’s room though for a discussion in the middle ground where we may have simply gone too far, lost too much, and need to take a few steps back from the edge of an increasingly coarse culture; perhaps not back into poodle skirts and pleated trousers, but at least back to some sense that manners, modesty and more careful behavior have a place.
“Enjoy” this commercial and tell me what you think.