Amy Alkon on Homo BarbarusSaturday, January 28, 2012
Occasionally, a book comes along that so extraordinary that it deserves a quickie book review even when I don’t have time to do a book review. I just finished reading Amy Alkon’s I See Rude People: one woman’s battle to beat some manners into an impolite society. For those who are not familiar with her, Amy is a columnist, journalist, author, and blogger who is known around the Internet as the Advice Goddess. This book, from 2009, is an absolute joy to read – her razor wit and knack for insulting Homo Barbarus is reminiscent of a 21st century H.L. Mencken. She is the anti-Boobus.
Amy is Revengerella, and she defines the “new rudeness” as “people wildly indifferent to other people.” She writes,”There’s a meanness, a hostile self-centeredness, that’s overtaken our society since around the turn of the millennium, and nobody’s safe from all the pushing, shoving, and shouting.” One of of my favorite Alkon moments is when the plucky author pummels “all the asshats yukking it up on their cells” and refers to cell phone rudeness as “the most prevalent form of modern mannerlessness.” Another cornerstone topic of the book is one of my favorite incivilities to pick apart – the underparented child. One of her greatest hits from the book is this sublime quote:
In case this isn’t apparent, this chapter isn’t about bad children, it’s about bad parents. The children, like cell phones in the hands of loud narcissists, are merely a medium through which self-involved so-called adults inflict themselves on the rest of us. Unfortunately, while you need a license to cut hair, you only need working ovaries to have a child.
She continues on about the age of adolescent parents:
A few decades later, the adult-child line is no longer blurred; it’s snarled. We’ve got eight-year-old girls dressing like hookers while their mothers dress like eight-year-old girls. Last week, I stood in line behind a big white vinyl Hello Kitty purse – on the arm of a 40-something mother of two. Forty-something dads bicker with their kids over whose turn it is on the Nintendo, and sociologist Frank Furedi, who wrote on Spiked.com about trying to wean his two-year-old son off “Teletubbies,” and realizing the futility of it after spotting a bunch of undergraduates glued to an episode of the show in a bar.
Amy makes the point about the unfortunate lack of separate kid spaces and adult spaces, and so she declares, “In fact, I thought I had a deal: I’d stay out of Chuck E. Cheese if they stayed out of the martini lounge.”
Along the way, Amy makes the case that rudeness is a voluntary choice and the use of the seven dirty words is not necessarily rude (instead, it is often appropriate and necessary). She is also not shy about explaining why she never travels without noise-canceling headphones and Hearos Xtreme Super Soft earplugs with noise reduction. Her take on Internet rudeness, along with being the recipient of attacks from infuriated infantile readers is priceless. She describes herself this way:
I am not writing this book from on high, as some shiny emissary of politeness. I do not have perfect manners. In fact, I have rather imperfect manners. I’m a swearer, a honker, and my hand has, on occasion, detached itself from the steering wheel and gestured to other drivers in a less-than-genteel way.
Amy is very libertarian-ish and interested in the primal-paleo lifestyle. She is quick-witted, delightfully insulting, saucy, entertaining, and far more gifted as a writer than she is at hoisting her middle finger on her way to anger management classes. I recommend this book to anyone who can appreciate Amy’s intelligence and educated humor. I do not recommend the book for two types of folks: (1) Those who have committed themselves to the new American religion known as “I’m Offended.” If you are a part of that sect of people who are perpetually offended, this book is not the best match for you. (2) Those libertarianoids who think it is “unlibertarian” to criticize and offend The Idiocracy because being an idiot is a voluntary choice.