An article has been circulating in the Internet for a while now: Rachel Jablow’s “Has Our Culture Killed Class?”, a thought-provoking piece that talked about how the young’s social media behavior and permissive fashion choices are breeding a culture of ill manners, self-absorption and a terrible lack of “class.”
We are probably the most analyzed and criticized generation for being spawned in a time of great interest: consumerism, which allegedly makes us materialistic; advanced technology, which allegedly make us smarter and quicker; and the Internet, which, well, makes us.
Is class obsolete?
“Class,” in the sense of the word, refers to a person’s position in society. Because they’re supposedly richer and smarter, the privileged were taught how to act more refined to differentiate themselves from commoners. Men and women had separate behavioral norms. Men offer to dance, women curtsy to accept, and so on. They were a more educated lot, and lived comfortably enough to act more particularly.
The royal courts also had to develop a system of social conduct so parties, which they had very often, would be pleasant and harmonious. Etiquette actually came from the Old French word estiquette, which means ticket, a reference to small cards with written instructions on the proper way to behave at an event. Manners were developed for practical reasons in a time when personal interaction was more imperative.
But today, we see families out for dinner not talking, because everyone’s on their smartphones. A person at home would chat his sibling up on Facebook instead of going outside to talk face-to-face. Two people converse without looking at each other, because they’re both simultaneously checking Instagram. Indeed, the previous generations would condemn this behavior, but they didn’t have the distractions we do. Young people are rude the same way people in New York are rude: They don’t mean it, they just live in such a fast-paced world. Interest in other people now translates to page visits, likes and comments. In person, instead of asking, “How’s your dog?” we would say, “I saw this website where you can get this or that for your dog.” Of course we would know how your dog is, we already saw it on the news feed. Even the chat netiquette “BRB” is used more sparingly; for some people, it’s okay to just not reply. Formalities, just like the proverbial curtsy, are slowly becoming more and more unnecessary.
Bridging the gaps
Technology dissolves the notion of “class.” Though the rich and the poor today are still significantly different, the gap between them is becoming smaller and smaller. Technology is becoming cheaper and more available. Cigarette vendors have smart phones. A truck driver and a CEO use the same Google. Anyone can tweet Obama. The lines of these so-called classes are blurred.
And I’m not just talking about the lines between the rich and poor. Even the lines traditionally drawn between sexes are blurred. Because of technology, today’s young are so exposed, hence liberal and gender-fluid. Heck, men wear skinny jeans and short shorts now! They don’t pay for women’s drinks at the bar anymore. They seldom open the door or pull out the chair for them. It’s not necessarily because they’re jerks, they just treat women like equals.
Women, who are now as exposed and educated as men, are beginning to enjoy the same privileges in the work place. They’re in high-impact positions in government, legislation and corporate management. They may feel like dressing and acting as liberally as they want because they can finally afford to. They have their own place in the world, unlike the French women in the 18th century parties. Judge a girl bragging about her Chanel online and she won’t care. She probably paid for it. Of course she’ll flaunt it.
The Internet also blurs the line between the smart and the stupid, and today the two forcibly coexist in social media networks. One misinformed post and people will think you’re ignorant. Argue with a kid about something and he’ll pull a “You’re wrong, I googled it!” on you, he may never listen to you again. Some idiot may beat you in an online debate because he researched more quickly, and even if you looked more intimidating and spoke better, people won’t know that in an online forum. Credibility has become vague.
From etiquette to ethics
Class and manners are an outdated argument. In a time of intangible interaction, it’s not a matter of etiquette anymore, but of ethics. The greater freedom that technology has given yields the need to go back to the fundamental—personal moral principles that would define the kind of person you are, both offline and online. Etiquette and “acting with class” has evolved from being an obligatory formality to a personal choice. It’s not about being well-mannered, but simply being kind. You say ‘thank you’ or hold the door out for someone not because you have to, but because it is the right thing to do. A woman must keep her goods private not for modesty (which I think is sexist), but for temperance.
To each his own
Jablow criticizes the flamboyant, immodest behavior of the young on social media when posting photos. What I love most about my generation is that we are tolerant, hence our support for gender and racial equality and our disapproval for human rights violations, such as bullying. If a girl wants to look like a slut in that bikini-clad, duck-faced selfie, I say let her. What’s with the hate? There are “Block” and “Hide” buttons for that now. We care less about what our peers wear and more about what our peers are contributing to the community. A typical millennial, for example, would condemn a polite, modest-wearing but corrupt politician more than a provocatively clothed environmental advocate.
If a woman goes to church in a sheer top and a leopard-print bra, of course she’ll be deemed a town tramp. The key is to wear these clothes in the right place at the right time. And in a time of healthier diets, various workouts and very erratic weathers due to global warming (which, by the way, isn’t our fault), less clothing—less, not skanky—does not seem too inappropriate. Again, it’s all about ethics and appropriation.
The situation can be seen in a proactive perspective. Our consumerist appreciation for luxury brands isn’t always materialistic, it can also be ambitious and aspirational. It’s not always ‘if they can have it, I can have it too’, but maybe ‘someday, I will have it too,’ to motivate people to work harder. We should stop judging people by their selfies, mannerisms and first impressions, but by their ideas, intellect and involvement in the community. Our generation may be narcissistic, but it is also broad-minded and visionary, and in my opinion, that’s more noteworthy.