“It seems we’ve made a little faux pas” — Oliver Norville Hardy

September 29, 2009



Groucho Marx once attended an international film festival in Mexico City. One evening during the gathering, Groucho and a group of colleagues were informed by a government representative that they had been invited to meet the president of Mexico at 10 the following morning. Groucho raised his hand. “Yes, Mr. Marx?” “What assurance do we have that he will still be president at 10 o’clock tomorrow?”

This rude reflection on Mexico’s political history, coming from a professional wise-ass, did nothing to ingratiate the Marx Brothers to Mexico. It did not, however, prompt an orgy of self-hatred in which Americans wondered aloud if they had become a bit too boorish — “ugly” in the social sense of the word.

The Christian Science Monitor looked into a similar question regarding the recent peccadilloes on the part of Venus Williams, Kanye West, and Sen. Joe Williams. Can it be, the Monitor wonders, that in the age of social networking we have become social anarchists? Not to worry. The conclusion seems to be that there is nothing new about American bulls in the china shop of manners.



The Monitor took the occasion to call attention to U.S. Rep. Preston Brooks who, as fate would have it, was from South Carolina. Brooks took umbrage at denigrating remarks about the institution of slavery, remarks that came from U.S. Sen. Charles Sumner of Massachusetts. Sumner was a leading advocate for abolition, and a progressive guy in general, as such things were measured before the Civil War. He was kind of a stiff. He once said that he would never assume a posture, even in the privacy of his own rooms, that he would not assume in the Senate of the United States. It makes one wonder how Sumner took care of certain, umm, personal necessities and intimate pleasures. Anyway, Brooks approached Sumner in the Senate and explained his objections by beating Sumner senseless with a cane. Joe Williams’ bad taste has earned him a million in political donations. Brooks’ fans sent him canes to replace the one he had shattered on Sumner’s head.



With almost 300 million people in the country, it’s amusing to see how the news media try to find trends in incidents that involved one screwball, one red neck, and one short-tempered athlete. The Monitor found a couple of etiquette experts who agreed that the whole Shooting Match is going to the bow-wows, but there were also voices with a longer perspective. Public discourse in the 21st century is tame compared to the rough-and-tumble of the 17th and 18th. For one thing, we no longer answer insults with duels, as I was telling Mr. Hamilton just the other day.

The Monitor story is at the following link:



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