There’s been much made by some recent high profile incidents of incivility. First, Joe Wilson screamed “You lie!” at President Obama during his Address to the Joint Session of Congress. Second, Kanye West took the microphone away from Taylor Swift as she was accepting her first ever VMA award, pointing out that he felt it should’ve gone to Beyoncé. Last, Serena Williams lost a game after being called on a foot fault and proceeded to berate the line judge responsible for the call.
We all act like we are shocked and outraged by such behavior but I think we are less shocked and more titillated. Forget “mere” incivility. Being outright crude, lewd and insulting has become a national pasttime. It’s our entertainment.
It is Wednesday night and all the major networks are offering are reality TV shows. Reality TV courts incivility, and worse. In fact, it insists on it. They deliberately cast at least one loose emotional cannon to guarantee drama. If there’s not drama, there’s no reason to tune in each week. If you visit online message boards you’ll see that rudeness has become a measurement of how clever and passionate you are. Talk radio regularly litters the airwaves with accusations, name-calling trying to stir up moral outrage on a regular basis. TV pundits do the same thing. I sometimes find it hard to even watch liberals like Keith Olbermann because many of his valid points are lost in his passionate diatribes designed to entertain us.
Are we entertained? I’d say so. Otherwise these shows would not be on the air. What’s the answer? Is there an answer that doesn’t totally demolish our freedom of speech? I don’t know. I do know that it is ludicrous to rant against “incivility” (which is a benign term to use in many cases) while it permeates every aspect of our culture from religion (recall the minister in Arizona who announced that he prays for our President’s death?), to sports, TV, radio, music and politics.