The Ugly American

When The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal publish articles about a heretofore unrecognized social phenomenon at about the same time, you know something is going on. People are behaving rudely in movie theaters. They are taking selfies, chatting on their cell phones, talking smack to characters on the movie screen, getting into slap fights, and in one case cited by the Post, wearing no clothes. When asked to “shush,” they don’t shush. They lambaste the shushers.

Some commentators blame COVID, isolation, or “trauma.”

“It is clear that the past three years have been challenging for many people in our country. We have experienced a series of collective traumas, cascading one to the next,” said Roxane Cohen Silver, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Irvine quoted by the Post. “The combination of the pandemic, inflation, mass shootings, climate-related disasters, political polarization and so on, has taxed our capacity to cope.”

Nonsense. You want mass shooting? Try the Civil War. You want deadly plagues? Try the Great Influenza Epidemic of 1918. You want climate disaster? Try the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. You want economic disruption? Try the Great Depression. You want inflation? Try the 1970s. Never in history have a people undergone less hardship and less trauma than in 21st-century America. Yet never before in history has America experienced such a tsunami of narcissism, self-indulgence, coarseness and rudeness — none of which has anything to do with experiencing trauma.

Misbehavior in movie theaters is but the latest manifestation of the long assault on bourgeois values. Under the new ethos, courtesy, politeness and good manners are forms of social oppression. Under the new ethos, if it feels good do it. Under the new ethos, we’ll all be equally rude and disrespectful to one another.

What a wonderful world we’re creating.

— JAB