It is time I came down from the mountain with the twin tablets of Remonstration and Edification in hand.
The past few weeks have seen a shocking display of bad manners from so many directions as to befuddle one’s senses. Whilst the internet has never been much of a haven for those of us who prefer to live by the Emily Post line of etiquette, the larger world has, at least, seemed a cut above the craven, teeming masses who belch their filth without abandon into the digital sphere. It is for this reason that Mike “Gabe” Krahulik of Penny Arcade crafted his Greater Internet Dickwad Theory, which postulates that a Normal Person, plus Anonymity, plus an Audience, equals a Total Dickwad. Heretofore, his sage insight has been confined to the internet. Are things changing?
The Ashes is a contentious series in Cricket. In a sense, it forms the bedrock of the sport as a whole. Played between only two teams–Australia and England–it is the ultimate rivalry. The name of the series itself–The Ashes–refers to an urn which contains the “ashes of English cricket”: a set of burnt cricket bails from a match in which Australia beat England on English soil for the first time. This event was deemed apocalyptic at the time, and the rivalry has remained since. Nevertheless, for all this rivalry, Cricket has always enjoyed a special elevation of manners and good sportsmanship. Applause is given not only for one’s own team, but for the opposition. When a batter scores multiples of 50, he is applauded. Particularly excellent sessions of bowling are applauded. Team captains are applauded.
During this 2009 Ashes series, Australian Captain Ricky Ponting was, on occasion, booed. Never mind that Ricky Ponting is a man who has done great things for international Cricket. Never mind that he has done great things for Cricket in England. Never mind that he has led his team very solidly and with consummate skill. Ricky Ponting was booed, and this author thinks it a crying shame that such a thing should be allowed to stink under the sun. Not only do such base antics reflect poorly upon the opposing side–showing them to be unsportsmanlike, loutish fellows–but they damage the wider game of Cricket as a whole, lowering the high standards which have been (not unreasonably) expected. As the mass of beer-swilling bogans pulls down an elevated and courteous form of entertainment to the ASBO level, something wonderful and civilised is lost forever. Thus the braying of mules asserts itself over the string quartet.
But lest it be thought that such degradations are only present in the anonymity of the plebian mob, we turn our sights to no less a figure than renowned author, actor, and gentleman of letters Stephen Fry, who had occasion this week to hit back at flames on his excellent and commendable blog and Twitter. What was the impetus for this run of internet rubbishing? Why, no less than Stephen professing–on his own blog–his joy at English victory in the aforementioned Ashes series. The author, an American citizen of distant English ancestry, felt unrestrained joy at the event; how much more so Fry, whose involvement with the game extends to play (in his youth) and umpiring (in the present).
In an audio blog as calm and steady as one could wish, Stephen strikes back with the force of even-handed reason against those who would tear down anything and everything they are not personally enamoured with. This is, after all, not the result of the International Cricket-Haters Association (Pres. Nate Liles, officiating). Rather, these are the actions of a few uncivilised individuals who, seeing someone take joy in something they neither appreciate nor understand, act swiftly to try to put a stop to such. They fancy themselves the fun police, as it were, and will not tolerate others taking joy in things they do not enjoy themselves. This is not done as a joke, or between friends, as the ribbing which past and present members of Lusipurr.com have partaken in. In fact, it is meant as a serious effort to strip away someone else’s joy. In this regard, it might be seen as the most serious of all assaults: an infringement of a person’s right to the pursuit of happiness.
Is the degradation of manners, then, restricted to mobs and anonymous internet trolls? Sadly no, as the latest writings of one Will Buckley (of The Guardian) attest. Following Jonathan ‘Aggers’ Agnew‘s interview with British pop star Lily Allen during the Test Match Special Cricket coverage, Buckley crafted a winding and bizarre article in which, using comments taken grossly out of context and arranged for maximum impact, he paints Agnew as a libertine, making unwanted and perverse advances to the dismayed Allen. The author listened to the interview in question live and, having read the above shocking article, made haste to listen again–only to be confirmed in his original estimation that the interview was absolutely free of debauched lechery, and that Buckley must be mad or malicious to write such outrageous filth. The reading public have, reasonably, responded with nigh-universal condemnation, and Allen herself weighed in via her Twitter to support those who have pointed out Buckley’s nonsenical and acrimonious gibberish for what it truly is.
Is this a sign that the bad manners of the internet are increasingly dragging down the quality of offline manners as well? As the internet becomes more a part of everyday life for people around the world, its impact is absolute and unquestionable. The author has watched as writing standards have declined with alarming rapidity in the past decade; grammar is now almost entirely ignored, spelling is a lost cause, and the ability to phrase rudimentary sentences–to have simply a subject and a verb–is, in the wake of IMs and Texts, disappearing more quickly than the Dodo. If this is the effect which the internet can have on our conscious efforts in the field of language, what sort of effects might be taking place in the unconscious arenas of courtesy, sportsmanship, and politic behaviour?
All is not lost, however. Ricky Ponting’s good-natured response to the negative fans took much of the sting out of their unsportsmanlike conduct. Stephen Fry’s sagacious audio commentary reminded those who listened of the power of simple reason, tolling like a bell on a clear, Summer afternoon. Agger’s appeal to listeners resulted in an overwhelming volley of support in the face of something that was clearly crafted to attack and harm, having no other intellectual purpose. Thus it seems that, at the end of the day, Rhyme and Reason assert themselves once more, and stand supreme, whilst the miserable assails of every weak and blasted veniality cower in the shadows, fearful of being shown for what they are.
So right triumphs–for one more day, at least.