For the past couple of days I have been savoring a new book, a collection of Peggy Noonan columns called The Time of our Lives. She and I have had a weekly appointment for the past twenty years or so. She publishes her syndicated column in the Wall Street Journal, and I read it. I never miss one. Ever. Ours is not a sycophantic relationship. We sometimes disagree. But her writing is so glorious, so wise, I simply cannot stay mad at her for long. If you were to ask me who I wish I could write like, my answer would be...Peggy.
But this blog is not about Peggy Noonan, but something she wrote, that when placed beside Mr. Ricky Gervais' performance last night at the Golden Globes demands comment.
Writing about the death of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Noonan said this:
"She had manners, the kind that remind us that manners spring from a certain moral view--that you do tribute to the world and the people in it by being kind and showing respect, by sending the note and the flowers, by being loyal and cheering a friend. She was a living reminder in the age of Oprah that personal dignity is always, still, an option, a choice that is open to you. She was, really, the last aristocrat. Few people get to symbolize a world, but she did, and that world is receding, and we know it and mourn that, too."
Ricky Gervais is certainly not the first person in show business to trade in the put down. I grew up watching Don Rickles skewering Hollywood types on the Johnnie Carson show. But, Don Rickles was constrained by the times he lived in. If he descended into foul mouthed F-Bomb throwing, he would have been finished. Not so Mr. Gervais.
I will not here catalogue the carnage from last night. You can Google it yourself. And honestly, part of me always enjoys any opportunity I get to watch the Hollywood elite get cut down to size, so for that I suppose I should thank him. But, as I watched his act and thought of Peggy Noonan's words, I became overcome with sadness.
Watching him playing for laughs the suggestion that an old man might come out on stage and perform a sexual favor on him...or yucking it up about what he uses his Golden Globe statuette for back home-- it is on his bedside table, after all-- is to be reminded anew that I live in a very different country than Jackie Kennedy did. While personal dignity might still be an option for us in 2016, fewer and fewer of us are taking it.
I find myself longing for grace and a touch of class now and then. I see a publically drunk Cameron Diaz and long for Grace Kelly. I see Kim Kardashian and dream of Audrey Hepburn. Was she even real?
I suppose that this post makes me sound like the old guy yelling at the neighborhood kids to "get off my lawn!!" Fair enough. Not everything in 2016 American entertainment is bad, just as not everything about an older America is worthy of nostalgia. But, there is a coarseness today, a creeping meanness, where rudeness is mistaken for charisma. We see it in Hollywood and on the campaign trail. If manners and civility have somehow become bourgeois, and if they have been replaced by the ugly and garish...well, we are the worse for it. Sorry, not every hip new trend is worthy of celebration. Gervais, and those like him should shame us. And they would if we could remember what shame was.