What happened to our civility?

Published 2:00 am Saturday, September 19, 2009

“Incivility” has been the major buzzword in the national media this month, with headline after headline about celebrities and famous figures losing their cool publicly.

It started on Fri., Sept. 4, when golfing great Tiger Woods was angry at a bad shot during the Deutsche Bank Championship and threw away his golf club in disgust. Then, South Carolina congressman Joe Wilson yelled out “you lie” during President Obama’s speech to the joint session of Congress on Wed., Sept. 10. And last weekend, during the U.S. Open, tennis stars Serena Williams and Roger Federer each lost their cool during play. Finally, last Sunday, rap star Kanye West shocked the audience at the MTV Music Awards when he jumped onto stage and interrupted an award presentation to country music star Taylor Swift, saying that hip-hop artist Beyonce should have won the award.

Obviously, we are all humans and we all have moments where our emotions get the best of us. I know that I have been angry and used profanity at times (though certainly not in such a public location as the U.S. Open). Tennis stars have lost their cool before — yes, I’m serious, John McEnroe. Even interrupting presidential speeches is nothing new — the Democratic Party members booed President George W. Bush’s 2005 State of the Union address several times.

At the same time, it does seem to me like these moments of bad manners are becoming more and more common.

Personally, I can’t see why people would be surprised about this devolution of decorum. All you have to do is turn on HBO and open up an Internet browser and it’s easy to see why we’ve become a nation where swear words have become little more than another part of the vernacular.

I believe the Internet is particularly to blame. Yes, it is a wonderful tool that allows us to research a variety of topics from the comfort of our home. But it is also a mouthpiece for the most vulgar and obscene commentary, things that would never be said in public or in print, for obvious fear of retribution.

All you have to do is open a Youtube video and read the comments, and it shouldn’t take you long at all to find someone calling another user a swear word or epithet. I’m not trying to be a prude, but when you see that kind of garbage language often enough, you become desensitized to it.

We’re only going to see more Kanye Wests and Serena Williams and Joe Wilsons. And if it’s this bad now, I shudder to think of what we might hear in the future.