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Miss Manners: Gratitude according to the script is dull

Mon., March 8, 2010

How exciting is it to watch a long succession of people saying “Thank you”?

If you are the adult supervisor of a birthday party for 5-year-olds, it is probably extremely exciting. If you are a grandfather who has blown his social security check on luxuries for his progeny, it may be positively thrilling.

But surely everyone must feel the want of a bit of drama in the succession of televised award shows for the entertainment business. We could all recite the dialogue by heart:

“It is truly an honor to be here … a privilege just to be nominated with all those amazing people … a humbling experience… I couldn’t have done this alone… I wouldn’t be standing here tonight if not for (insert names of parents, spouse, children, agent) who always believed in me – I love you guys … It is a privilege to walk in the footsteps of (insert name of director) who is truly a legend, and to work with the amazing (insert names of co-star, cast, as many technical people as can be remembered) and all those other fabulous, talented people, you know who you are. We’re family. I love you guys.”

Furthermore an increasing number of entertainers show up more or less conventionally dressed, at least within the conventions of stardom, which are roughly the same as those for high school proms, only with better jewelry. After years of being ridiculed for exercising their own taste, they have caught on to being styled by professionals into a similar semblance of what passes for respectability.

So why does anyone watch? Even Miss Manners, who yields to no one in her appreciation of good behavior, does not claim that observing endlessly repeated examples of it for four hours is amusing.

Of course we are all waiting for the goof: The actress whose dress is outlandish or partly missing, or the actor who is obviously tipsy. Winners used to be able to inject a note of surprise by mentioning the contrast between the event and world suffering, but now advocating a noncontroversial cause, lapel ribbons and all, is built into the show.

We can also now expect the odd performer who is not so flattered as to be insensible to the first rule of show business – “Don’t put them to sleep” – and tries to vary the tone. Someone will attempt to satirize the standard speech, and several people will use mildly dirty words and refer to bathroom functions and sex.

Nope – not that amusing. The good part, which was when the teacher expressed shock and the class clown was sent to the principal’s office, is missing. It takes a uniquely rude gesture, such as jumping on stage and declaring that the winner shouldn’t have won, to provide dramatic interest.

Is Miss Manners then advocating rudeness?

Certainly not. Humility, gratitude, appreciation of family and colleagues, and acknowledgement of inspiration are all excellent examples of good manners. She thoroughly approves of them. They should indeed be the reaction when one is given an award.

However, she does not confuse this with entertainment. When parents complain to her of the rude behavior normally exhibited on television shows, her response is that in drama, unlike in life, conflict is a desirable element.

But if those participating in award shows really want to exhibit good manners, they could learn not to clap for themselves. Those who are nominated but do not win have generally learned to look game and clap for their successful rivals. Yet nearly everyone mentioned joins in the applause for him or herself.

Now that Miss Manners finds offensive.

Readers may write to Miss Manners at MissManners@unitedmedia.com, or via postal mail at United Media, 200 Madison Ave., 4th Floor, New York, NY 10016.


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