Editor's note. This is a letter to the editor that deserves to be specially featured. The editors of TLD have a particular interest in accounts such as Mr. Nowicki's that illustrate the pervasiveness of Polite Totalitarianism throughout American culture. Keep in mind that the magazine referred to below didn't receive official instructions from any Propaganda Ministry in Washington. And it didn't need them.
I have provided the title for this piece.
By ANDY NOWICKI
I was perusing an issue of Real Simple, a kind of upscale version of Good Housekeeping, just to see what kind of advice the appointed opinion-shapers of our age were dispensing to my wife and other American women on matters of fashion, interior design, and what-not. And in the "what-not" category was one particular article titled "The Rudeness of Strangers," which purported to tell readers how to deal with irritating situations provoked by the inconsideration or unpleasantness of other people. Mundane examples abounded, including what to do when a driver pulls out in front of you, or when a waiter is snooty, or when a salesclerk is unhelpful. Exceedingly generic and pedestrian counsel was given on these matters "Don't let the stupid driver get your goat, complain to the manager," and so on. Then this hypothetical scenario was presented:
Your computer crashes and you call the help number.... When the company rep answers the phone, you're told that your name and warranty are on file, but the company's computer system is down, so you'll need to call back. When you express frustration, you're told to chill out, and the rep throws in an ethnic slur based on your last name.
To which the following advice was dispensed:
Certain behaviors are not to be tolerated for one second expressions of racism, sexism, or anti-Semitism. Report the offensive behavior to your state attorney general, the Civil Liberties Union, or the Anti-Defamation League. And take your complaint to higher-ups at the company.
Whew! Here are a few reactions on the part of this, as it were, eavesdropper to the conversation (it was my wife's magazine, not mine):
1. Is such a scenario even plausible? Can anyone imagine it happening? I, for one, have a very ethnic-sounding name, and I could hardly picture this happening to me:
I: "I'm very frustrated about this!"
Company Rep: "Chill out, Polack!"
Personally,I don't think most company reps would have the presence of mind to be insulting in such a specific way on such short notice.
2. Then again, I doubt that the magazine's advice was meant to apply to someone like me. Note the parameters of legitimate outrage the short list of things that "are not to be tolerated for one second." Abuse on the account of one's Eastern European heritage is not among their number. And somehow I doubt that "racism" would apply if the abusive company rep were nonwhite and the caller were white, or that "sexism" would apply if the company rep were female and the caller were male. The "anti-Semitism" bit, of course, speaks for itself. Allowances, one would gather, could be made for "anti-Catholicism," but never for "anti-Semitism," which is a uniquely terrible, terrible, oh so terrible thing. Here the one-way street of strictly proscribed intolerance is overt, rather than implied.
3. Given the implausibility of the situation, one is moved to ask: Why was it included in the article, with the accompanying heavy-handed advice urging the offendee to immediately seek the intercession of the police state: "Report the offensive behavior to your state attorney general"? Simply put, could it be there for anything other than propagandistic purposes? That is to say, is there any other reason for the segment's existence in an otherwise forgettable and innocuous article? other than to further train the masses to fall in line with the accepted, and officially enforced, prejudices of our age, which hold unabashed whiteness, maleness, and Christianness to be mere baby steps away from the commission of lynchable thought-crimes such as "racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism"?
February 8, 2004
Related article by Ronn Neff, TLD senior editor.
To letters page.