December 12, 2010
The Ramsayization of SocietyBy Stephen Mauzy
Gordon Ramsay isn't really to blame; he's only the apotheosis in the profusion of the most socially accepted, if not most entertaining, emotion -- anger. Mr. Ramsay has reproduced anger so many times that it borders on caricature: neck tendons bulge, lips tightened, eyes narrow, brow furrows, face reddens before an eruption of profanities land on the unfortunate sous chief who failed to ladle the pilaf into a geometrically perfect circle.
It could be theatrics, or maybe that's just Mr. Ramsay. Or is it chefs in general? Before Mr. Ramsay, Anthony Bourdain forged a reputation and then a career centered on anger veneered with snark. Sure, Mr. Bourdain is as equally quick to rely on the English language's Swiss-army knife of off color words as Mr. Ramsay, only less sneeringly so. In addition, Mr. Bourdain perfected the knack for expressing raw emotion in the lingo of the newer generation -- in that something "sucked" if he is displeased and something did "not suck" if he is content: strange, callow descriptors for Mr. Bourdain, who fancies himself a writer.
Then again, "suck" and "not suck" are remuneratively savvy crutches. Jonathan Swift likely fancied himself a writer too. If only Mr. Swift had limited himself to things sucking and not sucking, his writing would surely have landed in wider pools and generated greater remuneration, particularly if he were paid by the word -- suck and non suck roll off the tongue effortlessly to fill any void and swell any monograph. Imagine how many more readings A Modest Proposal would undergo if redacted in Bourdainized patois:
Of course Messrs Ramsay and Bourdain are one of a very many walking around with a chip on their shoulders and a willingness to let everyone know it's there. Even an intellect and heretic of Christopher Hitchens' verbal capacity is willing to cut loose with a public "f*** you" when his surprisingly low frustration threshold is exceeded.
Blaming cultural infiltration of the young generation for diminishing comity and self restraint is the obvious explanation. But Messrs Ramsay, Bourdain, and Hitchens are all middle-agers. Besides, the obvious is rarely the only answer. Yes, this latest young generation is every bit as obnoxious, narcissistic, and worthless as previous young generations -- and maybe a little more so because of the explosion of venues available to them to express their obnoxiousness, narcissism, and worthlessness .
There is much more to it than that. To be sure, the young are angrier, less civil, and more impulsive than the middle-aged and the old. That, too, has always been the case. It's just that today too many of us are too willing to tolerate anger compared to previous generations. What is more, the anger of the youth -- as popular television and the Internet attest -- has actually been co-opted by older generations to an embarrassing degree.
Perhaps it is not so coincidental that the older generations have also co-opted the sartorial habits of the young. The average business environment today is amazingly slothful and unkempt: blue jeans, collarless shirts, and New Balance shirts easily pass for casual Friday attire. For the other four days, a tie is rarely outside the executive suite. Flying is a sartorial nightmare: either it's fifty year olds dressed liked monstrous toddlers or it's fifty year olds dressed for a day at the beach - t-shirt, baggy shorts, and flip-flops that reveal disgusting yellow-toed feet. And we wonder why airline cabins are dens of anger.
It should be otherwise; appearance correlates positively with civility. How often does a businessman attired in a suit explode with profanity? How often did Fred Astaire bar-room brawl or direct an inappropriate comment at Ginger Rogers?
The word "discriminate" has devolved into pejorative. Too bad, because "discriminate" still possesses positive connotations. If one has discriminating tastes, one has refined tasted. Fortunately, mores have evolved to where people are less inclined to discriminate based on genetics. Unfortunately, that non-discriminating attitude has extended to avoid discriminating what deserves discrimination.
Appearance for instance. The less neatly groomed and dressed one is, the more one is likely to display fits of anger. Tattoos are an outgrowth of this trend in casualism and exhibitionism and anger expression. Tattoos are displays of narcissism, and narcissism lowers civility. To be more blunt, tattoos are marks of imbecility, which is why they are so popular among the young. When we are young so much is desired, and the sooner the better. Patience is in short supply. Tattoos are as immediate as a text message. In the moment, tattoos are so profound, so inspirational, so embellishing. In the moment, remorse is impossible.
Those of us two or three generations up the totem are lucky in this regard. Public mores and our parents were effective moderating influences. Tattoos were overtly discriminated against. Thank goodness for that. One cringes at being continually reminded of callow stupidity long after callowness has faded. There is little of anything a progressing adult likes at forty that he liked at twenty. More than a few of today's youngsters will fret over the indelicacy of that skull's head on the forearm or the Chinese lettering across the lower back. (And what does it say about those who don't remorse?) Will these constant reminders of past idiocy ratchet anger to yet another level?
Few of us bat an eye anymore at the sight of fifty year olds dressed like twenty year olds or at a tattoo (something the "individualist" rebel should consider before inking his skin), nor do we bat an eye at the casual use of profanity. Not surprisingly, fewer of us frown upon public displays of anger.
Today, anger is easy. Anger is the hip emotion, and the noblest shortcoming. "I have a quick temper" a malcontent readily confesses. Never will you hear a similar confession from a coward, liar, or indolent. "No, I get angry and I when I get angry I must project to the world that I am angry. I am angry because I care. Anger is my emotion, and you should appreciate my emotion." Anger is also infused with more gravitas than other emotions; anger can intimidate. The same can hardly be said of cowardice, perfidy, and lassitude.
Technology eases the effort to conjure and display anger, even for the meekest among us. The Internet - with its promise of anonymity and distance - raises bravado and lowers civility. Anyone who has published in cyberspace has experienced faux fearlessness firsthand. Something mildly provocative carries your byline, which invokes a smattering of intellectual deconstruction of the thesis you put forth, and that's fine; intellectual discourse is desirable. More often, though, the inbox fills with invective, featuring rhetorical flurries of acronym infused texts, at times featuring the wildly popular WTF and GFYS, as if the acronym is cleverer and less offensive than spelling the phrase.
Gordon Ramsay is passionate, so he is angry. He wants a job done right and the network cheers the fact that his angry fits when the job is done wrong are so appealing to the demographic of choice -- the eighteen-to-thirty-four crowd.
Then again, we are all passionate about something, but many of us still pursue our passion while biting our tongues. We know that anger fails to imbue additional passion. To the contrary, the dirty little glossed-over secret is that anger impedes: anger embarrasses, anger is pathetic. Perhaps if Mr. Ramsay were to don a suit and comb his hair, his mood would mellow, while his passion would remain intact. And if he sports tattoos, a bracing round of dermabrasion would certainly help. Then Mr. Ramsay could ride the cusp of a new emotional trend - dignity.
Stephen Mauzy is a CFA charterholder, a financial writer, and principal of S.P. Mauzy & Associates. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.