The Regrettable Decline of Class and Good Taste

Most of us have received one of those emails displaying photos of so-called “Walmart People.” As you scroll down, there is a collection of pictures of Walmart shoppers wearing wild assortments of clothing covering bodies that seem fashioned from silly putty or carved from tree stumps.

There are horribly overweight women wearing skimpy shorts barely covering explosions of tattoo-blemished buttock flesh. There are men wearing pink leotards and combat boots. There are people who seem to have crawled out of a fissure in the earth–troglodytes perhaps? Or conceivably, humanoid-like creatures from another planet that crash landed into a Goodwill warehouse?

Can any of this be real? Do people look like that? And do they go to Walmart and other places?

The answer is yes, yes and yes. These are real people. They do look like that, and they all-too-often abandon their dank and murky grottos to venture into well-lit public places such as Walmart.

What happened? How did our nation spawn organisms that apparently have no concept of taste, style or class?

Beyond these “Walmart people” I think national taste and style hit a new low when the Northwestern University women’s 2005 national championship lacrosse team showed up at the White House in wearing flip flops. What does this say about respect for the nation’s highest office, let alone personal pride and class?

It says none of that matters anymore. It says if you want to go to a funeral wearing cargo shorts and a tank top it’s OK because the most important thing is not showing a modicum of respect for the deceased, but how YOU feel.

The whole concept of “class” or what it means to be classy is an unknown quality with too many people today. Nothing is left to the imagination. In movies today it has become de rigueur for the camera to pass through the bedroom door as actors and actresses engage in multiple forms of mattress gymnastics.

Remember movies when a couple would go through a door, and then the next scene would be the next day? Isn’t that enough? Can’t we leave something to the imagination for God’s sake?

Can you imagine Katherine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Audrey Hepburn, Rita Hayworth, etc. baring it all for a scene with a nude Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, James Stewart or Burt Lancaster? Wouldn’t have happened. And it’s not just because the censors in those days would not have allowed it to happen. It’s because once upon a time Americans had an appreciation for elegance and taste.

Judi Dench
Katherine Hepburn

Great actresses of today such as Meryl Streep, Judi Dench, Kate Winslet, Emma Thompson, and Cate Blanchett know you don’t have to do the horizontal waltz to exude sex appeal. They leave something to the imagination.

So why do otherwise intelligent women show up at the White House in flip flops? Why do “Walmart people” feel they can go shopping looking like two legged rubbish bins?

Dare I offer my humble opinion? I fear there is very little child rearing. Too many parents are abrogating that responsibility to schools, day care centers, etc. The result is a nation in which millions of kids have little or no understanding of shared values, self-discipline, social responsibility, respect for others, or what we used to call “good manners.”

All of that is utterly passé. The idea for too many young girls today is to look trashy, show as much booty as they can and have a big ugly tattoo poking out above their butt crack.

When I was teaching at the University of Illinois, I couldn’t believe how many female students came to my 8 a.m. class in their pajamas. They couldn’t have cared less about how they appeared. But hey, at least they were comfortable.

I think attitudes began to change dramatically in the counterculture, hippie-fueled, “turn on, tune in, drop out” 1960s when the mantra was: “if it feels good, do it.”

Miss Manners was about as relevant back then as powdered wigs and hoop skirts.

Therefore, we can argue that its “generational.” OK, I agree, up to a point. Back in “the day” (and here I am dating myself), we wore tight jeans and white t-shirts with cigarette packs rolled up in the short sleeves. Some of us had “Ducktails,” and we liked to cruise around in customized cars equipped with thunderous glass pack mufflers.

But how many of us looked like those people at Walmart–or for that matter at McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Burger King, or I-Hop? Because I have seen them at those places also.

Until the 1960s people took a lot more pride in their appearance mainly because (in my case, at least) my mother would never have allowed me to walk out the door looking like a vagrant. I think too many parents today don’t provide that kind of supervision. Few teach their kids any discipline and instead infuse them with the idea that it’s not necessary to respect others, their property, or their opinions.

School teachers today tell me that when they get kids from homes like that (and that means most kids) every time they attempt to punish them the parents circle the wagons around their brats and often it’s the teacher who gets disciplined. I can’t imagine what it must be like to teach high school today.

Who knows where all of this will end. I am not optimistic.

In the meantime, I think I will take my camera to my nearest Walmart and digitally bag a few troglodytes.

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