“Couth.” Not a word you hear much anymore. To the point where autoincorrect wants to change it to “cough.”
More to the point, you don’t hear the word “uncouth” either. I learned both words at an early age from my mother, who would inform me that certain behaviors were either “not very couth” or downright “uncouth,” depending on how badly they violated social convention.
Why don’t we hear them anymore? Because we apparently have jettisoned the very notion of social convention. Our culture as become defined by a marked LACK of culture. It has been coarsened so badly it has abraded itself into the consistency of volcanic sand.
At the risk of sounding like an old coot rocking on the porch decrying, “when I was a boy…,” I’m here to tell you that when I was a boy, things WERE different!
Ladies wore gloves and hats both on Sunday and downtown to shop. And gentlemen wouldn’t dream of going to church or out socially without at least a jacket and tie. And I grew up in the North! In the ’60s!
And ladies were ladies, not obese haints who drop F-bombs at another who happened to bump them with her purse in a checkout line. And gentlemen were gentlemen, who held doors and stood whenever a lady entered or exited a room.
Popular culture was relatively cultured. Art was uplifting and…artistic, not a collection of bottles and cigarette butts left on the floor to be mistaken by a janitor for the detritus of a party the previous night and cleaned up. “Live From the Met” broadcast opera to the hoi polloi every Saturday…and they tuned in!
Our comedy was hysterical, not hateful. Go back and watch them on YouTube and I think you’ll agree.
Jackie Gleason and Art Carney with the incomparable Audrey Meadows and Joyce Randolph in The Honeymooners (who also gave us Fred and Barney and Wilma and Betty!)
Red Skelton’s George Appleby, Gertrude and Heathcliff, Cauliflower McPugg, Clem Kadiddlehopper, and Freddie the Freeloader. Jonathan Winters, Dean Martin, and Flip Wilson. And the unequalled Carol Burnett and her cast of crazies, Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence, Lyle Waggoner, and Tim Conway. Dick van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore. We don’t see their like anymore.
Go back and compare the Friars Club Roasts with the filth that passes for roasts today (I won’t even identify the no-talent, Z-list pigs who perpetrate them, but I’m sure you all know to whom I refer) and you’ll see what I mean.
Even “lowbrow” was relatively highbrow. I actually got turned onto opera by Bugs Bunny and to classical and jazz by Saturday morning cartoons like this one.
(We children also knew the difference between “cartoon violence” and “real violence” and we didn’t blame the latter on the former. We knew you couldn’t spin someone’s face around like Daffy Duck by firing a shotgun at them, à la Bugs Bunny, which is why we laughed when that happened.)
Perhaps it’s time to start deriding the uncouth and work to return some couth to our culture. Our youth will thank us many years from now.
Written by: Timothy Shea
On Twitter: @timbotim62
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