Anything goes. That’s whack.

March 15, 2014

whackSome of my observations lately have been a little crabby, I’ve noticed, and I’ve realized that what disturbs me –bigger picture– is the spectre of loosening standards and cultural norms.

Oh, hell, it’s more than a spectre. It’s a fact.  And what’s also a fact is that I think standards are important.

When I blog about grammar, it’s really about how an unintended consequence of the democracy of the web and self-publishing is the destruction of  the English language.  When I bemoan Wikipedia being cited as an absolute source of fact, I’m reflecting what I see when I teach college–a generation that believes it’s a solid source. Factual. Information to be relied on and cited.

It’s the anything goes quality that disturbs me.  The lowering of some standards and the growing belief that it’s perfectly ok.

It’s not that I’m judgmental or a prude. Just that the distance that comes with age brings a different perspective.

In the middle of a sleepless night, I thought back 40 years. Then, free love and drugs shook up the establishment.Our parents’ generation was also concerned about loosening of standards, only then it was morals and mores.

When I was in high school, girls weren’t allowed to wear pants to school. I remember being the ringleader for a day of rebellion in 1969 in which girls all came to school in slacks. Mine were brown and black plaid bell bottoms, very much of the era. It was a year of rebellion and this little protest fit right in. It seemed a little thing, this wearing of pants to school.

Looking back, though, I can see it was the start of relaxed standards that’s evolved into where we are today: schoolboys in shorts with waistbands that hang around their genitals (how DO they stay up?) and schoolgirls in skimpy midriff tops.  At the same time, kids are less respectful overall in school and I think the two are related. That law of unintended consequences, again.  Unanticipated. Undesirable.

Where are the boundaries? There are none.

When I first saw Madonna’s in-your-face sexy lingerie in a video shown on MTV in the 1980s my first thought was that we were going to raise an entire generation of kids so accustomed to sexual stimulation that it would take more and more to get them off as adults. I’m not sure what the data say, but anecdotal evidence indicates it might be true, at least somewhat.

Cultural norms are the expectations and rules that guide behavior. They’re societal standards necessary to help society evolve. Deviance from social norms is also necessary for healthy evolution. It’s a delicate balance that  sometimes feels like a little bit of a free for all.

Loosening morals and values are some of the reasons cited for the fall of the Roman Empire, although there were other reasons, like political corruption, unemployment, inflation, urban decay…hey, wait a minute. What era are we describing??

I’m interested in hearing what you think.

29 comments on “Anything goes. That’s whack.
  1. Puneet Kumar says:

    Life never stands at one place. Change always happens, everywhere, in every culture. Probably this change makes one thinks and past gradually splay in the pages of the books.
    I like your narration, particularly the way you open the time capsule and 40 years of change in the society could easily be seen.
    Roman Empire which were so big & powerful, at times, vanished brick by brick and your small articles beautifully concluded those era and finally very smoothly bring back the reader in the present.
    I don’t know how you like to read my words but I simply like to say that your pen moved me…and I penned all this in one moment.

  2. Mell Schoening says:

    Points well taken!

  3. My current students had not heard of the frogs in a pot theory…when i introduced it to them…they opened their eyes about a lot of changes in culture. You are right…it is difficult to be a teacher, because parents want to question every rule and standard. They want everything bent toward the student’s success…ultimately, it will harm their young adult more than they realize. This is a huge topic important to discuss. Thanks!

    • admin says:

      Times have changed and usually that’s good, but in the case you point out, it just doesn’t seem so positive.

  4. I appreciate this post which is very thought provoking. I see both sides of this. In many ways, I agree with the whole notion that we’ve loosened some of our standards too rapidly but what I can share from my personal perspective is that the younger people that I work with (I’m a marketing consultant for Fortune 50 clients who are all in their mid 20’s / early 30’s) are all extremely responsible and in many ways more conservative than I ever was at that age. I’m actually surprised at how polite and responsible they are, not at all the way I was at that age (or my peers). So, I’m not sure if the result of all those lowered cultural norms is what you’d expect. The kids I’m working with are very morally stable, very polite, professional and honest. I guess time will tell.

  5. Sounds like history is repeating itself!

  6. Laura Kennedy says:

    And all you kids? Get the hell off my lawn.

  7. Barb Best says:

    Wonderful insights! History is repeating itself and we have heartburn.

  8. Beverly Hine says:

    I am in complete agreement with you, Carol, about standards–standards can make life flow more smoothly, save lives, streamline processes. So many disciplines rely on rules and standards–communication, education, medicine, health, law, engineering, safety, business, technology, manufacturing and allied sciences. During the Oakland fire so many years ago, firefighters from various engine companies all over the Bay area and California could not communicate because they used different radios and operated on different frequencies; some fire hydrants could not be opened because there wasn’t a standard tool to open them, etc. Nation and state-wide plans are now in place so everybody can be on the same page during a disaster. I know my role: I will be a coffee and donut server–and not because I’m a dumb girl, but because I couldn’t operate a fire hose to save my own life. Those suckers are heavy.

    I do like progress and freedom of personal expression, though. I for one would not go back to wearing a dress, pantyhose and heels every day to work for a million bucks. 10 million maybe. (Inflation is a bitch) I can’t imagine wearing a girdle, ironing a pile of clothes daily or killing my own chickens (eww) like my grandmother did. None of my antecedents could possibly imagine equality in marriage and would probably have had the vapors at the notion of any such thing. (Rum running was more their style, or so I’m told.) I love the film The Big Chill,; my mother called it “immoral.” My grandfather fussed and fumed at my aunt and uncle adopting kids–blue eyed blond kids. (imagine trying to do that now.)

    I believe in standards. (yes, I belong to the Central Valley Chapter of the Grammar Police.) I also believe in personal expression and freedom of choice in one’s attitudes and self-expression. Unless one does it in the road and scares the horses, I wholeheartedly support personal choice–whoever anybody wants to be with or marry or whatever they want to eat or wear or have tattooed on their bodies or torture their feet into is o.k. with me. Just don’t try to make me do it, and we’ll get along fine.

  9. Kathleen says:

    I think every generation thinks the world is going to hell. I remember my parents fear about “dope” and topics like rape or abortion were never mentioned in our house. And gay was something you were when you were happy!

    But, I will say, I think the world is going to hell!

    • admin says:

      Laughs have been hard to come by, these past couple of days,but your response did it for me! Big friggin laugh! 😉 Thanks.

  10. William says:

    I teach high school Language Arts, so I see that of which you speak on a daily basis. With the advent and boom of the internet, students are provided with a ton of information, most of it crap. I have to take a day or two just to show them how to locate viable information.

    But the most disturbing thing I’ve seen increasing over the past few years is the sense of entitlement students seem to have. If I attempt to challenge their intellect they become whiny and sometimes even angry. If I challenge them too much they simply shut down and don’t do it. They know that, even if they fail the class, there will be other “safety nets” they can go to that won’t challenge them and will allow them to pass on through. It’s become a norm for students to think that if they grouse about their grades or kiss my ass enough, I’ll bump it up for them.

    Sadly, many parents enable this mindset and often even encourage or take part in it. The saddest part? When I don’t give into it it’s rare that administration will back me up on it. They’re more worried that they’ll upset a parent and the school will look bad.

    My dad used to say that many things were a pendulum and that they reach a point where they begin to swing back. I hope that’s the case with this current attitude and we begin to see it swing back at least a bit.

    Great post. Thanks for sharing!

  11. Diane says:

    I agree with you completely, Carol! I remember the old saying ‘The world is going to hell in a hand basket’. And it still seems to be headed there! Personally, I think we’ve lost our gentility. And many things have slid along with it!

  12. Roz Warren says:

    I was sent home from school repeatedly for violating the dress code, mostly for wearing clothing that was actually more modest, and covered more of my body, than what I was “supposed” to be wearing. For instance, for wearing pants instead of a skirt.

  13. I have to tell you, most of the people I worked with in Washington with the UN Foundation were in their 20s. Young 20s. These were some of the most fantastic people I’ve ever met. If those young people are any indication of where the world is headed then I say bring it. Everything evolves. Language, and therefore the rules of any given language, is not a fixed point (Don’t tell the French.)

    The world needs women in pants. Does it need women in pajama bottoms at the bank? Probably not. But if tasteless pajama bottoms is the price of freedom then I say is worth the cost.

    • admin says:

      There are always going to be super-achievers committed to big things–thinking about the bell curve, I would bet the kids you met were on the ends. I taught many kids like these. I hear what you’re saying –I’m not so sure it’s an either-or thing, just not that binary. There are degrees. I do think that our boundaries are fluid and in some cases it serves us but I’m not sure it always does.

  14. Kay Lynn says:

    I am a more go with the flow person and don’t care about grammatical mistakes as long as I can understand the intent of the writing.

    Every generation thinks the world is going wrong and we’re no different. It’s not; we just changed.

  15. Pat says:

    I totally agree. As a teacher I, too, am horrified by the blurring of the lines between text speak and actual essay writing. Don’t get me started on the jeans sagging down the knees with bums hanging out. That said, like you, I was first to buck the norm and wear pants to church.

  16. D. A. Wolf says:

    I think you know where I stand on this… quality matters. We have to pick our battles, but we can’t just shrug and say that “good enough” is good enough when it comes to the fundamentals, too many of which we seem to be losing.

    Along with our common sense.

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