Monday, April 1, 2013

Sixty-Four: Attention

I was brought up to an old school kind of courtesy, and I believe in social forms.  So I am amazed by certain things here in the new century.

A few weeks ago a high school boy posted a video at YouTube asking a famous model to be his date to his prom. The video became the subject of a few news stories, and there was some betting as to whether the model would be his prom date. In the end, she very politely and gently declined--- prior work obligations and travel. I suppose most people reading about the video thought it was a cute story. A silly thing to do, certainly, but faint heart ne'er won fair maiden, and there would be a certain charm if the model had actually appeared. Dancing at prom with someone beautiful and famous would be an experience  that the boy would treasure for a lifetime, and most people, I think, would cheer the boy on for having the courage to ask. Most people would cheer, too, for any goodnight kiss the model might have bestowed as she departed--- a lovely gesture.

We don't live in a world where the story could be taken as merely charming and silly, though--- or at least we don't live there any longer.

I've run across a couple of blog coulmns, each with its own long tail of comments, about the story.  The columns were angry and hostile and disturbingly aggressive. The authors kept insisting that the boy's video wasn't cute, and neither was the story. The boy was excoriated as being "creepy" and as being no better than the two football players convicted a couple of weeks ago in a very ugly rape trial in Ohio--- no better, and with no essential difference. The story was pictured as being all about patriarchy and "rape culture".   The commentariat were even more hostile, and there were calls for some kind of punishment for the boy,  for making him a kind of symbol of patriarchal evil.     

His sin, and what the authors and their sycophants saw as a besetting sin in "rape culture" society, was that the boy sought someone's attention, that he'd dared to ask someone to notice him. The attacks weren't based on a kind of laughter at some suburban teen boy thinking that a girl who'd been on the covers of various magazines might be his prom date.  They were based on the idea that he might have the evil male idea that he could ask someone out--- on the idea that if he asked politely, and showed himself as confident and brave enough to ask, the girl would respond.

One author went into a long rant about the evil of seeking someone's attention. How dare this boy--- how dare anyone male ---presume to think that they can ask for attention! The author and her commentariat were furious at the idea that saying something nice to someone, or doing something nice for someone, entitles anyone to "attention". Thinking that one can seek notice and attention, the author and her choir said, was no more than coercion.  Doing anything to get attention, doing anything and thinking that someone will pay attention or should pay attention is on a spectrum leading to rape.

Despite what the columnists were ranting about, we all do live in a web of social obligations. If someone says something nice to you, or does something nice for you, you do in fact owe them your attention. You may end up saying No to them, but you do owe them your attention. That's only very basic courtesy, and its certainly the way I was brought up. The gender warriors seem to envision a world of isolated and atomised individuals with no obligations of courtesy or kindness. Never mind that they seem to despise flirtation and seduction and equate those things with coercion and "rape culture"--- they really do seem to hate the idea of any social obligations, of any kind of rituals intended to make social contact and social interactions easier.

I could never have made a video asking a cover model out, but I do admire the boy's nerve. Faint heart ne'er won fair maiden--- that's certainly true. But the issue isn't about the boy and his video. The gender warriors envision a world where there are no rituals or obligations of courtesy, where all contact between genders is seen through a lens of power and dominance. Their world is an ugly place, and it leaves no room for  anyone like me.

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