Norman Cousins wrote an article called “The Decline of Neatness.” In this article he wrote about how we, as a people, have become sloppier and sloppier over the decades. He says that, “the sloppiness virus has spread to all sectors of society (page 154).” In some points I agree with him, but in others I disagree. I have mixed emotions about Cousins’ ideas, especially when it comes to clothing, language, attitude towards violence, and casual sex.
The first thing Cousins talks about is our clothing, and I agree with him. As I was growing up, I would always see kids with jeans that were ripped at the knees and the lower leg. To me that meant cool because that’s what everyone wore. In his article Cousins said, “current usage is more reflective of a slavish conformity (page 155)” than it is of wearing comfortable clothes. I agree with this statement to an extent. Many people find ripped jeans to be more comfortable than clean, pressed jeans. However, ripped jeans are also considered ‘cool.’ So part of the reason today’s generation wears ripped jeans is because everybody is doing it, but they also wear them because they think it is comfortable. I was never allowed to wear such clothing. My mother forbid it, as did my school. Had I tried to wear ripped jeans to school, not only would my mom have freaked out, but I would have received one day of In-School-Suspension for breaking the dress code. But that is not important because I wouldn’t do it anyway; I was always neat and tidy. I took a bath almost everyday, I never wore the same shirt twice, never wore the same pants more than twice, and always kept my clothes clean. When my jeans got holes in them I threw them out because they weren’t comfortable anymore. I didn’t like having my knees hanging out. I also didn’t like fringe at the bottom of my jeans, as many people do. I am not alone in this. I know my mom, step-dad Mike, and my roommate Orlando agree. So I agree with Cousins, our clothes have gotten sloppy.
The next thing he talks about is our language, and I disagree with him on this. Cousins says, “A complete sentence in everyday speech is about as rare as a man’s tie in the swank Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel (page 155).” This is entirely wrong. I couldn’t tell you the last time somebody said to me, “Go that there.” I believe the way the modern generation talks is the way people have always thought. The only difference is now, we say what we are thinking. When we don’t say what we are thinking, that’s what leads people to violence. Misunderstandings originate from an inability to communicate what we want to communicate. This is why we swear, if we don’t swear then people don’t know just how pissed off we are, and they may continue to do whatever it is they were doing that pissed us off. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying anger is a good thing; personally, I believe that there is never a reason to yell, but I can understand why people do. I am also not saying that swearing defuses a situation, I am merely saying that swearing is the best way to show just how pissed off you are at somebody. Cousins mentions our casual use of slang in our everyday speech. Slang originated as a way for teenagers to communicate without parents knowing what their kids were saying. In a sense, slang is a secret language for teenagers. I once came across a quote by an unknown person, “Maturity is knowing when and where to be immature.” By this definition, some people are immature. Most people, however, know when and where to be immature. Most people will speak in slang when they are with their friends, but if they go to a job interview, then they generally know it is time to be mature and they speak normally. Don’t get me wrong, not everybody is like this, but I think most people are. It’s all about who you are with. As I learned in my Writing 1 class with Professor Suter, people speak differently to different people depending on who it is they are talking to. If they have a joking relationship with someone, then they will constantly be joking when talking to that person. If they are talking to, for example, a Judge about an arrest for drunk driving, then they are more likely to be appropriately dressed and speaking in proper english. So it’s not that we are unkempt in our speech, it’s that we know when and where to be immature.
I disagree with Cousins when he talks about our attitudes towards violence. When Cousins speaks about how movie writers are encouraged to make scripts with lots of blood and gore, he says that, “the effect is to foster attitudes of casualness towards violence and brutality, not just in entertainment but in everyday life (page 155).” This insults me. I love gory movies, the more blood and gore and the scarier it is, the better. My favorite movie of all time, Evil Dead. Evil Dead is a movie about 5 college students on break. They go to a remote cabin in the woods high up in the Smokey Mountains for a fun weekend away from the city. While there they find a tape and a tape player down in the basement, along with it were a shotgun, some shells, a ritual dagger, and a book. When they played the tape the man who made the tape said the book was found in the Candarian ruins and was called the Book of the Dead. It detailed the rituals used to dispose of the dead, and gave rituals to resurrect the dead and gave them permission to possess the living. The man then began to read from the book, the spell that would resurrect Candarian demons to possess the living. The demons then began to possess each and every one of them, until only one was left. The last remaining survivor killed them by throwing the Book of the Dead into the fireplace. This is the scariest movie I have ever seen. However, I also consider myself a pacifist. It is one thing to watch a fake movie about something, its something entirely different to actually do it, or to agree with it. I am a Pagan. We believe that the Earth is sacred. Real life violence does more damage to the Earth than it even does to mankind. Mankind can recover from anything. The Earth however, it takes a long time to recover from the damage that mankind causes to it. Mankind doesn’t give it a chance to recover though. Imagine that you were in a sword fight. When the fight is over you have a gaping wound in your gut. Now imagine that just as the wound is closing, somebody sticks another sword in there and reopens the wound. This is what mankind is doing to the Earth. So no, I have not been desensitized to violence, true violence sickens me. But that doesn’t mean I am going to stop watching bloody movies.
Finally, Cousins talks about “the casual sex so fashionable in films (page 156).” He says that it “deadens feelings and annihilates privacy (Cousins page 156).” I agree with him when he says that the casual sex they show in movies today is a bad thing. It is one thing to have porno movies but to throw sex casually into movies and TV shows, and to make it rated R, as opposed to rated TV-MA, it’s just not right. It’s different with books, though. I have read many romance novels with sex scenes, but the difference between the books and the movies is the books are more romantic. I have heard many a guy complain that these romance novels set the bar too high for men. That no man can possibly live up to the standards set by the men in these novels. I disagree, I think that, rather than “desensitizing” us, as Cousins said, it gives us something to shoot for. Casual sex in movies can be harmful to the sex drive of humanity, but sex in books makes us want to be better.
Cousins believes we are sloppy dressers, careless speakers, heartless murderers, and eunuchs. In much of this he is wrong. As a whole, we are sloppy dressers, though we dress up when the occasion calls for it. However, we are not careless in our speech, heartless murderers, or eunuchs. I can understand where Cousins is coming from in this article, but that doesn’t mean he is right. In fact he is very wrong. He needs to go back and do some more research. What one sees walking the streets of one city is not a true representation of what the whole world is like. Everyone is entitled to an opinion but some people need to be told when their opinion is wrong.