- A History of Social Norms, by Edna St. Vitus-Dance. Barns & Silo, $29.95 (Big Chief tablet-paper edition, with-visible-flecks-of-wood-and-lumberjack)
- The Abandonment of Social Norms by Logan Bologna. Tinker, Evers & Chance, $6.43
- Bite Me, Norm by Kirk Tiberius James. Julius Manboob & Mortified Sons, $1.29 print-on-demand (two-printers, no waiting.)
Three remarkable new books examine the growing public disregard for the social norms which have unofficially guided civilized societies to civilized civility ever since the end of the very uncivil Dark Ages (aka the Age of Rude Noises.)
The end came suddenly, according to St. Vitus-Dance. One night in the Dark Ages (it was always hard to tell if it was night or day or even the day before yesterday) a band of alt-hunters and alt-gatherers stumbled out of a diode mine and headed home. They’d spent the whole day hunting and gathering dark-emitting diodes (D.E.D) which they sold to people whose lives were just a little too bright for Dark Ages sensibilities.
Suddenly, one of them held up a D.E.D. and shouted “Hey, Ed, look. If you twist it like this, it lights up.”
Thus were light-emitting diodes (L.E.D.) discovered, instantly ending the Dark Ages and changing forever uncivilized practices such as eating with your elbows or knees on the table, or without napkins and, all too often, sneezing into the soup tureen and calling it chowder.
Philosophers, whose scribbles until then were transcribed in the dark — assisted only by mercenary Flemish fireflies — called it the Age of Enlightenment. Significantly, latter-day historians and phys-ed luminaries called it the Rush-Bagot treaty. But that is another story.
Author St. Vitus-Dance is a direct descendant of Todd, the Knucklehead, a licensed feeler and interpreter of head bumps in the Really Dark Ages. Todd was one of the world’s first phrenologists (an early term for one who studies bumps found on the heads of phriends).
Sadly, he was accused of feeling bumps nowhere near the head, leading the angry husband of one bumpee to shout “You want head bumps? Try these, whacko.” On a bright note, although Todd was burned at the stake, today he is considered the Father of Whack-a-Mole.
St. Vitus-Dance says the very first social norm adopted by any society dates to the very early days of rock concerts (pre-roll era). She writes that obnoxious fans, overcome by a desire to get down and get funky at the local hard rock quarry, blocked the view of those behind them on the pricey club-level stonework.
Since then, cries of “DOWN IN FRONT, THEN GET FUNKY,” became an effective social norm at your better quarries. Just as the cry “Watch the spear, man! I SAID WATCH THE DAMN SPEAR, YOU KNUCKLEHEAD! ” halted the practice of reenacting Brontosaurus hunts with sharpened sticks during crowded cave parties.
In his Abandonment of Norms, Bologna, a retired computer farmer, uses the example of people sitting behind you in the movie theater to demonstrate how norms have slowly eroded.
“Once upon a time, a family of 12, plus the kid from across the street, might file into the row behind you with hardly any fighting or seat kicking. The norms at the time allowed for polite whispering to the person in front of them (you), asking if they (you) could look down on the floor and see that little brown milk dud that Gimli, son of Gloin, dropped and it rolled under your seat and could you grab it and pass it back?”
Unless, of course, it stuck to your shoe, says Bologna. In which case the norm was for you (you) to say something like ‘Jeezy Farouking McWeezy, it’s stuck on my shoe’ and to spend the rest of the movie whining (the norm called for ‘softly’) and trying to scuff it off.
Normfully, the person behind you would thoughtfully remind you that a putty knife could scrape off most of the mashed dud, then you (you) could throw it away, or simply eat it, as long as you hadn’t walked on it too much.
But no more, says Bologna.
“Nowdays the trend is for someone behind you to lean forward, press a bolo knife against your neck and spit out something like ‘My Milk Dud. Get it! And while you’re at it, get out.’ No please, no thank you, no oops, my bad.”
Indeed, Tiberius James, an award-winning hot dog glutton, describes in Bite me, Norm, how the phrase “Bite me, Norm” became the rallying cry of young, upwardly mobile, anarchists and wealth planners when asked by anyone named Norm to “Use a handkerchief, for God’s sake.”
Through the ages, social norms have bolstered manners. Consider how the “oh-my-goddings” and “how-dare-you-you-nasty-young-mans” of so many Aunt Hermiones and Sister Milo Marys have curtailed wanton boofing at Thanksgiving gatherings, and the practice of bending over, dropping trou and shouting to passersby “Vouchsafe my rosy red vouch.”
On the downside, sects of overly strict grammarians and word diddlers gained power. This gave rise to controversial rules such as the mandatory use of the term “male-thingie” when referring to a man’s male-thingie — instead of the more medically precise, though somehow vulgar “Bushrod Johnson.”
And who can forget the mandatory use of the hortatory subjunctive? Thus, Cicero’s well known “Let us eat Homer’s shorts,” or the more demure “Granted that The Donald is not the biggest idiot, at least he is an idiot.”
©Patrick A. McGuire and A Hint of Light 2013-2018, all rights reserved.