Jewish World Review August 13, 2004/ 26 Menachem-Av 5764

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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Consumer Reports

Decent people | I don't reside in the fanciest of neighborhoods. Still, there are no sofas on porches here. So, imagine taking a gander out your front window and seeing a car parked in the neighbor's front yard. I could hear the Deliverance banjos playing. I hoped some "person of interest" had dipped into the cooking sherry and simply overshot the garage. When they were no longer three sheets to the wind, they'd rev the engine and target the driveway. Weeks passed. No movement.

Who parks cars in their front yards? People who don't know how to behave. How do you handle such tackiness? The homeowners' association! HOAs have become everyone's favorite target for stories of power gone amok Legislatures now rein in HOAs. Fools! HOAs give decent folks a voice in society. They have restored disdain.

There was a time when decorum dictated homeowner behavior. Neighbors gathered around breaches, such as Barracudas on the Bermuda, pointed, and shook their heads. Until the car was moved, the family with the parking lot instead of Santa Ana tiff had no place in decent society. They were shunned as "from the wrong side of the tracks." If you wanted to remain a "decent people," you conformed. Who needed laws, HOAs, and CC&Rs? We had shame. Decent people begat decent people.

Now decent people are a dying breed. Gentlemen who let profanity slip followed it up with, "Excuse my French." In the past year, the ubiquitous "F" word was uttered by Bono on national television, John Kerry in an interview with Rolling Stone, and vice president Cheney to Senator Pat Leahy.

No matter how angry they are about wars, Mr. Bush, or Halliburton, decent people do not use such language. The musically literary English language makes such word choice criminal. "A pox upon your house," is a decent people curse. It's not offensive, particularly when uttered to a Democrat because they'll make the federal government fund research, pay for the vaccine, and issue benefits and programs for pox. Also, Americans with Disabilities Act protection kicks in. One can see why decent people use a curse, not profanity.

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We no longer perform our societal duty of shunning those with foul mouths and behavior. They were once "white trash" and ignored. Now we defend their "right" to use profanity. The FCC, the broadcast equivalent of an HOA, tries to fill the decent people void with formulae for profanity limitations. A resulting hue and cry from the oppressed dominates. Howard Stern should be shunned and driven from radio by audience drop-off, not FCC fines.

Whoopi Goldberg's off-color remarks and double entendres about the president would have once relegated her to stand-up in supper clubs in Sparks, Nevada. Neither Kerry nor Edwards denounced her remarks. "Whoopi is Whoopi," was all we heard. Lenny Bruce was cleaner, as the people in the supper clubs he played can attest.

The only Whoopi shunning came from Slim-Fast, the weight loss program of those who cannot afford the South Beach Diet book, let alone the food. Explaining that Goldberg's remarks "offended some of our consumers," Slim-Fast did what decent people used to do: fired her.

Decent people also don't talk religion or politics at the dinner table or in mixed company. Decent people know appropriate venue. I don't talk politics in my classroom. I teach ethics. Decent performers sing; they don't lecture. Bill Timmins, Aladdin Hotel president, gave Linda Ronstadt the boot for dedicating a song to Michael Moore in her concert there. Decent people in her audience walked out when she pontificated. Ms. Ronstadt made it worse, "It's a real conflict for me when I go to a concert and find out somebody in the audience is a Republican or fundamental Christian. It can cloud my enjoyment. I'd rather not know." Decent people used to let the Baptists alone. The Las Vegas exec was the decent person. Mr. Timmins said, "Whether you are politically on the left or on the right is not the point. She went up in front of the stage and just let it out. This was not the correct forum for that."

Indecency abounds because decent people cut too much slack. Jenna Bush stuck her tongue out at the media. Gov. Schwarzenegger became the playground bully when he called the Democratic legislators "girlie men" for not passing his budget bill. Howard Dean is a DNC heavy despite his public screaming. Children! Children!

Finally, we have Jack and Jeri Ryan. During his Illinois senate race, the media forced a judge (and the judiciary are mighty defenders of the indecent) to release the Ryans' divorce papers. Ex-wife Jeri described therein humiliating jaunts to sex clubs where public fornication, albeit within the bounds of matrimony, is the goal. Outrage emerged over the judge who released the records as they whined, "No worse than Clinton." A man who seeks a U.S. Senate seat does live porn flicks and his right to privacy is the issue? Indecent people are running for the land's highest offices. We deserve a car on cinder blocks in the Rose Garden.

Some people might give up and say, "Shove it!" to the lack of decency. Not I. I shall continue the good fight. I shall buy a case of Slim-Fast and sit on it on my front lawn until the neighbor's car no longer graces the front lawn. Decent folks must band together or surely we will die(t).

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JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.

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© 2004, Marianne M. Jennings