We may be relishing a surge of female power in Hollywood, from Sandra Bullock's box office-breaking turn in The Blind Side to Kathryn Bigelow's wide-spread success with The Hurt Locker, but for every eye looking forward, there's always another looking back. As I wrote last week, Warner Bros. is looking to bring manner maven Emily Post back into the spotlight for a new, as-yet-untitled romcom about a "prissy Emily Post manners coach who turns a rough-around-the-edges guy into a proper gentlemen."
Adding a slice of courtesy to modern cinema? That simple idea sounds great -- we've all had our share of flabbergastingly rude folks who can't see past their own nose, and maybe a little movie fun could give the jerks a kick in the right direction. Unfortunately, this isn't about dosing the public with a little manners. It's lavishing in that old-school mentality of the "prissy" female manners coach and the gruff and impolite man who needs to be polished to "perfection." (Unless, of course, Warner Bros. is getting ready for a prissy man and his gentleman protege? Yeah, not very likely.) On the plus side, the project is pushing politeness rather than striving to loosen up the uptight woman so she can grab a man's man a la The Ugly Truth. On the negative side, the coach is still "prissy," while the film itself relishes an ancient mindset, rather than updating it with a little modern class.
For a business that's supposed to be so very liberal and progressive, our entertainment industry thrives on the conservative and passe.
It's the year 2010, and I'm writing about how it's outdated to have Miss Manners show Mr. Rude the ways of fine society. Doesn't it seem a little ridiculous? Nevertheless, it's warranted. Writing the simple appeal that manners should go both ways, woman to man and man to woman rather than one-sided hoohaa, was enough to bring some "women wanting to be more like men" viewpoints, and a lack of distinction between accepting kindness, and having it dictated to you by your sex. (Or dictated by a woman who lived in another world 90 years ago.)
The fact of the matter is: There are flaws with the system of courtesy, manners, and politeness. I'm not going to go into it all because that's a discussion in and of itself. But to put it very briefly: True politeness is not learning a set of rules arbitrarily made by some random person. It's being attentive to your target, whether they be man or woman, and acting in accordance with their personality and opinions. There is no reason to assume a specific brand of polite action. The thought is pure, silly laziness. Furthermore, to wrap oneself in sex-dictated politeness is just perpetuating this idea of "the other" -- that we must be treated differently, that men or women are an absolute enigma to each other, rather than beings whose reactions are made up of experiences and events, most of which are easy to discern.
Now here's me getting picky. If we want to continue the old traditions, and want to have romcoms based on 1920s manners, let's go all out. Have you ever taken a look at Etiquette? There are some great tips in there, of course, like the oft-forgotten (by the rude and manner-fiends alike) "think before you speak," but there's also a long list of wildly particular niceties that would make anyone's eyes roll. Never say "Pardon me!" Instead, you should say: "I beg your pardon. Or, Excuse me! Or, sorry!" Remember to say "How do you do!" and never simply "Charmed!" Furthermore, a widow may not have bridesmaids, and letter paper "should never be ruled." The picky aspects go on and on.
I know, it's ridiculous, right? Times change, and the latest edition of Etiquette isn't the same as the one released 90 years ago. And that, my dears, is exactly the point. Times change, but not the male-to-female-directed politeness. Why on earth not? To me, this romcom following the prissy manners maven and her rough male protegee is as silly as me pulling out my antique Little Blue Book 13: "How to Get a Husband" and using that as a guide to life. (It tells me I should move if my reputation gets tarnished, to wear red because it "must suggest to them flaming youth and exuberant vivacity," and that it's a good idea to check a fella's credit rating before marriage.)
Tackling one-directional manners satirically? Sure. Straight-forward? We know better. Or we should, especially if the biz is, as I previously mentioned, liberal. But I guess performing the same polite acts back and forth between a man and woman is too scandalous for Hollywood. A woman holding a door for a man? Gasp! A coat? Shudder! Paying for dinner? The horror!
And the sad thing is, it seems really silly to expect and hope for equality, and female advancement in the film world and society-at-large, if it's considered ridiculous to think that men and women should treat each other with the same polite acts and consideration.