Let's revisit dignity as a way to live
Linda Downing | Highlands TodaySeth MacFarlane, this past Sunday's host of the Oscars, flopped in the humor department as well as stirring questions of his own humanity. What he said illustrates how many do not comprehend crossing the line into complete degradation. It also shows a person need not use profanity to be profane. One only has to give up all dignity.
Published: March 1, 2013
Published: March 1, 2013
Following the accolades for Daniel Day-Lewis' portrayal of Abraham Lincoln in the movie "Lincoln," MacFarlane quipped (and I paraphrase): "The actor who really got into Lincoln's head was John Wilkes Booth." To the few gasps and nervous giggles, MacFarlane coldly added (again paraphrased): "Oh, 150 years is still not enough time to lighten up."
Joking about the assassination of one of the few worthy of the term "dignified" ought to alert us to a society "growing up" on reality shows and disrespect. Just before the Oscars, Stephen L. Carter of Bloomberg News wrote a piece on the importance of dignity, using Lincoln as an example: "Dignity isn't stuffy. Dignity isn't old-fashioned. Dignity is crucial to the idea of civilization." We can add: Dignity doesn't die with time.
If the planners of the award ceremony chose 39-year-old MacFarlane to appeal to a broader audience, they failed — or, let's hope they did. Quentin Fottrell, writing about the Oscars for The Wall Street Journal, said: "We've lost the younger generations."
If they were watching (and follow-up indicates more of them were), did they — like so many of their elders — know so little history that MacFarlane's "joke" bombed only because of his listeners' ignorance?
February was Black History Month. March is Women's History Month. Both months remember people and events that have been too often overlooked. Both demand dignity.
Self-disclosure reveals how much we follow the herd. The frequency of this self-theme, not just in self-help periodicals but also in the news, shows we recognize the need but the cure eludes us. English professor Gina Barreca wrote a Jan. 1 news column admonishing women to "be more yourself." Philosophy teacher Crispin Sartwell followed in February, warning us not to let other people, even experts, tell us what we like: "You will impoverish your own soul."
The most-asked question at the Oscars is: "Who are you wearing?" They promote fashion designers, but maybe the question is not as shallow as it seems. Maybe if we stopped at "Who are you?" or if we asked, "Who would you like us to think you are?" we could revisit dignity.
Some people get irate when we point out that the way we dress conveys a message. Like it or not, fair or not, when newswomen appear on camera in cocktail dresses flaunting cleavage, they might get attention but they lose professional credibility.
Even so, MacFarlane, clean-cut in suit and tie, defined Sarah Palin's "lipstick on a pig." In a brief bio on him, we learn he is non-religious, an atheist. Proverbs 28:5 says only "those who seek the Lord understand it [justice] fully." Justice recognizes dignity and does not confuse it with low-class humor. MacFarlane could not give us what he does not have.
Finding truth requires the right starting point. That is the quest of this column. If we seek simple truth, we can find it together — side-by-side.
Linda M. Downing is a freelance writer. Contact her at lindadowning.com.