“Society crumbles when it takes cues from the underclass.” – Charlotte Hays
(The following excerpt from When Did White Trash Become Normal? by Charlotte Hays was posted on nypost.com on November 2, 2013. To view it in its entirety click on the link below.)
When Snooki, whose talents include getting sloppy drunk and throwing up on camera, made Barbara Walters’ “Ten Most Fascinating People” list a few years back, one could only ask: Was Octomom not available?
Last year, “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” which features a cornucopia of social ills, was TLC’s highest-rated show, attracting more cable viewers than the Republican National Convention, which had the misfortune to share the time slot with the charmers from Georgia. The show’s matriarch, June Shannon, has four daughters by four men, one of whose names she can’t recall.
White Trash is the new normal — and you don’t have to tune in to reality TV to rub elbows with pathologies that once stayed put in Skunk Hollow. White Trash Normal has invaded every nook and cranny of life, from table manners, to dress, to money management.
Remember when bouncing a check was shameful? Now apparently it’s shameful for banks to charge overdraft fees.
Students of Arnold Toynbee, the English historian, will recognize what is going on here. In a chapter of his “A Study of History” entitled “Schism in the Soul,” Toynbee argued that it is a sign that a society is disintegrating when it takes its cues for manners and customs from the underclass. He describes such societies as being “truant” to their own values.
People in all walks of life used to put forth effort not to be taken for White Trash — in contrast to people today, who risk hepatitis to ape the decorative styles of prison gangs.
Not being White Trash wasn’t a matter of money. It was purely behavioral.
When did we decide that elastic waist bands, convict-inspired fashion and swearing on a cellphone were authentic ways to express individuality?
If we read our Toynbee, things may be even worse than we think. In Toynbee’s view, it’s up to the elites to save a civilization. They must become once again vigorously creative (think: great art, not twerking on TV) and worthy of imitation.
But how to get there from here? We could try saving our admiration for what’s really admirable. So let’s quit pretending that there’s anything charming about stripper-themed fashion and financial irresponsibility. All we have to lose is our inner Honey Boo Boo.
Bring back manners, bring back aspiration, bring back responsibility, heck, bring back the man in the gray flannel suit. We miss you.
Charlotte Hays is the author of “When Did White Trash Become the New Normal? A Southern Lady Asks the Impertinent Question” (Regnery Publishing), out this week