A Southron pal passes on the following.
“I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to display some of our positive strengths,” [Birmingham, Al. resident and etiquette expert Cindy] Streit said. “I’m proud to be an American, so I wanted to show this man our gracious Southern hospitality.”
Unfortunately the man was Sacha Baron Cohen, a.k.a. “Borat,”gathering material for his movie, which I think goes to general circulation next week.
The trick with humor like Baron Cohen’s (the same applies to, e.g. Don Rickles and “Dame Edna Everage”) is to keep us laughing at the sight of decent and well-meaning but very-slightly-ridiculous people being duped, without stepping over the line at which our natural feelings of disgust towards displays of cruelty kick in. This stunt was, for me, uneasily close to the line.
My very vague impression is that line has moved some over the past few decades, and we are more tolerant of this kind of cruelty now than we were in 1960, even though the society of that time was rougher and harsher than ours. If that’s right, then comics like Baron Cohen have more room to maneuver, and we should expect to see more of their type.
My favorite Southern-hospitality story: A lady known to me, British and very slightly famous, was doing a book tour of the USA. On her schedule was an afternoon talk to a ladies’ club in a Southern city–I’m not sure, but I think it was actually Birmingham–at 2 p.m. My friend arrived, gave her talk, was well received, and spent a pleasant couple of hours mingling & chattering with the ladies of the club afterwards. Only when she got to her hotel much later did she realize that she’d been an hour late to the event, through having got time zones mixed up. Nobody at the event had mentioned this; nobody had given any sign of having been put out by it, or resentment at having had their time wasted. If she hadn’t found out her mistake herself, my friend would never have been aware of it at all.
Now that’s courtesy.