Monday, March 7, 2016

Manners Monday – Downton Abbey vs. The Donald – Goodbye Civility, Hello Chaos

I am truly sad. After six seasons, Sunday marked the end of an era here in the United States with the airing of the final episode of beloved PBS drama “Downton Abbey.” A show that held us to the highest standard and walked us through the beautiful lives of the British aristocracy has bid us adieu. It’s ironic that this critically acclaimed historical period masterpiece is leaving us at a time in our history when we need it most. We can no longer count on the Crawley family and their dutiful servants to lead us through a life of civility. Instead, we are faced with a climate filled with chaos particularly within our political process and led brazenly by Republican frontrunner, Donald Trump.  

As the owner of an etiquette consulting company, it has been exceptionally difficult to process the response Donald Trump has received from the masses. From the moment he threw his hat into the ring it’s been an endless round of insults, jabs, punches and blows. Where the occupants of Downton Abbey have been trained in the school of elegance, formality, and restraint, Donald Trump takes his cues from World Wrestling Entertainment repeatedly smacking down opponents and spewing offenses for pure entertainment. My husband happens to represent WWE wrestlers so I know from what I speak.  Somehow he has successfully pushed the limits well beyond comfort level appealing to the anger and disdain of our nation. Up to this point, his unorthodox behavior has been impervious to social norms making up his own rules with no subject, personal or professional, too taboo.  Whether he’s obnoxiously attacking an opponent on their physical features, unbelievably pretending not to hear a question involving KKK leader, David Duke, outrageously encouraging his supporters to raise their right hand and pledge their allegiance to his campaign, or peddling his personal brand of Trump products, he remains virtually unscathed and continues to crush in the polls. Astonishingly, he has single-handedly inspired more voter turnout than we’ve seen in the political system in recent history.  This guy’s on a winning streak that won’t end.

In preparation for the Downton finale, I viewed a double-feature of the “Manners of Downton Abbey” and “More Manners of Downton Abbey” which only served to underscore the many differences we are witnessing today in bold, high-definition color. From the style and grace that ruled their behavior to the gorgeous self-control that governed each movement and utterance. Not a step was taken or word was spoken without careful consideration and precision. Manners played an integral part of their daily lives. They provided structure, meaning and a code of conduct to live by - they were a rulebook to follow regardless of social class.  In stark contrast, we are witnessing a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants craziness laced with vulgarity and vibrato.  Manners are cast aside as an afterthought, while the disrupters, the rule-breakers and trouble-makers get things done.  So how do we make sense of this all?  How can we make peace with this shift in behavior?  Is there a sweet spot that lies somewhere in between the two?  In order to discover, let’s take a look at some of the key areas in which Downton and the Donald differ.

Downton Abbey:  A cool reserve was the definition of good character.  Formality took precedence over everything. A disciplined restraint was observed at all times. Accomplishments were downplayed and humility was favored.  There was a deep sense of honor and attention paid to tradition and customs.  
Donald Trump:  Good character means winning. He is attention-seeking and smug unabashedly sharing his list of accomplishments and conveniently forgetting his failures.  He doesn’t feel beholden to the traditions or customs of the political process preferring to make up his own rules as he goes. 

Downton Abbey. Careful consideration was given to how to speak, when to speak and what to say. Conversation was formal, indirect and devoid of emotion.  Words were used sparingly and methodically.  Vocabulary was intelligent and incredibly witty.
Donald Trump: His rhetoric is a symptom of our society today, uncensored and without filters.  It leans towards the simplified, the crass, and the monotonous. He is the king of catch-phrases, one-liners, and absurd attacks. He is quick to insult, brag, bully or be on the defense.  He does not back down and likes to have the final word.  

Downton Abbey: Body movements were kept to a minimum with posture stick straight whether sitting or standing.  Hand gestures and facial expressions were barely detectable. Nothing was done with haste. Confrontation was to be avoided at all costs.
Donald Trump: He prefers a big entrance. His boisterous movements are taken right out of the WWE playbook. His facial expressions are priceless and comical. He is quick to gesture and point.  He relishes in inciting the crowds and dissing his detractors. He thrives on the spectacle, showing energy and plenty of passion.

Downton Abbey: Money was never mentioned in polite conversation. Knowing your place in the social hierarchy was not privilege, it was a duty and, therefore, came with responsibility. It was rude to be snobbish.
Donald Trump: His wealth is repeatedly mentioned without an ounce of modesty or shame.  Whether he’s proudly defending his self-funded campaign, disputing his personal net worth, or touting the vast Trump brand, he fancies the flashy showing nothing but contempt for anything understated.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Chris Rock’s the Diversity Controversy, but Thank You Ticker Misses the Mark - Red Carpet Manners at the 88th Academy Awards

There hasn’t been a more highly anticipated monologue than the one Chris Rock had riding on his shoulders at the 88th Academy Awards. The last time he hosted more than a decade ago, both Jamie Foxx and Morgan Freeman went home with awards, but for the second year in a row not a single person of color was nominated in the most prestigious categories prompting the #OscarsSoWhite controversy and tasking producers David Hill and Reginald Hudlin with the delicate balance of delivering a show that blended humor with honesty.  What better man to address the elephant in the room than Chris Rock whose infectious smile and endearing demeanor manage to pull us in even when he’s going for the jugular.  During his ten minute opening, Rock took jabs, both hilarious and poignant, at everything from the show’s name proclaiming it, “the White People’s Choice Awards” to those who urged him to back out of his hosting duties altogether, and both Jada and Will Smith who decided to boycott the show. He included a stereotypical man-on-the-street bit that bordered offensive and a montage of African American actors recast in this year’s top films that earned some of the night's biggest laughs. He made fun of the In Memoriam stating that it would be replaced this year with only “black people who were shot by the cops on their way to the movies,” and compared Hollywood casting to a sorority, “We like you Rhonda, but you’re not a Kappa!” While the awards show was down to an 8-year low in the ratings, Rock received mainly supportive reviews, with the exception of the Latino and Asian American communities who wondered why their efforts were not more mindfully included in the diversity controversy.  During the three and a half hour long show, here’s what stood out for us as red carpet manners hits and misses.

Red Carpet Fashions Flaunted Side Boob. The ladies were showing lots of skin at this year’s Oscars. With plunging necklines that went practically down to the navel on some (Charlize Theron, Margot Robbie) and breasts that were taped strategically into dresses (Olivia Wilde, Rachel McAdams, Heidi Klum), it definitely seemed there were two camps of style, those that chose feminine and frilly (Cate Blanchett, Alicia Vikander and Heidi Klum) and others that were more slicked back and severe (Rooney Mara, Daisy Ridley and Olivia Munn). There was a great deal of strapless dresses (Naomi Watts, Reese Witherspoon, Kate Winslet, Sophia Vergara, Tina Fey), embellishments (Emily Blunt, Alicia Vikander, and Cate Blanchett) and embroidered dresses (Jennifer Lawrence and Chrissy Teigen). Colors ranged from pastels (Cate Blanchett's sea foam green) and a spectrum of jewel tones (Olivia Munn's rich tangerine, Brie Larson's royal blue, and Saoirse Ronan's emerald) to winter white (Lady Gaga’s architecturally-inspired ensemble). Most guys opted for the classic man look (Eddie Redmayne, Leonardo DiCaprio, Bryan Cranston) while the usual suspects took fashion risks to stand out (Jared Leto). Effortless hair was a trend on the red carpet (Margot Robbie, Heidi Klum, Saoirse Ronan, Kate Winslet), as well as flashing tattoos (Whoopi Goldberg).

Red Carpet Reveals. We noticed an extremely spacey Jennifer Jason Leigh offering a rather lackluster red carpet interview with host Ryan Seacrest. Priyanka Chopra divulged that she pre-recorded the names of the people in her category prior to presenting so that she would not butcher them live on awards night.  Olivia Wilde was coached not to hug anyone lest she stain her white Valentino dress, and when grilled by Billy Bush, Olivia Munn credited Japanese potatoes with giving her glowing skin.

The Night of 100 Important Issues. With an audience in the multi-millions, the Oscars is the perfect platform to share important issues and the winners and other powers-that-be know this all too well. From the smaller, sweeter encouragements like that of the Best Animation winner who inspired kids to channel their angst into creativity to the larger appeals like that of “The Big Short” director/co-writer Adam McKay, whose message to big banks rang loud and clear. Cheryl Boone Isaacs so eloquently set the tone for the evening exclaiming that today’s audience is "global and rich in diversity" and therefore the film industry should accurately reflect this world going forward into the future. Vice-President, Joe Biden made a call to action for victims of sexual assault as he introduced Lady Gaga who performed a song for the documentary film, The Hunting Ground. Sam Smith, who won for Best Original Song, stood loud and proud as he hoped all citizens of the gay community would be considered equals one day. Leonardo DiCaprio’s acceptance speech for Best Actor in “The Revenant” presented him with an opportunity to discuss a matter close to his heart - the threat of climate change, while the producer for Best Picture “Spotlight” was able to thank journalists for helping to stop sexual abuse in the clergy. 

Standing Ovation Suspense. There was a bit of confusion among audience members as to whether to stand for Vice-President Biden as he took the stage, but Louis Gossett Jr. took the lead and then other’s quickly followed suit.  Lady Gaga and her tribute to the many survivors of abuse garnered the next deserving standing ovation followed by ‘King of the World’ Leonardo DiCaprio for his 6th nomination and win for Best Actor.

Utterly Gracious Upsets. Different from other awards shows, the camera lens was a bit more generous not lingering on nominees who lost to exploit there reaction.  We imagine it must be most difficult to lose in a category that the media and everyone else in the world has insisted was a sure thing. To be gracious, smile and wear a brave face as Sylvester Stallone did when he lost the Best Supporting Actor award to Mark Rylance is a test of resilience.  Eight-time nominee Diane Warren who lost the Best Song category with collaborator Lady Gaga found it a bit more difficult to mask her feelings as the camera caught her visibly upset at the snub.

A Few Awkward Moments. Undeniably, the most bizarre moment of the evening arrived when Chris Rock invited Stacy Dash to the stage. In a joke that was a little too inside, the former “Clueless” actress and current Fox News outspoken contributor made a facetious move in support of Black History Month that was completely lost on the audience.  Dumbfounded, the silence was so thick, you could cut it with a knife. In another bid to coax a smile, Rock brought onstage his Girl Scout daughter and friends to solicit cookie purchases and boost sales for the Girl Scouts of America. We witnessed a similar version of this when Ellen DeGeneres arranged for pizzas to be delivered two years ago that was much more original. Finally, when it came time for the annual introduction of the Price Waterhouse Coopers accountants responsible for keeping the Oscars ballots safe, Rock poked fun of Asian Americans by welcoming three pint-sized versions with briefcases instead. Needless to say, this incited a storm of backlash on social media.  

Thank You Scroll Attempts to Serve Purpose.  In years past, frequently flustered winners have struggled to remember the names of the important people who helped them along the way so producers Hudlin and Hill tried to remedy the problem by requesting nominees to submit a list of names beforehand to ensure thanks to all.  What was a well-intentioned endeavor to feature the names of executives and agents across the bottom of the screen may not have helped to curb the length of acceptance speeches. We noticed many of the winners ignoring the scroll and giving gushing speeches that thanked everyone on their team anyway.  In some ways, the thank you ticker became more of a distraction, especially if you were tempted like I was to read the names scrolling by at warp speed rather than focus on the person giving thoughtful thanks on screen.  The bottom line, it will always be more heartfelt and meaningful to say a name out loud.