Thursday, November 11, 2004

Does America Have a New Attitude?

The old adage, "Attitude is everything," seems to have taken on another meaning these days. The idea that you can achieve more success with a good attitude in life, work, and school has morphed into the newer idea that having a bad attitude is much more cool and useful.

And nowadays, having that edgy "attitude" is celebrated in many walks of life, from the world of music and entertainment, to the everyday folks who emulate those puffed up icons. Nice guys don't just finish last anymore, they don't even get noticed. If you're not in-your-face outrageous, rude, crude, and profane, then you'll have a hard time even registering on the radar of popular culture.

In a world where the adjective, "extreme," is attached for marketing purposes to a wide range of products and services, plain old "nice" just doesn't cut it anymore. Take the gym down the street that just reopened under the banner "Extreme Family Fitness." Or how about the fact that on any given day I can eat "ExtremeDude Beef Jerky," watch the video show "Max X" (for extreme), and even participate in extreme ironing? Even the technical, nerdy type has gotten in on the action as is evidenced by the multiple websites touting "extreme" programming. Nothing good can be normal, it's got to be normal with attitude--extreme normal.

And don't look now, but even the girl next door is a bitch--and that is one of her good points. Whether proclaiming it from her license plate frame or on the profile of her blog, sweetness and nice has now become anger and vice as the attitude of the fairer sex has had an extreme makeover. Just a quick surf around the blogosphere will reveal multiple women who revel in their bitchiness and wear the title with honor. What once was a term of derision, has now become a selling point in a world were attitude has taken a turn for the worse.

But certainly America has always loved its rebels--Frank Sinatra, James Dean, and the Fonz come to mind--but there has always been a place for the polite, the sweet, the innocent, the cuddly, and the cute--until now. Suddenly the only people who are "suspect" are the ones not considered police suspects. Our culture loves to distrust the goody two-shoes of the world and celebrate the bad and the ugly.

Who, for instance, is more detested than all-around clean-cut good guy Jeff Gordon of NASCAR fame? Whoops, not any more, it looks like he is more marketable and accepted now that he's screwed up and been involved in a messy divorce. And of course we hate Martha Stewart for her lack of tattoos and her pretty table settings--boy, are we glad she got what she had coming to her.

It seems that while the behavior of the truly outrageous is ignored with a "judge not lest you be judged" attitude, gleeful ambulance chasers line up 'round the block for a chance to find flaws in the previously flawless, or to bring down somebody's hero.

And without saying that TV was ever a force for good in the world, it is hard to not notice that "The Waltons" and "The Brady Bunch" have become "The Simpsons" and "South Park." At least in simpler days the idiot box just wasted our brains, now the same medium regularly turns them to toxic waste.

And speaking of inspiration, we've all seen in the school room or the board room the professional-looking poster with the solitary drop of water making ring after ring of ripples in pretty blue water that reads, "Attitude: A small thing that makes a big difference."

Maybe an updated version should be a close-up of a gnarly face, tongue stuck out with a tiny, shiny circle piercing the pure pinkness and reading, "Attitude: A small ring that makes a big difference."

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