Restated simply, the great problem is that the notion that all people are created equal undermines any decent effort to...


COMMON COURTESY: In Which Miss Manners Solves The Problem That Baffled Mr. Jefferson

Restated simply, the great problem is that the notion that all people are created equal undermines any decent effort to maintain decorous human social behavior--""which is what etiquette is."" Martin makes us laugh. Notwithstanding her natural wit and deft pen, when an author writes, ""It is my hope that this small treatise will cure the historic ills of American society,"" one has the right to question if this is simple humor for the sake of entertaining. When the indications of societal ills are carefully selected by the author to be, if not ills by everyone's definition, at least clear examples of life as it is in America today, the author should be prepared to have her ""solutions"" evaluated seriously. There is nothing humorous in Miss Manners' selection of indicators of modern life: irresponsibility of American workers; the blending of business and private lives, to the exclusion of the latter; ""instant intimacy"" in the marketplace juxtaposed against widespread loneliness in private life; the overbearing ""cult of celebrity,"" and an ""anger-ridden, chaotic society."" Nor is there any particular humor in the statement of the solution: ""I believe that the only hope for satisfying the American idea of equality of treatment in this society. . .is reestablishing the dualism of the commercial and personal realms. By not separating trade and society in the lives of the individuals, we force people to take total identity from their jobs, and therefore rob them of any realm in which human beings could and should have full equality in our society."" Martin writes that the ultimate advantage of celebrity is that almost everything the celebrity does or says is marketable. As if to prove that thesis correct, Common Courtesy is ostensibly a ""book"" written by the ""perfect"" Miss Manners. In fact, Martin was invited to speak at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and this slim volume is her speech. Only society can, over time, prove (or disprove) her ideas for a workable solution to her concocted problem; but the treatment is good for some laughs, nonetheless.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 1985


Page Count: -

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1985