Is southern civility gone with the wind?

tsj column writers - southern styleBy Randall Franks

I have had some requests to revisit one of my most popular topics, so I hope it will bring you a smile, with some recent experiences I encountered relating to interaction with others, I needed one too.

I have been blessed to travel to many parts of the United States. But there is no feeling to me like crossing those imaginary lines created to define the South.

I breath easier. I worry less. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the portrayals of Southern gentility in Hollywood movies.

In 1939, there was nothing more shocking in film than Rhett Butler’s “Frankly Scarlet, I don’t …” You know the rest.

In the 1960s, television gave us shows like “The Andy Griffith Show,” which were still gentle on and off the screen. I remember George “Goober” Lindsey once relaying a story about him saying a few off-color words while waiting for the next shot on the set. He did this in spite of a warning by actress Frances “Aunt Bee” Bavier , paraphrasing, “That we don’t speak that way on this set.” She pummeled him with her umbrella. He didn’t do it anymore.

“Civility” refers to the politeness we see every day. The things that make the day a little nicer. These are the things that most Southern parents instill in their children. At least I hope they still do. “Yes, sir,” “No, ma’am,” “Please,” “Thank you,” “Respect your elders,” “Ladies, first,” and “Don’t cuss” are just a few of these civilities.

In my travels , I’ve been places where these acts are so alien to them they look at you like you’re from another planet. Where foul language flows like water from a faucet. Where if you stopped to show respect to a funeral procession, you would probably wind up in one yourself, in the lead car.

What is sad to me, in my recent travels around the South, I’m seeing more and more examples of Southern civility fading. The sales clerk or cash register attendant who ignores you or doesn’t respond to your greeting. The person who doesn’t respond to a kindness like holding a door with a “thank you.” Young people not showing respect for their elders. Foul language ringing out in public.

I don’t know whether these examples are due to a lack of parenting, a lack of respect for others, or the saturation of poor-quality TV, films and music in our society during the last few years. Variety of program choices is both a blessing and a curse. Unfortunately, language and visual images that wouldn’t make our series “In the Heat of the Night” in 1990 are now commonplace on the networks. I think Southern civility is becoming a victim of us trying to fit into what we are seeing on television and in film.

In recent years, Southerners in series television act more like transplants from Los Angeles or New York with a Southern accent. Considering that’s where they are probably from, it’s not surprising. The late Carroll O’Connor once told me that “we all say things to be polite.” For example, “Can I help you with that?” when someone is carrying a load, expecting, maybe hoping for, “No thanks, I got it.”

I hope we never lose that in the South. Kindness, politeness, Southern civility is not “Gone with the Wind.” It’s hopefully just swaying a bit in the breeze of popular culture. Maybe it’s just gonna take a few more Aunt Bee’s to remind all of us Goobers how things are suppose to be.

(Randall Franks is an award-winning musician, singer and actor. He is best known for his role as “Officer Randy Goode” on TV’s “In the Heat of the Night” now on WGN America. His latest CD release, “Mississippi Moon,” is by Crimson Records. He is a member of the Independent Country Music Hall of Fame. His latest book is “Encouragers I : Finding the Light.” He is a syndicated columnist for http://randallfranks.com/ and can be reached at rfrankscatoosa@gmail.com.)

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