Mark Dolliver’s Takes

MY WAY OR ELSE: Accounting for the Culture of Boorishness
Boors have always been with us. But they now impose more strongly on our consciousness than they used to. Why is this so? One explanation lies in the convergence of two trends. The decline in crime rates in recent years means criminals account for a lower percentage of the nation’s bad behavior. And the erosion of traditional self-restraint means noncriminal boors are taking up the slack. These latter types are the ones who wear T-shirts decorated with expletives, make a sport of aggressive driving, indulge in loud-mouthed obnoxiousness whenever they please, etc. Now that we’re less fixated on criminal misbehavior, we can see the noncriminal varieties aren’t mere lapses from universally accepted norms. Rather, boorism has become a way of life in its own right. This helps explain why respondents to opinion polls lament a moral decline in the nation even as rates of crime, teen pregnancy and welfare dependency show sharp improvement. A new Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll is typical in that respect, finding that 65 percent of swing-state voters feel “the moral climate of the U.S. today” is on the “wrong track.” An article this month in USA Today, by Karen S. Peterson, gathered a range of experts to analyze the subset of boorishness that expresses itself as rage. One professor pointed to the growth of pop-culture vulgarity and the way it promotes “a loosening of inhibitions.” An author quoted in the article cited the “increasing sense of entitlement” that the booming economy has fostered and that advertising reinforces. According to this theory, people accustomed to being told they deserve the best are ill-prepared to cope when life doesn’t go precisely their way. Modern consumerism has chipped away at people’s “impulse control.” If prosperity is indeed a catalyst for the rise of boorism, it almost makes one look forward to the next recession.

PLUS SOME WORRIERS: Those Free-Spirited CEOs
Our readers can take it as good news that corporate types don’t lie awake fretting about their ad campaigns. A survey by the University of Michigan Business School finds other worries take precedence among senior and midlevel executives. Asked to cite their chief concerns, respondents gave first place to “attracting, keeping and developing good people.” The runner-up was “thinking and planning strategically,” followed closely by “maintaining a high-performance climate,” “improving customer satisfaction” and “managing time and stress.” The university’s report notes that high-tech matters didn’t make the top 10. Meanwhile, an Inc. survey of small-company CEOs found 43 percent saying Internet commerce is critical to the success of their companies; 58 percent worry about competitors “gaining an edge over their companies” if they don’t have “a strong e-business strategy.” Nonetheless, 63 percent said “e-commerce solutions have been more difficult to deploy than previously thought.” How do these bosses see themselves? As you can see from the chart below, few identify with the stereotype of a ruthless go-getter.

ISOLATED: Assessing the Social Toll Of Physical Disabilities
Add together people who are disabled and those whose immediate circle includes someone who is, and you’ve got 46 percent of the adult population. So we learn from a national survey by HalfthePlanet.com, which offers online services to people in such circumstances. As the chart indicates, disabilities are far more common among elderly Americans than among younger folks. That’s consistent with the fact that disability is concentrated at the lower end of the income scale: 30 percent of those with household income under $25,000 identified themselves as disabled; the same was true for 13 percent of respondents in the $25,000-50,000 range and just 5 percent of those with income over $50,000. The age and income skew of the disabled cohort helps account for the finding by a recent Harris poll that disabled Americans are especially susceptible to “social isolation.” Among those who identified themselves as “very” or “somewhat” disabled, 40 percent said they’re “not at all involved” in their communities. The equivalent figure was 21 percent for those without disabilities. Similarly, 46 percent of the Harris poll’s respondents who have disabilities (versus 23 percent of those who don’t) said “they feel isolated from other people.”

TOUGH CUSTOMERS: Apparently Soft Drinks Are More Satisfying Than Hotels
When the country is on a spending spree, shouldn’t there be a rise in indices of customer satisfaction? After all, people aren’t buying exactly the same things they did in leaner times. They’re trading up to fancier goods–which, one might think, would leave them more satisfied. But no. Research by Wirthlin Worldwide finds overall satisfaction “holding steady” for the first quarter of 2000, though some sectors are up and some are down. Apparently, people’s standards for consumer goods and services are rising in tandem with their spending. Satisfaction levels were highest for soft drinks, consumer electronics and pet foods. (No, they didn’t poll the pets.) Supermarkets, hotels and phone service were in the middle of the pack. Airlines ranked near the bottom, due in part to a sharp drop in satisfaction since 1994, when these studies began. Among other “losers” during this period are personal computers, banks and movies. Oddly, the steepest drop in satisfaction was suffered by a service for which people don’t directly pay: TV network news. Observers of American lifestyle will note that cigarettes and athletic shoes posted identical levels of satisfaction (both above the all-category norm). In general, people were more satisfied with products than services. And nondurable goods (clothing, food, etc.) scored slightly better than durables (cars, appliances, etc.).

MIXED BLESSINGS: Our Martian Gender Gap, Tobacco’s Losing Streak, The Etiquette of ID, Etc.
Perhaps men really are from Mars–and they want to get back home. That would explain the odd gender gap that arose in a survey of New York State residents by the Siena College Research Institute. Asked whether the U.S. should be trying to send humans to Mars, men were almost twice as likely as women (50 percent versus 27 percent) to answer affirmatively. Likewise, while 44 percent of women feel the government spends too much on its space program, just 29 percent of men say the same.

Nothing like a cannibalism joke to catch the attention of today’s jaded consumers. It turns out, once you read the fine print, that an ad for City Kids BBQ Sauce is not urging you to eat small children, barbecued or otherwise. Rather, the ad (by agency Hanon McKendry of Grand Rapids, Mich.) aims to drum up interest in a product whose profits fund a local scholarship program. To the best of our knowledge, no actual children have been eaten in response to the ad.

This week’s honors for Ad Most Likely to Offend Any Number of People goes to a point-of-sale piece for Kelly’s Light Irish Ale. Another execution in the series (via The MRA Group in Atlanta) pursues the light-and-Irish theme by inviting beer drinkers to “Dance the jig without jiggling.”

You know the gods are not with the tobacco industry when reports surface of alleged terrorists selling contraband cigarettes to finance Hezbollah operations. Couldn’t the people arrested earlier this month in North Carolina have been selling black-market tofu or stolen copies of Earth in the Balance? No, it had to be cigarettes, adding to the public impression that tobacco is the root (or leaf) of all evil. The episode confirms one’s suspicions that the tobacco business has terminally bad karma.

Are the nation’s children overmedicated? A poll by Greenfield Online suggests as much. Sixty-three percent of mothers dose their kids with over-the-counter medicines “at the first sign of illness.” Moreover, mothers aren’t necessarily sticking to traditional remedies: 22 percent use alternative/herbal drugs whenever possible.

You wouldn’t guess it from the number of doughnut shops lining its streets, but Boston tops the alphabetical list of Shape’s “fittest cities in America.” The magazine came up with a top 10, using such factors as obesity rates, incidence of “fun fitness activities” and availability of health clubs. Warm-weather cities like Honolulu and Orlando, Fla., seem like naturals, but they’re actually outnumbered by the likes of Minneapolis; Madison, Wis.; Boulder, Colo; and Lincoln, Neb. Also making the list: San Francisco, Salt Lake City and Portland, Ore.

If only there really were a U.S. Department of Decorum. Posters for the Minnesota unit of Mothers Against Drunk Driving invent one as they prod restaurant/bar personnel to check ID when serving drinks. The aim is to curb underage drinking. Another query a server should avoid: “Do you have any other tattoos I can’t see?” The text of the pseudo-official document also says “an employee may not scream violently at customers ‘just to see how they react.’ ” This sensible instruction comes via Clarity Coverdale Fury of Minneapolis.