Nepotism Cell Phones, Public Flossing and Other Violations of the Rules
posted by October 13 at 7:15 PMon
OK, I’m working off a dial-up internet connection, so no links.
But the umpty-zillion comment brouhaha over the Brother’s post about annoying Cell Phone Woman at the airport demands a measured, scholarly response, if I may be so bold as to switch from sports-writer to professor-mode.
Most analysts of urban space divide the world into three kinds of space: private, semi-public and public. Basically, your home (where no one can go unless invited), work and shopping places (where anyone can go if they have a reason to be there and behave properly) and the street or parks (which belong to us all, so anyone can be there).
But we need to conceptualize a fourth kind of space: the semi-private. This is a public space, like an airport waiting area or a bus or the street, where you have some reasonable expecatation of being left the fuck alone. Yeah, you’re in a place where other people are allowed to be, but we all gotta get along, and so for crissakes, obey the rules of polite co-existence. The first and foremost of these rules is to not do anything that forces the other people around you to inhabit a space they did not choose to inhabit.
Almost every behavior that drives the Brother or the rest of us up a wall is a violation of semi-private space by someone who turns that space into their own private space. Remember when Slog featured Hot Tips about people flossing their teeth or cutting their nails on the bus? Why would that bother anyone?
Because it transforms the semi-private public space of the bus into the private bathroom of the nail-clipper or teeth-flosser.
We hate screaming children on planes or in supermarkets not because children are evil, but because having to listen to their screams transports us against our will into their nursery, where infantile screaming is perfectly appropriate.
We hate people who fart on elevators because we don’t choose to be in the bathroom with them, and their airy bowel movements transport us into their private space against our will.
We hate people who engage in excessive public displays of affection because their foreplay transports us into their bedrooms against our will. Except, of course, for the Voyeur-American community, which is happy to go there. And I guess Fart-Huffers are happy when people pass gas on elevators.
But annoyance at this sort of behavior is perfectly rational, since people who transform the semi-private spaces of our shared public realm into their own little private worlds are petty tyrants who must be resisted.