Maybe it’s not the most appropriate phrase but it’s news to the New York Times when comely American coeds on spring break jaunts … don’t flash.
The Times writes:
In this era of “Jersey Shore” antics and “Girls Gone Wild,” where bikini tops vanish like unattended wallets, it would seem natural to assume that this generation of college student has outdone the spring break hordes of decades past on the carousal meter.
It’s news when girls go tame. It’s news when a new wave of modesty washes over spring break beaches.
Gone are the wet tee shirt contests; gone are the drunken rampages; gone are the topless go-go dancers. They are all so yesterday.
Strangely enough, today’s young people have rediscovered decorum and respectability. Score one for the power of shame.
Yes, shame, the visceral fear that someone you know, someone whose opinion matters to you, will see you at your most undignified. And that that someone will lose respect for you, cease to be your intimate friend, not want to hire you, promote you or marry you because they can’t get the picture of you sprawled out immodestly in a drunken stupor on a banquette in a dive bar out of his mind.
So, girls have gone tame because they know that the whole world is watching.
Young people’s lives are increasingly tangled up in social media and techno-gizmos. As exciting as it is to live through Facebook, young people have discovered that when you strip down or make a fool of youself a public place someone, inevitably, will whip out an iPhone and film your antics.
They will then post it on Facebook or Xtube. And there goes your reputation, your good name, and your career.
On her blog Hooking Up Smart Susan Walsh rightly compares it to slut-shaming.
It is important to understand the salutary effects of shaming. When people are getting it wrong, a good dose of shame is often the only way that they are going to stop getting it wrong and set off on a path to getting it right.
Shame does not feel good. It feels very bad. That is why it is such a powerful sanction.
It’s much more difficult to deal with shame than with guilt. It’s one thing to soothe your guilty conscience by doing penance. It’s considerably more difficult to change the way other people see you.
We know that certain feminists have been railing against slut-shaming because they fear that it will cause women to behave less sluttily.
They believe that women who value their intimacy and who do not hand it out willy-nilly are being manipulated by the patriarchy. They are not having enough promiscuous sex to ruin their reputations, so therefore they might live respectable lives. If so, they will be less likely to join the feminist cult.
For sex-positive feminists reputation does not matter. They believe, somewhat mindlessly, that mental health and ideological conformity depends on having more sex, not on acting as though you respect yourself.
A generation that was brought up to indulge in free and open self-expression is now suffering the downside of that advice.
A generation that was told to ignore what other people thought of them is now discovering that human resource officers care greatly about your moral character, your ability to act with decorum and self-discipline. They are much less interested in your ability to feel empathy and to be open and honest about your emotions.
A generation that was spoon fed a bowl of nonsense about not being judgmental is discovering that everyone you deal with in business judges your character.
Funnily enough, technology has made the world a much smaller place. To the point where many, many people know your business. To the point where your public antics are likely to attract a very large audience indeed.
The old moral codes, the ones that valued decorum and propriety worked because people lived in places where they were known, where they were identified by their names.
When small communities gave way to cosmopolitan metropolises people became more anonymous. When nearly no one knows your name, you get the feeling that you can do what you please, when you please, with whom you please… because no one will ever know or find out about it.
It’s a condition called anomie. At first it feels like freedom and independence. Eventually, it will feel like the most bone-crushing isolation.
If you live in a small community bad behavior goes viral at lightspeed. A few guys hanging out at a local tavern; a church picnic; two neighbors talking over the back fence… information bearing on your reputation travels quickly and can easily enhance or damage your relationships, your business, and your family.
Communities have a vested interest in knowing who to trust and who not to trust. Your relationships and the quality of your life depend on how others see you.
Now, young people have discovered that the same rules apply in the age of Facebook and the iPhone.
Of course, it applies mostly to behavior in public. When young people close the doors and turn off the lights and their iPhones, what they do is their business.
Yet, an iPhone can also be turned on surreptitiously. Some people have discovered, to their chagrin, that they have been taped without their assent.
So, it’s worth pointing out that the best way to avoid such risks is to avoid drunken hookups with people you don’t know.
Of course, self-exposure has gone so far in our culture that it was inevitable that the pendulum would eventually swing in the direction of modesty. There’s a limit to what you can exhibit.
Does it matter why this is happening? Does it matter why young women, in particular, have rediscovered self-respect and discretion?
I would say that it does not. If you had been doing the wrong thing and now start doing the right thing it doesn’t really matter why. You do not need a good reason to do the right thing. It suffices that you do it.
And that you keep doing it until it becomes habitual.
Eventually you will appreciate the advantages that accrue to those who behave with decorum and propriety. At that point their new habit, whatever its provenance will come to feel normal and natural, almost second nature.