Does Informality Reflect a Suspicion of Authority?

Chris —  July 12, 2009

Occasionally, the teens who occupy my table question whether or not they should be required to practice manners which seem arbitrary standards of culture.  In making such a protest, they reflect their culture which increasingly rejects formality. 

Why is it that we are becoming increasingly less formal?

Ken Myers suggests one reason why our culture favors being less formal.

My favorite example of this is the shift since the 1970s toward informality in public. People used to wear coats and ties to go to a baseball game, and now they wear a ball cap at church. We’ve moved away from formality toward informality in almost every area—language, dance, food, worship, music—and I’m convinced that it’s largely a symptom of a suspicion of authority. You don’t want to submit to a set of standards and proprieties that you didn’t freely choose yourself. So if the move toward informality expresses a widespread suspicion of authority, then why would that be a good, up-to-the-minute trend to endorse?

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3 responses to Does Informality Reflect a Suspicion of Authority?

  1. Since neither of us has any real proof, it’s all speculation, and that’s part of the fun.
    I think it reflects a less stratified and more diverse society. Someone who lives their entire life within 100 miles of where they were born is more likely to be concerned about what their minister or neighbor thinks than someone who may easily live thousands of miles away from their home town. Greater mobility as well as more affluence and more exposure to the “outside” world affects our mores, but not necessarily at once. It seems that it takes a while to percolate through the generations. What we are experiencing now in terms of informality is probably as much the result of those dreaded baby boomers and their invention of television than anything else.

    It’s not that authority is respected any less, just that it isn’t likely to be any one person.

    Personally, I’m thankful that I wasn’t born and raised during the time of Ward and June Cleaver.

    Styles of the day are largely cyclical and I imagine it will someday be all the rage to dress up in a coat and tie to attend a baseball game. Fortunately, you live in the good old Midwest, in an area of the country that isn’t on the cutting edge but isn’t in the dark ages either. Just wear what your wife tells you to wear and you’ll be ok.

  2. PS: I think Ken Myers should back up these types of ideas with actual facts. Otherwise it starts to sound a bit like spiritual psychobabble. But then I always did have authority issues.

  3. Yes, I agree – – it’s pretty speculative on Myers part. I hadn’t thought about mobile society.

    As you know, the Red Bricks are pretty informal. Though, I still wear a tie.