THE BLOG
10/04/2012 12:20 pm ET Updated Dec 04, 2012

Is This the Dawn of the End of Meanness?

I just learned that October is National Anti-Bullying Month. It's also Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Menopause Month, National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and a host of others, including National Squirrel Awareness Month. Given all this, it is perhaps understandable that I missed it.

It is also, as it happens, Emily Post's birthday month (ct. 27th).

The heads up on this month's designation as National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month came via WKBT news anchor Jennifer Livingston in La Crosse, Wisconsin, who addressed a letter she received challenging her 'community responsibility' as a public figure due to her being overweight.

The letter became a Facebook sensation and Livingston predicated her next anchor appearance with a direct response to it under the larger umbrella of bullying, noting that "the Internet has become a weapon..."

Not just the Internet -- the media in general.

Nancy Giles, longtime contributor on CBS Sunday Morning, in her recent one-woman show, The Accidental Pundette, included a slew of critical barbs she'd received aimed not only at her opinions, but also her hair, looks, size, etc., and she wielded her Boomerang with whip-dry comic effect.

In a brief conversation with Giles about the baffling (to me) attacks on Olympic phenom Gabby Douglas's hair, she cited CBS radio jock Don Imus, who was fired from his job for characterizing the Rutgers University women's basketball team as "nappy-headed hos."

Rush Limbagh received a stern dressing down for calling Sandra Fluke a slut, not to the point where he lost his job, but to the point where he apologized, which was... something.

In a climate where these kinds of attacks are so commonplace, it is perhaps understandable that anyone thinks they can say anything to whomever no matter how mean. Particularly under the cloak of anonymity.

Michelle Obama was called fat by Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin congressman (ah, Wisconsin again), as was Hillary Clinton by author Ed Klein but because of their respective positions they have borne these slings and arrows with grace.

But more and more often, the targets are no longer sucking it up -- and sometimes taking the opportunity to use the slings and arrows as boomerangs.

Fiona Apple responded to slurs about her weight loss, admitting "it hurts." Ashley Judd retaliated to media attacks about her looks with her own article in the Daily Beast framing the attacks as a 'misogynistic assault on all women.'

It does certainly seem as though the lion's share of these attacks are on women. Has anyone kept score? Oscar de la Renta took exception to New York Times fashion critic Cathy Horyn calling him a 'hot dog' via a full page in Women's Wear Daily, although it's generally accepted now that he was unaware of the term and that it wasn't necessarily a slight.

Alan West received some virtual slaps across the kisser for telling Debbie Wasserman Schultz to act like a lady (including by me, but I just wanted to clarify exactly what he meant by lady -- one man's Lady is Elaine on Mr. Roger's while another's is Lady Gaga).

And speaking of that lady, Lady Gaga too just snapped back at criticism about being fat with counter images and an admission of struggling with bulimia. As Child Mind Institute noted, "she's also launching an offensive against the fat police and asking fans to join her" with the ultimate goal being "to inspire ... COMPASSION."

Jennifer Livingston handled her response with grace -- it was reasoned, rational and encompassing, framing the message she received as bullying. It is, but that's also because we've had to come up with a tougher term that just bad manners.

Bad manners is not considered important enough. Emily Post said, "Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use."

"A sensitive awareness of the feelings of others..." Is it possible to revive that as a viable concept in what I've (previously) called the Culture of Mean and The Rule of the Loud?

Huffington Post blogger Keli Goff wrote an acerbic column I admired addressing vitriolic anonymous Internet commenters and outlining practical ways to be more effective responders.

When these targets -- I refuse to call them victims -- take action, calling attention to the callousness does increase awareness -- but is that enough to turn the tide of random nastiness? Jennifer Livingston said the outpouring of kindness and support was overwhelming.

I interviewed Miss Manners, Judith Martin, some years ago and she said "You can't give out tickets for [bad] manners." But at this point I don't see why not. What else will make these etiquette felons cease and desist? The 18th edition of Emily Post's Etiquette has just hit shelves -- apart from hitting people over the head with the one-pound tome, you could make them sit in a corner and read it cover to cover.

But the last quote gave me pause, "Good manners reflects something from inside -- an innate sense of consideration for others and respect for self."
Oh.

Perhaps these etiquette felons hiding under the cloak of anonymity have no self respect.
Well, then, reading all 724 pages of Etiquette will give them a sense of accomplishment. It's a start.

Gerit Quealy writes on Style & Substance at NBC's StyleGoesStrong.com.