The hardest part of writing any cultural critique is choosing which representational cross-section of culture you will use as the microcosmic example of your larger criticism. This choice is necessitated by the impossibility of suitably discussing the whole of culture, in the way of providing manageable analysis, and communicates a great deal about what the author is trying to “say” with their critique. In Talk to the Hand, the 2005 follow-up to her #1 bestseller Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Lynne Truss levels a witty and thought-provoking social commentary with her decision to use contemporary consumer culture as the gateway to her larger criticism of “the utter bloody rudeness of the world today.”
In midst of all the ways that modern citizens are exploited and disenfranchised by the current cultural machine, there are some manifestations of contemporary culture where citizens are just as responsible for their circumstance as the machine’s designers. In no instance is this truer than in the instance of contemporary consumer culture. Truss laments the “do-it-yourself tactic” employed by modern vendors to dress up their transference of responsibilities from themselves to us as “a kind of consumer freedom,” when it is really designed to “force us to navigate ourselves into channels that are plainly for someone else’s convenience, not ours” (25). Included in this tactic, according to Truss, are the advents of on-line banking, self-checkout services, self check-in services, and automated phone directories, among others. However, just as you are buying into and sharing Truss’ outrage it becomes clear that many of these emergent technologies in the realm of consumerism have arisen not as a result of some unilateral laziness plot by vendors, but as a response to the demands that we ourselves voice as consumers. In contemporary culture, we want things made available not now, but right now. Vendors respond to this by making goods available to us as quickly as we ourselves can acquire them; so if we are unhappy with the amount of time it takes to carry out a particular transaction, we have nobody to blame but ourselves.
Truss wants us to realize our own culpability for the current design of consumer culture in order to lead us into her larger criticism regarding the state of manners, or lack thereof, in contemporary culture. Though Truss’ few discussions of rude encounters as they relate to consumerism serve as a nice representational cross-section by which to engage the larger question of growing rudeness in our society, it is her description of instances of human-to-human rudeness outside of the consumerist realm that pack the greatest analytical punch – when viewed in conjunction with the observations Truss makes concerning consumerism.
One such example Truss gives is of being a passenger in her friend’s car during a drive through Denver, Colorado. While stopped, a car occupied by two young men pulls up alongside the car Truss is in and the two young men wave in acknowledgement of Truss and her friend. Truss smiles back, returning the gesture, and her friend rolls down the window and asks, “ Can I help you?” to which the young men rudely reply: “What do you mean, can I help you? I was only being f#!*ing friendly! Why don’t you get back to your Cherry Creek Country Club, you rich bitches!” (20) As appalled as we are by the young men’s response, we also find ourselves questioning why Truss’ friend thought that a kind gesture from strangers must have had an ulterior motive needing a response. Both responses – Truss’ friend’s response to the original gesture, and the young men’s response to her – are indicative of how we are all culpable for the increased rudeness in contemporary society. It is a sad state of affairs in our world when people are as rude to each other as the two young men were to Truss and her friend. But it is an even sadder state when we are conditioned to believe and act in ways that elicit such rudeness.
This culpability on both sides of a rude encounter is what Truss seems to assign as the leading cause for the increased rudeness found in our cultural landscape. Just as fault for the current state of consumer affairs can be assigned to both consumers and vendors alike, so too can blame be found on either side of instances of human-to-human rudeness. Truss’ point in Talk to the Hand is that we as a society work on improving those conditions that lead us to believe and act in the manner her friend did, and that make us feel and respond in a way similar to the young men’s response to those actions and beliefs.