A lot of things have changed in this country in the past decade or so. We’ve been through a lot, 9/11, two wars, a crippling economic crisis and that painful Oscar broadcast when James Franco tried to host. We’ve been through pain and discord. And while this communal suffering momentarily brought us together, it has done far more to divide us.
Except in one, unsettling way. You see, at some point over this miserable decade, we became a nation of huggers.
Sure, there was some hugging going on before all this. But it wasn’t as blatant as it is now. Perhaps we could even have been defined as a nation with a hugging problem. But it’s inappropriate to define a whole country based on the actions of a clingy minority.
Now we are a full-fledged, no getting around it nation of huggers. Every time you turn around someone’s trying to lay a big bear on you. Cops walk by, we hug. Brass bands play, we hug. Lee Greenwood sings and, well some of us leave the room, but those left wind up hugging.
Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea of a friendly, united nation. I appreciate all the Sousa marches and flag waving and whatnot. I can even get behind a hearty handshake, should the situation warrant it. But I think it’s time we return to the days of personal space.
I’ve done some research on this and I think I can safely say that we are not a nation created by huggers. Transcripts from the First Continental Congress reference debates, brawls, badmouthing and even some back-slapping, but not once does it suggest that the representative from Rhode Island approached Vermont’s statesman for a sly embrace. Read your history, it’s full of manly men who lived and fought and led by manly example, men who saw each other through the horrors of war and hunger and wool pants, who loved each other as brothers but had the sense not to say anything about it and certainly never to act on it.
I suppose there are exceptions — dying comrades, grieving buddies, Cleveland Browns playoff games — times when a man can toss a manly arm around a pal in a sign of support. But it’s the exception, all the more memorable for its rarity.
At least it used to be.
In fairness, this can’t all be blamed on the terrorists. We’ve been heading this way for awhile. Just watch television. Those people on “New Girl” are hugging all the time. Same with those kids on “Big Bang” and pretty much anywhere else you look, all tossing off those hip, loose-limbed wraparounds like it’s a chuck on the arm. Perhaps even more disturbing are the reality shows like “Survivor” and “Big Brother” where a bunch of people spend as much as a day or two together before hugging and kissing and declaring eternal friendship.
I have a simple rule: unless it’s offspring, never declare eternal anything for a person you’ve known less than the length of a Crusade. And the short one against the Knights Templar doesn’t count.
This television hugging problem is relatively new. Check out your Nick at Nite and see for yourself. Andy never hugged Barney, Darren never hugged Larry. Dick Van Dyke never even got to hug his wife. In fact, hugging among friends was once so rare that a cast hug on the final “Mary Tyler Moore Show” actually made news.
Which is really the way it should be. Hugging should be reserved for special occasions. It should be momentous. It should be newsworthy. Otherwise we devalue the whole effort.
And I know what you’re thinking. You think I’m cold, “emotionally detached” or homophobic. All wrong. I am extremely warm among the appropriate folks. I hug my children constantly. I also hug my wife and my parents. Pretty much everyone else is on an as-needed basis largely reserved for funerals. I am very much in touch with my emotions, it just so happens I don’t need to flaunt them at every opportunity. And as to the homophobic issue, forget about it. I have an agreement with my gay friends. They promise not to hug me and I promise not to act all stiff and ill at ease. They also agree not to play Donna Summers music when I’m around and I promise not to try to dance to it. It’s a very uncomplicated understanding.
The sad part of all this is that I now find myself having to explain to people why I don’t hug. It’s as though I am suddenly different, a lone standout from some national group hug, a very stiff and uncomfortable minority.
Which I can live with for now. I can stand alone in this new nation of huggers. But I’m warning you now, if we become a nation of sissy-French-two-cheek-kissing, I’m moving to Findland.