An odd thing happened for seven minutes in downtown Portland on Monday. This in and of itself is a remarkable thing to say, seeing as though a few weeks back in the exact same spot I witnessed a man in a Spider-Man costume playing the bagpipes and riding a unicycle. But this occurrence right here steps away from the world-famous Powell’s bookstore was something that doesn’t happen everyday, unlike the musically inclined Spidey. Because even in a terminally friendly town like Portland, there was something bigger and more profound at work and not just the eclipse, the likes of which we haven’t seen since 1979.
No, what I witnessed was people, strangers for the most part, genuinely being happy with one another and dare I say it, in the era of world leaders dissing one another on the Internet, polite. Whether they were moving out of the way so a stranger could get a better glance or sharing their glasses with each other, something about the sun getting blocked out for seven minutes brought the best out in people. Very quickly you got the feeling that it wasn’t just the eclipse that was special but the behavior associated with it too. As it ended, we all went back to our respective shops, workplaces and cafes. The eclipse was gone and you could assume these moments of politeness, humanity and decency were gone along with it. But I’d argue that politeness is making a comeback and you need look no further than your television for solid evidence.
Of the hundreds of things to love about The Great British Baking Show (or Great British Bake-Off as it’s known in the U.K.) are the moments when contestants help each other. As a reality tv aficionado (or junkie depending on how you want to spin it) I can tell you this is a weird and unnatural thing in the genre. Sure, we’ll have random drag queens loan one another costumes on RuPaul’s Drag Race but for the most part, the “I came here to win! I didn’t come here to make friends!” is the battle cry of American reality tv. Thus it’s the utter lack of backstabbing and cut throat competitiveness that makes Baking Show so charming. During the last season to air on PBS this summer, I once again found myself near tears as contestants assisted one another in finishing their frosted masterpieces. The contestants genuine goodwill and enjoyment of each other makes the show feel darn near aspirational. They help their fellow contestants not because there’s an endgame or an additional bonus for not being a selfish jackass. They do it because it’s the right, normal decent human being thing to do. Sounds like a revolutionary concept when I put it like that. And perhaps it is.
For more proof that maybe we just don’t act right, look no further that Netflix’s Terrace House. The reality tv hit from Japan became a global sensation recently when Netflix wisely added it to its roster of international delights. Seriously, if you’re not watching at least one crazy-ass foreign tv series on Netflix than you’re doing it wrong. They have a lot of great ones and Terrace House is my recent guilty pleasure. The show puts 6 singles (three boys, three girls) in a flawlessly designed house and let’s the drama (or in this case non-drama) unfold. If this all sounds eerily like MTV’s old standby The Real World than you wouldn’t be wrong. Except in Terrace House there are no manipulated situations, challenges or group jobs. It’s just six incredibly reserved Japanese people living under the same roof. With the exception of adding a room of offsite commentators who offer their own insights on the action in the house, that is literally it. Much has been written about why a show that isn’t just politecore but borderline borecore is so compelling even with its lack of fabricated plots. From the heartfelt discussions of emotions to the intimate glimpse into Japanese dating culture, the show has several layers that makes it a fascinating watch. But for me, watching twentysomethings that weren’t the rude, selfish, loud ingrates that I was in my twenties is utterly captivating. Even when Terrace House has “drama”, usually revolving around food or temporary thoughtlessness, the housemates resolve it in a sincere and tear filled way that would never go down on these drinking throwing, wig pulling shores. Sure, the sometimes snarky commentators offer good-natured jabs at the housemates. But even they spend a fair amount of time celebrating the personalities and emotional triumphs of each resident. Turns out, rooting for people who are considerate is just as easy as rooting for mental unhinged housewives.
While suggesting that we all be the Terrace House we want to see in the world is too ham-fisted and unrealistic for even me, I do think there’s something to be said for politeness. I recently had a job interview where the potential employed asked my philosophy on taking care of customers. I said basically, I try to treat people how I want to be treated. He laughed and said, “That’s so simple but sounds amazing in times like ours.” I agreed but it wasn’t just one of those things I said in order to get a job (which I did get, by the way). It’s a way of life I try to achieve. Try being the operative word. Catch me on a day with no sleep and in between meals while waiting in a long line and you’ll see that sometimes this ideal of politeness is hard to achieve. But for me the idea is to at least give it a shot. Like it won’t kill me to at least attempt not being awful.
This includes online too. Over the last few weeks, I’ve had to do a lot of deep breathing and deleting on social media when replying to discussing about racism, homophobia and all the other nifty thing currently happening in this country. The endless scroll is now home to people yelling at each other, rambling off manifestos and most annoying telling others how they should process. I have come to the conclusion that it’s a trap to even have these conversations online. My rule of thumb now is I can either respond in a way that’s online with how I act in person or not at all. This, as it turns out, is a tall order as it is really easy to act like know it all or bully online with zero repercussions. Instead, I’ve chosen to make good-natured smartass comments, have my beliefs, stay of service in my real life and leave the debating over the head of strangers to those better equipped than myself.
Yet if we listen to the internet just being polite isn’t enough. Just being thoughtful of one another doesn’t qualify you to put resistance in your Twitter bio. Just having compassion won’t help us “rise up” as directed by the song the play on everything from the Olympics to soap commercials. And that’s fine. Part of politecore, the hardest part in my mind, is sticking to a value that kindness means something and that being courteous and loving to strangers is where real change is happening, without hashtags or celebrity endorsements. But the most amazing thing about politecore, about compassion and about love is that we don’t have to wait for another eclipse or to watch it broadcast from a foreign land. We can do it right now.