OPINION: It turns out politeness still matters.
Some might doubt that, and be poised to offer a raft of examples from the many discourtesies of modern times that we seem to put up with so sheepishly. But to this we are now able to retort: What about the case of Richard Madden?
The actor who played Robb Stark in the mightily popular TV series Game of Thrones , was photographed sitting on the London Underground train with his legs apart.
That was pretty much it. Given that Madden is Scottish, we should probably add that he wasn't dressed traditionally. Nor was he, in any sense of the word, undressed. He did have an umbrella between his splayed trouser legs, but neither this device nor any other was protruding in any manner, symbolic or otherwise, that explained the subsequent front-page controversy.
Which arose, if you haven't already guessed, after the pic was incorporated in a photo essay in the blogging platform Tumblr titled Men Taking Up Too Much Space On The Train.
Madden wasn't, by any means, the worst offender among those lounging across seats more expansively than was strictly necessary, often while their travelling companions constricted themselves to compensate. But he was famous, and that made him a lightning rod for the reproach that followed.
Call us bluff traditionalists, but we maintain the call for his castration went too far. And we should acknowledge that his defenders were quick to react. Some pointed out that he was, after all, King of the North and others merely that he was such a hottie that he "could take my seat any time".
The problem was not just one of how much space the splayed menfolk tend to take up. It's the alpha male message - a distorted sense of male entitlement, see? A pose taken by a man who's feeling the master of all he surveys. In which case it's all the more understandable that the impression was heightened when it came from an actor from Game of Thrones.
On a train, bus, or many places where shared space is quite confined, taking more than your share of it is interpreted as aggressive. Peter Ustinov once contrasted crowded Japanese subways where commuters contorted their own bodies to protect themselves if possible from unwanted contact, with the emptiness of Canberra airport where you may see only one other person in the whole building, but that guy would still, somehow, be at real risk of bumping into you; personal space not being much of an issue in such a wide open country.
Still, we're prepared to take the lesson from the Madden case. And, just for the record, we can find local examples of womenfolk behaving badly in close quarters on public transport.
No, we're not talking about Minnie Dean, although we do have to go as far back as July 9, 1913, when eight women appeared in the Invercargill court to face convictions and fines of up to five shillings for stepping on to crowded city trams with the pointy ends of their hatpins protruding dangerously. The jabbings had become such a problem that the council had passed a bylaw requiring prosecution of anyone not affixing pin protectors.
Say what you like about Richard Madden, but he was never going to put someone's eye out.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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