Ever since the powers that be at E4 did a brainfart about a year ago and stopped showing a double episode of ‘Friends’ at 5 o clock every day, I’ve been forced to switch over to Comedy Central for my daily fix of the Central Perk gang. While lesser men than I may have found this transition taxing, luckily my grey matter is sufficiently mature to cope with remembering to type in 112 instead of 135 on the Sky remote, and I managed to avoid that particular banana skin. Yes, it was a seamless enough switchover, with instances of me forgetting about the change and heading straight to E4 at five bells limited to just two or three a week. I settled pretty comfortably into my new routine, smugly patting myself on the back for my chameleonic response to my changed circumstances. This would be just like E4, I told myself, nothing had changed. Full stop, end par.
Or so I thought. There was something I hadn’t factored in when diving headfirst into the welcoming bosom of Comedy Central: Their f**king ads.
‘Oh mercy’, I hear you cry, ‘Such hardship, how ever did you cope, Jack?’. Trolls looking for a cheap laugh might at this juncture resort to hashtag ‘firstworldproblems’, but we’re not on Twitter here, so take off your scarf, you’re indoors.
There was one ad in particular. An ad so crap it deterred me from ever wanting to watch the show it was trying to advertise. It literally did the opposite of what an ad is supposed to do. It was to the advertising industry what Michael Jackson’s doctor was to the medical industry.
It was an ad for a show called “How to Be a Gentleman”. Never heard of it? That’s because it was so catastrophically bad that it was cancelled after nine episodes. The decision to cancel it was made after just two.
So maybe I’m being a little harsh on the ad up there. It seems “How to Be a Gentleman” was just so bad that no amount of Madison Avenue windolene could polish that particular turd.
I never watched the show. From what I can gather it’s about a man who teaches other men how to be gentlemen (investigative journalism in Ireland just reached a new high). I have no need for such a show. From a young age I was taught by my parents to be polite, to look people in the eye when talking to them, to stick out my hand whenever I was introduced to someone and other gentlemanly pursuits of a similar nature. I didn’t need some clown on the telly teaching me this stuff.
With the cancellation of ‘How to Be a Gentleman’, it’s clear I’m not the only one who doesn’t need a show like this. However, I believe the trend is less to do with there being a pre-existing culture of gentlemen in the world, thus negating the need for a show to tell us how to act like a gentleman (as was the case with chivalrous old me), and more to do with how redundant gentlemen are becoming in today’s society.
Which brings me, finally, back to the title of this article, and the question of holding open doors. For centuries, holding open the door for another has been a staple of gentleman-hood. The meat in the gentleman sandwich. It shows you are prepared to go out of your way, to delay yourself an extra few seconds, just to make someone’s day a little easier. Such was the logic I had been operating under since my formative years right up until a few days ago, when an incident occurred that forced me to look at the whole holding open doors thing differently.
On this particular day I was walking out one of the side exits of Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre onto South King Street when I saw a little old Chinese woman at the bottom of the steps about to make her way up them. ‘Aha!’, a voice in my head shouted, ‘the call to arms of the gentleman!’ Ignoring this sudden bout of schizophrenia, I nonetheless proudly stepped aside, held the door open, and waited for my little damsel in distress to reach the door.
…And waited. And waited.
You see, when I opened the door, the woman was at the bottom of the steps. Being a small woman no doubt aware of her own physical limitations, she’d surely budgeted a good eight-ten seconds for the ascent when planning out her day. It was to be an effortless climb, taken at her own pace, nothing too taxing on her fragile constitution.
Until Muggins over here shows up. Once the little old lady noticed I was holding the door for her, her plans for the day were turned upside down. Not wanting to appear rude and hold me up even more by tackling the steps in the perambulatory manner which her octogenarian frame necessitated, she felt compelled to up her pace and break into some sort of walk/run hybrid to get up the steps more quickly. She hadn’t had a cardiovascular workout like this in decades. I looked around frantically for a tank of oxygen or a defibrillator, fearing an immediate shut down of her vital organs. This, surely, would be her last act.
I wasn’t a gentleman. I was an asshole. Grade A, prime cut, top shelf asshole. Like the ad for ‘How to Be a Gentleman’, I had done the exact opposite of what a gentleman was supposed to do. Instead of making this woman’s day easier, I had made her exert more energy to get swiftly to the open door than she would have done in physically pushing open the door herself. This flew in the face of the mission statement drawn up centuries ago by our primitive door holder opener ancestors.
It was as though I had set up some sort of geriatric boot camp for this woman. I imagined myself as the drill sergeant from the start of ‘Full Metal Jacket’ and she was Private Gomer Pyle, me roaring insults at her while she invariably messed up and slowed down the rest of the platoon.
I had hindered, not helped.
The worst part was that once this horrible pantomime had begun it’s not as if I could have suddenly called a halt to proceedings in some vain attempt to atone for my assholery. How would that have looked?
‘Oh hey, I couldn’t help but notice how old and frail you are, so I decided to coerce you into a pursuit that will almost certainly lead to your premature demise. Then, halfway through said pursuit, as the Grim Reaper is hastily booking you a seat on a cruise down the River Styx, I’ll tell you not to bother, slam the door in your face and prance away down the steps, depression at my youthful exuberance your final thought before the altitude sickness takes you.’
Sadly I had to persevere. Well, she had to persevere; I just had to stand there and watch her die. Watch her die on the steps of my euthanasia street clinic.
Incredibly, my victim made it up the steps. In through the door she went, actually thanking me along the way, before she disappeared into the crowd, surely on her way to curl up on one of the beds in the Dunnes Homeware section and drift off into an eternal sleep.
It was then that I made a decision. A decision never to hold a door for anyone ever again. On the face of it, barging through a door and slamming it shut behind me will give the impression that I’m acting like an asshole, but I’ll be operating safe in the knowledge that I am the lesser of two assholes. A diet asshole.
If the above story shows anything, it’s that gentlemen and their dated attempts at gallantry are needed no more. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
We live now in the Age of the Asshole. Great.