Catching the tone of society

If you’re what I imagine most of us are (which for purposes of this thesis might be described as malleable or impressionable), the transition from one group of society to another frequently invites alteration and accommodation. When I say a group of society it is but a convenient reference to klatches, those so-called sloppy lumps or masses of people normally devoted to one particular enterprise or undertaking. The variance of these groups can range from the bluntness of fraternity or sport to the ceremony of religion or diplomacy. Straddling the boundaries of these groups of society regularly forces the participants to blend or manipulate their conduct to reflect the tone of the group to which they have been transferred.

The process of assimilation is predominantly tied to two features in particular; viz., atmosphere and language. Both these abstract and seemingly powerless elements nonetheless have more forceful application than elevated position in society or notable wherewithal. The nature of the product is not the rank or appearance of its members (though naturally celebrity or sartorial influence is always initially stirring) or the rude assessment of the members’ capital (a detail of more importance in the privacy of the study if conjoined with specific commercial ambition). But if the involvement is casual and non-specific as to motive, the operative components are atmosphere and language.

Atmosphere in the social context is broadly speaking the overall blend of time, place, people and purpose – a cocktail of varied mixture, some elements of which – like Champagne dare I say – may enhance the overall character, while others – like the weather – may impute their select nature to the proceedings. Whatever the atmosphere, it exists and persists on its own external strength. It is incapable of fabrication; it is res ipsa loquitur (though perhaps without the necessary conclusion of negligence or injury). In short it comes from without rather than from within. The atmosphere of a society is thus effectively decorated, back-dropped or staged by such things as hardware, real estate or, in the case of the races at the track for example, horse flesh.

Meanwhile the feature of language abides. To use a gross example to expedite the explanation (and caution), there are literally books written about how to speak “snobbish” as an instruction for insinuation of certain society. This however is an unfortunate illustration because seldom – except perhaps in the company of Professor Higgins and Eliza Doolittle – does the decision to imitate others in their own language succeed.

My Fair Lady is a musical based on George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 play Pygmalion, with a book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe. The story concerns Eliza Doolittle, a Cockney flower girl who takes speech lessons from professor Henry Higgins, a phonetician, so that she may pass as a lady.

Catching the tone of society – as devilish as it may resonate – oddly demands the same ethics and authenticity as any other good relationship. It helps to keep in mind the fundamental credentials of all human beings. While even fops for example delight to entertain themselves and others with their singular imputations or implications, it is seldom that imitation in that regard is either warranted or appropriate. Indeed for those who seek to insinuate society by catching its tone or other putative manipulation, it is soon apparent that the secret is to identify the tone of existing membership then to encourage its reverberation. Beneath the complication of image and pretence, atmosphere and language, lies the elemental and inescapable qualities of humanity.

Hence the recipe for catching the tone of society is not to behave like or talk like others but to acknowledge and encourage it; and, to address it in one’s own language. In other words affectation is a sham or charade beyond the pale. It is besides too tarsome for words to pretend to succeed to anything as an imitation or wannabe. Nor will others care that you do or do not look or talk as they do.