A few days ago Slate published an article calling for the end of perfunctory email sign-offs such as ‘regards’, ‘best wishes’ and ‘yours sincerely.’ For the writer Matthew J. X. Malady these gestures are ‘are holdovers from a bygone era of letter writing’ and waste time by causing email writers to agonize over the appropriate sign-off for the email they are sending.
The Daily Mail have, on the surface, and strangely for them, offered a review of the ‘debate’ without taking sides, simply offering the views for and against politeness. But close-reading nonetheless reveals the ideology behind their article. The writer has played up the ‘fuss’ that the Slate article caused. In keeping with their reactionary conservation of old models of politeness The Mail go as far as to begin with: ‘A New York writer has sparked a debate about the manners of email after calling for an end to the written sign-off’; by framing it as a debate the gesture is; don’t worry, there are still plenty out there in avid support of the hierarchical structure of politeness.
But is it really hierarchy, and deference to your seniors and elders, that The Mail wants to protect, or is there something else to the importance of politeness?
Theorist Robert Pfaller comments that ‘narcissistic societies’ maintain a public sphere because they perceive any played role in it as an ‘alienation’ from the true self. The statement is relevant here; the email sign-off, or the polite behaviour that The Mail wants to defend, allows the individual to believe that beneath this performance of politeness they have a ‘true self’ who could potentially act unconstrained by social rules and conventions.
Thus, the gesture that The Mail is making is not one of preserving an oppressive culture which does not allow you to ‘be yourself’ but rather, it recognizes that one needs the exterior public politeness in order to trick oneself into the comforting feeling of having a ‘real’ and ‘true’ self beneath that performance. The real beauty of politeness on the other hand, is that it is impossible to ‘pretend’ to be polite. If you perform polite, you are polite. In truth, there is no you behind your politeness.