Those of you who have had your old home movies transferred to videotape seem to have forgotten why you hadn't been showing them all these years as after-dinner entertainment for everyone you figured would enjoy seeing what you did on your vacation.
It wasn't just the outmoded technology. It wasn't just that you'd packed them away somewhere.
It was that your audiences revolted against you.
Remember? It turned out that there really wasn't anyone who enjoyed seeing what you did on your vacation except people who already knew because they were there. And they kept complaining you'd cut their heads off.
Miss Manners regrets to say that guest reaction was not always manifested kindly. At first there were polite comments and stifled yawns. People who fell asleep apologized afterward, blaming it on the meal, the wine or the darkness.
But then there were pointed objections, and finally a national campaign of ridicule developed against anyone who dared to set up a screen. And so for a time, the showing of home movies virtually ceased.
But as the audience was protesting, the equipment was improving. Movie cameras began to record sound. The film could use minimal light. Finally, the video camera became practical for home use, and it no longer became necessary to frighten people by setting up that clumsy screen -- it was just the harmless television set, which people watched all the time anyway, that was used.
The skills of picture-takers were also improving. Along about this time, it actually became possible to take Film in college -- and for credit.
Amateur filmmakers became more daring. Rather than recording vacations, they looked for drama. Children's birthdays were no longer enough -- the birth itself was featured. Weddings, and then funerals, were documented. All this human interest was supposed to bring back those audiences.
What is more, those supposed audiences were given precedence over live audiences. People who were actually present at the weddings or funerals were elbowed aside, blocked from seeing anything, kept waiting, intruded upon and generally expected to defer to the demands of the camera. Anyone filming anything was perceived as having right-of-way anywhere.
It is not only to defend the rights of live bodies against camera equipment that Miss Manners raises the subject of video-related manners. Indeed, the principle of treating future viewers better than present ones is on an etiquette level with dropping actual customers in places of business to take telephone calls from potential ones -- also a common practice.
But Miss Manners also worries about the viewers for whom the video movies were designed. "It will mean so much to those who weren't able to be there," the video makers declare, in justifying their bad manners toward the original guests -- the ones at the event they are filming.
But will it? Miss Manners believes these people deserve mercy, as well.
She suspects that at least some of the people who didn't attend weren't ravaged with disappointment. Their regrets were sent so politely as to leave the impression that they were devastated, but that needn't be taken literally.
But even if they were, it is not as much fun to watch a film of an event as to be there. And while the filming has improved from the filmmaker's point of view, there are innovations that are a distinct disadvantage to the audience. Freeze-framing and going back for repeats mean that the whole ordeal of watching a home film has been lengthened to whatever the narrators wish to make it.
And we know those people have no self-restraint, or they wouldn't be showing the film in the first place. It's time to get out the old home-movie etiquette rules.
Chief among them is, "Make them beg." The polite host makes known the existence of the video and declares that there is no intention of showing it -- its whereabouts are uncertain, it hasn't been edited, another time would be better, and so on. Other rules require stopping the film only at a viewer's express request, but stopping the show at the end of every reel unless there seems to be a ground swell demanding more.
Miss Manners has been in the position of sincerely wanting to see films about people for whom she cares, but she has had to say so very forcefully, again and again. That is the least she can do to maintain rules for the protection of the majority of victims.
My sweetheart and I have been going steady for nearly three years, except for a few months. He is 62 and I am 54.
We are together for dinner every evening except Thursdays, as his sister comes Friday mornings to have breakfast and do his cleaning, and for breakfast every morning, as he stays overnight. We go out on weekends.
If family or friends, knowing we are always together, have a party and don't mention the other one is invited, what is the right procedure?
"Sweetheart" and "going steady" are such nice terms, especially considering today's alternatives, that Miss Manners hates to suggest changing them. But if you were to call this gentleman your fiance, your contemporaries would remember that engaged couples should be invited together.
True, they will be asking you when you plan to get married, but you could always protest, "Oh, we're too young."
If you prefer to go the strictly modern route, it is to entertain others jointly, and to say pointedly (and preferably before a specific invitation is issued), "You know, Clarence and I are a couple." As soon as the For Sale sign goes up on the front lawn, one can almost feel the buzz of speculation take hold of the neighbors.
They seem to feel they have a vested interest in our property -- if we do well, so will they. If our property does not sell, there are self-congratulatory back pats all around -- "Weren't we smart not to list now?"
Well-meaning concern seems like gloating in disguise. And the details of our transaction seem not to be private either. Without my disclosing any information, they have nevertheless become privy to where we are going, how much we paid, etc. If details are not forthcoming from the adults, children are there to satisfy the need to know.
Am I wrong in assuming that the rule of etiquette on not asking others about their financial affairs should also apply to selling the home?
Just a minute here. Miss Manners is a national leader in the battle against nosiness, but the fact is that the neighbors do have a vested interest in neighborhood real estate prices. What is more, the sale price will eventually be a matter of public record, which any of them considering selling a house will undoubtedly consult.
It is true that "Haven't you sold yet?" is a dumb question, and that grilling children is dreadful. But a little chitchat about a mutual interest would not be out of place. Such questions are rude only when there is no legitimate motive for asking. When one's house is for sale, many people who would normally cut out their tongues rather than ask the price of anything owned by anyone else might inquire, for the sake of telling possible buyers they know.
Anyway, this is hardly the time to worry about getting on cozier terms with the neighbors. The ultimate solution to the neighbor problem is always moving away -- provided you can get a good deal on your house, of course.