Newhart, Bullies, Shunning, and Cliques: The High-Schoolization of America

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I was really disappointed to read that 85 year-old comedian, Bob Newhart — a man who managed to have not one, but two highly successful television sitcoms and end both of them on brilliant, darn near iconic notes — recently cancelled a speaking engagement rather than have to deal with being hassled.

He was to speak before a gathering of Legatus members — a group of Catholic businessfolk who try to conform both their personal and business lives to Catholic teaching.

Many of the Legatus folk are well-to-do, which in America circa 2013 means they might be morally evil people. I say might because — partly thanks to the cognitive dissonance of the New York Times, I’ve always been fuzzy on that notion about good rich and bad rich. Apparently if you’re terribly rich and very progressive — ala George Soros, John Kerry et al, — you’re the good rich, but if you’re rich and more conservative in your thinking (Koch brothers, I guess?) you’re evil.

Personally, I don’t think being rich automatically makes one good or bad, and the rich and well-connected certainly have their place in the pageant of salvation: it took a wealthy, connected man named Joseph of Arimathea to bring Christ Jesus down from the cross and get him enshrouded and entombed before sundown, on Good Friday. His help and participation have an assist to Easter, and all of its promise.

Newhart wasn’t discouraged from speaking before Legatus because they are wealthy, though. He was persuaded not to go there, because we Americans now live in a perpetual high school environment, and at the moment, the “cool kids” are telling everyone else in the cafeteria who it is okay to befriend and who is to be shunned for being, like, a social-zero. So. Uncool. What a year or two I called tolerance disconnect is now beginning to border on purposeful blacklisting. One either says the right things, at all times, and dares not debate a point, or hold to a contrasting religious belief, or even cite the inborn right one has to the freedom of one’s own conscience — of one’s own way of thinking — or one is to be shunned and bullied until one either submits or goes away.

Because if you’re not reflecting the views of the cool kids back to themselves, you must disappear.

I wrote about this a little in my book, Strange Gods, where I talk about how The Church of What’s Happening Now can have no truck with the Church of what came before.

Sadly, these high school tactics — unless the bullying cliques are called out and their power to cry “ew, cooties! Non-person alert at that table!” is negated — always devolve into something more nefarious, socially and spiritually ruinous, and out-of-alignment with a value so basic as allowing someone the freedom of their own minds.

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that there are all kinds of cliques in the world, and there are certainly all kinds of cliques in The High School That Has Become America. They are all certain that their thinking should be what everyone else thinks, as well, and they all have the potential to become bullies who identify an “other” and then begin a process of exclusion to which everyone is expected to conform, or risk exclusion, themselves.

It’s what happens in high school. But it says nothing good about America that her whole society is trapped there.

Kathryn Lopez quotes Bob Newhart’s commencement speech at The Catholic University of America, from a couple of years ago: “Humor makes us free,” he said. “As long as the tyrant cannot control the minds of free men, they remain free.”

I kind of wish Newhart had gotten up before the Legatus folk and expanded on those words. But Newhart is a comedian, and at 85 years of age he shouldn’t have to be looking over his shoulder to see if the bullies are going to give him a hard time for daring to talk to the social zeros as if they were people, or something. The man should be able to live in peace.

It’s the Eve of Christmas. A couple of years ago I wrote of this night,

. . .think about what God did, in a lonely cave on the outskirts of Bethlehem, when He condescended to enter into the pain and fear, the tumult and whirlwind of the world — when he “set his tent among us,” not merely “dwelling” among us as lofty king, but literally “with” us, with hunger, the capacity for injury and doubt.

God entered in, not with a cacophony of noise and a display of raw power, but as the humblest and most dependent of creatures: a baby, lying in a manger, a place for the feeding of animals. He, who became Food for the World, entered with silence, as though he had put his finger to the quivering mouth of a troubled, sobbing world and said, “shh…it is alright, I will keep you company.”

Imagine that, committing to keep us company before first discovering where we stood on every issue, and if we were loving and hating the right sort of people.

Come, Lord Jesus.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Fiestamom

    It’s funny, because it’s widely known that Bob Newhart is close friends with Don Rickles. In the documentary, Mr. Warmth, it goes into detail. Is GLAAD going to demand Newhart renounce the decidedly un-PC Rickles as a friend?

  • dd

    lizzie darcy–yr friend dedanann wishes u and yrs a happy holy christmas season.
    hope i see yr book on a-zon,

    the newhart article is rather ironic; iirc, he did an episode on his show with ”steffie” wherein he finds himself at an event surrounded by her school friends and gives an amusing performance as a gossiping ‘mean girl’
    ”we haaaaaaaaaaaate herrrrrrrr”.

    prescient–it seems– as well as amusing.

  • Bill Herman

    I’m not to sure why you wrote this because Bob didn’t follow through. What proof do you have for saying he did so because he didn’t want to be bullied.
    I doubt that is why.
    Sounds like you’re just trying to promote yourself at the expense of a well known and well liked celeb.
    Bah, humbug to you today.

  • Roger54

    I have no understanding as to what this babbling article is trying to say. In fact it appears to say nothing at all … just babble.

  • Evan Dickinson

    This is what people learn at public school. That it is not what you know it is who you know. So their goal in life is to be popular and know nothing.

  • James_Otis_Jr

    (Lizzy, If I may…)

    Bill, what is the matter with you?

    Is there not evidence that he was being bullied, and was that evidence not compelling enough for you? Or do you have to have a notarized statement from Newhart through his attorney such that you’d be satisfied.

    All that said, your scold is just validation of the kind of nonsense that Elizabeth writes about so eloquently here and elsewhere.

    With apologies to my own, did your mother not teach you that if you had nothing nice to say you should say nothing at all?

    Merry Christmas and may God bless you all the same.

  • Walter Adams

    It has always intrigued me that at the greatest turning point in the history of Gods relation with man, the official notice, from heaven, that God had come to earth was given to a handful of sheaperds, in the dead of night, in the middle of a field.
    And for a moment in time, of all the people on Earth, only they knew that the King of All Kings had arrived.
    I’m not sure where sheaperds stood on the social ladder, but I suspect they were closer to the bottom than the top.

  • Grunt

    Welcome to Liberal Utopia. Blacklisting communists in the 50s was evil but blacklisting conservatives now is only fair.

  • Gabriel Burgess
  • NCMountainGirl

    Since I have so many fellow boomer friends who had trouble growing up it is appropriate that now that they hold the reigns of power they have turned the nation into a huge high school.

  • nsirchov

    If you want to see high school, watch “Morning Joe”

  • Mellisa621267

    My question for Bob Newhart is why would he care if he was ostracised by Hollywood and his liberal buddies at his age? Why would he at any age? Are people who would do such a thing just because you speak before rich Catholics really your friends and associates? He’s made his fortune. He doesn’t have to work another day of his life. What can they take from him that is precious? I was bullied both in grammar and HS and I realized that its actually not that bad of experience if you detach yourself from the desire to belong.

  • Mike

    America has always had this high school mind set. It was just that the gays and blacks and non-religious were the ones being bullied. It’s refreshing to see America become more diverse.