Recently revisited Modern Manners: An Etiquette Guide for Rude People, my favorite PJ O’Rourke. I think what makes it work is the mix of elements. It’s mostly corny humor, like the extended segment on food fights (“Use a raw oyster to show someone what a French kiss would be like if she’d married a reptile”). There’s also a lot of witticism: a lot of peppy, preppy cynicism. But mixed into all that there is just enough genuine insight (the bit about how modern people have replaced love with infatuation), genuinely brutal gallows humor (see for example the page with headings for Child Molestation and Rape), and unintentional sweet naivete.
I mean, this bit is shaped like cynicism: “To become a mannerly and courteous person you want only a few things from your real family: dignity, breeding, and piles of money. That’s all anyone has ever wanted from a family. But all anyone gets from most families is love.” But what it actually is, is a touching tribute to O’Rourke’s own parents, I’m betting, and to a world with less familial chaos than our own.
The drugs, booze/alcoholism, and (surprisingly) racial humor are high points. The gays and feminism stuff is weak. This is the best kind of amorality: the kind that doesn’t pretend chaos is harmless. Chaos is awesome, if you’re a powerful adult, but the conservatism of O’Rourke’s “Republican Party reptile” persona comes through in the casual admissions that modernity is a lifestyle of suicide, narcissism, materialism, crying children, and endless unslakable thirst for love.