Before someone comes out with a packaged tour of the 10 Best Horrific Disaster Sites, complete with rides thrillingly simulating the tragedies, Miss Manners would like to establish a few rules for rubber-necking.
Although the immediate issue has to do with onlookers who gather near Ground Zero, the question is a timeless one. From driving by fresh accidents to pacing historic battlefields and graveyards, this is a special kind of tourism that requires special behavior.
And before everyone murmurs, "Yes, yes, we must show respect, what's in the picnic basket?" Miss Manners would like to acknowledge the volatile mix of human emotions that makes this a more complicated matter.
Respect is indeed essential, but the strictness of it varies according to the nature of the event at the site, the amount of time that has passed and whether human remains are present. Another factor is whether the immediately bereaved are likely to be around, and whether rescue work is still being done.
For example, visitors who have been posing for souvenir pictures at Ground Zero, some going so far as to request mourners to pose with their flowers and tears, are clearly being indecent. But Miss Manners is tolerant of students who josh around and take pictures of one another at the supposed place in the Roman Forum where Caesar was murdered. Mrs. Caesar might not be, but that lady was enjoined to be even stricter than Miss Manners.
The element of curiosity that brings people to such a place is routinely condemned, to the extent of being referred to as "morbid curiosity." Miss Manners wonders if the absence of interest would not be harder to take. She finds herself sympathetic with those who are affected enough by the events of their time to be drawn to see for themselves.
Public piety has grown amazingly in the last few years. Not so long ago, rites connected with death were minimized, on the indisputable grounds that the person most concerned was not in a position to appreciate them. But the need for ritualistic recognition of the mystery of death is so strong in humanity -- we even define humanity by evidence of whether prehistoric beings buried their dead ceremoniously -- that it popped up again. Piling up teddy bears may appear to have little in common with black veils and armbands, but they spring from the same feeling.
It is a feeling not unmixed with relief at being alive oneself, Miss Manners realizes. But such a feeling is so jarring to survivors and mourners, even when they feel a twitch of it themselves, that we must observe rules to repress its expression.
Ground Zero, being the scene of a recent national tragedy of enormous scale, as well as the grave site of countless individuals, and a place where disaster work continues to be done, requires a maximum of restraint on the part of visitors. Stay out of the way of workers and mourners, maintain a somber demeanor, speak in low tones, and avoid any comments that might be offensive if overheard.
Anyone for whom that is not sufficient is in the wrong place.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have been invited to a high school prom, and I plan to wear long gloves. I heard that you are not supposed to take off your gloves once you put them on, even while eating dinner. Please tell me if this is correct or if there are any other etiquette rules I should know about gloves.
GENTLE READER: There are many rules connected with gloves, and there are many items of clothing you are not supposed to take off at a high school prom. But there is no rule that you cannot take off your gloves.
On the contrary, there is an imperative rule that you must remove your gloves when eating. You must also remove them when drinking or smoking, although Miss Manners trusts there are rules against doing either of these on this occasion. You must also never hit anyone across the face with them unless you are prepared to exchange shots at dawn.