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Culture

The Nice Age

Will our ’net-inspired malevolence recede under new management?

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Charley Chase’s shoes Friday at AEE

After the last inaugural balloon disappears into the heavens like a January 2008 campaign promise and the “Yes, we can!” era officially begins, what’s going to happen to public discourse? If you can’t say something nice about shameless Wall Street welfare queens, or the idle homeless, or the semi-literate nutritionist you’ve been tangling with in the AOL.com comments section about Wynonna Judd’s weight-loss journey, will you feel compelled to move to Canada? Will the national conversation simply stop?

Even if Barack Obama gives your heart such a boner that you spent all summer harassing New Mexico swing voters at dinner time, you have to admit that the prospect of eight years, or four years, or any unit of time longer than a campaign commercial, really, of sober, soaring optimism is extremely daunting. If we were so hungry for unity and uplift, would we have spent the last decade and a half gorging on the Internet’s endless buffet of wide-angle cynicism, recreational bile, unhinged message-board fury and chronic grievance-mongering?

More than any other medium in history, including public restroom walls, the Internet encourages us to share our discontent with the world. For years, we cursed at TV newscasters, and it made the same sound as a tree falling in the woods. We wrote obscene, inexplicably punctuated letters to the editor, and those editors scrubbed and sanded our rants into passably civil and coherent dispatches suitable for public consumption. Then, some diabolical genius invented HTML, and suddenly we all had a new superpower: We could say anything we wanted to, in public, with no filters and no consequences. In short order, millions of people were spouting off in ways that made poop-flinging baboons seem like Oscar Wilde in comparison.

Of course, it’s not as if we’re any nastier or more cynical than we ever were. Long before anyone had ever heard of Netscape or Blogger, people were faxing each other tasteless jokes about space-shuttle explosions and other epic mishaps. But the Internet makes our grim wisecracks and myriad other forms of momentary unpleasantness more permanent, more visible than they were in the past, and a kind of one-upmanship takes over, especially in the drive-by comments sections of well-trafficked sites like AOL.com and USAToday.com. When bad news, or really, any news, breaks, there’s a race to see who can be the most shocking, the bluntest, the least compassionate, the most disillusioned. In the old days, a man who drowned in a bathtub was fair game for wisecracks; a man who drowned in a river generally wasn’t. Now, you’d better know how to dog-paddle if you don’t want to end up as someone’s punch line.

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Feet magazine

Somehow, however, the pleasant, upbeat guy beat the feisty pit bull and the maverick with anger-management issues, and a new Nice Age looms. But who knows, maybe a little emphatic niceness won’t be so bad after so many years of ill will. Consider, for example, Feetmagazine.com, an obscure web publication devoted to famous female metatarsals and phalanges. If ever a subject demanded snark, this would be it. Celebrities, after all, are the web’s default pinatas, and a well-rendered foot is beauty’s rarest commodity. Even the world’s most gorgeous human creatures are mostly burdened with average-looking feet, and average-looking feet are decidedly monstrous: Bony, wrinkly and mottled, they’re best kept at least semi-obscured by extremely expensive shoes.

In the hands of, say, TMZ.com, Perez Hilton or virtually any other entity save perhaps the Obama campaign team, Feet Magazine would spend its time ridiculing gnarled toes, swollen ankles, goofy tattoos and sloppy pedicures. Instead, the site’s anonymous editor takes the opposite approach, plying his trade with a remarkable generosity of spirit. Jennifer Aniston’s feet? “Simply amazing.” Amanda Bynes’ feet? “Extremely cute.” Scarlett Johansson’s feet? “Incredibly hot.” Charlize Theron’s feet? “Pretty hot.”

In truth, the photos that accompany these descriptions often tell a different story—from the ankles on up, Jennifer Aniston may sparkle like the paint job of a bronze Camaro on a glorious summer afternoon in Malibu, but she has the feet of an overworked waitress. But so what? While Feet Magazine certainly leaves the door open to anyone who wants to take a more hard-nosed stab at celebrity-foot journalism, its big-hearted assessments are totally inspiring. Start by looking for the beauty in Liv Tyler’s feet, instead of the flaws. Once you’ve mastered that, try finding the beauty in Randy Jackson’s contributions to the new season of American Idol. If that proves impossible, well, British Columbia is supposed to be pretty nice this time of year.

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