Twenty years ago, we were a couple of college kids at Alabama, sharing a dream of filmmaking and a geeky fandom of classic Looney Tunes cartoons. Now, he’s an interwebs expert on a topic of import to any Real Southern Man: manners. And me, I’m, well…I’m typing this for the three of you who read my posts. (Thanks, Mom.)
The “he” of whom I speak is Trent Armstrong, filmmaker, blogger, podcaster and motion graphics guru. A few years ago, Trent and some buddies started a podcast and blog known as the MannersCast. One hundred-plus episodes later, he’s become an expert of the topic of good manners, even serving a stint as the Modern Manners Guy.
I assaulted Trent recently on Facebook and hit him with Nine Questions:
Wayne Franklin: 1. Why a podcast and blog on manners, of all the possible topics out there?
Trent Armstrong: My co-host, Derek, and I were really interested in doing a podcast, but we couldn’t think of any topics in which were experts enough to actually sustain a weekly or semi-monthly show. Each of us on The MannersCast was raised in the South by mothers who were absolutely determined that their kids were going to be mannerly. Once we decided to base the podcast on manners, we all thought, “Well, of course!”
WF: 2. What have you learned about cultural views on manners and propriety through hosting the MannersCast?
TA: There are so many people who consider themselves mannerly that are simply snooty. These folks are mostly interested in advice on how to make their friends and coworkers more mannerly. They consider manners and etiquette to be the same thing, but they are not. Etiquette is a set of rules one follows. Manners are based on making others feel important. What they should be worried about is making themselves more mannerly; that, in turn, makes the world less annoying.
There is a completely separate group of folks who don’t use the common sense approach to manners. The answers to most manners questions are actually quite simple – just consider what is the best way to treat someone else.
WF: 3. Do manners differ from region to region?
TA: I’ve discovered that views on manners are not the same across the country or even the world. For instance, many women in the northern United States are offended when referred to as “Ma’am.” My mother and grandmother wouldn’t stand for a child not saying it, so I even call my sister and my nieces “ma’am.” It is a show of respect.
But there are also places that have a sort of cultural agreement that certain things are not necessary if you still want to have good manners. Big cities would come to a screeching halt if everyone held the door open for everyone else. That doesn’t mean, however, that anyone is excused from thinking of the other person first.
WF: 4. In talking to some of our RSM contributors about the Southern traditions they embrace, manners came out on top – though the words they used to describe them varied from “being a gentleman” to “Southern hospitality.” How do you think being from the South has influenced your view on manners?
TA: The South has been considered by much of the world to be the place where one can almost expect to be treated with kindness and graciousness. Gentlemen are gentle and always have the interest of others on their mind. And Southern Hospitality wouldn’t be a universal term if it couldn’t be backed up. Much of what influenced me outside of my mother’s coaching was watching so many others be mannerly to each other.
WF: 5. You grew up in Montgomery, but have spent your adult life in the Dallas metro. Is Dallas a Southern city by your estimation?
TA: 5. Dallas is not in the South. I don’t mean to offend anyone, but Dallas is in Texas, and Texas is Texas. Being a big city, Dallas has it’s fair share of self-centered jerks. That just comes with having traffic and crowded stores, etc. However, manners are alive and well here, too. And it is not uncommon to find gentlemen and hospitality.
WF: 6. How many followers/fans do you have between the podcast and your contribution to other blogs?
TA: The MannersCast was a grass roots effort that had around 450 listeners at its height. The Modern Manners Guy is hard to gauge, but I believe MacMillan Publishing is seeing over 200,000 downloads in a month at times.
WF: 7. How has technology enabled what you’re doing now? What do you see as the future of podcasting?
TA: Technology made podcasting accessible. Radio station licenses and broadcasting towers are simply cost prohibitive. But a home computer, a microphone, and lot of free internet services are what made podcasting appealing to me.
The most exciting thing about podcasting is its international reach. I have been corresponding with folks from Australia, the Philippines, Sweden, London, New York, and LA– not to mention a handful of folks right here in Dallas. It has been a really unique experience to connect with so many like-minded people.
I see podcasting as a way to connect our world. Many podcasts are based on niche topics with small audiences, but I know first-hand the interaction that comes about through a podcast can broaden perspectives and knowledge of the world.
WF: 8. If you had to choose another Southern tradition or value to share with the world via a dedicated podcast, what would it be?
TA: Well, there are two things I think the world needs to learn from the South: A) Everything about pork barbecue, and B) Southern colloquialisms. I’m afraid that so many wonderful turns of phrase will never be a blessing to the rest of the world.
WF: 9. Finally, how would you define a Real Southern Man?
TA: A Real Southern Man remembers his heritage and uses it as a source of pride and change – proud to be from a region defined by grace and caring, and driven to prevent others from experiencing injustice. He is strong when necessary and gentle when necessary. And he is not ashamed to encourage others to be the same way.
(Editor’s note: Trent is retiring the MannersCast later this Summer, but you can still hear the old ‘casts via his site.)
Photos courtesy Bruce Hatherly.