Wednesday, February 5, 2020

The Death of Taste

It recently dawned on me that I haven't seen anyone use the word "taste" (in the sense of "having good taste") in writing or in conversation in many years.
It's sort of like "headache". When I was a kid, everyone had headaches all the time. Like chapped lips or razor burn, it was something one accepted as a part of daily life. My theory is that this ended with the advent of bottled water, and hydration consciousness, generally.
The decline of a word does not necessarily augur the decline of the thing it signifies. But in this case, it did. Taste is far less valued than it once was. Look at older buildings and notice the detail work. Consider the panache of 60s and 70s sports cars (and even just everyday cars). Consider the multitudes going out to dinner or boarding planes in sweat pants.
Even aside from his racism, corruption, stupidity, authoritarianism, and treason, consider our president, perhaps the most vulgar man in America (who makes crass cohorts like Cohen, Parnas, and Giuliani seem relatively earnest). There's always been an eager market for demagogues (if you haven't seen it, do not miss "A Face in the Crowd", just $3 to rent on Amazon or Apple iTunes), but I can't help but think that 1970s or 1980s America would have rejected him on tastelessness alone.
As I write this - especially the sweat pants rant - I feel myself edging toward elitist territory - all those unsavory plebes in their grubby clothes, etc. And this reveals what's actually happened. "Taste" now seems like a fussy, effete, snobbish quality. Real men wear baseball caps. We "keep it real". Extra effort - designing gargoyles into an edifice, placing the vase not there but here, putting on a button-down shirt to go out to a show - seems/feels pretentious. Applying the extra bandwidth to not just do a thing but to thoughtfully consider how you do it strikes us as sheer affectation.

Another way of looking at it: "old money" has perennially clucked its tongue at nouveau riche vulgarity. And at this point, the entire country - the whole First World - is nouveau riche. Tastelessness is yet another result of the pandemic aristocracy.

It's strange for me to be arguing this, as I myself am at the extreme low end of the gravitas/pretension scale. I'm no fan of affectation, yet I really appreciate taste. What a shame that the two seem to have been glued together and thrown down a well.


Display Name said...

Oh well Jim. Now you've got me started. I live near Lansdale Pa. I was in the sweatpant camp for many years because of my insistence on taking at least one minature daschund in the car with me most days. About a decade ago I decided to go all Oscar Wilde and be always overdressed. I am a bit of an armchair social psychologist which has made this change a lot of fun. The wonderful women at the lansdale post office were upset by my costume change. Even on the one day when I was enroute to the library staff christmas party afterwards. We are so lucky to have a Pumperniks close by. Living in Miami put me wise to this insane gift. They get me. I've discovered I have a very nice flair for fashion and I always get the non verbal thumbs up there, and often actual compliments. Hey you dressed up to come here. That is like giving us a shout out. Same thing with the thai place in blue bell. That place gave cdc and me a lovely free dessert because of my fashion efforts. Long story. The mennonite diner I frequent seems offended by my choice of clothing, like I am showing off. I went to church for a bit (don't ask) and all the women and teenagers seemed pissef off that I dressed up for sunday church. Mostly I get compliments wherever I go. My shoes, my coat, my bag. They are the genuine just blurt it out kind. The library is a very mixed bag including resentment and envy with the smiles. The struggle is real. Going to the post office soon and I see doc martens are popular now. I have a pair with a freaking blue willow pattern on them that I adore. Now to get dressed up. :)

Unknown said...

We are living in a time where we are being governed by the well-thrower-in-chief. To the extent that our prez is supposed to be some sort of role model, bad taste rules in all of his actions. Feh. I hope your sartorial-ness is your form of resistance.

Jim Leff said...

Dear world:

I'm not saying you need to dress well.

Thank you.

Display Name said...

Arrrgh. Sorry jim I pulled on one thread of your wonderful tapestry of a post. Now I feel frustrated. I beat around the bush too much. In some circles dressing nicely is frowned upon. I don't listen. I used the phrase good taste recently to describe my friend Conan. We lost track of each other on NYE at wegmans. He ended up picking out three bottles of wine for our dining pleasure and I was comfortable knowing he has good taste. He also has a knack for mixing up cocktails. I didn't mean to somehow warp things. I really need to read more books this time of year. Sorry.

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