Taste and Tension

Day 50: Even cowgirls get the blues

(iPhone photo #50 in my 2012 365+1 project)

I wish I could remember where I first ran across the idea that expressions of superior taste in music, art, literature, food, and so forth were nothing more than expressions of prejudice against people perceived to be of a lower class. I should have taken note of the context for this idea because it changed my life. It made me realize that the world was a richer place for me if I did not try to police the tastes of others, or indeed even of myself.

If you teach upper level classes in literature or art or whatever, or if you run a fine dining establishment, or if you work as a professional musician, a certain amount of your professional credibility rests on policing taste. You want people to believe that what you have to offer is superior in some way to the dregs that do for the rest of the world.

If you write poetry or literary fiction, there is a bit of professional snobbery required as well. If we’re honest, though, we’ll admit that the lines of demarcation are largely manufactured for self-serving purposes, and that what matters in the end is that you are writing something that speaks in some way to other human beings.

Fine dining, likewise, I imagine is only really fine if people actually want to partake of it.

Still, this is built into the culture of “the cultured.” We show contempt for things that we consider to be beneath us socially and intellectually and in all matters of taste.

I’ve been thinking about that this week as I’ve watched basically two types of posts steadily stream through my social news feeds:

1. People posting memories of Whitney Houston, links to Whitney Houston songs, and comments about Whitney Houston’s death or funeral or family.

2. People mocking or expressing some form of disdain for those talking about Whitney Houston.

It’s all a matter of taste I suppose. If the subject interests you, you will join the frenzy of other people talking about it. If it does not interest you, you will join the mockers off to the side talking about their own social superiority to the frenzy. We have all been on both sides of this equation. We flip and flop between the two depending upon the situation. Sometimes you’re the player. Sometimes you’re the hater. But you’re almost always in the game.

I’ve been thinking about this in context of what kind of resolutions I want to work toward this year, and this is one thing I know I can improve upon. I hope I will learn to refrain from playing the part of the taste police. I hope I will learn to be joyful for the joy that others feel and to respect the sorrow that others feel and to embrace the beautiful diversity of interests and tastes that make up humankind.

I hope I will remember that even grown women who constantly quote from Twilight books deserve my compassion and respect.

This is something that I read today as I pondered what it means to refrain from posturing as culturally superior: “Those who are wise must finally die, just like the foolish and senseless, leaving all of their wealth behind” (Psalms 49:10, New Living Translation). This idea that the wise die the same as the foolish is repeated several times in the Bible. I daresay you would find something similar in most religious texts. Regardless of our prejudices, regardless of our feelings of superiority, regardless of our belief in our own wisdom, we all come to the same end after all.

Give up a little pride and learn to live and let live. That’s my resolution today.