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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Superficiality vs. good taste

We're constantly told as we're growing up that we're not supposed to judge others by their appearance -- although everyone does it. But it's my impression that those most aware of the effect that beauty has on them are those best able to separate people's personalities from their looks. Those who never pause to consider someone's features are more apt to conflate appearance with personality. Is that preferable?

The same crowd which claims moral superiority for not judging others by their appearance often judges others on equally superficial standards -- which they deem "good taste." For instance, do people wear nice tweed jackets with leather elbow patches, which denote praiseworthy values? Or do they dress in tailored suits with structured shoulders, which indicate venality?

Let's ponder this distinction for a moment. People arent responsible for their own bone structure. Yet they are responsible for their dress. So aren't those who make an effort to dress in a way that will meet with approval more vain than those who are merely good-looking? Therefore, aren't those who applaud the former but not the latter merely approving vanity?

Many of the those who pride themselves on their non-superficiality will judge others by their accent. To such culturati, a Boston or Long Island accent automatically lowers a person in their estimation. A southern accent connotes a backwoods savage who is just looking for the nearest black person to lynch. A black accent sets off all sorts of warning bells, the loudest of which signals the need to pretend those other bells didn't go off. And a plummy British accent is ideal -- so much so that they sometimes find their own speech giving off a faint echo of one. People with good taste rarely admit to such reactions. But that doesn't make those reactions any the less real. Or superficial.

(I'm not claiming immunity from those feelings myself.)

This same crowd judges others by the decor of their house. Do they have "nice" things, meaning, expensive, preferably old things? Are their electronic gadgets well hidden? Why is one set of possessions preferable to the other? Because the arbiters of good taste say so.

People with good values judge others by their cars. Any car which costs over $50,000, no matter how safe a car it is, is in bad taste. But any car known primarily for its safety, like a Saab or Volvo, shows good taste. An ostentatiously green car, like a Prius or SmartCar, is prime approval material. On the other hand, a Civic, which gets nearly as good mileage as a Prius, is too downmarket to really score points.

Arbiters of good taste judge others by their reading material. As a rule of thumb, the dryer your book, the better. People with good taste look down on tabloids, or at best, regard them as guilty pleasures. The guilt derives from the fact that they're actually fun to read. A properly brainwashed person says that tabloids "appeal to the worst in human nature." But reading the National Enquirer is an exercise in schadenfreude that only those who are least in touch with their own feelings don't enjoy.

We all instinctively look at the aftermath of an accident as we pass it on the highway. The difference is, people with good taste deny that they have those instincts.

We're taught that we should be more high-minded -- and interested in things like politics. But government policy, of course, is mostly about the distribution, or rather redistribution, and reallocation of money. But we're also taught that we should never talk about money, which is in bad taste. Unless, of course, we're condemning others for being overly interested in it.

Well-bred people don't use swear words. These are considered the province of louts. Far better for the culturati to demonstrate their snippiness, foul temper, snobbiness, and selfishness without using those eight or nine nine forbidden words. Proper narcissists can demonstrate their low character very articulately without using bad words.

Fuck 'em.

The title of this blog is "justnotsaid" -- as in, certain things just aren't said in polite company. I don't mind saying them because I'm not polite, and I lack good taste.

Having grown up among those who worship at its altar, I find the concept utterly lacking in appeal.


Anonymous said...

Enjoyed the post, but I know that you haven't completely escaped from the influence of polite company.

John Craig said...

Guy -- I'm doing my best, at least give me credit for trying.

Anonymous said...

John, no criticism intended: the programming is intense. I think Winston Smith would be proud of you, and I'm hoping that O'Brien isn't reading the blog.

John Craig said...

Guy --
I haven't read Animal Farm since I was in h.s., and pretty much every book I ever read for school was ruined for me for that reason, so you've got me at a disadvantage there. But I think I get the programming reference.

Big Brother for me consisted of my parents and teachers. Now how many guys do you know who are 56 and still rebelling against their parents? And exactly how pathetic does that sound?

John Craig said...

PS -- Or was it 1984? (My 1984 sorta lasted from 1964 - 1977.)

Anonymous said...

It was 1984. How completely I understand your HS book pain. English Lit was the only subject I detested at school - so I rebelled by writing all my final exam essays on books we had not read or studied. I passed.

You must read 1984 (again) some time - it is extraordinary. I am re-"reading" it at the moment as an audio book. (But I know you already are familiar with its key messages.)


John Craig said...

Guy --
Thanks for the suggestion, I actually am thinking in terms of some audio books for when we drive down to GA just so we don't all kill each other in the car.

And thanks for feeling my pain. (You and Bill Clinton.)