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hey, taste this 

Good taste vs. brave taste

Sometimes when I say I like something that isn't generally considered in good taste I can feel my "cultured" friends wondering: Doesn't she know any better, or are her "development kid" roots showing, like dark hair against bleached blonde? They try to figure out whether or not I'm joking, or if I really do have bad taste.

Well, if Quinn has bad taste she can't help herself, they remind themselves, since she came from the middle class and a development house that looked like all the others. They, meanwhile, were raised a few higher rungs up the economic ladder in homes that were deliberately different.

Actually, I do have awful taste, and scrupulously good taste, and a lot of variations in between. I have different taste at different times, and for different categories. It just makes sense that somebody would have a wide range of responses to life, and I'm certainly not the only one.

At least I have the courage to admit that some of my taste is low, while most people with good taste or the pretense of it are afraid to let their "bad taste" show -- and if they do display it, it's only with a big ironic wink. Self-consciously bad taste is as dreary as carefully presented good taste -- they both have the same "copied" quality.

There's nothing interesting anymore about pink flamingos in your Plaza-Midwood yard or chili-pepper lights strung around your Dilworth porch or a naked mannequin in your NoDa living room because they've been done so much, the "wacky" factor has been squeezed out to the point that they've become ho-hum standards. If there were a Funky Homes and Gardens magazine they'd all be in it. So even though those once-hip decorations may signal bad taste to some people, they've actually become safe taste.

I've decided that when it comes to taste the real categories aren't "good" and "bad," but "brave" and "safe." Despite what you might think, brave doesn't always mean way out or outre, but we'll get to that. As for safe taste, that shows up at every level of society, including in those houses that wouldn't be caught dead standing in a sub-division.

A friend told me about how on her very first day attending prep school she boarded the school bus in front of her house. As soon as she got on, one of the snotty-rich students jeered at her, "Development kid!" because she lived in a planned neighborhood. Developments are panned by the snooty because of their uniformity, even though there's a lot of duplication in the homes of those who consider themselves to have "tasteful" taste.

Have you ever noticed how often the decorations of highly educated people look alike? You can walk blindfolded into a professor's house and accurately call out what's on display: family photos, but black-and-white only, since color is for the crass "Sears" class. A few pieces of hand-thrown pottery. A big-headed African sculpture. Some kind of rough, colorful woven cloth hanging on the wall. Framed ethnic prints. Blown-glass objects -- make that big blown-glass, not little, dinky blown-glass in whimsical shapes.

This is as safe as taste gets, yet these people often fancy themselves to be quirky and original. They think it's their superior taste that makes them reach for that carving of a Yoruban thunder god, and not the fact that many just like it glower in all their friends' houses, to be dusted by maids who wonder, What in the world is this ugly old thing?

At least the people with bright Sears portraits of their babies (me included) know and freely admit that they're doing what everybody else is doing. They don't deny or condemn conformity while at the same time obeying its rules. Under the cover of having wide-ranging artistic appreciation, cultured people often are hewing to a very narrow idea of what defines good taste.

Brave taste, on the other hand, actually does roam far, fearlessly embracing even the conventional. Taste that accepts only the fringe ends up being its own version of bland, as restricted as any other channelled taste. It's like Yoko Ono relentlessly pursuing the "experimental." Sing a normal song, already! Enjoyment can be had in the customary.

For example, I happen to like those little blown-glass figurines, the ones that are unlikely to appear in any self-respecting professor's house. Part of why I do is that my grandfather, unsaddled by the controlling taste of the aspiring class, kept a frosted-white-wood cabinet full of them. We were both drawn to their twinkling fragility and total uselessness.

Brave taste is original taste, although everything it appreciates doesn't have to be. What makes it original is that it originates inside you instead of coming from what you're told to like, as safe taste does. Some people are born with it and others develop it, but it isn't exclusive to any one class. There's brave taste in them thar housing developments, too!

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