I keep running across interesting quotes that make me think. I suppose that’s the idea behind them, to get your brain working and provoke meaningful conversation. Our local newspaper publishes these under the title Thought for Today. Here’s a recent one, credited to Dame Edith Sitwell, English poet (1887-1964).
“Good taste is the worst vice ever invented.”
I read this in the morning and was distracted for the rest of the day, because I wasn’t sure how to take it. What did Dame Edith mean? I always thought good taste was a preferred quality in a person. It’s certainly better than bad taste, which we seem to be experiencing in abundance these days. For an example of what I’m talking about, check out social media and cable news networks.
A weekly column I follow touched on a subject I’ve blogged about before. The columnist had seen the newest reboot of “A Star is Born,” and penned an open letter to Hollywood screenwriters, suggesting that they could effectively tell a love story without dropping so many “F” bombs. I haven’t seen the movie, but I could relate to what he said. I’ve made the same observation about literary works, and I’ve never been a fan of radio Shock Jocks or some stand-up comics for that reason. Several years ago, there was a terrific film called “American Hustle.” The fact-based story was interesting, but I was distracted by the language. In fact, this was the first film I had seen that received an R rating because of the ‘F” bombs that seemed to fall with every other line of dialogue.
Is peppering your daily discourse with four-letter words an example of bad taste? I was raised to think it is. So is telling dirty jokes in mixed company, unless you’re with friends who won’t be offended. During my job as a newspaper editor, the publisher felt it was his daily duty to berate the office staff, using every variation of the “F” word imaginable. He even came up with some new uses for it. When my birthday rolled around, it was the first time I had ever gotten “Happy f****** Birthday!” as a greeting.
To be clear, I’m no prude. I know most of the bad words, but I exercise caution when I use them. The same with off-color jokes. As the late Milton Berle once said, “I’ve got a million of ‘em.” I’m not sure if I know that many, but when I tell them, I check the crowd first.
I’ve found it’s prudent to read the room before stating an opinion or starting an in-depth conversation about anything topical. This habit really came in handy over the past couple of years, thanks to something called a presidential election. I spend a good deal of time visiting friends in a small suburban community nearby. The folks who live there are very conservative and I’m not. A close friend, who leans the same direction as me, cautioned me about the local political climate when we began hanging out. As soon as I hit town, I put my opinions in storage until I leave.
I’ve known people who were obsessed with showing what good taste they thought they had, whether they actually possessed it or not. This includes an ex-wife and a former sister-in-law. In every instance, it boiled down to how many material things they owned, and how they could let everyone know about it. Cars, clothes, jewelry, homes, vacations they couldn’t afford—it was all for show, something to make up for a basic insecurity. It was a spotlight they shone on themselves, a sort of “Hey, look at me! Like the flashy bracelet I’m wearing? Want to know how much it cost?”
You know, I think I’ve figured out what Dame Edith meant by that quote. Perhaps if you’re fabricating good taste to cover up your inherent bad taste, it really is the worst vice ever invented.