Friday, March 28, 2008

Taste, Racism and Superiority

Take for example this: When you have a hard time appreciating a particular perfume that many so-called perfume experts deem the pinnacle of excellence, do you wonder what the criteria is for judging and criticizing the work? Perhaps this never happens to you but it does to me. What makes something good or bad, art or not art? Is it a particular note or ingredient that turns me off to a scent, or could it be the particular composition--or, even, inferior taste? Is it purely based on treating the art of perfume making as a sport, where we can break down every part of it by intellectual analysis and judge them based on one universal standard, or is it possible that we are all programmed to a certain degree what type of smells and tastes we will like based on what's made available to us regionally or based on demographics?

Now, take wine, for instance. Why is red wine considered superior to white, anyway? Wine classification can be a serious thing, even governmental in places like France and Portugal. So, is there some rule that says Chypre perfume is superior to Oriental, or that spicy is better than mild, powder better than fruity, and is the bias as regionally based as it is with wine? What about spices--are these classified as high or low quality based on where they came from? These are the things I wonder about when we speak of having good, or correct, taste. I think about these things because so often, our so-called taste leads to how we are judged as people, by people who think our taste should be psychological indicators of who we really are. Why can't perfume enjoyment and wine-tasting all be in fun, without turning them into Olympic sports or worse--racism and classism which so often overlap?

I believe it's as with music, that what I consider to be good and worthy all depends on the individual song, not the artist or what genre the music's labeled as by an industry that tries to sell it. Then again, I am a musician, so when I hear music, it's not by style or performance but by things like good musical structure, theory, etc--all the things I try to get away from but after many years of being in it, they're a part of me. Still, I have never allowed stylistic biases to color how I appreciate music. If a piece of music happens to be played by musicians who sound like they took no more than one year of lessons, I'll still appreciate it--if I like what they're doing. But don't think music criticism is devoid of racism, either: When a critic calls the sounds of string instruments "elegant" and electronic "cheap", they're subversive messages that the high cost of classical training and instruments are far superior in style. Sure, quality instruments help and skill is an indication of quality, too, but what about inspiration and artistic talent that don't come from tangible, measurable, verbally explicable things?

Look--I love The Killers' first album, but I'd rather listen to the best Hannah Montana song before I listen to any song on Hot Fuss besides the first 4 tracks. Likewise, just because Classical music is indoctrinated in me as being "the best", and as grateful as I am to have played classical piano for my rudimentary training, it's not going to stop me from wanting to listen to anything else. People love The White Stripes, and that's OK--but would I call them great musicians? Why do we call singing groups boy bands? My one humble piece of advise to anyone reading this post now: Don't believe everything you hear, and judge things for yourself if you really want to learn to appreciate the arts. It's about appreciation, after all--of the work, of the person or persons who created what you appreciate, and not how you appear to others because of your alignment with someone else's opinions of someone else's work.

Remember, too, that rock music is black and yet black radio stations (yes, we have segregated radio stations here in the US) don't market rock to them. Tastemaking is often a deliberate act. Read more about the perfume industry and tastemaking: Color Coded by Chandler Burr, Published: October 22, 2006 in The New York TImes. (One more thing: "frantically motioned" in that article is one loaded terminology to describe the stereotypical behavior of the Japanese.)