Friday, July 11, 2008

Defining taste

Last night I watched The Greatest American Dog, the latest CBS reality show clogging up the summer airwaves. It was seriously low fare, all dysfunctional relationships and delusional dog owners, with a few salt-of-the-earth types sprinkled in for salubrious moral contrast.

But even with all its horrors -- Nathan Rabin at the A.V. Club's TV Club gave it an F -- I didn't want to turn my back in disgust. In fact, I asked Noel to record it again next week. When Nathan asked me in the comments to his review why I would watch it again, I wrote:
Actually, the whole performance thing is going on here, which is part of why I watch so much reality TV. Can you get this creature (which, as the judges point out, really means yourself) to perform under pressure? "Dog" kind of externalizes that whole question, which makes it interesting enough for me to watch. (The contestants' despair over dogs that indicated in rehearsals that they would be unreliable -- that's what fascinates me. What does that say about them -- them more than their dogs?)
There's nothing so enlightening about one's own taste than trying to figure out why you enjoy something that lacks quality. Whatever it is that you enjoy there has something to do with what interests you, with what pushes your buttons, with what tickles your pleasure centers. It's not about educated taste, which is the recognition of quality; it's about who you are underneath that education.

If you can figure out and articulate what attracts you to crap, then you're a long way toward knowing yourself -- which will help you better understand your relationship to the whole spectrum of quality, as well as avoid being bamboozled by products engineered to your particular brain receptors. It's easy to confuse personal pleasure with the presence of real value in what engendered the pleasure, and it's helpful to know that the effect of enjoyment is not as intimately or directly connected with the cause of quality as we might like to imagine.

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