Taste in anything worries me
December 8, 2016 10:31 AM   Subscribe

Taste in anything (music, movies, coffee, you name it) has long been a source of anxiety and stress for me. I don't know how to determine quality and I worried that I'm getting it wrong and, worse, that my preferences reflect negatively on me somehow. Details within.

I don't know what is good or bad in movies or music or food or anything, to put it short. Worse, I worry that I like the wrong things and that it indicates a lack of intelligence or something negative on my part. I'm pretty sure I don't like what I *should* be liking and that I like what I *shouldn't* like.

I find no shortage of discussions/reviews about quality/taste that work under the assumption that anything even remotely well known is only so because it can only possibly be liked by those derisively termed as "the masses". This group is nebulously defined (no one seems to claim to be part of "the masses", and it is always a group that people seem to describe themselves in opposition to), but it is implied that this apparently vast group of people is stupid and, as such, lacks the ability to discern quality as a result.

My own preferences in whatever are not necessarily the most sophisticated or unknown (nor are they necessarily super mainstream either), and I worry that this may indicate something negative about myself. I worry, additionally, that this possible lack of intelligence would only be confirmed if I revealed anything about what I like to others. As such, I go out of my way to prevent others from finding out what things I like. I always listen to music with headphones (even when I'm by myself), and I am vague when it comes to describing my interests when I am asked.

To put this all in the form of a set of questions:

1. Does "quality" exist as some free-floating, objective thing independent of one's perception, as is sometimes implied?
2. If yes, is there a method or set of criteria that can be used to determine quality?
3. Does taste in movies/music/whatever have some sort of intellectual or moral dimension to it? That is, are smart people drawn to "good" things and those who aren't smart drawn to "bad" things?
4. Is any sort of cultural consumption a duty? Is there indeed a list of "shoulds"?
5. When making a judgment on the quality of something (good or bad), is that also, in any way, a judgment of those who like/dislike that thing?

TL;DR -- I worry constantly that I like the "wrong" things and that what I prefer reflects negatively on me somehow (i.e., I worry that I'm part of a vaguely defined, yet perennially complained about majority of stupid people).
posted by arateaa to Society & Culture (53 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
I can't find the exact quote, because I can't recall the name of the film. But there's an old noir with something like this line:

"When faced with a painting, many people will shuffle their feet and hem and haw. 'I don't know much about art,' they'll say. 'I only know what I like.' Knowing what you like is a good enough way to pick out a pair of shoes or a home or who to marry. Why wouldn't it be a good enough way to look at a painting? You can always learn more so that you can appreciate more. But you should never apologize for what you do or don't like."
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:36 AM on December 8, 2016 [31 favorites]


Have you attended a university?

I ask because one of the things you get at a university is a look at a broad swath of types of at least somewhat intelligent people. And you come to understand the enormous diversity of taste, thought, achievement, intelligence, etc in the world.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:36 AM on December 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


You might benefit from a (short) book-length examination of how taste works, how we form tastes, and so forth, through the lens of mass and critical reception of Céline Dion. It treats a lot of what I think you're asking here.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 10:37 AM on December 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


Best advice:
Subject yourself to all sorts of things. Then decide what appeals and what does not. Do not worry what others like or do not. You are not them and they are not you.
posted by Postroad at 10:37 AM on December 8, 2016 [11 favorites]


You probably know this, but this is an anxiety issue as much as an everything else issue. I guess my questions for you would be

- Do you have preferences? That is, are there some types of movies you like and some you don't?
- Are you in a social group where maybe you feel those preferences don't align?
- Have you gone to college or taken "appreciation" classes where you learn about techniques and style and why a person who created a work of art (or a pair of pants) may have done what they did? If so, did it resonate with you?
- Do you judge other people for their taste in books or movies?

I'm a librarian and I subscribe strongly to the idea that people should read what they want, period. At the same time, there are definitely books that are afforded higher status because of awards, positive reviews, masterful craft (as determined, generally by academics but also by peers) or other things. And life is finite so if you can decide you only want to pick a few books to red, you might want to go for ones that come recommended.

That said, so much of this is relative. I think it's usually good to have an idea of

- what sorts of books/movies interest your peer group (nd it can be hard if they don't match your own)
- what sorts of books and movies (and possible ideas from those) are relevant to your owrk
- what sort of aspirations or goals you have for yourself--do you aim to be well-read? Well that means a certain thing usually--and whether you are on that trck.

But part of this too is being kind to yourself. Some people like certain things, some like other things, some try to wedge themselves into experiencing what they don't really feel like they like for various reasons, good and bad. Calling people stupid is rude and betrays, to my mind, a lack of character. Times are tough enough right now without finding even more ways of dividing each other. That said, part of what a society IS is a bunch of people who share certain values and don't share others. The media we interact with can be part of how we define or show our own values.
posted by jessamyn at 10:41 AM on December 8, 2016 [30 favorites]


That said, it's good to understand cultural signifiers so that when people are talking about things, you are understanding them. My sister just now made a joke about Restoration Hardware that hinged on me understanding that RH was thought of as a "fancy" place. I did not get her joke and so asked her to explain it to me, Which she did because she is nice. A less nice person might have called me "stupid" but that's really on them.
posted by jessamyn at 10:43 AM on December 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


I think the answer to basically all your questions is, "Yes, but it doesn't matter."

There is such a thing as music which it takes a very skilled musician to play, novels whose complexity it takes a very skilled writer to execute, dishes which it takes an incredibly skilled chef to pull off. All arts have craft to them, and require technical skills which take a long time to master and which some people may simply never be able to achieve, because they just don't have the talent.

None of that has anything to do with whether that art gives you pleasure or affects you emotionally, and that is what we seek in art. To be moved, to see the world differently.

The ability to appreciate subtlety in any art or activity often takes experience and understanding, and sometimes intelligence. I am given to understand that certain mathematical theorems have a crystalline perfection that mathematicians can only call beauty. I cannot know, myself. I'm not good enough at math to appreciate them.

Which is sad perhaps. But there are other things which give me joy, which strike that resonant chord for me. That makes them special to me, gives me my taste for them. It is inevitable that that taste is a reflection of myself.

And it is possible that other people will judge me for that. But, fuck 'em. Life's too short to hide the things you love, and not long enough to share them with the other people that love them too.
posted by Diablevert at 10:45 AM on December 8, 2016 [12 favorites]


You could probably write a PhD thesis exploring these question.

First off, if people are judging you for your taste, fuck 'em. You will always like something that someone else considers "wrong," no matter how educated and refined your tastes are.

Quality in creative works is a slippery subject, but there are probably some common aspects that would contribute to a verdict on quality:
  • Care in execution
  • Originality in conception
  • Quality of materials
  • Internal cohesiveness
Arguably, the way one creative work relates to other creative works could be considered an aspect of quality. If something is so wholly new that you have no context in which to frame it, it's hard to say whether it's good or bad. Something can echo existing works in a way that adds to your appreciation of the work in front of you, or in a cheap way that plays off your love of other works.

There is a canon of literature, music, movies, etc, that people who care about that stuff will say you should acquaint yourself with (and that is partly because past creative works inform new ones and give you a context for appreciating them). You can find lots of top-100 lists if you want.

As an example of insightful movie analysis, check out the series Every Frame a Painting. This will help you appreciate some of what people who really care about movies are looking at in movies.
posted by adamrice at 10:52 AM on December 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


Bear in mind that there can often be an element of performance in liking "high-brow" things or dissing "low-brow" ones. Whether someone actually likes a thing, rather than just hoping someone sees them liking a thing, is hard to tease out. So don't compare your insides to other people's outsides when it comes to taste.
posted by delight at 10:54 AM on December 8, 2016 [12 favorites]


I like all the "wrong" stuff because I tend to be out of step with popular culture and a loner. Despite that, I tend to be a person that's regarded as having "good" taste. I think everyone likes things for different reasons, and you should just enjoy the stuff you enjoy. If you look long enough, you'll find someone who agrees with you, if that kind of thing matters to you enough.
posted by eternalstranger at 10:56 AM on December 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


@jessamyn:

Anxiety would be a fair guess of what's going on with me.

- Do you have preferences? That is, are there some types of movies you like and some you don't?

Yes I do. That said, I'm really hesitant to say I dislike or hate something in most cases (or I at least phrase it as something like "it didn't interest me" or "it wasn't my thing"), precisely because I don't want it to read as a value judgment of those who feel differently than I do or see some appeal in it that I might not.

- Are you in a social group where maybe you feel those preferences don't align?

I don't really have a social group, per se. My interactions are limited to my co-workers and my family, for the most part.

- Have you gone to college or taken "appreciation" classes where you learn about techniques and style and why a person who created a work of art (or a pair of pants) may have done what they did? If so, did it resonate with you?

I have been to university. As far as "appreciation" goes, the closest thing I can think of would be an intro to film course that I took way back when. I don't know how much it changed what I thought of movies, but I could recognize certain things in film and be able to write about them to some extent.

- Do you judge other people for their taste in books or movies?

No, I do not judge others negatively for their taste because I would not want the same done to me.
posted by arateaa at 10:59 AM on December 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Something I came to in my 30s was the realization that I don't actually believe in "guilty pleasures." I like what I like and it's totally fine. For example, I am into a wide variety of music and some of it could be considered cool (read: obscure) and other things that are considered too mainstream or commercial. I'm almost 40 and sometimes I blast Taylor Swift from my car and sing along (very badly) and it's so much fun.

I don't think others really spend that much time thinking that critically about what they like. I certainly don't 99% of the time. I haven't had anyone confront me about my love of Taylor Swift but I do get a lot of, "I secretly love her too." I love Wong Kar-Wai movies and I also super enjoy the Marvel comic movies. I read non-fiction about weird historical moments and also devoured The Hunger Games books. I will happily pay for fancy coffee but my every-morning-coffee is the giant bag of Dunkin' Donuts coffee from Costco made in my 12-year old drip machine.

An easy side-step in conversation if you're anxious about not liking/having heard of/being into A Thing is to be very upfront about it. Ask if they'd recommend that you watch/listen/read. Ask why it appeals to them and then if it seems like you might also be interested, you can ask for a good starting point to jump in. (Example: I love "Parks and Rec" so much and for people who haven't seen it, I often suggest they skip season 1 and just start with season 2.) People LOVE to talk about what they like way more than most people want to talk about things you like that they don't like.

Try new things! Spotify has that new releases playlist every Friday that's how I keep up with new music. I let Netflix's suggestions direct me when I'm feeling indecisive. I read those book recommendation cards that book store and library employees write. If someone suggests something to you, even if you don't think you'll be into it, you can just say, "I'll add it to my list!" (I have an actual list I keep in my phone of stuff I want to see/read that I'm probably never going to get to. There are so many things that I'll never get to. That's just life.)
posted by komlord at 11:02 AM on December 8, 2016 [6 favorites]


Like jessamyn, I was reading this thinking that what you're experiencing is likely tied to more generalized anxiety and self-esteem issues.

Part of what makes us individuals is that we don't experience the world in exactly the same way. People have different personalities and strengths and weaknesses; it only makes sense that we would also have different likes and dislikes. None of your unique traits make you bad or good - they only make you an individual. If somebody thinks you're stupid because you don't like something they like - well, you aren't the stupid one in that scenario.
posted by something something at 11:06 AM on December 8, 2016


You might be interested in reading up on Bourdieu's idea of cultural capital, which basically encapsulates all the anxiety you're feeling here. In short, the idea of "taste" and that there is a correct way to judge quality beyond enjoyment is one of the ways we separate in-groups and out-groups, often along lines that closely follow socioeconomic classes. So yes, you're absolutely right that you're "signalling" certain things by your tastes-- but it might help your anxiety a little bit to also know that these signals are artificially, socially produced, and largely function as gatekeepers to prevent too much class mobility (i.e., poor people becoming not-poor people.)

In other words, yes, it can have real consequences for you as a person if you don't like the right kind of coffee, and it's reasonable to be anxious about that in some situations (for instance, if you're at a coffee shop with your boss, who is from a much higher socioeconomic status than you, and you're about to ask for a raise, you might want to consider what your coffee order says about your aspirations.) But most of the time, the people who will judge you for your real, authentic likes and dislikes are just assholes, who are trying to use cultural capital to keep you "in your place" (which is probably "the masses" as you put it.) And frankly if snobby assholes think you're a plebe, that's probably a very flattering assessment-- it means you're not playing by the rules of cultural capital unless it matters, and you're pursuing genuine interests and pleasures.

When I get worried about the image I'm presenting, or am having self-esteem/self-presentation anxiety issues, it often helps me to remember that there are social structures out there that have a big, external part to play in why I'm feeling the way I do. And once I know the rules, I can break them or follow them as I choose. I hope it helps you too.
posted by WidgetAlley at 11:10 AM on December 8, 2016 [13 favorites]


Honestly, as a person who can sometimes be kind of a snob, I think you should stop worrying and learn to love what you love.

In answer to your questions:

1. Does "quality" exist as some free-floating, objective thing independent of one's perception, as is sometimes implied?

No. At best, "quality" can be a way to help you find things you might like. "Here are the 10 best albums of the year", "check out this super delicious restaurant", etc. function in that way in an ideal world. At worst, it's just a shallow lie that makes some people feel better about themselves at the expense of others. Most of the time, in my opinion, it's largely about signifying to other people that you are Cool by consuming the right things.

2. If yes, is there a method or set of criteria that can be used to determine quality?

Let's say I have a coffee shop, and I strive to bring my customers the "best" coffee. While that probably implies some specifics on my part as shop owner (buying non-shitty beans, knowing the proper way to brew the particular beans and roasts I'm sourcing, using high quality equipment that is well maintained, training staff well, etc), it doesn't necessarily speak to which particular coffees you might like. At the end of the day, if you like Sumatra but I like Ethiopia, there's no objective Best Coffee. Just our personal taste. Which might be informed with What's Officially Cool Right now (coffee styles go in and out over time just like jeans and indie music), but doesn't really need to be.

3. Does taste in movies/music/whatever have some sort of intellectual or moral dimension to it? That is, are smart people drawn to "good" things and those who aren't smart drawn to "bad" things?

Eeeehhhhhh, to an extent, sure? My stepmother's favorite movie is Beverly Hills Chihuahua, and that definitely has some connection to the fact that she didn't go to film school, doesn't make a habit of seeing all this year's big releases, there's no art-house theater in her town, etc. She's not really part of the scene of tastemakers who regard Knowing Stuff About Film as important, and this is a movie she thinks is fun, so, great! It doesn't mean she's not a smart person or that she sucks on, like, a moral level. She's just not a movie aficionado.

I think taste it can be more indicative of a certain something if one is an aficionado of the thing in question, and one does have a grounding in certain contexts of how that thing works. For example, I'm a comedian and most of my friends are also in comedy. I don't know anyone in this social set who likes Gallagher. Now, this is partially a type of social signaling to each other that we are "cool" people with "good taste" who like all the "right" stuff. But for people who think about what is funny all the time, honestly, Gallagher just isn't that interesting. I have more friends who are obsessed with the Disney Channel show Dog With A Blog (I'm not joking) than who would even be willing to admit to a passing appreciation of Gallagher. And there are definitely very real reasons for that which aren't just about sending the right social messages.

4. Is any sort of cultural consumption a duty? Is there indeed a list of "shoulds"?

Short of "don't shit on what other people genuinely enjoy" and "don't be a troll or a hater", no.

For example, I HATE IT when clueless idiots say things like "most sommeliers can't even tell the difference between red and white wine if they're blindfolded". Not because expensive wine is best, or because there's an objective standard of taste and quality when it comes to wine, but just, like, that's not true. You can say "I enjoy drinking more affordable and down to earth wines" or "I don't like how wine tastes" or "I don't know anything about wine" without shitting all over people who do enjoy it and take it seriously and maybe have different taste from you.

5. When making a judgment on the quality of something (good or bad), is that also, in any way, a judgment of those who like/dislike that thing?

If you phrase it that way, yeah. There's a gigantic difference between "My favorite movie is The Four Hundred Blows" and "OMG you like Beverly Hills Chihuahua, that's so stupid! You have terrible taste in movies!", and also there's a huge difference between "Two Buck Chuck tastes fine and is affordable" and "Wine is a bullshit racket for morons with more money than sense".

It's great to like what you like, and even to be able to apply some standards, context, or background knowledge to support why you like what you like. Just don't use it as a cudgel to judge others.
posted by Sara C. at 11:22 AM on December 8, 2016 [10 favorites]


In academic parlance, we say that any cultural object (book, movie, etc.) has a "reception." That is, it is received by a given audience at a given time in a given way. I would say this is how the 'quality' of that thing is established as what you call above "a free-floating, objective thing." Of course, the way we define this reception depends on how we define the relevant audience. Some critics might hate a thing while citing criteria for "quality" such as technical sophistication, diversity, or complexity, while others might appreciate it because it meets their criteria for entertainment, familiarity, or relatability. Neither group's assessment is objectively, definitively valid, and none of these terms ("sophisticated," "entertaining") has a stable, definitive meaning. However, some of these reception audiences have greater cultural or economic prestige, and so figuring out that audience's criteria and aligning oneself with their preferences is a way of associating oneself with that cultural capital.

BUT! Also, reception is very fickle and culturally/temporally variable. For instance, French audiences were indifferent to Shakespeare for many centuries, and only much later decided to adopt the Anglophone reception of him as a revolutionary genius. So, it might have made you cool to hate Shakespeare in Voltaire's circles back when he was criticizing it; but the lone individual who decided to find something to like about him would be, in the eyes of today's culturally prestigious observer, much more discerning.

On preview: what widgetalley said. This is an interesting question, thanks for asking!
posted by Owl of Athena at 11:26 AM on December 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


Eh, like what you like, but stay open to learning and change.
posted by BlueHorse at 11:28 AM on December 8, 2016


You can't please everyone. In the end it comes down to what you're willing to stand for and which people you can live with judging you for it. You seem to be hoping for some objectivity so you can point to a thing and say "this is why my taste is correct". You could instead say "this is what I value and and here is why this ART does or does not meet that". You can be polite and reasonable about it though. Most people will be fine with that and the rest of the time you pretty much have to take on a case-by-case basis. They might have good points about an ART that you didn't notice that get you to reflect and change your mind about it. Or they might just be jerks.

Basically, when you spend all your time worried about someone potentially judging you you're really just spending all your time judging yourself for them. As others indicated this is usually the result of anxiety in which case I hope you can reduce how much of it you have. That will help you be honest with other people about how you feel about things. I think life is more enjoyable that way.
posted by Green With You at 11:31 AM on December 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


I worry constantly that I like the "wrong" things and that what I prefer reflects negatively on me somehow (i.e., I worry that I'm part of a vaguely defined, yet perennially complained about majority of stupid people).

The basic problem here is your anxiety. Right now, the anxiety is manifesting itself as a concern about being judged for your tastes, but the problem isn't what you like, it's the anxiety. Unless that is dealt with, you could get a degree in film appreciation and still worry that you aren't doing something right.

1. Does "quality" exist as some free-floating, objective thing independent of one's perception, as is sometimes implied?


Yes and no. Quality is judged by purely subjective standards within a given society, so it is more than one's individual perception, but it definitely isn't objective. Experts disagree all the time on how good a certain film/novel/song is. A lot of this frankly has to do with what peer group you are in (or want to be in). My uncles primarily judge the quality of a movie on how attractive the cast is and how many explosions are in it. My evangelical friends primarily judge a movie based on how much it buttresses certain values they hold dear. My academic friends tend to look more at complexity, themes, technique, and messages. But none of these is necessarily the right or wrong way to judge a movie or book. There are different standards in different communities.

2. If yes, is there a method or set of criteria that can be used to determine quality?

Well, there are criteria that can be used within a certain community, sure. If you happened to be a conservative Christian, this blog post gives really thoughtful criteria for judging a movie. If you want a more academic approach, a book like How to Read Literature Like a Professor does a pretty good job of telling you what to look for. I listen to several film podcasts that have helped me deepen my ability to assess different films--especially Filmspotting and Your Next Picture Show. There's nothing wrong with liking what you like, but it is nice to be able to say "I really liked this movie, and here is why...."

3. Does taste in movies/music/whatever have some sort of intellectual or moral dimension to it? That is, are smart people drawn to "good" things and those who aren't smart drawn to "bad" things?

Moral--usually not. I mean, if you are drawn to snuff films or you just really get off on torture scenes, yes, I think there is likely a moral dimension to that. But if you are a huge fan of some mainstream, non-pretentious fare like comic book movies or slapstick comedy, there's nothing morally wrong with that. As far as the intellectual dimension: taste isn't correlated to intellect as much as it is to familiarity with critical thinking about art. In other words, there are some movies that are mostly enjoyed by smart people, but that doesn't mean most smart people enjoyed them. Sometimes my bright friends rave about a movie, and I just don't get it, even though I'd classify myself reasonably articulate cinephile. People swear to me that Malick's The Tree of Life is a brilliant film, and I just don't get it. Maybe in five more years I'll revisit it and it will click. That doesn't mean my taste is bad, it just means that I don't yet have the intellectual tools to see what they are seeing. And even when I do have those tools, it doesn't mean I will agree with them that it is brilliant. Maybe I'll just be able to clearly explain why it actually does suck.

4. Is any sort of cultural consumption a duty? Is there indeed a list of "shoulds"?

No. But if you want to fit in with the people who approach this stuff at a deeper level, there are certain works you will need to be familiar with. There are plenty of lists out there of "essential" movies and books. But they aren't essential for being a good person, or for being a smart person, or for doing your cultural duty. They are essential if you want to follow the conversation happening among film and literary critics and afficiandos. That's cool if that's what you want to do, but if you don't want to do that, just keep right on watching and reading whatever you like.

5. When making a judgment on the quality of something (good or bad), is that also, in any way, a judgment of those who like/dislike that thing?

Only if you're a jerk. At the most, it means you don't yet have the background to appreciate the ways that something was excellent or flawed. So, for example, I do not care about sports. Never really played a sport, don't watch sports. Let's say a sports fan sends me a YouTube video of some amazing football play, and it's amazing because the quarterback did something rare and brilliant that took perfect advantage of an unusual opportunity and managed to advance the ball in a completely unexpected way. I watch the video and I just don't get it. I haven't seen enough football to know if this is a rare thing or not. I don't know the rules well enough to see what's going on. I just don't have the background to process it--but my friend is super excited about this amazing thing because he does have the background to get why it's cool. Does that make me "bad" and him "good"? Of course not. It make him a sports aficionado and me, well, not that. Same with movies. Or literature. It's never a reflection on you as a person. At most it reflects where you background isn't yet deep. And it isn't a problem that it isn't deep, because we can't be experts in everything--we have to pick and choose. So the worst case scenario is that you want to be a sophisticated interpreter of culture and you aren't there yet and sometimes you are made aware that you aren't there yet because you can't figure out why everyone is raving about some movie that seems plodding and boring to you (freakin' Tree of Life, probably). So you grab some articles and listen to some podcasts to try to figure out why some people liked it, and that builds your critical skills. Excellent. But it's excellent in the same way the getting better at chess is excellent. It's not that you were flawed before, it's just that you've gained a new skill. New skills are fun.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 11:38 AM on December 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


I'll be brief and terse, happy to discuss over memail with anyone who's interested.

1. NO, and anyone who says otherwise might be snooty and ignorant jerk, or perhaps is trying to sell you something. Society and cultural norms are not objective facts about the world, though they can sometimes seem that way from deep inside.
2. N/A
3. Snobs and elitists of various stripes would like you to think "yes", but the real answer is "no". *
4. Not really, life is short, do what you want, when you can.
5. It's okay to not like things, but don't be a dick about it.

*There are indeed some correlations - not too many highschool dropouts are going to drone on for hours about philip glass, not too many college deans will get super excited about the next real houswives. But this isn't about intelligence it's about culture, and there are plenty of exceptions, so don't worry about that anyway, just watch/listen to/read what you like, and you'll have more fun.

Hope that helps. I think you don't have a problem with quality, but you may have some slight issues with self esteem/worrying about other people judging you for your preferences.
posted by SaltySalticid at 11:40 AM on December 8, 2016


Nthing that you may want to be easy on yourself in view of possible anxiety issues. That said, this is an incredibly common insecurity, and one that manifests itself in a lot of people, including those who are much more confident in their own areas of experience. In other words, as an orchestra player I've talked to some doctors and lawyers about classical and they express this sort of doubt about their own tastes in music. If it makes you feel better somehow, it's like the old saw about having a soul - if you're asking the question, you have one. Or in this case, if you're raising the issue about taste, you have at least some developed tastes.

A few "random" data points:

As for question 1 and maybe 2: You might find this book of interest in light of the abstract question "What is Quality?" If you can wade through all the hippy-dippiness and what is a sad story in spots, this is a main theme of the book. Or just read the abstract/wiki for the core of the discussion that the book contains.

I play clarinet and saxophone and have played in both orchestras and bands of various sorts (concert, dance, show, etc.). The following observations could be transposed, no pun intended, to dance, visual art, artistic photography, architecture, food, wine, you name it, IMO

The classical/chamber/"serious" (and often jazz) music world has this problem. Popularity is considered to be in an inverse relationship with quality (whatever quality means, which is never talked about with any high degree of clarity). We speak mockingly of people who like the Eagles and Kenny G., and while there are some objective things to be said about why this particular music is boring to us or not particularly creative in spots, we rarely really make these arguments or talk about it in a way that would enlighten anyone. Really, it's just shorthand, ad hominem attack, and lazy talk.

There are also some things to be said about how GOOD the Eagles and Kenny G must be to have gotten played so much, but we "of taste" don't talk about that. Nor do we acknowledge any jealousy about how much commercial success these artists have had. Because we don't have any bitterness about it, nosir.

So stop worrying about the "popularity" problem. A lot of it just jealousy, and some of it are some legitimate differences between how a well-known work grabs you when you hear it once a year or less vs. have to play it 100 times in your career.

In reality, there is a LOT of disagreement among people who are interested and aware about what "serious" music is, and you'll find all kinds of attitudes among all kinds of experience levels. There are some world class talents who just go "eh, whatever pays the bills" and don't worry about it. And there are people who wind themselves up into a fit over how their local orchestra is interpreting something for the pops concert.

I knew a young violinist in my local orchestra who professed to a) not like Mozart, really and b) not like string quartets. At all. These are some unorthodox, kind of blanket opinions - I only serve them up to show you - there is no point at which "all people of taste" agree on something about a field of study/appreciation/whatnot.

It was a big breakthrough for me in the understanding of music when I got, really got, the idea that music doesn't "mean" something in the sense of having some logical argument or story that can be expressed in words, any more than a building or bottle of wine does. If it could be said in prose, it would be. Of course, some music does come with lyrics, and there is some music that is said to have a "programmatic" idea in mind (i.e. the composer consciously tried to evoke the sound of a storm at sea, for example), but music is just - music. Whether it's "Billy Jean" or Beethoven's 5th, it doesn't have to advance something or mean something, it just is, and you have a reaction to it. Studying the structure of it may shape your reaction to it, or bring things out that you don't understand, but life is short and that study only takes you so far. Music can also have an entirely subjective meaning that is completely shaped by your own experience. "Billy Jean" came out when I was in high school. For you it may be your parent's music, or make you think of your aunt who played that album all the time.

Speaking of Beethoven's 5th, I played the opening gesture of that symphony with the local orchestra for the first time in a rehearsal and it was sort of like an acid trip, in a good way. I experienced, was part of, and helped MAKE an iconic sound, and it was like I had stepped into a painting. I've been involved in making music for 40 years, and I can count those sort of "key" experiences on one hand. You can't force them.

TL;DR - this is why I don't feel there are any really wrong opinions any more. I encourage people to try out stuff the way we encouraged our kids to eat when they were younger: at least take a bite of it. It's okay not to like art of a certain style, even if it's (or despite it being) popular.

So much for questions 2, 3, & maybe 4...

I would answer the last question "it shouldn't, but sometimes people take it that way." My young friend who doesn't like Mozart (or claims not to; he may have been having us on) does not threaten Mozart, or make me somehow kind of a chump for liking Mozart. If you were to attend a string quartet concert and find yourself talking to a member of the quartet after and say "I didn't like the Brahms," the reaction SHOULD be "why not?" and an interesting discussion. If you say "Brahms is terrible" or "your performance was terrible," be prepared to defend your answer. But of course you'd not likely say something like that anyway.
posted by randomkeystrike at 11:42 AM on December 8, 2016


My suggestion is to acquire mastery of one particular community's aesthetic within a given medium by sampling the exemplars people point you toward and learning what people tend to say about what they see as canonical work. Keep track of your own reactions and how they do and don't overlap with others. I think it's more of a commitment than a college course, but it's probably more fun too. Given your very open-minded and egalitarian point of view on the tastes of others, I suspect that after the exercise of becoming a bit of a nerd about one particular aesthetic, whether it's Sanskrit drama or low fidelity photography (to cherry pick two examples that fit the point), you'll find that the things people tend to ooh and aah over aren't totally arbitrary but definitely admit alternative readings, conventions, and concerns--and aren't in the end anything worth being a snob about. TL;DR: you're fine, but you may feel more confident in all domains when you've come out the other side of mastering one.
posted by Wobbuffet at 11:45 AM on December 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


i agree this is really about anxiety.

your questions aren't wrong, but playing with ideas like this can be fun rather than a worry. many people enjoy "expressing themselves" in various ways, through choices they make, what they consume, etc.

anyway, people have said all that, but i thought i'd add that you might enjoy zen and the art - it's not a book i actually like much, personally (there i go signalling my own tastes and values...), but it could provide an answer to some of your questions. i think maybe it was written by someone asking questions like yours.
posted by andrewcooke at 11:50 AM on December 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


I do think there is a notion of quality worth considering, BUT I think what matters more is confidence in owning your preferences. It's totally fine to like things that are low-brow! In fact, I think this is a huge part of hipster and millennial culture - wearing ironic ugly clothes or grandma glasses to be funny, liking cheap shitty beer, preferring In n Out burgers rather than fancy artisanal ones, etc. So in a sense, anti-quality is trendy right now.

Really, your own preferences and where they lie on the quality spectrum is just a part of what makes you unique and interesting. Everyone has guilty pleasures, and sharing these guilty pleasures usually endears us to other people. Hell, my friends and family know that my favorite book series is Twilight, that I love terrible disaster movies (the worse the plot, the more I like it), that my favorite dessert is grocery store sheet cake, etc. Nobody thinks I'm a terrible person for these things. We all kinda laugh about it and then they share their own guilty secrets. And I am a person with a fancy graduate degree, a prestigious job, and also a taste for fine wine and high-end sushi and fancy clothing so I think my weird preferences for some types of garbage kind of normalize my otherwise fancy lifestyle.

So I guess my point is, it's good to explore what societal notions of quality are, but don't forget to look at your own preferences and feel confident in them. Laugh about them, don't be ashamed!
posted by joan_holloway at 12:04 PM on December 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


I used to feel this way about music. I am INCREDIBLY ignorant of popular music, to the point where in high school I heard a song on the radio and asked my friends who the band was and it was the fucking Beatles. I have literally never been able to answer a single question in a music trivia round. Ever.

The music I like is mostly the music I grew up with, which is to say, weird old folk and country music that nobody my age has ever heard of. I used to feel so, SO awkward about that. I wouldn't even talk about music with anybody because I was afraid they would think I was a total freak. I felt like there was this massive gap in my education equivalent to, like, secretly never having learned to read, or something. I felt like it made me 'lesser than,' compared to people who were conversant in music.

And then at some point (probably through a combo of therapy, meds, and just getting older and having my peer group get older), I got over it. And now when people ask me what kind of music I'm into I just say "eh, you know, anything with banjos basically," and when I'm cleaning the house I blast the Bill Monroe and Doc Watson Duets album because it fucking rules.

I wish I had more specific advice for you, but I can say that I recognize this feeling SO much and it didn't last forever for me.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:07 PM on December 8, 2016 [7 favorites]


Pre-internet, one had to seek out critics. You had to go to a record store that sold obscure music to hear why popular music sucked, for example. Now it's hard to avoid everyone else's opinion. Some people take great pride in knowing about the most esoteric and obscure in culture. Some people take great pride in enjoying difficult music, cinema, art. Some people just enjoy saying that things suck, and attempting to make people bad for enjoying them.

Popular culture isn't inherently "bad" any more than fringe culture is inherently "good". There are gems and turds in both. And what is the difference between a gem and a turd? Taste, which is entirely subjective.

My advice is not worry so much about what other people think, and enjoy what you enjoy.
posted by Cranialtorque at 12:14 PM on December 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


3. Does taste in movies/music/whatever have some sort of intellectual or moral dimension to it? That is, are smart people drawn to "good" things and those who aren't smart drawn to "bad" things?

There's a whole small literature from after World War Two working through intellectuals' grief that humanistic education, even combined with genius, wasn't enough to prevent people from being Nazis. That's not quite the same as smart or tasteful people being drawn to moral art. In the wake of the disaster of the world it seemed more important. I think this is part of what led to intellectual fashion for not caring about the moral effect of a work, which sure fed handily into the easy taste to enjoy exciting stuff no matter how 'problematic' it is.

(Personally, I do try to pay attention to whether art makes me a better or worse person. There's so much great art and so much fun art that I can just move cruel or soporific stuff to the bottom of the ever-expanding list of Should Know. I can admit it might be serious art but I'll never get to it in my finite lifetime. )
posted by clew at 12:25 PM on December 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Adding on to cranialtorque's point, I would feel 100% free to avoid places where people perform their disdain for certain media. Sure, it's important to have conversations about ethics and problematic themes and whatnot, but I'm really referring to the situations where the main thrust of the argument is "that thing is low-brow and therefore bad."

Regarding morality, unless you're giving your money to someone who's doing unethical things with it, or unless the thing you consume perpetuates racism/sexism/violence/etc., I don't think there's a moral component.

For me, it's often a supply chain issue. A leather bag from Milan might be considered "tasteful," but I prefer the old canvas tote bag I carry around because I'm not comfortable with animals dying for my aesthetic gratification. So in that sense, the "good taste" example actually perpetuates something that I find morally problematic.
posted by delight at 12:26 PM on December 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


I love film, to the extent that I even have a favorite, adored film critic. And I don't always agree with him. We bring different things to the art, and that's OK. Art appreciation is more often a conversation than anything else. (A conversation with the work, with someone who disagrees, with yourself, etc.) There are also a lot of films that I think in general are very stupid, but there are also things I appreciate about them. The more you allow yourself to have opinions, the more robust your opinions will become. Learn how to talk about art, and it matters much less who agrees with you.

On the other hand, I know basically nothing about music and rarely listen to it. But I know why I like what I like, and I can articulate it. That relieves a lot of the anxiety about discussing music. If I can say, "I'm not a music buff, but I love [whoever] because the songwriting is so unexpected and her voice is beautiful," who can disagree? At worst someone can say they don't like her, or think I'm a dork, or that the songwriting is actually super formulaic. In response to the first one, that's fine. In response to the second, yeah, I know! I'm not a music buff. In response to the third, "oh really? Why do you say that? I don't know much about songwriting but I always feel like the melodies come out of nowhere while feeling just right."
posted by stoneandstar at 12:42 PM on December 8, 2016


Regarding morality, unless you're giving your money to someone who's doing unethical things with it, or unless the thing you consume perpetuates racism/sexism/violence/etc., I don't think there's a moral component.


Really? There isn't art that appeals to your worse nature, your personal weaknesses, the way you'd like to be if only you had an excuse? I'd like to make this not a personal question but I honestly can't think how to, if you can make it general please do.
posted by clew at 12:43 PM on December 8, 2016


I can also admit that I do judge people for the art they like, because I'm a human being. But if I meet an otherwise intelligent person that I like, and they love a movie I think is doggerel, does it override my positive opinion of them? No! Definitely not. In fact, I become curious about what I missed.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:44 PM on December 8, 2016


I guess I should have said, there's art that appeals to my worse nature and tempting faults, and I think seeking it out is immoral for me to do.
posted by clew at 12:44 PM on December 8, 2016


It is evidence of good taste that you do not allow yourself to be defined by your choices as a consumer.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:52 PM on December 8, 2016 [2 favorites]



1. Does "quality" exist as some free-floating, objective thing independent of one's perception, as is sometimes implied?

No.

2. If yes, is there a method or set of criteria that can be used to determine quality?

I think that very loosely speaking, you might determine quality by asking whether a) something stands the test of time and/or b) whether it was made by somebody skilled and passionate. When it comes to art, "stands the test of time" might mean whether it speaks to universal or common human experiences outside of the specific context in which it was made. Or whether it speaks to you on different levels. Or whether it conveys a passion. Please note that these are all subjective criteria.

3. Does taste in movies/music/whatever have some sort of intellectual or moral dimension to it? That is, are smart people drawn to "good" things and those who aren't smart drawn to "bad" things?

No, certainly not, in my experience.

4. Is any sort of cultural consumption a duty? Is there indeed a list of "shoulds"?

No. I'd know - I didn't have a TV growing up, and although I sometimes really enjoy TV shows now I find they stress me out and I've watched probably 2 episodes in all of 2016. Somehow people (even fancy smart people) are still willing to be friends with me. Sure, you'll miss out on references - happens to me all the time - but our actual, real life is plenty of experience to go on.

5. When making a judgment on the quality of something (good or bad), is that also, in any way, a judgment of those who like/dislike that thing?

Usually not, but if people are really into media that denigrates others, I do in fact consider that a problem.


I have found that MetaFilter is pretty darn judgy about media. Not universally, of course, but it's a recurring issue. I can't tell you how many times I've read here that that thing I like is stupid and only uninformed people would like it. It can be hard to take. Sometimes, I think it's just plain old mean. Other times, there may have been subtle themes that I had failed to notice, which, upon further reflection, I don't actually like or want to consume. This, I think, is what happens when people think deeply about their media People see different things in stories and art of all kinds (see above; it's all subjective), and when they really care, they are going to disagree about the quality of said stories/art. It's not easy to separate somebody's knee-jerk judgy opinion from someone's carefully-reasoned examination of thematic content. However, I suspect it's good for us all to try.
posted by Cygnet at 1:19 PM on December 8, 2016


So on one hand, you like what you like and that is fine. "It makes me feel good" is a perfectly valid reason to enjoy something. On the other hand, there are some objective measures of quality; people can be using poorly made materials (bad props), they can be too unskilled to notice errors (hanging boom mic in a scene of a movie), they can be unintentionally confusing, they can have a preference that is shared by a vanishingly small percentage of the world, that sort of thing. But people still love movies that suck by any objective measure, and it gives them pleasure, and that's lovely. Anyway, this question reminded me of an Ask I posted a while back, not so much from the anxiety perspective as from a "how can you tell it's any good?" perspective. The answers were interesting, I learned some things, and I thought it might help address your questions about quality. I feel a little more confident about understanding weaknesses in things that I love, now, even if it doesn't change how I feel about them.
posted by tchemgrrl at 1:23 PM on December 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


I have formed the opinion that professional reviewers are weird people with atypical tastes and I don't give a fuck what they say is good or bad anymore. Not only do they like different things, they aren't even honest about that, as they are even more concerned about liking "the right things" than we are.
If I enjoy a movie, song or whatever, then in my universe it's good.
posted by w0mbat at 1:38 PM on December 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Some people like NASCAR. Some like Formula One. Some people think racing cars is dumb or lowbrow. Some people think cars are bad. Some people think cars are art. Etc. Like what you like.
posted by fixedgear at 2:21 PM on December 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


I worry constantly that I like the "wrong" things and that what I prefer reflects negatively on me somehow

I hate that people are made to feel this way, and I blame the Internet. It's cool to get out front and hate movies/music/etc. before other people do. Geek culture is especially bad in this regard. If you like Prometheus, or Batman v. Superman, something must be wrong with you. It's completely ridiculous herd mentality crap.

OP - you like what you like. I don't have to like it, and that's 100% OK. If you like Nickelback, or Burger King or mullets or death metal or you want to be a brony, or Justin Bieber, then whatever, go for it. It's your life and you get to choose. And hell, good for you for being your own person and going against the grain. Anybody who is a jerk about what you like is just being a jerk, and that's their problem and not yours.
posted by cnc at 3:03 PM on December 8, 2016


The perfect book for this exact question:

You May Also Like: Taste in an Age of Endless Choice by Tom Vanderbilt.

The author looks at almost every aspect of taste and selection that you can possibly think of, in a relaxed and accessible style. The basic theme is that the concept of taste in itself is more subtle than many people assume. I think that after reading this, you will probably feel less self-conscious about these kinds of things.
posted by ovvl at 5:31 PM on December 8, 2016


If you want or need something from a snobby in-crowd you'll need to adopt or fake their prejudices, otherwise appreciating art and beauty is an internal response that changes with time and experience. Even studying about a well liked subject can have unexpected results, Mark Twain said learning to be a pilot disabled his ability to enjoy riverscapes.
posted by ridgerunner at 6:09 PM on December 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


This article explains Bourdieu's ideas on this topic well. Don't let the focus on the h-word distract--these ideas are relevant in any setting, not just self-consciously 'hip' situations.

Here are the key quotes from Mark Greif, I think:

"Taste is not stable and peaceful, but a means of strategy and competition. Those superior in wealth use it to pretend they are superior in spirit. Groups closer in social class who yet draw their status from different sources use taste and its attainments to disdain one another and get a leg up."

"Many of us try to justify our privileges by pretending that our superb tastes and intellect prove we deserve them, reflecting our inner superiority. Those below us economically, the reasoning goes, don’t appreciate what we do; similarly, they couldn’t fill our jobs, handle our wealth or survive our difficulties. Of course this is a terrible lie."

Also, Barbara Kirschenblatt-Gimblett has an insightful chapter called "Disputing Taste" at the end of the book Destination Culture.
posted by umbú at 6:28 PM on December 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


(I haven't read the comments, so I'm likely reiterating a point already made.)

Keep in mind that we tend to like the things that are familiar to us and be put-off by the unfamiliar. So, it's important to be aware of why you like or don't like something.

I like 2 Buck Chuck (virtually any cheap, not too sweet, white wine) just fine. I'm not going to defend the choice OR apologize for it. I'm aware that I don't know jack about wine and that people who do are in a better position to determine quality. Perhaps if I DID know what makes for a good wine, I would be put off by the swill I'm currently drinking. E.g., I grew up on Miracle Whip and initially rejected mayo as "too bland", but it wasn't long before I came to prefer mayo because I found the taste of Miracle Whip too overpowering.
posted by she's not there at 7:10 PM on December 8, 2016


A while back I heard a podcast - probably Smithsonian Folkways - quote Pete Seeger (I think) saying something along these lines: if you don't like something, you just haven't been exposed to it enough. He's talking specifically about dramatically different musical cultures, and learning to listen to a kind of music that's tuned differently or has different rhythms than the music you grew up with. I think there's a lot of truth to this, and maybe that's part of why taste can also be a marker of class, background, education and other factors.

That said, I don't know too many people who judge others harshly based on their tastes. I mean, I do know some people who will say things like "oh my god you don't like/do like/never heard of [x thing] what the hell is wrong with you???" But those people tend to be pretty young, and statements like that are rarely meant as a true judgment of another's character.

It is really interesting to ask yourself and other people why you and they like different things. Exploring these questions is a great way to get to know yourself and others better, and as you begin to approach with more curiosity and less fear of being judged, it can be a lot of fun. I think this will be easier with friends who love you and in whose respect and affection you feel secure. Good luck.
posted by bunderful at 7:21 PM on December 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


Arateaa, you do you.
There are too many backseat drivers in the world. Be open to exploration, be open to creativity.
Do not accept the "great and good," just because it is popular with a certain group.
Do not be enslaved by the subjective.
Express your own sense of wonder in the world.
Consider that you may be onto something, leading the pack instead of following it.
Or you may be a unique, thoughtful individual, exercising your free will.
With each age comes growth and change. The flavors and colors of childhood are replaced with new sensations, subtle and varied.
Look back at your former self, but do not hang on to what no longer feeds your spirit.
It sounds like you are ready for a change.
Go for it.
posted by TrishaU at 12:37 AM on December 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


When I was a student, I helped to run the film society at the university that I attended. I watched a lot of movies, and hung out with people who loved the cinema & loved talking about why.

When we were working out the programme for each year, we read a lot of reviews - not only to decide which films to show, but also so we knew what to say about them in the publicity material. Also because we were all young people who were learning what was "good" & what was "bad".

We started out with Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide from whatever year - maybe 1988 or 89. It wasn't a very good resource, because so many of the reviews in there were too short - and too dismissive - to be any use for our purpose. Just seemed like a clever, witty & knowledgeable guy crapping on movies that he didn't like. Leslie Halliwell was the same, but worse.

Then we started to read Danny Peary instead. Very different experience. His books are about the awesomeness of the movies that he loves - not about how smart it makes him to dismiss stuff that he doesn't like. When he does dislike something - and there's some stuff that he really, really hates - he'll explain in helpful detail why he thinks it's horrible. When you read a Danny Peary review, it makes you want to go out & watch all sorts of movies, right now. Film noir classics, gross-out comedies, sentimental love stories, exploitation trash, art-house masterpieces, everything. That's been my benchmark for criticism ever since - if it doesn't transmit a feeling of the critic's love or enthusiasm for the medium, I'll look elsewhere.

So - not all taste-making critics are exclusive snobs. Some are enthusiasts who want to share what they love. All genres in all media have their enthusiasts. Maybe worth seeking those kind of opinions, and seeing where it leads.
posted by rd45 at 3:27 AM on December 9, 2016 [3 favorites]


I am late to this, but man, I hate that you're feeling bad and insecure.

Short answers:
1. Does "quality" exist as some free-floating, objective thing independent of one's perception, as is sometimes implied?
Yeah, sort of, at some level in the sense of craftsmanship and creativity. Some things are derivative and formulaic. They can still be enjoyable, just not at the same level as something unique and well crafted.

2. If yes, is there a method or set of criteria that can be used to determine quality?
Hunh. I dunno. My guess is that there are probably a bunch of different ones, so I guess no.

3. Does taste in movies/music/whatever have some sort of intellectual or moral dimension to it? That is, are smart people drawn to "good" things and those who aren't smart drawn to "bad" things?
No. There are, however, acquired tastes, so a lot of the time, someone who is more experienced with and educated about something will appreciate things that those with less familiarity won't. And sometimes, having more experience and education can kind of ruin stuff for you. Like, if you can articulate exactly how a specific formula works, how the parts come together to create a response from you, it doesn't have the same impact.

4. Is any sort of cultural consumption a duty? Is there indeed a list of "shoulds"?

Damn, that is a great question, and I have no idea.

5. When making a judgment on the quality of something (good or bad), is that also, in any way, a judgment of those who like/dislike that thing?

Not a harsh judgment about their intelligence or moral fiber, no. Maybe a narrow judgment about whether or not you share tastes and interests with them.

Super longwinded answer because this is something that has nagged at me quite a bit:

I am probably a movie snob at least, and a bit of an other things snob, and I absolutely hate that people think I am judging them harshly because of my own choices. I am not. I literally only know one person in real life who shares my interests and tastes in the arts, and he lives thousands of miles away. Everyone else, people I know, respect, and often love dearly, do not. I happily and respectfully live with people who enjoy what I think of as kind of junky media. They're not stupid, they're not bad. They are my favorites and I don't want them to change, even though every now and again, I kind of wish I could share some of my favorites with them.

My husband, of whom I am incredibly fond, has a thing for Real Housewives and things like that. He's a middle aged, gray haired lawyer, kind of tall and taciturn, and really really smart and incisive. People tend to find him intimidating when they first meet him. I do make him watch shows with excess screaming away from the main living area, because it stresses me out, but I think his trash TV habit is absolutely charming. It's part of who he is. I can't say I really get it, but he doesn't always get me either. I sort of like that, too.

I DO think I have better tastes in some areas than they do, because of course I do. Movies have always been my jam. I used to take the bus to arthouse theaters before I was even old enough to drive and go to multi-day director retrospectives and film festivals, and I'd read about movies and always had a running list of movies I was trying to track down. So yeah, of course I think I know more about it than my friends and family. I just do. It doesn't make me a better person than them, though. It just means that in this one specific area, I know more stuff than they do. I notice things that they don't, because I've put time and effort into seeking it out and acquiring tastes for it, but the reason I did that was because, for some reason, movies just really, really click with me more than they do with a lot of people. Those other people know more about other things than I do, and have interests and knowledge I don't, and I'm sure they have that same sort of feeling I have about them.

And not every well-respected movie clicks with me. There are some directors and some movies that I know are good that don't do much for me. I sometimes go back to revisit them because I figure I'm probably missing something that other people are picking up on, and every now and again, I find I do appreciate them better. Sometimes, I don't, though, and I don't think it makes me stupid.

Generally speaking, I care about arts. I just love human creativity. I don't have a lot of deep knowledge about most things, but I appreciate that they exist, and I think that encouraging and perpetuating human creativity is incredibly important. Music, visual arts, food and drink, film, literature, anything. I think that genuine, unique, creative insight is valuable, and I do think that it's worth distinguishing that sort of effort from mass-produced formula. I really enjoy a lot of the formula (or at least DID, before Burger King stopped doing Angry Whopper promotions), but I think there's an important distinction to make, and that we all should acknowledge that distinction to preserve and encourage creativity.

The only people I judge morally and intellectually are the people who are dismissive outright of anything they don't understand. The people who legitimately seem to think that there are whole genres of things that are fundamentally 'pretentious' just because they don't personally get them. It's just a ridiculous, toxic, antisocial perspective to take, and THAT, I think, does perpetuate ignorance and dullness. If you reject everything you don't understand out of hand like that, you're never going to learn anything new, and you're just making the world a crappier place.

And as a kind of movie snob, I went for a very long time not admitting it just because people would be really insulting about it. I had enough people actually get angry at me for recommending movies I like that I stopped even trying to talk about what I liked for a very long time. So I had to stop caring what people thought, too. It's almost always a good idea to stop caring what random jerks think.
posted by ernielundquist at 9:33 AM on December 9, 2016 [4 favorites]


@umbú, @cnc:

In my post, I was struggling to come up with a ready, concrete example of where I've tended to see such behavior that I described. Geek culture seems to be a place where I've tended to encounter such grumbling about the alleged poor taste and dumbness of the perceived majority. To varying extents, I see this in almost any sort of enthusiast group or other niche community but particularly ones with some sort of artistic or counter-cultural leaning. Gaming forums where members complain about "casuals", music sites where they complain about whatever's on the radio and turn into a pissing contest of whose taste is more obscure/sophisticated/"patrician", hobbyists complaining that most people don't use their preferred tools or whatever, and on and on and on.

Funny you mention that particular "h word" in the New York Times article. I was tempted to use it as a shorthand to describe the behavior at play, but I backed out because the term is little more than a way for people to simultaneously complain about cultural preferences they don't like as well as call someone's authenticity into question. Also, the term is just so passé: it seems that "millennial" is the choice of word these days used to mean "vaguely youngish person I don't like" in articles complaining about such-and-such trend.
posted by arateaa at 10:12 AM on December 9, 2016


Gaming forums where members complain about "casuals," music sites where they complain about whatever's on the radio and turn into a pissing contest of who's taste more obscure, sophisticated, or "patrician", hobbyists complaining that most people don't use their preferred tools or whatever, and on and on and on.

Those people suck and everyone hates them though
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:15 AM on December 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


Geek culture seems to be a place where I've tended to encounter such grumbling about the alleged poor taste and dumbness of the perceived majority.

Oh, have I got the internal mantra for you!

People who consider themselves real film aficionados think superhero movies are disgusting trash that is ruining Hollywood.

People who consider themselves even realer film aficionados would never be caught dead watching a Hollywood movie.

People who consider themselves the realest film aficionados would never be caught dead watching a movie that had a cohesive narrative of any kind.

There's always going to be somebody who doesn't like a thing and thinks it's stupid trash. You can't win. You have to just like what you like.
posted by Sara C. at 10:36 AM on December 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


Can I say I love your question? There’s already 49 answers, that’s awesome. I love this thread, you’ve put your finger on something universal I think. You’re not alone ;)

I just wanted to add my 2 cents…

I am deaf. I can’t listen to the radio, can’t follow anything on TV unless there are subtitles (which in my country are scarce / pretty poor quality), can watch only 1/4 of what I want to watch on Youtube (closed captions are a work in progress) and in general am not exposed to music / TV / podcasts / etc. So my tastes in music are : the Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, Queen and Neil Young. The « we are the 90s » themed parties? I have to Google ideas for my 90s outfit and don’t really enjoy the nostalgia / irony / hip-ness of the whole thing. On the other hand, my co-workers are pretty knowledgeable and up-to-date when it comes to music and movies. I make mental notes of the musicians they are talking about and secretly Google them. I listen to one or two piece of music and just… give up. I try to listen to the conversations my co-workers are having about music or movies out of curiosity but it’s a fact, I have no taste in music nor in movies and honestly, I don’t want to put too much energy in it. I feel like it would involve a whole education so I just go back to my 10 favorites tracks. I kind of spontaneously practice your #4 point, which is the duty of some sort of cultural consumption. I do it out of polite curiosity to get an idea of what is being made and talked about, but it usually stops here.

It used to bother me a lot… I still feel like I am missing bonding opportunities… that I am un-educated, a bit apart… I feel stupid for being unable to enjoy something that’s supposedly so universal.
But the good thing is (and it took me a while to get it) : now I see how this lack of taste has been an opportunity for self-affirmation; lack of taste in music is something I’m a bit ashamed of, but being able to ask in the middle of a coffee break who Sting is, what was the joke about xx song etc., got me weirdly empowered for having dared (shudders) to ask such a question and… judging by the reactions I very distinctly see who the good people are. People judging you for asking a genuine question / not knowing something / not knowing the quality of something are rude, period. I don’t care what their tastes are.

OTOH I have strong tastes when it comes to literature and visual arts. Those tastes come from a mix of family influences and liberal arts education and personal willingness to explore those things. And I think taste that you choose to cultivate comes from an active effort, a curiosity and has no judgement. You can be aware of what is considered « good taste » but your taste is something very personal, very genuine…It’s about what moves you, what interests you, what inspires you, and you can build a pretty rich « personal universe » based on this.

Personal taste shouldn’t be a matter of anxiety, but it is, and the amount of books and studies written about taste as a social definer doesn’t really help… I sincerely hope you’ll find a way to enjoy what you enjoy without trying to label it as good or bad and that you’ll find a way to affirm what you like without shame.

… and pardon my English, it’s not my mother tongue.
posted by Ifite at 1:54 PM on December 9, 2016 [7 favorites]


I'm surprised that no one has mentioned Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance. It's a great book (IMO - not everyone agrees) and in it Pirsig develops his theory of the Metaphysics of Quality. It directly addresses a couple of your questions: Does quality exist independent of opinion, are there criteria of quality, etc.

I understand that the heart of your question is about your anxiety around taste, but it seems like Pirsig should be recommended somewhere in this thread.
posted by crapples at 5:17 PM on December 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


@crapples:

There were in fact two others who posted about Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

To be quite honest, this isn't really about whether something is quality or not, so much as it is constant doubt about my own intelligence and self-worth. For whatever reason, though, I've fixated on taste and the notion that it would be directly reflective if my own intelligence and value as a person and thus worry about others "confirming" my fears about myself. If I were more confident about myself and about taste having no connection to my intelligence or to how others would perceive me, I wouldn't even bother with trying to change or hide what I like.

Then again, this may all be pretty moot to begin with as there isn't much that I seem to even enjoy these days in the first place. I have little interest in TV, movies, books, or any sort of fiction (and I'm not even sure if I did at any point). I don't play video games as much as I used to. Even in the case of music it all depends on my mood. Sometimes there are days where all I do after work is go to the store/do errands (if necessary), get home and have some dinner, do whatever chores need to be done, read articles on my phone or computer, get things ready for the next day, and then head to bed.
posted by arateaa at 8:59 PM on December 11, 2016


Also (related to the whole self-worship/intelligence thing) I can't help but get the feeling that I'm part of the much derided "masses" and that I only risk confirming it in my interactions with others. The very nature of the term "masses" implies that it's a majority, after all, so the odds of being among the elect are not in my favor.
posted by arateaa at 11:01 PM on December 11, 2016


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