Thursday, May 30, 2013

cultivating tastes

I highlighted one quote from David Foster Wallace's "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again" essay collection, from the (highly recommended) essay "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction":
"Television is the way it is simply because people tend to be extremely similar in their vulgar and prurient and dumb interests and wildly different in their refined and aesthetic and noble interests."
Isn't that great? It's obviously true, but how does such an equilibrium arise? I can imagine a model in which cultivating a favorable identity drives people to cultivate interests that serve their preferred identity. Any niche, plausibly highbrow interest will do. Only someone who is truly devoted to a difficult, niche interest would bother cultivating it, so fellow connoisseurs know they are sharing honest enthusiasm and onlookers know they are observing true integrity of identity.

The same isn't true for vulgar interests. No one wants to show them off or admit to themselves that their identity encompasses prurient interests. So our guilty pleasures don't get explored and diversified and refined like our noble tastes do.

And the funny thing is, the very fact that refined interests are so diversified proves that in some sense they aren't so honest as they are chosen and artificially cultivated for show (to oneself and to others). You see why I like this interpretation: it let's me rag on foodies some more :) (Yes, despite the fact I have my own cultivated interests...)

(This should perhaps be a BĂ©nabou and Tirole model?)

1 comment:

springsbest said...

Not cultivating dumb or vulgar tastes? I can remember many conversations with friends on tastes in trashy fiction. Certainly a guilty pleasure but all the more enjoyable: old fashioned mysteries v modern thrillers; favourites kept from childhood reading; the pleasures of different genres of trash; the character of "good" trashy novels versus plain clunky ones. All these were interesting in themselves and provided funny and unexpected insights into friends' character. Not to mention the delight on discovering that my boss shared a secret taste for the "horsey" mysteries of Dick Francis.