Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Deal W. Hudson

3/30/2014 (4 months ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The culture, it is clear to see, is still reeling from the bad taste of thirty years ago. The value of cultivating and encouraging good taste is no -mere- luxury.

It\'s inevitable that we seek the absolute in our most earnest and passionate endeavors. Being a people more invested in music and entertainment than in morality, it\'s no surprise that fans become fanatical. We often forget that one reason we need God is so our unavoidable, infinite desire for him isn\'t squandered foolishly or violently. Bad taste pollutes and diminishes our public life not simply because it promotes inferior art but because it promotes all the manners and morals that come in its train. Bad taste results in the enjoyment of vulgar TV and banal music, which leads to boring conversation, brutish manners, and obviously violent behavior.

Highlights

By Deal W. Hudson

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

3/30/2014 (4 months ago)

Published in U.S.

Keywords: taste, manners, habits, virtue, decorum, dignity, deportment, habits, respect, culture, literate, educated, Deal W. Hudson


WASHINGTON,DC (Catholic Online) - I have not looked at Chaucer's Canterbury Tales for years until I started reading Peter Ackyrod's new "retelling" in a sparkling prose which maintains the spirit and tone of the original Middle English verse.  As Chaucer's narrator describes his fellow pilgrims in the General Prologue, I was taken aback by two straight-forward assertions: individuals can be judged by their clothing and table manners. 

At table she had been well taught withal,
And never from her lips let morsels fall,
Nor dipped her fingers deep in sauce, but ate
With so much care the food upon her plate
That never driblet fell upon her breast.

(General Prologue 127-131)

I was brought up by my parents to believe manners and appearance were important, and telling. I've employed these criteria my entire adult life - but without saying too much about it out loud. Appearance and manners are no longer viewed as providing norms for judging a person's character.  In fact, to admit placing much importance on how people appear, carry themselves, conduct themselves in public, or at the dinner table is considered by most as snobbery. 

But I can't stop myself from doing it, largely because it has been proven as a reliable, though far from perfect, guide to what people will be like as you get to know them better. The few conversations I've engaged in on this subject have quickly moved to the question of taste.  To say something is "a matter of taste" supposedly consigns it to the realm of subjectivity where no norms or standards abide.

However, taste is a strong indicator of  identity and, in some cases, character: our preferences in the arts have always betrayed strong affinities for certain lifestyles and moral attitudes. We express these allegiances in our dress, our grooming, and our habits of play and recreation. (For example, I despise backwards baseball caps and gum-chewing.)

It's the way we create our identity through our appearance, our likes and dislikes, and what we value that makes taste as explosive an issue as religion and politics. Whoever it was who first said, De gustibus non est disputandum - there can be no disputes in matters of taste - has been proven wrong, once and for all.

The general silence on the value of taste, it seems to me, stems from an obvious cause. We earnestly discuss our "shared" values in an attempt to draw people together, to create a new consensus on the subject of morality. We can confidently espouse our belief in peace, justice, and love, knowing that only the most beastly among us would dare disagree. Such moral generalities guarantee a minimum of quarreling. Mention taste, however, and this happy unanimity begins to crumble.

Why? Because taste is always about a specific object, this movie or that piece of music. Propose the importance of good taste and people immediately cringe at the possibility that their taste will be found lacking. Questions about taste quickly turn toward the concrete in a way that justice and love do not (but should)! "What's wrong with Pulp Fiction? I liked it!"

The fact that disputes over taste quickly turn to particular films or novels is refreshing: For a moment we are actually freed from the airiness of the theoretical. We suddenly feel the weight of what values are actually for - to make judgments, based upon universal standards, about concrete things and actual practices.

Thus, the mere mention of taste actually raises the long-ignored substantive issues about the nature of value itself. We have grown used to ignoring its function as an external measure of actions and character. Taste forces us to face up to the deeper questions we want to avoid. Is this object I have just enjoyed, good for me, or bad?

It's ironic, isn't it, that taste raises the problem of objectivity in values while seeming to be the most subjective of judgments? In fact, it is commonly heard in the history of ethics that contemporary moral theory resembles aesthetics - moral values gradually are being re-duced to matters of "mere taste."

For years I argued lightheartedly with my students about the down-ward spiral of popular music. One day I realized: The argument wasn't about beauty - the quality of melody, harmony, rhythm, or lyrics - it was about the identity they felt through their musical preferences. As much as the aestheticians would like to limit the experience of art to pleasure alone, it's clear that the sociological-moral dimension can't be denied.

It's inevitable that we seek the absolute in our most earnest and passionate endeavors. Being a people more invested in music and entertainment than in morality, it's no surprise that fans become fanatical. We often forget that one reason we need God is so our unavoidable, infinite desire for him isn't squandered foolishly or violently.

Bad taste pollutes and diminishes our public life not simply because it promotes inferior art but because it promotes all the manners and morals that come in its train. Bad taste results in the enjoyment of vulgar TV and banal music, which leads to boring conversation, brutish manners, and obviously violent behavior.

The hegemony of bad taste is evident everywhere - it's the dominant form of the incivility that people are complaining about - the back-wards baseball caps, the cursing comedians, the murderous drivers, the tattoos and navel rings, the tell-all talk shows, starting every sentence with "like," our obsession with the dark side of celebrity lives, and so-called saggy pants.

Of course, the knee-jerk answer from parents whose kids are running around listening to rap music and emulating rappers' dress will be, "Well, I wore beads and long hair in the '60s and I got over it." My response is: "You may have gotten over it, but we all know people who are still using drugs with grey-haired friends while the children are asleep upstairs." The culture, it is clear to see, is still reeling from the bad taste of thirty years ago. The value of cultivating and encouraging good taste is no "mere" luxury.

Deal W. Hudson, Ph.D

-----
Deal W. Hudson is president of the Morley Institute of Church and Culture, Senior Editor and Movie Critic at Catholic Online, and former publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine.This column and subsequent contributions are an excerpt from a forthcoming book. Dr. Hudson's new radio show, Church and Culture, is heard on the Ave Maria Radio Network.

---


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'


2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for July 2014
Sports:
That sports may always be occasions of human fraternity and growth.
Lay Missionaries: That the Holy Spirit may support the work of the laity who proclaim the Gospel in the poorest countries.



Comments


More U.S.

Sudanese woman previously sentenced to death arrives in United States Watch

Image of Greeted by her husband and two young children at a large crowd of supporters at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport in New Hampshire, Mariam Ibrahim declined comment to the media.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Mariam Ibrahim from Sudan, at one time sentenced to die for her Christian faith has since arrived at her new home in the United States. Her plight was of grave international concern. Greeted by her husband and two young children at a large crowd of supporters ... continue reading


'We are coming for you!' American Islamic jihadist suicide bomber gleefully shouts to Americans on chilling final video Watch

Image of American terrorist Moner Mohammed Abu-Salha smiled and talked about dying and going to paradise.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

A new video shows an American smiling as he prepares to kill himself and dozens of others in a suicide bombing. In the video, made just before his death, Moner Mohammed Abu-Salha, 22, ripped, chewed, and burned his American passport before climbing into an ... continue reading


Bridget of Sweden, Marriage and Family, and the Need for Canonized Married Saints Watch

Image of St Bridget of Sweden, her husband Ulf, and all the modern Popes call Christian married couples to become the 'Sweet and Smiling Face of the Church' in this age. This is an age which is desperately in need of all kinds of saints. I suggest we particularly need examples of married, canonized Saints. That is precisely because this is an age where faithful marriage is now counter-cultural. We need examples of men and women who not only embraced it in Christ, but lived it as a but a path to heroic virtue.

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

The clear teaching of the Bible, the Christian tradition and the re-emphasis of the last Council in the Catholic Church, the Second Vatican Council, make clear - we are ALL called to holiness in life. That  is what the Catholic Church regularly refers to as ... continue reading


GOBBLING UP RESOURCES: Fastest part of U.S. population is immigrants, gobbling up national resources Watch

Image of A new report from the group warns that continued population growth could top a worldwide 10 billion by 2100. The report, entitled

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Most of the United States' population growth is from immigrants - who are consuming resources dangerously fast. Those are the finding of the group called Negative Population Growth Inc. Furthermore, 80 percent of the growth in U.S. population comes from ... continue reading


Malinformed much? Ninety percent of your information now comes from just 6 media sources Watch

Image of Small media outlets are consumed by the large, limiting the variety of expression.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Have you ever tried to describe something, but lacked the vocabulary to do it? This is the concept behind Newspeak, a fictional language in George Orwell's 1984. Orwell proposed that by limiting expression, thought itself could be limited. Today, as media companies ... continue reading


Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage struck down Watch

Image of The Virginia case, Bostic v. Rainey, was brought by two same-sex couples. Fourteen thousand gay couples also were certified as a class for the suit.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

In a dramatic reversal of a voter-based 2006 decision, U.S. appeals court this week struck down Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional, the latest in a string of court rulings to back gay marriage. A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit ... continue reading


Archbishop Chaput Speaks at the Napa Institute Conference on Pope Francis and Economic Justice

Image of Archbishop Charles J. Chaput is one of the preeminent Churchmen of our age. He offers a prophetic voice for this important time. He not only grasps and articulates Catholic Social Doctrine well, he also understands the real treasure we have been given in this Pope who took the name Francis. I believe that his insights into Pope Francis need to be read by as many people as possible.

By Catholic Online

In matters of economic justice, Francis' concerns are the same as Benedict's and John Paul II's and Pius XI's and Leo XIII's. He understands economic matters through the lens of Church teaching in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Like his ... continue reading


Thousands of Christians Flee Under Death Threat From Tyrannical Caliph and ISIS Jihadists Watch

Image of (Pictured: Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, or Caliph Ibrahim) At first, Christians were ordered to gather in a central place to receive the directive from the self appointed Caliph. Understandably, given the track record of this maniacal tyrant, few did. So, the text of the statement was issued as a formal declaration to all Christians - We offer them three choices: Islam; the dhimma contract - involving payment of Jizya; if they refuse this they will have nothing but the sword.

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

By now, everyone who is in anyway concerned about what is happening to Christians in Iraq has heard the horrific news. The madman who claims to be a descendant of Mohammed, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi - who in his delusion and grandiosity has taken to calling himself ... continue reading


Deacon Keith Fournier: The Courage of the Catholic Bishops, Religious Liberty, Hobby Lobby and ENDA Watch

Image of Deacon Keith Fournier is Founder and Chairman of Common Good Foundation and Common Good Alliance. A married Roman Catholic Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, he and his wife Laurine have five grown children and six grandchildren, He serves as the Director of Adult Faith Formation at St. Stephen, Martyr Parish in Chesapeake, VA. He is also a human rights lawyer and public policy advocate. Deacon Fournier is a graduate of the Franciscan University of Steubenville (Theology and Philosophy, BA), the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University (Theology of Marriage and Family, MTS), and the University of Pittsburgh School of Law (JD). He has completed requirements for the PhD in Moral Theology at the Catholic University of America and is writing the PhD dissertation on the teaching of St. John Paul II.

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

The Catholic Bishops are doing an excellent job standing up for Religious liberty as a fundamental human right. One of my growing concerns is that many Catholics do not even read what they are saying. Sadly, in a propagandized media where sound bites substitute ... continue reading


Obama demands that illegals be allowed to enter U.S. Watch

Image of Tens of thousands of illegal, unaccompanied minors have flooded into the United States since 2014 began, often escaping violence in war torn Central American countries.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

President Barack Obama's administration is considering whether or not it will allow hundreds of minors and young adults from Honduras and other war-torn Central American states to enter into the United States illegally and without crossing into the country ... continue reading


All U.S. News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Jeremiah 26:1-9
1 At the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim son of ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 69:6, 8-10, 14
6 Those who hope in you must not be made fools of, ... Read More

Gospel, Matthew 13:54-58
54 and, coming to his home town, he taught the people ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for August 1st, 2014 Image

St. Alphonsus Marie Liguori
August 1: Bishop, Doctor of the Church, and the founder of the ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter