Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Good Taste and Terrorism

Raise your hand if you love “rose gold” (the newish color for Apple products). Me, not so much. I don’t know why. I just don’t. Maybe because it’s ugly.

But wait. I can’t say that. Not about an Apple color. Not me, one of their die-hard fan-boys. Besides, it sells like crazy. Could I be wrong?

Where I grew up, in the South, good taste was a matter of high snobbery, an ineffable mark of good breeding and class. It was like blue eyes or a great physique, except for people who had neither. “Yes, she has a certain animal appeal, but her clothes are so common.”

We used to call bad taste “tacky.” Too bright. Too showy. Of course, we were Puritan stock, so sartorial modesty was deep in our DNA. I remember the first time I went to an Indian wedding after I moved to LA. All those bright colors. I was new to learning about the world and it was at first hard to reconcile my “ bright is tacky” heritage with my affection for the father of the bride. A similar internal conflict arose within me when my grandmother returned from five years in Bangkok with a closet full of Thai dresses. I think we gave them all away when she died; no one in our Southern family wanted them. I was an idiot then. I admit it. I have purged most of those biases. All but rose gold.

Go with me now as I wander down a similar path to the Stanford Mall. I’m sitting at an outside table, eating a sandwich and working on a story, when a person-sized robot rolls by. It has cameras all around it and it emits an eerie Twilight-Zone music (presumably so you’ll know it’s there and not bump into it). Once in a while it announces that it is a security robot. 

Okay, a little creepy, but fine. As I sit there, though, it comes back by a half-dozen times. I begin to imagine that it is focusing on me. I wonder if I fit some security profile. I’m a white man out in the middle of the day. Out of work? Disaffected? I have a black backpack with me. I think about giving it the finger. I wonder what it would do if I put black tape over its cameras.

I do not like to be surveilled. I moved all the way from Nashville to Los Angeles specifically to get out of reach of my father’s surveillance network. Anonymity has always offered me a kind of private bliss. As I imagine religion might offer others.

That same day, I read about a PhD student at Berkeley who was escorted off a Southwest flight and questioned by the FBI for three hours because he was speaking to his uncle on the telephone in Arabic. “Inshallah,” he said at the end of the call. Big mistake. Everyone who has watched thrillers knows that’s what the bad-guys say right before the bomb goes off.

So what does that have to do with rose gold? That color (or choose one you don’t like) is the other. Those people (speakers of strange languages) are the other. We don’t like them. If prompted, we fear them. Enter the flight attendants who ask you to leave the plane. Enter the security robot at the mall.

I admit to internal turmoil. I want us all to be left alone, but not so much so that we kill one another. There’s an inherent conflict there. I know that.

All this got me wondering, again, why I don’t like rose gold. There’s the raised by Puritans explanation. I do favor black and white. But it’s more than not liking rose gold: I think its ugly. Why do I take that step? Wouldn’t it be sufficient to say (which I do, except in meditations like this), hey if you like it, great. But secretly, some part of me feels, hey, if you like it, there’s something wrong with you. Definitely not raised by Puritans.

I’m civilized enough not to say these things out loud. “Nice, phone dude,” is what I say. But why do I feel that tiny frisson of disgust? What part of evolution has brought that on?

It’s adaptive, I suppose. The other might kill you. Whether it’s the guys in the next cave or the mushroom you have never seen before. This is the root of taste as a matter of survival. That and middle school.

We want pluralistic societies. We want tolerance for differences. Indeed, we must have those things if we are to survive as a species as we wash up over one another in the rising tide of humanity. Eventually, with exposure, we get used to the differences among us. It seems to take a lot of exposure, though, and a lot of time. I hope we get there in something faster than the speed at which we learned to walk upright.

And maybe by then I will think rose gold is beautiful. 

1 comment: