What I’m reading…

Today, I read Let’s Talk About Love : A Journey to the End of Taste by Carl Wilson. It’s part of the 33 1/3 series of books about specific albums. This one is about Celine Dion.

In this book, Wilson investigates issues of tastes, class, ethnicity, language, gender, etc., in the music and fan reception of Celine Dion. It’s a fantastic, very short read. It’s been helpful for me, thinking through my research project, especially the sections on taste. Wilson notes that in a survey from the 1990s, the four types of music that have the least-educated fans are rap, heavy metal, country, and gospel.  This isn’t surprising. This is so often the kind of music you frequently hear people saying they listen to everything but. “I like everything except country,” or “I like everything except metal.” etc. Wilson does some great analysis on why this is so, and how his own tastes as a music critic have been douchey and suspect.

Wilson summarizes the work of French theorists Pierre Bourdieu quite well, pointing out this fun fact:

But it was in asking people the reasons behind their choices that Bourdieu exploded the assumptions embedded in the whole ‘brow’ system (which originated in racist nineteenth century theories about facial features and intelligence). What he found was that poorer people were pragmatic about their tastes, describing them as entertaining, useful and accessible. But from the middle classes up, people had much grander justifications. For one thing, they were far more confident about their dislikes, about what was tacky or lame. But they also spoke in elaborate detail about how their tastes reflected their values and personalities, and in what areas they still wanted to enrich their knowledge…

Taste is a means of distinguishing ourselves from others, the pursuit of distinction. And its end product is to perpetuate and reproduce the class structure.

This is a kind of embodied work that Bourdieu and Wilson are speaking about. I’ve been reading Lit by Mary Karr, her third memoir about leaving her impoverished “white trash” Texas upbringing and going to university. Eventually she marries a wealthy man from a wealthy family. This is the scene at dinner:

Effortless, excellence has to be. Tossed off, reflecting the ease you’re born to, which opposed what little I’ve garnered about comportment. I’m bred for farm work, and for such folk, the only As you get come from effort. Strife and strain are all the world can offer, and they temper you into something unbreakable, because Lord knows they’ll try – without letup – to break you. Where I come from, house guests have to know you’ve sweated over a stove, for sweat is how care is shown. At the Whitbreads’, preparations are both slapdash and immaculate. You toss some melba toast on a plate next to a fragrant St. Andre triple-creme cheese, or on Christmas Eve, half a pound of caviar casually flipped into a silver urn.

It’s taken me so much EFFORT just to do as medium-shitty as I’ve heretofore done. Just to drop out of college, stay alive, and have my teeth taken care of.

In Sara Ahmed’s take on Bourdieu, she notes that the upper class bodies, through their seeming lack of effort, disappear from view. This also takes a kind of work, a disciplining into the right orientations toward objects, music, culture etc., considered tasteful.

Anyway, just some thoughts. I have a lot more work to do on taste, gendered working-class bodies, and obviously, country music performance.


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