Monday, March 08, 2010

Carl Wilson's Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste

Carl Wilson wrote this great little book a few years back called Let's Talk about Love: A Journey to the End of Taste. In it Wilson, a serious indie music critic, subjects himself to Celine Dion music to understand why so many people love it, and investigate where taste comes from. I clipped this passage to show to my students, but there is something about it I don't quite get:

[91] The pleasure of listening to music or playing a sport is obviously real. [Sociologist Pierre Bourdeiu’s] argument is that the kinds of music and sports we choose, and how we talk about them, are socially shaped – that the cultural filters and concepts that guide my interests in and reactions to music, clothes, films or home decoration come out of my class and field. At the worst I am conning myself, but to what I feel is my advantage.
It’s not so strange an idea that there are social subtexts to our tastes: You might be a Julliard music student with a trust fund who associates authenticity with the inner city or the backwoods, and feel a little realer yourself when you kick it to Snoop or clean the condo with some bluegrass on. You may be less enamored of what you imagine about frat boys or soccer moms, and avoid music that conjures up such listeners. Or if you are a soccer mom, you want to be the soccer mom who listens to Slayer, because you want to stay a little young and wild, not like those soccer moms who listen to Cheryl Crow.
In early twenty-first century terms, for most people under fifty, distinction boils down to cool. Cool confers status – symbolic power. It incorporates both cultural capital and social capital, and it’s a clear potential route to economic capital. Corporations and culture makers pursue it as much as individuals do. It changes attributes in different milieus. As much as we avow otherwise, few of us are truly indifferent to cool, not a little anxious about whether we have enough, and Bourdieu’s theory may illustrate why that’s not merely [92] shallow. Being uncool has material consequences. Sexual opportunity, career advancement and respect, even elemental security can ride on it. To ignore cool may mean risking downward mobility at a time when many people are falling out of the middle class.
Even being deliberately uncool doesn’t save you, as that’s an attempt to flip the rules in your favor. Having a “guilty pleasure,” for instance, can be an asset in this system of cultural capital because it suggests you are so cool that you can afford to risk it on something goofy, ungainly and awkward – which makes you that much cooler. A few people with real panache, like Andy Warhol or John Waters, can assemble taste profiles that are nothing but guilty pleasures and be ultra-cool, but that takes at least social capital, so that the kitsch-connoisseur can be distinguished from the doofus who just likes goofball stuff. (For you to be cool requires someone else be less cool).
The clearest way to understand the distinction may be in high school terms: Say you’re a white, nerdy fifteen-year old boy who listens to High School Musical but you come to see you have a chance at becoming friends with the tough kids who smoke behind the school. So you start listening to death metal and wearing hacked up jean jackets. This isn’t a ruse: you start to actually see what’s plausible and exciting for you about those tastes. Here, death metal is cultural capital, high school cliques are the field and your habitus [the attitudes, abilities and expectation your upbringing nurtured] is what’s likely to determine whether you can carry off the slang and the haircut. Your instinct is to distinguish yourself from the nerds by becoming one of the tough kids, who, incidentally, hate High [93] School Musical with a vengeance, because that’s what nerds listen to. That’s distinction.


Maybe I am making too much out of an incidental example, or I missed something elsewhere in the book that explains it, but i need a little help with the bit about "you come to see you have a chance at becoming friends with the tough kids who smoke behind the school. So you start listening to death metal." I feel like you cannot explain taste in music with reference to wanting to be a part of a certain social group, because it just moves the question of taste from music to people without answering it at all. The person likes death metal to get in with the tough kids but why does he admire the tough kids? And if it is just some psychological thing, then the question of taste in music is psychological rather than sociological, isn't it? It just sort of feels like those movies where a character wants to know where human life comes from and the answer turns out to be aliens -- isn't the next question Where do the aliens come from? Where does human life come from is really about where does life of any kind come from isn't it?

29 comments:

plok said...

I don't think you're making too much of it at all: it's a ludicrously blinkered assertion, ass-backward and adolescent as hell. I'm tempted to pick it apart down to the subatomic level. "Coolness" as the parent of social status, ye gods...no wonder the distinction is "most clearly understood" by putting it in high-school terms! Code for it being embarrassingly incoherent when put into any other terms. "A few people with real panache, like Andy Warhol or John Waters", can assemble "taste profiles" that change the definition of what "cool" is...Christ, but that's just cultural Treknobabble, isn't it?

Sorry, had to get that off my chest, Jesus that passage is just infuriating. But I think your question punctures this annoying balloon a lot more elegantly than my fury does.

So you keep right on quoting regulations, Mr. Klock!

scottmcdarmont said...

I don't think it's so much 'you start listening to the heavy metal' to fit in with the tough kids as you start hanging out with the tough kids, they like heavy metal and, in time, you discover that you like heavy metal, perhaps more than you like High School Musical.

I suppose image can play a role in our musical taste; the indie kid who ONLY listens to bands no one else has heard of but I still don't think it can change us from liking what we like.

I had a friend who was like this in high school and, when I saw him one day buying Bush's Razorblade Suitcase, he quickly explained it was 'For his sister's', then, a couple of weeks later, I saw the CD opened in his room and he explained how "Steve Albini produced it... who is one of his favorite producers...and how the song 'swallowed' isn't that bad, etc., etc."

So, despite Bush's lack of indie cred, it couldn't change the fact that, to his eyes, the work produced was solid.

This reminds me of an ongoing debate that I enounter with my family members involving my dislike of Country Music (and by 'Country' I am referring to the mainstream brand of 'country' something Chuck Klosterman has referred to as 'Wal-Mart Country').

Of course I enjoy certain 'Old Country' artists, Johnny Cash in particular (is it fair to JUST consider him a country artist though) so and argument my country-lovin'-kin will often make is that I don't like 'Wal-Mart' country becuase it's not 'cool' to like Wal-Mart country but it IS cool to like Johnny Cash.

However, the bottom line is this: I don't like MOST mainstream country because I sincerly dislike the SOUND (and don't get me started on much of the lyrics). There are other OLD country artist who are now considered 'cool' like George Jones and Conway Twitty who I dislike as much as any modern artist (nor can I abide by Hank Williams who is absolutely adored by hipsters these days). Also, there are those things in mainstream country that I truly do enjoy: I sincerely enjoy the Dixie Chicks and Toby Keith's "Whiskey for my men, Beer for My Horses" is undeniably catchy. However, at my Brother's wedding reception this past summer, the playlist was mostly this brand of country and I was MISERABLE... I truly hated this music that is I wasn't just saying I hated it while secretly tapping my foot.

So, while environment and image can INFLUENCE our choice in music I do not think it can change our TASTE in music. That is, if the pseudo-tough kid above TRULY loves High School Musical, he is still going to listen to it when no one is watching (or listening, rather).

Graham said...

So public taste is influences by desire to conform to a peer group? That... that doesn't seem like news to me. Nor does it explain whether or not there's an actual independant basis for taste. Andy Warhol and Oscar Wilde may have iconoclastically defined cool, but neither of them had an opinion about The Go! Team.

Jeph Jacques has an interesting theory that, amongst hipsters, the obscurity of a band is directly related to how cool they are, and that, taken to the extreme, this means that the greatest, most perfect band is one which never formed, never released an album, and who no one has ever heard of. And that, consequently, the best way to annoy the hell out of this type of person is to ACTUALLY enjoy the music you're listening to independant of any of the social trappings or indie credibility of them. A pretty good example of this happened during Chuck Klosterman's interview of Jeff Tweedy. Klosterman made a crack about Tweedy's kid's band covering Jet songs, because only kids would like that kind of music. Tweedy replied, "What? You don't like rock and roll?" And after a moment's reflection, Klosterman was forced to admit that, yeah, he did like rock and roll, and that yeah, he did kinda like Jet, and was only making fun of them because all his friends at Spin were doing it.

Granted, this is pretty hard to do when you're in insecure high schooler, but much easier once you're an adult with actual income and no one to justify things to but your partner.

scottmcdarmont said...

This reminds me of a comment Doc Hammer made about Dave Matthews on a Venture Bros. Commentary: "I understand why you liked him at the time... your friend was really into him."

scottmcdarmont said...

I do think that that public taste can also serve as a filter of sorts. So, the stuff you really like, you will always come back to because you really like it, however, it can maybe help you filter out the stuff that you liked that wasn't so great; perhaps the stuff that was just merely derivative of the other stuff that you liked. For example, everyone knows I have a penchant for 80s metal, it was my 'first love' in music so to speak, however, when the alternative explosion happenned in the early 90s, this music became really 'uncool'. So, I began to listen to other bands, not so much to fit in as the people around me were listening to them and I began to enjoy them as well-- however, I came back to the stuff that I really loved. So, that is why, to this day, I still enjoy the Def Leppard, the Bon Jovi, The Motley Crue and the Iron Maiden. However, there are other artists who I used to enjoy that my evolving taste made me realize that I never really enjoyed to begin with but only listened to because of a passing resemblance to the bands that I really enjoyed: LA Guns, Warrant, Ratt, Slaughter, Enuff Znuff, Poison (however, I will still concede that "Talk Dirty To Me" is an AWESOMELY fun song).

So, yes, I have my 'guilty' pleasures: Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Motley Crue, Phil Collins, Genesis. However, like most people who defend their guilty pleasures as 'awesomely bad', I sincerely LIKE those artists and feel that they all have true merit.

In fact, the only true guilty pleasures that I have on my iPod are Stan Bush's songs from the original Transfomers animated movie ("The Touch", as made famous to non-Transfomer fans by Marky Mark as Dirk Diggler in Boogie Nights, and "Dare").

I have no other explanation for liking these songs other than their pure cheesiness... and perhaps a dash of nostalgia (they're also good workout tunes).

plok said...

I sort of feel for the "tough kids" in this example, too...like it just isn't important why they all hang around with one another out back of the school, why they like listening to metal, they're just an arbitrary quantity. "The tough kids". The ones who "aren't nerds".

Pretty broad brush, there! Particularly since it seems as though Scott would've fit right in with them: "oh, hey man, that's an awesome song..."

plok said...

It seems so unkind.

scottmcdarmont said...

Who says I wasn't a tough kid?... ok, I wasn't... am I that transparent?

neilshyminsky said...

I've read this book - it's what inspired me name my blog what I did - and I like Bourdieu quite a bit, so maybe I can field this as Bourdieu (if not Wilson) might...

"The person likes death metal to get in with the tough kids but why does he admire the tough kids? And if it is just some psychological thing, then the question of taste in music is psychological rather than sociological, isn't it?"

For Bourdieu, it's entirely sociological, and to the extent that psychology plays a role, it's only because your psychology is socially constructed by your milieu.

I'm not sure what Bourdieu would think of the term 'admiration', (I know his stuff, but not THAT well) but it's usually useful to translate his discussions of social or cultural capital into discussion of financial capital, to which they're analogous.

So asking why the nerd (who lacks the appropriate social or cultural capital within the economy of high school) wants to be one of the cool smokers is akin to asking why someone who makes $12 an hour writing copy would want to trade it all for $100k/year job at a bank - it's complicated, sure, but it comes down to a desire for power, (within an economy of finance, culture, etc.) wealth, and accumulation. So he admires the status and power of the cool kids, the status and power of their music. It's not the music itself that he likes - for Bourdieu, there's no such thing as 'music itself' - but the ways in which it has been valued. (To claim, according to Bourdieu, that you value its artistry would be to make a claim about its value within the particular cultural economy that you are a part of, and whose valuations you have naturalized in the same way that you feel that, say, a beer at a bar should never be more than $4.)

I may be the only person who kind of loves this section in the book - probably because this is how I consciously acted as an adolescent. When I became conscious of such things, I tried to identify what was socially valuable among the people that I liked and tried to a) adopt them, and b) one-up them. Radiohead had cultural caché? I was going to introduce people to the covers that Thom Yorke did under a pseudonym for the Velvet Goldmine film. (Clearly, I was also a bit of a dick as a teenager.)

plok said...

The "cool" thing makes it just about impossible to talk sensibly about this stuff. I'll concede that the kids out back of the school have a social status and power all their own, but I balk at framing it as $100K/year to the nerdy kid's $12/hour...I don't know how Wilson's whole "coolness thesis" can possibly stand up, when there's no reason to think the kids out back of the school are in some enviable position of being materially powerful in relation to their classmates. I mean, usually they would not be, you know what I mean? Usually "coolness" like theirs is about being disaffected outsiders. Wilson looks like he's trying to get around this by saying that coolness confers a relatively powerful social status (rather than the other way around!), but that doesn't really fit with what Neil says about Bourdieu above, does it?

I dunno, it just seems really like someone who's tring to argue that the thing he has that nobody wants, is a source of social power when it isn't. Bourdieu may be all well and good, but I think Wilson's out to lunch.

neilshyminsky said...

plok wrote: I don't know how Wilson's whole "coolness thesis" can possibly stand up, when there's no reason to think the kids out back of the school are in some enviable position of being materially powerful in relation to their classmates.

I probably wasn't super-clear, so I'll try again.

What you're describing doesn't actually have anything to do with material or financial power, except insofar as it is power - for Bourdieu, cultural and/or social capital operate according to economic principles, like finance, but don't necessarily intersect with those other economies. Think of how a lack of material power is actually culturally powerful for an artist - a deficit in one economy can be a surplus in the other. (And how, in turn, material wealth is often read as cultural poverty - as 'selling out'.)

plok wrote: Usually "coolness" like theirs is about being disaffected outsiders. Wilson looks like he's trying to get around this by saying that coolness confers a relatively powerful social status

It seems like a contradiction, I know, but it's a very specific power or status. It's not hegemonic power, the power to dominate, because it's not cool to be mainstream - it's power on an analogous but separate scale. It's like the difference between, well, most of us - we know a lot of stuff that earns us varying degrees of respect, sneers, and eye rolls - and someone who knows 'useful' stuff. We and they have plenty of currency, but they can cash their dollars in more countries than we can. And we console ourselves by saying that our currency is special by virtue of being under-appreciated. (And that's one of the ways we go about making it cool.)

plok wrote: it just seems really like someone who's tring to argue that the thing he has that nobody wants, is a source of social power when it isn't.

You have to separate the material condition of those cool kids from their cultural caché. It's the 'cool' that Wilson's teenage self wants to acquire - that's the only economy he's looking to tap into. Their cultural capital is valuable, and he wants to appropriate that in particular.

neilshyminsky said...

And by 'caché', i do, of course, mean 'cachet'. Arrgh.

Geoff Klock said...

But the nerdy kid could get in with the preppy kids or jocks or goth kids -- why pick the tough kids? Taste, right? Doesn't that just displace the discussion from taste in music to taste in people?

plok said...

Ah, thanks for the clarification, Neil...I didn't think it was weird to talk about material power being achieved through social status, so I didn't read you closely enough. But I still think it isn't weird: the social currency in the high-school milieu still has a serious intersection with real material power, doesn't it? Maybe moreso than in the adult world, since kids don't have much power outside the para-economy of social status. You can win fights, you can score beer and weed, you have the opportunity to sleep with cheerleaders, you have the use of a car, you're popular, etc. etc...and the economic power that flows from your parents, e.g., is something you can earn with scholastic and extracurricular performance, something you can trade for social status among your classmates. Would you agree? Not that I'd say a kid with poor parents doesn't have anything to trade: it could be a house on the weekends, it could be a dissolute older brother who smokes dope, as you say there isn't always an intersection with what I'll just call the "adult" economy. Sometimes parental permissions can be a form of social currency in and of themselves, I reckon...

But I did misread you a bit there.

However, I don't think I misread Wilson: he's not just telling us those outsider kids have something to trade in the social economy (I don't deny that they probably would have something), he's telling us by way of their example that "coolness" is a source of social capital, rather than what you're considered to have if you spend a lot of a certain type of social capital...ultimately his point is that coolness is prior to status. As I read it. And in that context I just can't buy the example! I could accept that the nerd wants what the headbangers have, if I knew what it was and why he finds it desirable; I can't buy that it's desirable simply because coolness is power.

plok said...

That's the presumption that makes it so the "white and nerdy" (why white?!) kid isn't going to go with the jocks...not because (as it may be in real life) the jocks are a tougher clubhouse to crack, but because in Wilson's scheme they wouldn't be as desirable because they weren't as cool. Of course who is Wilson to say they're not? I read this and I see a justification of his taste, not an explanation of anybody else's. I have problems with the Julliard student who's interested in "authenticity", too...is this supposed to be a human cultural universal, the quest for authentic experience? Are people so deprived of this in their lives? To me it sounds like something mostly of concern to indie music critics...note that it isn't the rapper kicking back to some Mahler. I dunno, I see a bias there. Well, Wilson admits it: this coolness thing is for those 50 and under living in the twenty-first century. But are those parameters strict enough?

Verification: "turse". Something I am trying to be so I don't run over the conversation, but I haven't had much practice at it guys!

neilshyminsky said...

Geoff wrote: "But the nerdy kid could get in with the preppy kids or jocks or goth kids -- why pick the tough kids? Taste, right? Doesn't that just displace the discussion from taste in music to taste in people?"

I think, in a Boudeauvian world, that it's actually about aptitude and accumulation. You pick the tough kids because you think that associating with them would best position you to accrue cultural capital, social status, and/or power.

So it's not 'taste', or at least not in the sense that you mean it - it's an investment in the currency of the jocks because they'll give you the best return on investment, or at least require the least money down.

plok wrote: "he's telling us by way of their example that "coolness" is a source of social capital, rather than what you're considered to have if you spend a lot of a certain type of social capital...ultimately his point is that coolness is prior to status."

Isn't their coolness a source of capital, though? By virtue of, say, knowing bands you've never heard of, they have a kind of power that they don't have to redeem - you might even argue that they diminish that power if they're compelled to display it. It's like the cliché that people who are cool can't say that (or ask if) they're cool for risk of seeming uncool - cashing in on your cool actually devalues it.

Cultural capital definitely overlaps with financial power, and I don't want to dismiss or diminish that, but Bourdieu also separates them into distinct fields that can operate more or less autonomously, at least for a time. So you can spend financial capital to earn cool, but you can also spend cool as a kind of social capital - to earn financial capital, even.

plok said...

It's their coolness, that makes them know bands you've never heard of?

I don't object to seeing through the kid's eyes, and following along with his adolescent reasoning...if he wants to believe coolness is an essence and that these clowns have it where he doesn't, that's fine. But I know that it isn't their coolness that makes them know the bands or wear the clothes or smoke, it's the clothes and the bands and the smoking that endows them with whatever cachet they've got, that marks them as "cool" in the kid's eyes...

...And more than that, I know that the capital of cool becomes enormously less spendable as one grows older, and that Wilson seems not to know this is something I can only attribute to him spending most of his time in one of the few environments where coolness remains an important competency past adolescence. We all have capital, but some of us are on the dollar and some of us are on the drachma, right? But Wilson not only seems to believe coolness is the dollar, he seems to reason as the high-school kid does in thinking coolness backs the dollar...and as evidence for his claim he offers us a scenario in which a high-school kid does in fact come to the conclusion that it does. Which isn't worth anything as evidence because his whole thesis is that coolness is as important to us as it is to the high-schooler! So the cart's before the horse, and the point's not made: even in North American cities, most adults can well afford to ignore matters of coolness, precisely because they're no longer locked into the symbolic economy of high school.

neilshyminsky said...

"But I know that it isn't their coolness that makes them know the bands or wear the clothes or smoke, it's the clothes and the bands and the smoking that endows them with whatever cachet they've got, that marks them as "cool" in the kid's eyes"

Oh, okay, I see what you're getting at.

I think that you're right in large part, but that Wilson is addressing it on a more abstracted level that shouldn't just be dismissed. It's the difference between someone who is materially rich vs. rich on paper; who earns money in accordance with direct labor vs. money that makes money. So knowing these bands makes you cool, but at a certain point you can accrue enough 'cool' that you need not even be able to back it up - you no longer follow the bands, but you're still able to redeem your cool as if you did. The cool becomes a thing in and of itself, detached from the labor of accumulating cool.

"the capital of cool becomes enormously less spendable as one grows older"

In the sense of music, yeah, but Wilson extends beyond the high school example. And Bourdieu argues that cultural capital retains its importance through our lives - rather than listening to metal or indie rock, it becomes cool (though maybe this isn't the word that we would use, any longer) to buy your kids the right soccer equipment, drive the right vehicle, own the right dog, throw the right kind of birthday party...

neilshyminsky said...

I wrote "The cool becomes a thing in and of itself, detached from the labor of accumulating cool," and I should have added "but only to a point." Like the bubble that burst and started this recession, speculative cool has its limits.

plok said...

Just to be clear, I'm not arguing with Bourdieu, only with the invocation of Bourdieu in order to shore up Wilson's ideas about coolness...and I haven't read the book yet (a friend recommended it to me, so I'm gonna) but I think there's enough in that passage to take legitimate issue with. Cultural capital, okay. The paramount importance of coolness to cultural capital, for just about everybody (who's under 50, damn it!), just about everywhere...no way. It just isn't true. It's obviously false. We wouldn't use the word "cool" to talk about having the right dog or driving the right minivan or having the right kind of investments because it just isn't the right word, it just doesn't apply. "Cool" is a thing in our culture, I'm not saying it isn't, but most birds aren't ducks even if talking about ducks is how one makes one's living. That may seem unfair of me to say, but talking about cool, talking about the importance of authenticity in taste, this is a major topic in popular music criticism, and it's not like the title of the book doesn't give that away right up front.

I agree with you about "speculative" cool -- I really like the point! -- but I'll just add that the value of that cultural currency is set in the exchange -- it's the nerdy kid who makes this coolness valuable, as long as he keeps buying it. It's him who thought the kids were tough and cool to begin with, him that makes the calculation of advantage that puts High School Musical at the low end and Slayer at the high end, and at a certain point the constituents of his taste must become untrackable, I think -- it's easy to understand why a kid might prefer being a metalhead to being a punk, if you assign him a bunch of taste preferences that being a metalhead satisfies better. But then if you have to explain how all of these preferences that lead the calculation are themselves sourced in para-economic desire, you just run out of road. Maybe it's the pants! Maybe it's a pre-existing idea of what a more authentically individual expression of taste might be! Maybe it's the chicks! Maybe it's an urge to rebel that's specific to the home life! Again, I'm not arguing with Bourdieu but with Wilson -- he doesn't tell us about how the kid comes to assess the metalheads as cool and himself as nerdy and the punks as null, he just tells us they are cool and he is nerdy, and leaves the punks out because they don't fit. But he himself is like the kid when he assesses John Waters and Andy Warhol, he lends them his estimation of what makes a person cool, lends them the discrimination of his own taste. As long as he's buying, they stay cool, and not "doofuses"...

But if the kid looks at one of the coolest of his new friends and realizes the guy's full of it, he'll also realize he's "not cool" -- for him, then, the value of the currency gets adjusted.

You could argue it's all just "virtual" cool, speculative cool. I used to like to say of Madonna that she was marketed as a famous person, and one day the bubble would burst -- one day people would say "hey! That Madonna chick isn't famous at all, damn it! In fact I'VE NEVER HEARD OF HER...!" At a certain point the bottom drops out of every market like this, I think.

plok said...

Damn, should've said: "it's the nerdy kid who makes this cultural capital into "coolness"..."

neilshyminsky said...

You're right, it's not the best analogy, for all the reasons you've described. But the book is much more nuanced. :)

And driving the right SUV - or the right hybrid - to soccer is definitely an issue of coolness. It might not be a variety of cool that you or I value, but it's cultural capital, and it's cool to someone(s). (And as for the 'no one over 50' comment, well, just ask my in-laws - both of whom are about 60 - why they drive a Harley and a red convertible, respectively.)

plok said...

Sigh...I am afraid I will just start to seem like an old grouch...

...But it's Wilson, not me, who says the over-50s don't experience "cool" as the under-50s do.

So, without further ranting and raving on my part...he, at any rate, does not seem to believe that "cool" is something the Greeks had a name for.

plok said...

Sorry, that sounded a little pissy! Unintentional; I just meant to say that the "it may not be what we consider cool, but it's cool to someone" thing is only kind of what Wilson appears to be saying in that passage, to my eyes -- he's also saying that "cool" is more (or perhaps less!) than just "oh, that must be your name for Apollo", because of the "under 50/21st century" restriction. One presumes cultural capital does exist for the over-50 crowd in his formulation, but it looks like what he's saying is that usually it isn't anybody's idea of cool. Also I think I was too hasty wanting to rebut your claim that issues of coolness are involved in the right minivan or soccer team or whatever -- at least some of the time, issues of coolness probably are indeed involved, because minivans are uncool. Right? You wouldn't remark on your in-laws' coolness if it were minivans they were driving, I think...rather it's the Harley and the red convertible that make them over-50s who do care about cool, for whom the category does have meaning?

And yet just because it has meaning for them at 60 -- I am still not denying it does or can have meaning! -- doesn't mean it has to have meaning for me at 40. I may be a logger and drive an old truck, I may be an ex-logger and drive a new truck, and either of those might give me a certain kind of cultural capital but it may not have to do with "coolness", and identifying it that way might get a person a blank look.

But now I do sound like an old grouch, right? Oh well...better than sounding like someone getting pissy over an enjoyable conversation, I think, so I'll take the trade-off!

neilshyminsky said...

"You wouldn't remark on your in-laws' coolness if it were minivans they were driving, I think"

I wouldn't, but someone else might. Even if minivans are uncool, there's still a hierarchy of cool within a particular audience that is partial to minivans. Before every soccer mom traded in her minivan for an SUV, I can remember the particularities of the minivan being a source of anxiety for my sister-in-law. If your peer group is a bunch of other soccer moms driving minivans, then driving the right minivan certainly has some amount of cultural capital attached to it, right?

But I also think that having a coolness deficit doesn't mean that we're *not* talking about cool. Deficits still matter to the discussion.

The problem might just be that Wilson, and now me, are using cool as if it were synonymous with cultural capital. That's probably sloppy work, but I don't think it's far off the mark.

plok said...

Except that Wilson makes that over-50 exemption, and you don't!

I think this isn't just wide of the mark, but totally off the range: since it looks to me like all that's going on here is a substitution of the word "cool" for the word "fashionable", in order to make fashion seem a more vital thing than it is. Because "cool" also means, simply, "excellent"...is used to mean "excellent" all the time, without reference to fashion-consciousness or cultural capital, used in everyday speech in a casual and exuberent way. "Look at those fireworks." "COOL!" "The Valentine's Day heart-shape is a reference to the seed of a plant used as a contraceptive by the ancient Romans." "COOL!" Sometimes "cool" just means "wow", or even "that is useful": I have heard algebra described as cool.

Isn't it this meaning of "cool" that Wilson is trying to co-opt for his thesis on fashion, to dignify it and exalt it?

plok said...

He might've said:

"In early twenty-first century terms, for most people under fifty, the distinction boils down to hotness."

But that doesn't quite do the job, does it! "Your grandma's a hot old lady" just sounds wrong, I think.

cease ill said...

My gosh.
Look what I missed, getting wrapped up in a
poly
amorous
relationship.
:-D
I DID miss this blog.

Anonymous said...

Just read this Wilson book, googled and ended up here. I also have read my Bourdieu, among other aesthetic and sociological theories of taste, and I think Wilson's book one of the most inspirational common sense essays that I have read. CW seems to have understood the essence of Bourdieu and uses it well, picking the key parts and critizing those that need to be critizising.

Main point is that no man is an island, we are social species, cultured by our environment from the very first breath we take. There isn't such thing like pure perception.