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WHO'S BAD? ACCOUNTING FOR TASTE

WHAT DO AEROSOL CHEESE, Liberace, tattoos, chihuahuas, and feminine hygiene spray have in common? Those who consider them bad taste. The diverse social locations from which they come make Spam, ant farms, face-lifts, low riders, and Lawrence Welk incommensurate as a set. They have nothing in common other than their relationship to the canon of good taste, which is what gives bad taste its coherence as a category. Bad taste is one of the ways in which good taste announces itself—the finger that points to the breach points to the rule. The connoisseurship of bad taste reveals more about the arbiter than about the offender. As Meyer Shapiro is said to have said, “Kitsch is chic spelled backwards.”1

Like Velcro, the capsule histories in Jane and Michael Stern’s recently published Encyclopedia of Bad Taste attach leisure suits and accordions to different constituencies at different times. Pink

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