Lethbridge Herald, The (Newspaper) - June 13, 1972, Lethbridge, Alberta
Tuesday, 1972 THE UTKBRIDGC HERAID 5 Whatever happened to good taste? A RUNNING GAG on Rowan and Marlln's "Laugh-In" presents Lily Tomlln as a purse-mouthed woman, bolt up- right in a Victorian chair, re- marking sourly of some japery: "That was not very tasteful." This derisive imago of a certain type, class and era reminds us that the elusive, intangible no- tion of "laste" once was a powerful factor in behavior and the arts. But we hear little about tasto these days. In our conglom- erate culture anyone who de- nounced publicly some aspect of conduct, speech or art as being in bad taste would be lucky if he did not draw a rau- cous, "Says To bo spared such a challenge ho must express his opinions with- in a group of the like-minded, which steers us toward a def- inition. "Taste" is a set of value judgments in manners and the arts, held in common by some significantly large class or group. Though we speak of "personal individual likes and dislikes do not con- stitute "taste" as a social fac- tor unless shared by, or im- posed upon, a sufficient number of people to wield a powerful sanction of disapproval. In the upper layers of clearly strati- fied societies, bad taste can cause the offender to be ostra- cized. But any standard of taste holds its force only to the bor- ders of the influence of the group that proclaims it. From such shared under- standings first arise our facul- ties of discrimination, our abili- ties to draw distinctions. We start with those standards with which we were raised. Some retain them a lifetime, others change them for better or worse, according tr, the criteria of the observer. The paradox of any discussion of taste is that it is subjective, yet it also deals with observable phenomena in art and manners. Taste is judgment, a sense ol fitness, in which time, place and context make vital differ- ences. We used to "respect" certain places, people and oc- casions. It was understood that speech appropriate to the bar- racks or the locker-room was not appropriate to the dinner table or the drawing room. What you might say at the country club you would not say in the church. What men would say among men, and women among women, would not bo said in mixed company. By no means was this simply hypo- crisy, though hypocrites might turn up anywhere; it was a sense of the fitness of time, occasion, place and company. At present to some, all times, occasions, places and company are the same. There was a quaint anecdote about Gen. Grant in the last century. He was among a group of men on the edge of a large social gathering, when somo bounder cleared his throat, leered and began: "I trust there are no ladies present.. Grant interrupted: "No, Sir! But there are I pause for the laughter to sub- side. The story Indicates the mag- nitude of changes in taste and manners, some but by no means all for the better. The Victorian "delicacy" that call- ed legs "limbs" and hung skirts around the legs of pianos, that called a woman's pregnancy her keeping her housebound for the whole lime that her state was visible, was grotesque and unwhole- some. So, loo, were arbitrary rules that some subjects were unmentionable in mixed com- pany, whether in serious dis- course or in jokes. But never- theless, we lose something if we discard altogether the sense- of the relative fitness of things to their contexts. The Grant story reflects also the decline of a willingness to assert publicly one's personal stand- ard when confronted by behav- ior that affronts it. Context is the essence of es- thetic judgment, loo. There is a world of difference between Playboy and less pretentious girly magazines on the one hand, and on the other, "The a picture selection from the whole liistory of art, by that fine leacher and interpret- er of civilization, Kenneth Clark. People may be just as naked in one or the other, tho bodies inherently just as beau- tiful, but the context of tho former is vulgar, of the latter, esthetic. The same words, the same actions, that are cheap and tawdry in one hook or play, may contribute to the sublimi- ty, comic universality or tragic power of ethers. For a viable theory of tasle, context is all, Tiie question of tasle is rele- vant to minor works great works overwhelm it. And re- member that great works are few while minor works deluge us. In masterworks, the frame and (he moral vision are large enough lo absorb anything and keep it within Uie balance oi life. Such characters from lit- erature as the Wife of Bath, Falstaff, Leopold Bloom and Zorba the Greek could not be called in bad taste; Ihey are elcmenlals who embody univer- sal humanity. Shall we call tho Old Testament in bad taste he- cause of its earthy candor, or because David, King and Psalmist, also was an adullercr and murderer? In a trashy melodrama tho gouging out of eyes with bloody literalness would be in bad taste; in "Oedipus Rex" and "King Lear" it is not; their monumental scale sustains all. The problem is that there are always some good folk wholly insensitive to these distinctions. The legendary Mrs. Grundy, of whom Lily Tomlin's "tasteful" woman is a descendant, had r.o taste just a set of automatic rejections or conditioned re- flexes. Her culture hero, tho Hev. Mr. Bowdler, complacent- ly purged tilings in "bad taste" from Shakespeare. From ancient times, censors unfailingly have persecuted major artists. Few towering works of art have not been ban- ned sometime, someplace. That illustrates why it is risky lo clamor for censorship against even the most vulgar, meretri- cious works. Standards predi- cated on "delicacy" favorite words of Victorians are stultifying. The Ihe "re- mere social atti- tudes, confused easily wilh the moral. Ralph Ginzburg, publisher of the suppressed magazine a man for whom I have neither sympathy nor re- spect, recently Iras been put into prison for bad taste, which is an injustice and a threaten, ing precedent in a free society. Boycott and critical opinion are the only weapons that arc not potentially dangerous against what we consider breaches of By Eilmund Fuller, In The Wall Street Journal good taste. But poor judgment mistakes of this kind are being or outright stupidity exist made by writers currently, among those who wish to im- Bernard Malamud's Too many in pose repression, the arts, who should know better, actively sponsor or en- dorse mere vulgarity masquer- ading as art. "Oh! brainchild of critic Kemieth Tynan, who knows well what he is about, is a prime example. So long as there are actors willing to risk their health by playing naked on drafty stages and audiences willing to pay to watch I wouldn't inter- fere, but I will not call it art. There is a large paying mark- et for had taste with many to exploit it. Our country could easily present two Giant Pan- ders to China; they are not an endangered species here. Also, libertarians often ignore the reality of genuine moral feelings that may be held by the majority in a community. Whoever contemptuously rides over such feelings simply to make a buck runs the risk of bringing down community wrath on the heads not only ot his own shabby sort but of ser- ious artists, too. Always, ines- capably, the taste of the artist is pitted against the taste of critics and of the public at large. That is a wholesome thing and contains natural checks and balances so long as the voices of all are heard free- ly, none silencing another. Without suppressing anyone, I raised my voice on somo typical questions of taste in books of recent seasons. Tho elderly Alex Waugh, a good writer and a gentleman bred to a British upper class standard of taste, violated it in "A Spy in Ihe piece of min- or pornography embarrassing to those who have respected his work. It was a case of try- ing to "get wilh of confus- ing "now you can" with "now you must." Many melancholy Fixer" is a work of genuino power, sadly marred by a lapso of tasle. He uses obsessively one ot the most offensive vul- gar obscenities. Ironically, if ho had had the good luck to write the book several years earlier, it would have been the belter for the restraints then prevail- ing, for the numbing repetition of the phrase in question only distracts from Mr. Malamud's acliievement and undoubtedly totally repels many readers. He lost much and gained nothing. By contrast, Saul Bellow, in "Mr. Sammler's used the current freedoms of tho writer with sounder judgment of what contributes to the work in hand and what does not. I disagree with the majority of my fellow reviewers by finding against JOlin Updike's "Rabbit Redux." His-use of ob- scene language and gross sex- ual acts is, at the least, exces- sive, disproportionate and rep- etitious. Worse, his most repul- sive scenes fail in terms of the one justification claimed for them: truth. They do not con- vince. They are baldly made up in a tiresome mode of phony realism. As the late John Ma- son Brown, succinctly remark- ed: "If realism isn't real, then isn't it Classes have always been ar- biters of taste. Where class lines blur, taste blurs. In England where class lines are clearer than here, diction long stood as the infallible social indicator, and in that flexible society to change speech was to change class, vide "Pygmalion" or its musical version. "My Fair Lady." One of the Millord girls coined the terms "U" and "non-U" as shorthand for "up- per class" and "non-upper class" speech. At about the time of the ''72 Another prisoner of war Trade agreement affects Canada T ONDON Those Ottawa J mandarins with visions of vastly increased trade between Canada and the Soviet Union will have watched the Moscow summit meeting with mixed feelings. That is, if they are as realistic as British experts in trading with East European countries. President Nixon's visit ended in agreement to establish a joint U.S.-Soviet commission with the aim of expanding trade. At first tliis seems to confirm Canada's wisdom in beating the Americans to Mos- cow by almost a year exactly. Canada proposed a joint com- mission during Mr. Trudeau's own summit. The fact that it haj yet to meet, while the first session of the U.S.-Soviet com- mission is scheduled for this summer dispels any notions of one-upmanship. The U.S.-Soviet decision tn seek expanded trade, a year after a similar Canadian exer- cise, does contain a portent for Canada, experts agree. First ilem of inlerest to the Russians, apparently, is a barter deal of oil and nalural gas for U.S. feed grains. Because the U.S. already has extended liberal credits, allowing a sale last year of million in feed grains, an extension is unlikely to make much new impact on Canadian agriculture. "If tho U.S. makes even more liberal terms available this would ob- viously have an adverse affect on an official of the East European trade council suggested. In the broad field, the pros- pect of American competition for the Soviet market is dis- counted for the backhanded rca- Dave Humphreys son that Canada was never really in the running anyway. Russia's main potential is for imports of advanced technology tools. "I have doubts about Canada's ability to compete in this field with possibly one or two exceptions which prove the commented T. M. Rybc- zysnkii chief economist of La- zard Brothers, bankers, and a member of the Trade Policy Research Centre. Nor does the nature of the market offer much in the way of a spin-off for Canadian sub- sidiaries, he said. An official of the East European trade council said Canadian subsidi- aries might benefit marginally from any major U.S.-Soviet in- dustrial sales. The Russians have a reputa- tion as careful, shrewd shop- pers, buying usually for value rather than for political rea- sons. Admilledly they can steer business Canada's way if Mos- cow sees political benefits in doing so. Yet when Mr. Tru- deau went to Moscow, Premier Alexci Kosygin wanted Canada to buy from Russia, cot the other way around. Mr. Kosygin pointed out that in the ifva years up to 1971 Canada had bought only million worth of goods from Russia while ex- porting billion, mostly in wheat, to the Soviet Union. Can- ada should act to reduce Rus- sia's heavy deficit account, Mr. Kosygin suggested. A year later he is still waiting, no doubt. The Europeans, unmoved by the Canadian initiative, expect to feel a draft if American salesmen begin pilgrimages to Moscow. "Where normally we would have expected U.S. com- petition, it has been absent for political one official said. "Now we expect in- creased competition, knowing that the Soviets' limit on hard currency resources is bound to have an effect on our own posi- tion. "The other significant deve- lopment is Soviet bloc recogni- tion of the European Common Market. Some experts expect trade agreements between the Common Market and its Com- munist equivalent, Comecon, to take place beginning in 1974 or 1975. At present the Comecon coun- tries are slightly reducing im- ports from the west. Tnis is believed to be due to a com- bination of their policy of spreading trade amongst them- selves as much as possible, a play for the Third World mark- ets and their lack of hard cur- rency. The annual growth of East- West trade, over 11 per cent in the last year, will level out at between 7 and 9 per cent, according to present estimates. Reporting on a conference on EasMVest trade development, the Financial Times of London wrote: "The Six (Common Market) certainly cannot expect a con- tinuation of the trend when their trade with eastern Europe trebled. "A level of about five per cent was more accurate, it said. The Financial Times also stressed that East- West trade is marginal for both sides. "For eastern Europe it is a means of obtaining ad- vanced technology, largely in return for exports of agricul- tural products." (Herald London Bureau) apotheosis of the Beatles this clear distinction became bla- red, whether those minstrels were a part of the cause or effect, "Non-U" speech sudden, ly became fashionable and was adopted eagerly by many who were not lo ils manner born. Such reversals of slandards, by wliich instead of lower classes imitating those above them, up- per classes begin to imitate those below them, have been recognized in history as signs of the decay and decline of a culture. A savagely witty tracing of such a process may be found in Matthew Hodgart's brilliant, painfully funny little book, "A New Voyage to the Country o( the Houyhnhnms" purporting to be a filth voyage of Lemuel Gulliver. When Gul- liver, sick of his fellow English Yahoos, returns to the land of those noble the Hou- yhnhnms, he is appalled to find the gross Yahoos in the as- cendant. It is now the fashion of the Houyhuhnm young ea- gerly to imitate Yahoo behav- ior. When Gulliver deplores lo a young Houyhnhnm this "Ya- hoo-like Criterion he asked me brusquely what was wrong with that? The Yahoos had, in his Opinion, unsuspected Pow- ers both as Critics and as Poets." How many of us, old or young, are accepting Yahoo- ism, either enthusiastically or passively? I hope I will not be called a sexist pig for mentioning one trifling sign of change. When did you last see the blush on an innocent maiden's cheek? In the younger generation, even without direct involvement with women's lib, the double stand- ard between the sexes in ex- posure to all aspects of life has gone and the "sheltered" girl has gone with it. Those who cherished that image of Uie girl will have scorched ears if they hear her talk today. They may be aghast at what she until they read what she writes. But we need perspective in reflecting on these matters. A pendulum swing is always in- volved in change. Reaction fol- lows action, psychologically as well as physically. None of these changes are as new as- we think, they are new only to our memory and experience. That blushing maiden had not, in fact, been around much in the loi.g view of history. Sha has popped in and out, Ihough the Victorian age was her hey- day. But Elizabeth's England knew her not; Chaucer's aga knew her not; Athens knew her not. She is a periodic phenom- enon of changing classes and attitudes. Some today deny the exist- ence of classes or reject the concept. But merchants con- tinue to cater profitably to classes that liberal ideologues pretend aren't there. Class in this country now is a matter of education and eulUvation rath- er than of economics or ethnic origin. Consider how selectively the ad man takes aim at his target. On TV commercials, the crude soul at a kitchen table who used to read the label on his- beer can with painful concen- tration and silently moving lips is net a member of the class that another commercial, with a background of silver service, fine china and classical music, exhorted never to serve the col- fee without the cream We are living in a time when social changes are happening that go far beyond questions of taste and manners. During tho transition there is a kind of es- thetic anarchy, an abdication of judgment. By former broad standards, bad taste- is ram- pant. New standards are not yet defined and no man's writ, including that of the profession- al critic, runs far beyond his own response. Changing tastes in art and manners interact. The effect is net one-way but reciprocal. It is commonly argued that art does not influence behavior: "Nobody was ever corrupted by a book." But Dostoevsky in- sisted, correctly, that ideas have consequences. The vulgar- izing of speech and manners in much current fiction, film and drama, lends an air of accepta- bility to the spreading indis- criminate coarsening of talk. It is absurd to suppose that the seeming acceptability of prom-, iscuous sexual behavior and violence to which these arts ex- pose us does not at least ease the practice of it to some who might otherwise hesitate. This interaction between art and be- havior certainly is extensive on Ihe lesser level we call tasle, whatever it may be on the pro- founder level we call morals. This important, real but elu- sive problem of taste was well known to Shakes'peare. In Ham- let's instruction to the players, he speaks of behavior that "cannot but make the judicious grieve; the- censure of which one must in your allowance o'erweigh a whole theatre of others." How can it be put more concretely? And who are Ihe judicious? Come, sirs! We all know the answer to thatl JIM FISHBOURNE A grain or a SALT I ever told you about my friend Algy? (That's his name, all right; some people will call their kids almost anything.) Algy, poor chap, has a prob- lem; he's incurably educated. Born to wealthy socialite parents, who were far far too busy for little boys, he was rustled off first to one school, then to another, later to college and finally to university. Year after year, every time he came home from a school or a course, they shipped him off to another one, so that by the lime he emigrated to southern Alberta, there really wasn't much hope for him. We don't tell him tliat, of course. That wouldhardlybe right; with all the research that's going on, and all those dedicated scientists working on just such problems, there's bound lo be a break-through, and it could come any day. So we tell him to keep his courage up, and help him any way we can. One way we help him is lo interpet for him what he hears and reads each day, in the news. With all his education, he knows the words and what they appear to mean, but having led such a cloistered life 1 really doesn't understand the way things are in the real world. So we help, wherever we can, by explaining what the words really convey to ordinary people. As an example, the other day Algy had been reading an article on the Strategic; Arms Limitations Talks, a recent series of meetings aimed at limiting world arma- ments and thus improving the prospects of peace. He had no trouble with the various) agreements that were announced at the conclusion of this phase of the talks, but couldn't seem to grasp the connection with world peace. "I understand there's to be a halt to U.S. construction of certain an'.i-ballistic-missilQ installations" he said, iu that puzzled way of his, "but how will that help to bring about world peace? We've been given ab- solute assurance these devices are purely defensive, wilh no offensive capability whatsoever. How does reducing them help the cause of peace? And if it really does, why was it agreed the Russians should ex' pand their ABM That took me a minute, and while I was pondering my answer, he came up with an- other one. "Then there's this matter of limiting the numbers of he said. "The agree- ment provides that Russia is to have more Intercontinental ballistic missiles than the U.S., but it is recognized that American missiles can be armed more destructively! than Russian ones. So they seem to havo worked out a formula whereby the Amer- icans will be limited to an ability to kill off the world's population eleven timea over, while the U.S.S.R. is to have nuclear capacity to kill everyone a mere eight times. he continued, "there's no doubt eliminating humanity would bring about a remarkably peaceful world, but considering how little tasle for sacrifice people show, is tin's really a constructive I'm sure you will realize how put out 1 was to hear Algy talk that way. But then I reminded myself that he's not one of those pinko peaceniks, or a leftist trouble- maker, but that really he doesn't under- stand how things are. So I explained it to him: America won the SALT conference, eleven to eight. On the use of words Theodore Bernstein JJEVERSE ENGLISH. A recent one of these columns pointed out how the common, expression "I couldn't care less" has degenerated into the even commoner "I could care which, when you stop to think about it, makes no sense. That little discussion prompted Nicholas O'Dell of Westchester, to take typewriter in hand to point out another of those non-senso locutions. This one is a kind of double nega- tive and an example goes like this: "I wouldn't be surprised it if doesn't rain; just look at those clouds." That is almost as bad as saying, "I ain't go no pencil." Tha lesson is that the speaker or writer must keep his no's clean and avoid getting tied up in not's. Contents noted. A word that seems to puzzle a few readers is contents. Sam Solo- mon of Montreal writes to ask about this sentence: "The of your letter are cateogrically denied." He wants to know which verb is correct. Conents is a plural noun; therefore the verb should be plural: are. Confusion arises, perhaps, be- cause the singular noun conent is used with such relative infrequency that some people tend to think of contents as a sin- gular. The meaning of content is broadly, what is contained. Most often it designates substance as contrasted .with form or man- ner of expression: "The content of tho novel is superb, but the writing is untidy." The plural form, contents, refers to the things contained in a letter, a book or your pocket. Word oddities. A word frequently mis- used is tandem. The UPI reporter cites an instance in which a dispatch, reporting that a TV actress had lost vision in her left eye, went on to say that there was at least the aesthetic consolation that "the eye was moving in tandem with the right eye." That would be small aesthetic consolation because it would mean that the left eye was moving behind the right eye. Tan- dem is a Latin word meaning at length in a lime sense, as it is used in "He spoke at length." In a kind of pun, that sense was converted lo the linear idea of long, so that tandem came to mean lengthwise, and, more specifically, one behind the other, Indian file. A tandem bicycle is one on which one rider sits behind another. Tbo word is not synonymous with abreast. Probably that erroneous abreast meaning arose from the notion that two men work- ing in tandem that is, be visualized as sitting side by side. But those men working in tandem should rath- er be visualized as riding a tandem bike. What the dispatch cited above might have said is that the left eye "was moving in harmony with the right eye." ______ I Can't bear him. A letter obviously from a women's libber, calls attention to this sentence in a news story: At his trial, he, said that under the influence of drugs ha killed his mistress, who had borne him a son." The letter indicates that women'3 libbers some of them, anyway don't care for that borne-him-a-son phraseology because It suggests that are sub- servient and have children to please the men. Maybe. The locution does appear in the Bible, but, as everyone knows, that was translated by male chauvinist pigs. The phrase could just as well be "who had a son by and it might be better to say it that way. Let's draw the line, how- ever, when it comes to changing history to herstory Forbidden. Another news story contained this sentence: "The trustees of Columbia obtained a restraining order in Supreme Court forbidding students and others front blocking entrance ways to buildings and corridors." Writing from after forbid is not at all uncommon, but it is something that good usage forbids you to do. The error probably arises from the fact that prohibit does properly take the preposition from. But forbid takes to. One way to remember the correct usage is to think of ihe num- bers 4 and 2 the go together. Corrccl usage 4 bids you 2 use from. It figures. Word oddities. To speak of a dark- complected man is to use what amounts to a non-word, Probably complected is what is called a back formation that is, a non- existent word coined from an actual word is supposed to be derived from burge, a coined word. Just as reflection is derived from reflect and conncclion from connect, some people assumed that complexion must be derived from complect. But no, there is no such word. Complected is not an approved term. Say a dark-complexion- ed man. (New York Times) Steering by Starr By Ron Caldwell JITY wife, Starr, has a sense of direction unlike any that has ever been re- corded in the annuals of mankind. Recently, she dropped me off at the Henderson Lake golf course after which she intended to motor to the other side of the lake to work on her suntan. After joining my confederate, Richard Burke, on the first tee, I stood dumbfound- ed as my wife did it again. As we prepared lo tee off, Richard hap- pened to glance up. "There goes your be said. Sure enough, there she was, in our bright green motor machine, chugging merrily right across the middle of the first fairway in a vain search for the lakeshore. After reaching the lenth tee and discov- ering she could go no further, back she came. Right across the first fairway again. Not having embarrassed me enough, sho then drove right up to the tee box and re- quested that I give her directions to the other side of the lake. If the three wisemen ever tried lo follow this Starr's directions, they probably would have ended up in downtown San Diego.