The other day I happened upon an old book that had been sequestered out in the garage shelves for a number of years. The garage shelves are reserved for those volumes that are to be scuttled, sent to fundraising books sales, quaintly outdated, or just generally deemed unworthy to sit in an exalted place on either the living room, or even the home office shelves.
But, I made a perusal of this particular tome and found it slightly more worthy than I had initially deemed it to be. It is called The Encyclopedia of Bad Taste, by Jane and Michael Stern. As it was published in 1990, some of it is dated, but it’s still fun. Taste, as we know, is partially a matter of individual preference, but is also reflective of the zeitgeist of its day. Something deemed fashionable and trendy once-upon-a-time, like, say, bellbottom trousers, becomes in short order uncool, unhip, and hopelessly tasteless. Transport yourself out in bellbottoms this afternoon and be assured you will be scrutinized in a wary manner by passers-by.
Of course, taste is always a matter of individual preference, and we have no right as such to judge. The Sterns, in their book, offer observations and critiques that are non-judgmental – OK, slightly judgmental – yeah, and even hugely judgmental, depending on the subject discussed. But, that’s OK, the judgment calls are fun. Indeed, the whole book is fun. And, I must confess there are some items in the alphabetical array that I find less offensive than others. For example, one of the subjects chosen is busty and silly Spanish performer, Charo, who was once a favorite of that paragon of taste, Merv Griffin. She’d flash her boobies and utter “cuchi-cuchi” and the Merv fans would eat it up.
Well, as a sideline, Charo used to own an eponymous restaurant on the north side of Kauai. It was a classy joint and the food was good, and we stopped there for lunch. Legend had it that sometimes Charo herself would be in attendance. She never was when I was there. I must confess to having been disappointed.
Anyway, as follows are some of the items discussed in the encyclopedia. I offer a few comments of my own.
- Accordion music: Never a particular favorite of mine but, hey, it made Lawrence Welk a star, so who am I to quibble? And I do like zydeco, and you can’t have that Cajun genre sans squeezebox.
- Ant farms: I always wanted one of these when I was a kid. I was always refused. “There are plenty of ants outside,” the old man would say. Basically he was right.
- Ashtrays: Well, ever since smoking became virtually Satanic, and lighting up is now as frowned upon as peeing in the shrubbery at a royal garden party, ashtrays have lost their cachet. But, the authors point out that while butt receptacles per se aren’t in bad taste, but some of the examples cited, like a tray depicting a ceramic female bum posed in the direction of the smoker leave a little to be desired.
- Boudoir Photography: Evidently some women still do this, you know, pose décolleté, in sensual lingerie, or even provocatively starkers in order to spice up a relationship with a spouse or boyfriend. Sorry, as much as I love beautiful women and their sensual bits, these are always cheesy.
- Elvisiana: Like Michael Jackson, he’s dead. Accept it and move on.
- Happy Faces: Like the use of ‘LOL’, enough already.
- Hawaiian shirts: Of course, if you hang out on the islands, you know they’re really called ‘aloha’ shirts. And, if they worked for Magnum – you know. Then I realized I wasn’t Tom Selleck. But I still like my vintage aloha shirts. I like vibrant colors.
- Huge Pepper Mills: “Would you like ground pepper with your meal?” “Would you like me to suggest what you can do with that huge phallic-shaped thing you’re packing around?”
- Hummel Figures: Those little Hitler-jugend kids always made my skin crawl.
- Jayne Mansfield: Supposedly the vulgarly bountiful Miss Mansfield – the queen for childishly obsessive or prematurely weaned tit-men everywhere – had a stratospheric IQ, but could never break past her mammalian creds, nor didn’t really seem to try. Difficult to believe she was the mother of infinitely classy Mariska Hargatay.
- Mimes: Not only bad taste but absolutely hateful.
- Las Vegas: I don’t gamble, haven’t had a drink in years, and detest Celine Dion, so not much reason to go now that the Rat Pack has departed the earth. Vegas epitomizes all that is bad taste, but at least it’s honest about it.
- Miniature Golf: Never much of a duffer was I, and share Mark Twain’s opinion that golf is a waste of a perfectly good walk. But miniature golf, with the little windmills and all almost puts an element of fun into a boring and pretentious game. Of course, you probably, as a miniature golfer, don’t get as much spectator action as Tiger.
- Nudism: Like ‘swinging’, just never anywhere near as sexy as you might like to think it would be.
- Tattoos: I’ve gone on record here stating that I detest them. I make no apologies. Unless you’re an old seafarin’ man or a Maori, you have no excuse.
- Vanity license plates: Too much money, too little intelligence, and far too much pretension. Who cares about your cute little code words? Less tasteful than ‘baby on board’ signs, and that speaks volumes.
- Wax Museums: I’ve been to the original – Mme. Tussaud’s in London — and it was no better and no less hokey than ones closer to home. Chamber of Horrors was kind of fun, but no more frightening and ghastly than any Adam Sandler movie.
There are many more items categorized in the book, but since it was published in 1990, some items are so dated, like shag carpets, designer jeans, and water beds that they’re really beyond the pale of 2010.