‘Your taste is in your arse!’

By skepticlawyer

Finally, I’ve found a piece that pins the tail on the one donkey that hasn’t been properly skewered in the whole Vile and Tacky episode that Legal Eagle’s already covered. Over at The Punch (a blog I haven’t encountered before), a young chap (judging by his picture) called Chris Deal makes this point:

But there’s one elusive and hard-to-pin party who haven’t had the lynch mob wield a flaming torch in their faces yet. They are the hardcore listeners who actively pander to the untouchable antics of Kyle and Jackie O by religiously setting the dial in their direction.

For all the outrage this event has generated, there’s absolutely no point tizzing up and screaming “Kyle needs to go!” or, “You’ve gone too far this time Sandilands!” or, “You’ve stooped to a new low!”

It’s not a new low. It’s an old low.

It’s a very old and very boring song still stuck on high rotation that refuses to relinquish its spot at the top of the pops, and I don’t know why we continue to listen to it.

Markets, as everyone knows, respond to demands. If there wasn’t a demand for this stuff, no marketeer would try it on. Okay, supply-siders may say that supply creates its own demand (and that’s an interesting argument in itself), but I think this is a pretty straight example of response to demand. 11.4% of the people in the relevant market listen to Vile and Tacky, and it makes sundry studio execs (not to mention Vile and Tacky) quite a tidy sum. Or it did, until now.

Now LE and I have batted back and forth the various reasons why this sort of entertainment is popular, and have come to the conclusion that — apart from the fact that humans get off on other people’s misfortunes — there are three things involved.

1. Blurring of the public/private distinction.

2. Inability (or unwillingness) to make taste and judgment calls.

3. Failure to appreciate that spectrum is rationed (ie it’s scarce) and should be treated like the scarce resource it is.

Various things have contributed to the first; one that comes to mind is the failure of the criminal justice system to address the domestic violence widespread within the community quickly when it first became clear that — while unilateral no-fault divorce lessened the incidence of domestic violence dramatically — there was still a fair bit going on, and the culprits weren’t being prosecuted. This forced people who wanted to do something about it to involve many other state agencies and bodies in the regulation of family life, to break apart private spaces and expose them to public view. It’s lead to various nasties, including the modern trend for ‘confessional parenting’ (let’s all sit around and share victim stories) rather than recognising that — sometimes — a nice steaming hot cup of STFU is just what the doctor ordered. The ‘talking cure’ ain’t for everyone.

Various things have also contributed to the second; Chris Deal addresses most of them at his place; I’ll add one observation of mine (also posted at LP):

Over at our place I made the (only slightly tongue in cheek) comment that Vile and Tacky managed the daily playbill for the Colosseum in their past lives. I’m glad other people have made the same connection. This kind of ‘entertainment’ is on a slippery slope that has what the Romans got off on at the bottom.

FWIW I think people who enjoy listening to their show (11.4% marketshare in Sydders) need to take a really good long look at themselves. In the last however many years it’s become unfashionable to criticize other people’s tastes. As part of the great rush towards making popular culture ‘acceptable’, we’ve created a world where it’s become very difficult to say, ‘sorry mate, your taste is rubbish’.

Of course, telling someone that their taste is tripe doesn’t mean that they are less of a human being. I do think it’s very dangerous when criticism of what a person likes spills over into an assessment of their worth. The distinction may be fine, but it’s important to bear it in mind.

That said, the ability to make a taste and judgment call is an important one, and to be encouraged. Some things are better than others. Some cultural products are better than others. Dealing with that — and then working out why — has now become a matter of urgency. 

Finally, as I’ve made clear, I’m not a fan of regulation. Most of the time it doesn’t work. But a few clear rules, scrupulously enforced, make a world of difference. Once those rules have been hammered out, the regulator (ACMA, in this case) needs claws and teeth. As I’ve pointed out in the comments to LE’s earlier post, the treatment of the Cambodian aunt and niece is prima facie obtaining services by deception [Theft Act 1968 (UK)]. There will be a similar provision in Australia. I think breaking the law on air is good enough grounds to allow the regulator to act of its own motion.

This process involves recognising two things: 

1. ‘Freedom of speech’ and ‘freedom of the press’ are not coterminous. Think of them as the two circles of a Venn diagram that only intersect at certain points. In some respects, the latter needs to be managed so that the former can flourish.

2. Some things are better in private, not in public. Want to spend all your time looking at bondage porn? That’s what the internet’s for, and — even better — it confines you to the private sphere while you do it. Hooray for the internet. There’s a reason we don’t have bondage porn on free-to-air telly (the spaminator is going to hate me for writing that sentence, but what the hey). There’s a reason why we shouldn’t have minors quizzed about their sex lives on free-to-air radio. It can be eloquently reduced to the simple phrase GET A ROOM

Three simple suggestions: don’t share (you are the only person interested in your story); learn to appreciate the difference between good and shite, and when people — especially the young people who are Vile and Tacky’s core audience — display bad taste, tell them so, and tell them why; understand that if a resource is scarce and you misuse it, it can be taken from you (by the State; by someone with more money; by the citizenry). Indeed, the latter is what has happened to Austereo over the last week. Hooray for the citizenry.

/rant

41 Comments

  1. Ken N
    Posted August 5, 2009 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    Difficult questions when you talk about sanctions. I’ve said before that I don’t believe bad taste – even seriously bad taste – should be punished unless someone is likely to be harmed. That condition was fulfilled in this case but I’m glad to say I haven’t heard enough of the programme to know whether that is frequent.
    The scarce spectrum argument is pretty well irrelevant these days. FM opened up more spectrum and digital even more. And of course streamed radio on the net is unlimited.
    Perhaps a reason I am sensitive about all this is that we fought battles in the 60s and 70s against taste being the arbiter on what could be published.
    Still, I agree that we can let it be known when we think something has gone too far. I doubt though than many readers of this blog are in the 2DAY FM target audience.
    Incidentally the 11.4% figure is sets in use, not the population. And I think that’s over the day – at breakfast the station gets something like 10% and ABC702 about 13%
    Classic FM is in the 2s somewhere, sadly.

  2. Tim Mulligan
    Posted August 5, 2009 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    What is “shite”?

  3. pedro
    Posted August 5, 2009 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Helen, supply does not create it’s own demand, it is the demand for other things. You don’t produce books to create a demand for books, but to allow you to demand frocks or whatever.

    Bad taste is always hard to regulate. Crossed lines in this area are usually seen with hindsight, largely because it is the reaction of the audience that bells the cat.

    Kerry Packer once famously called the station and had the plug pulled on a tacky show while it was playing (hmmm, it might have had a tacky radio jock as a host too). He could do that because it was his station. The ACMA can’t do it. Nor can the ACMA right rules that will stop such events occuring.

    The story about the viet woman was pretty awful, but ignoring the misleading conduct angle, should such awfulness be against the law? I also read about a guess the muff contest. Bad taste for sure, but in what law are you going to write to stop that, and should you even try.

    In this case the market has taken action in a way much more devastating than any realistic regulatory act.

  4. pedro
    Posted August 5, 2009 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    Oops, nor can the ACMA write rules.

    The more I think about it, the more I think that laws to enforce community standards in the media will not likely improve on the penalty imposed by the community when the standards are seriously breached. I also think that there might be a problem with regulators spotting when standards really have been broken.

  5. Posey
    Posted August 5, 2009 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    skeptic: “Don’t share (you are the only person interested in your story)”

    But that’s not really true, is it?

    The whole point of these sorts of radio and tv programs is that large numbers of people are often unhealthily interested in the most banal or salacious aspects of other people’s lives.

    And the basis of all culture is our understandable and natural fascination with each other, from individuals to races, nations, periods of history, etc.

    I don’t think it is at all about just saying your taste is shite. The horse has bolted on that one. All sorts of problems with that. And it’s bigger and broader than that.

    How does our culture encourage what I would call obnoxious tastes to the detriment of others more worthy or valuable?

    And how can that be changed or redirected or even influenced for starters? Can it even be? Why should it even be?

    These questions need asking first I think.

  6. Adrien
    Posted August 5, 2009 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    I’d add to that list of three an over-indulgence of the view that if one does something bad it can be attributed to something other than one’s own agency. The most ludicrous manifestation of this phenomena in fiction that I’m aware of occured in Thomas Harris’s appalling Hannibal in which Dr Lecter’s predicalations to cannibalism are explained by a childhood trauma courtesy of Nazis.

    I have no doubts that there are people that are rendered permanently unable to function because of their fucked up childhoods. But if everyone with childhood trauma could use that as an excuse the prisons would be empty, the psychs would all have three houses and a yacht and the streets would run with blood.

    I think this lack of personal accountability explains why an audience member can listen to this stuff, or watch Jerry Springer or read gossip mags and believe that the venality therein has nothing to do with them.

  7. Posted August 5, 2009 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    Posey – I don’t think it is at all about just saying your taste is shite. The horse has bolted on that one. All sorts of problems with that. And it’s bigger and broader than that.

    Yes perhaps but there have been standards throughout history. These standards get to a point where they stifle and are challenged and broken down. I believe we’re at that point in the cycle where they are broken down and new ones need to form.

    My grandfather would never’ve listened to this tripe. On the other hand my grandfather wouldn’t let my mother watch Elvis on telly either.

    How does our culture encourage what I would call obnoxious tastes to the detriment of others more worthy or valuable?

    First step: Decide that a. there is something called good taste and b. argue about what that entails.

    There will never be a complete consensus but there will be general agreement on certain things.

    And how can that be changed or redirected or even influenced for starters? Can it even be? Why should it even be?

  8. skepticlawyer
    Posted August 5, 2009 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    First step: Decide that a. there is something called good taste and b. argue about what that entails.

    Yes, we’ll have to start with baby steps, so far are we behind the eight-ball. That’s the reason we can’t answer Tim’s question, or not easily, anyway.

  9. Posted August 5, 2009 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

    Oh I can:

    Phil Collins, Big Brother, anything from America that appears on TV before 6pm, Ken Done, arts panel shows, the novels of Alain Robbe-Grillet, Martin Heidegger, anything associated with breakfast TV, McDonalds, KFC, any coffee shop where you have to line up except that place at Melb Uni, John Farnham, lime green cars, nouveau cuisine, Country Music after 1980, Techno after 1992, Julian Schnabel, that twit that wrote Voltaire’s Bastards, guys who wear their jeans underneath their underpants, anyone who says ‘like’ three times in a sentence, people who bloody well talk all the way thru performances of really lovely music, men who wear light tan shoes with dark suits, Harry bloody Potter, Huey bloody Lewis and the fucking News …AARRRRGGGGHHHHHH!!!!!

    I think my brain blew up. There’s just so much to hate.

  10. Posey
    Posted August 5, 2009 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    Adrien, totally wrong starting point.

    The starting point is what you like, admire, love and why.

    /waiting

  11. Posted August 5, 2009 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

    It’s possible that any argument about taste can be turned into an argument about education.

    I’m reminded of a report (in New Scientist, years ago) that indicated musical likes/dislikes could, at least in part, be correlated to the amount of information in the music…. too much to process (confusing), or not enough to stimulate (boring), and interest dropped. (I suppose that accounts for “I don’t particularly like it, but I can see some merit in it” feeling for quality stuff in genres I don’t like… an “I can’t stand rap but Eminem is tolerable for a short time”).

    The information required to interpret something need not only be within any given second, but how much back-referencing (to a previously introduced theme) or external-referencing (to another piece) is required. Consider a low-brow skit that references many other low-brow things – it may actually be information rich.

    So, we have at least two axes… one on richness, and the other having endpoints “ennobling/nice” and “degrading/nasty”.

    Consider Frank Zappa: always rich, but sometimes quite nasty.

    The format of the Vile and Tacky segment is povo, but it need not have been nasty if appropriate questions were asked. (“Have you ever worn [some embarrassing clothing or color combination]?” is povo, but not nasty)

    Perhaps SL can shed some light on this using specifics – Virgil’s Aeneid v Ovid – and what got up the nose of Augustus. Or on the compare/contrast of Frank Zappa and Catullus.

    I’d expect most regular visitors here to be lumped into the “high-brow” basket by those in the larger parts of the left-skewed Bell curve, so perhaps a discussion of what is good taste or not should have the “complexity/richness” variable taken out: by using examples that are complex and require intelligence to interpret, but are nasty, and on the other hand, simple low-brow things that might bore us to tears, but are “nice” for those that cannot deal with much more.

    But the supply/demand side thought discussed in the post unfortunately brings to mind an image of tabloid culture and it’s target demographic as an extremely supple autocoprophagic diarrhoeac.

  12. Desipis
    Posted August 5, 2009 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

    The starting point is what you like, admire, love and why.

    I disagree. I think that the first baby step is to acknowledge that if there are things that people like that we wish to label “shite”, then liking something is not key to whether something is “good” or “shite”. I think we need to look at the other-side of the coin and consider things we consider good, valuable or virtuous and why, particularly when we don’t necessarily like them.

  13. Desipis
    Posted August 5, 2009 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

    Looking at point 1: “Blurring of the public/private distinction.”, I’m curious whether something is innately inappropriate for the public sphere, or whether the inappropriateness is driven by the (forced) transition of something from private to public. It seems like the inappropriateness is caused by the feelings of uncertainty (due to no public baseline of information to know how one compares on a given topic) and vulnerability (due to the information imbalance between the majority for whom things are still private vs the individual who is thrust into the public spotlight). I see the public/private distinction as something that is cultural (and temporal), and thus something that shouldn’t necessarily be detailed in laws or regulation.

  14. skepticlawyer
    Posted August 5, 2009 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

    Lots of good stuff here, alas I’ve got to run some errands and will be back later this afternoon (I’m in the UK).

    And Ovid was a homewrecker, that’s what got up Augustus’ nose. A very talented homewrecker to be fair — one who’d automatically be on any friends list of mine as a matter of course (Augustus and Livia both being living embodiments of La Rochefoucauld’s maxim that hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue).

  15. su
    Posted August 6, 2009 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    On # 2 Willingness to make taste/judgement calls, and thinking about something Adrien said at the end of the other thread, I think it may be necessary to educate young people about the costs and benefits of making ethical decisions or aesthetic judgements because it isn’t necessarily comfortable or easy to do that, especially as a teenager (thinking about the large number of 10-17 year olds that listened to this show), when being out of sync with your peer group is perceived as almost life-threatening.

    If you equate good decision making with “it should feel good to make this decision” then you are going to come a cropper. Sometimes ethical decisions or value judgements are intensely painful and expose us to ridicule, censure and worse.

    The fact that teenagers are forced by the structure of the education system to socialize mainly within their own age group probably exaccerbates the fear of making choices that go against accepted norms too. It is a kind of truism amongst parents that a year or so out of formal education can be really good for character formation and partly I think that is because kids are taken away from the tribe for a while and allowed to socialize more with adults. Perhaps blended high school/tafe campuses can acheive something similar.

    I know as someone who thought BB both aesthetically worthless and ethically questionable, that was a pretty lonely position to take. I saw it as little better than dog fighting – lock the humans up together, stress them in a variety of ways and see what happens. Oh look someone just assaulted someone else, bad human! Quite hard to talk about that though without being accused of wowserism and limiting free speech. I suppose a related problem is that we have to be able to talk about ethics without there being an assumption that we want to solve ethical dilemmas by imposing more regulations or more laws.

  16. Posted August 6, 2009 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    Interesting point there, Su.

    I think one of the best ways to teach high school kids about empathy, judgement, ethics etc is through literature. A good novel can be a powerful and transformative experience. I doubt a more direct, lecture type approach would be of much value.

  17. su
    Posted August 6, 2009 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    Yes, “teach” in a general sense, not necessarily as formal lessons, it is probably something that is better communicated by example.

  18. Posted August 6, 2009 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    The starting point is what you like, admire, love and why.
    .
    True. Just wanted to rant. 🙂

  19. Posted August 6, 2009 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    Su & Mel’s musings on “teach” & “education” expand on the sense i intended in my one liner.
    Yes, the idea that literature can teach empathy or ethics is spot on… but leads us back to the “taste” thing.
    Of course, the yoof, bogans & other troggies will probably immediately go home and undo any good by desensitizing themself with some wildly popular and nasty dvd, laugh at “Australia’s funniest accidents that have been within a micron of something that has killed a loved one of at least one viewer”.

  20. John Greenfield
    Posted August 6, 2009 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    LE

    After my intital take, I have sat back and watched. My scorn at the clueless Luvvies – which on this issue includes many of the greying intellectuals above ;). – has only intensified.

    I will wrap up soon.

  21. John Greenfield
    Posted August 6, 2009 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    Oh, and I will warn you in advance that the words “slags” and “profiteers” might feature. 😉

  22. Posted August 6, 2009 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think you can teach good taste. All you can do is make a link between ethics and aesthetics. Simply push the idea that there’s virtue in being selective. The problem with that of course is that good taste does not make you virtuous and bad taste doesn’t make you a rotter. There’s a link between aesthetics and everything but it’s elusive, not direct.

    Another problem is that stuff that is shocking can also be a necessary hatching of poison. Carmen was once on the nose! And the final one, central to our times, is that in the absence of compulsory cultural hierarchies who decides what is and what is not good taste?

  23. Posted August 6, 2009 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    My daughter hates Funniest Home Videos

    What a sweetie. 🙂 May I suggest Judo classes they’ll come in handy.

  24. Posted August 6, 2009 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    I think you’re right that there’s a real pack mentality in schools.

    Just in schools?

    I’ve often wondered how the Church could get away with regularly referring to its members as sheep. Actually no I haven’t. I wish it was something that was puzzling but it’s not.

  25. Desipis
    Posted August 6, 2009 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

    I can’t help but wonder if there’s a link between this unethical entertainment and the “got to have it NOW” attitude that the ‘youth’ are frequently accused of having. In today’s society satisfying the more primal desires is cheap, quick and convenient. This trains people to go after such desires due to a better return on investment for emotional/physical effort.

    Contrast this with pursuits associated with ‘high culture’ where satisfaction is typically only achieved after significant time and effort are expended, as well as involving greater dependence on other individuals. I’d argue that the later would be more likely to involve experiences that will increase awareness and understanding of social and ethical issues.

  26. Posted August 6, 2009 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] said

    “I have never really liked reality TV either”

    Well, apart from Rough Science (think “Survivor” crossed with “Curiosity Show” or “Dr Karl”), I’d agree with you.

  27. Adrien
    Posted August 9, 2009 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    For those of you who might think justice has been served up to Vile and Tacky have a look at the gossip/celeb mags. I’ve already seen two stories about Sandiland, both trying to provoke empathy for him. His fear of losing it all says one, the other one I forget.

    The PR nerds are boiling the midnight coffee. It takes years to insert a face into the collective addled brain of the great overwashed, this guy’s an investment and its bad business not to protect your investment.

    My guess is he’ll have a new look, a new persona and a new job 12 months from now.

  28. Posey
    Posted August 9, 2009 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    Polling must show the program still has support.

    I quizzed the half dozen 20 somethings (women) working in the hip hair salon I visited this week.

    They all thought the incident was gross, but an anomaly, and really dug the show and wanted it to continue.

  29. Adrien
    Posted August 10, 2009 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    If he just showed one iota of understanding as to why his behaviour is unacceptable, I might feel a little more pity. Instead it’s the “poor me” routine. Ugh.

    Gee thanks for the feedback people. I love these focus groups.

    Alrighty Marty have the copy dept set up one of those ‘I feel so bad’ interviews with Kyle and, um, I don’t know, some talk show with credibility. Maybe he can be a guest on Dr Phil. Yeah.

    He was abused when he was a kid, his dog bit him, his ice cream fell in the road. That’s why he’s such a jerk but he’s learned the error of his ways, he’s found God, he loves puppies and spends Sat mornings down at the pound. What? I know he spends Sat morning driving out to Bankstown to see his coke connection. So what? This is public relations not the factual information goddammitt! Be a professional Marty.

    Can we get him to cry? That should increase his credibility public perception-wise. What? he doesn’t have tear ducts? Well call the SFX dept, call the make-over consultants. Y’know that guy that trimmed John Howard’s eyebrows and taught Al Gore to pretend like he had a personality. Goddammitt whadoIpay you for?

    I don’t wanna hear about ‘conscience’ or ‘morals’. Be humane on your own time. I got 50 interns who’ll do your job for nothing and they’re willing to eat their kids to prove they’ve got what it takes.

  30. Posted August 11, 2009 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    On taste, an interesting anecdote about a busker in Washington DC:

    In this 45 minute busking session, only 6 people stopped and watched for a short time. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The busker collected $32. His music was mostly unnoticed and when he finished playing, no one applauded, only 1 person acknowledged his talent.

    No one knew this, but the violinist at this particularly ‘lonely’ performance happened to be Joshua Bell, one of the most renowned musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth over 3 million dollars. Two days before this solo busk in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theatre in Boston where the seats average $100.

    Funny old world innit?

  31. Posted August 11, 2009 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    Adrien, no 35 is very funny. That is all.

  32. John Greenfield
    Posted August 13, 2009 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    AND, your ass wins ratings and awards.

    THEY’RE BACK!!!!

    http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2009/08/13/1249756392393.html

  33. Posted August 15, 2009 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    2 Day FM have examined the procedures that’ve caused this to happen and decided to let Tacky and Vile back on the air. (Translation: After market research they’ve found they’ll make more money putting ’em back on).
    .
    I’ll give Vile a year or so before his vast, fleshy face and vacant reptile eyes gaze upon us with contempt once more.

  34. John Greenfield
    Posted August 16, 2009 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    Adrien the procedures that caused this to happen cam be summarised thus:

    1. Sluts
    2. Bogans
    3. Catharine Lumby.

    You do the Math.

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