Something in me had snapped, was broken beyond repair. My taste had been central to my identity. I’d cultivated it, kept it fed and watered like an exotic flowering plant. Now I realized that what I thought had been an expression of my innermost humanity was nothing but a cloud of life-style signals, available to anyone at the click of a mouse. How had this happened?”
From Raj, Bohemian by Hari Kunzru.
This particularizing of human taste is fascinating to me. I stopped filling out social networking profiles with the lush tidbits of my listening and viewing preferences a couple of years ago, figuring that the marketers had me pegged anyway, why make it even easier? Still, I look through profiles of my friends and acquaintances, watching people perform their tastes, watching the doppler effect between subculture and popular culture become more condensed until it is no longer visible.
While I knew that this was happening with the ongoing (and perhaps ever-present) commercialization of subcultures, it seems to have reached a fever point of real-life folksonomies mixed with lifestyle branding. Take, for instance, the rapid ricochet of Stuff White People Like, a blog that explains some of the most prevalent and popular “tags” of upper-middle class white folks in America. I got the link from wordpress a couple of weeks ago, sent it out, received it back from various people the next day, then heard that they highlighted it on NPR only a few days later. I detest NPR, almost as much as I hate the NPR conversations at parties, when you realize that everyone around you is spouting the same party line or quirky story they heard on the radio that morning.
So all of this has left me with some of the same questions (but not quite the same amount of melodrama) as posited in the story by Hari Kunzru. Where does the commercialization of our own taste begin, and the selling it to our friends end? Is it possible to define taste without branding?
I know, sincerity is so naive, so humorless, and what was I doing reading the New Yorker anyway? I love Texas, I live in California, and I need to go back to studying for my oral exams!