Sunday, July 10, 2005

The quicksand of shared tastes. On Thursday night I had one of those 'quick after-work drinks' with Saige that ended with me stumbling into a cab outside Charlton's at 2am. Saige is such a crafty minx: after I refused to go to Fitzroy with the Cinema Studies postgrads because it was out of my way, she got them to come to karaoke, because she knew I'd have no excuse - I love karaoke and it's in the city.

I did "Love Is A Battlefield" by Pat Benatar, which is a great karaoke song and went down a treat with the drunken crowd. Later, I did "Jump" by Kris Kross, which was far less successful because nobody danced and I missed some of the lyrics because my mouth was semi-paralysed from many wanton encounters with both Beer and Vin Rouge. (I always judge how pissed I am by whether I can direct taxi drivers to my house without slurring: "Could you please take the next left, just past those billboards?")

Saige was trying to set me up with her friend Alex, saying we would have a lot in common because he also liked karaoke. When I talked to him, I realised that we also liked the same sort of songs. But is shared taste a foundation to build a friendship or a relationship, or a kind of chimera; a quicksand that seems solid but disappears?

For Pierre Bourdieu, "Taste is a match-maker, it marries colours and also people, who make 'well-matched couples' initially in regard to taste." (Distinction, 243.) In his comments on my pseudo-flashpost, Christian McCrea sums this theory up nicely.
Shared pop-culture tastes; like I said, good to get a glimpse of somebody, but hardly more. But there's lots of pop culture lives out there that are furiously intense. I'm a gamer; someone who is into the same games as me has potentially more in common than someone who has the same taste as me in television. Plus the whole concept of navigatory people comes into it - if someone likes this band, this show, this idea, this writer, likelihood is I won't find their worldview distasteful. I found my best friend even though we hated each other at first because of a shared love of a comics artist (Al Columbia.)
McCrea, who hates it when I refer to him by his surname because he thinks it makes him sound like a cop with anger management problems, implies a stereotypical use of tastes. A stereotype is a psychological shortcut - a way to form a speedy assessment of something or someone without having to deal with nuance. For McCrea, shared tastes act as a stereotypical 'map' - he can quickly assess whether he'll get on with someone by mapping his own cultural capital onto theirs. And he also points to the existence of multiple, meta-relational maps - the 'gamer' map; the 'TV' map.

We commonly understand stereotyping as a negative and reductive way of reinforcing power relations, eg: "Men are better at maths and science than women." In his postcolonial work The Other Question, Homi Bhabha theorises the stereotype as a fetish in the Freudian sense - a device that "vacillates between what is always 'in place', already know, and something that must be anxiously repeated" (66). Yet stereotyping also involves disavowal; thus granting the fetishised Other "an 'identity' which is predicated as much on mastery and pleasure as it is on anxiety and defence" (Bhabha, 75.)

If we tease the discursive operation of the stereotype free of its disciplinary content, Bourdieu's concept of cultural capital works similarly: social rank (or in my example, a 'matching' of friends or lovers) is produced by a fetishistic performance of cultural knowledge. It's a way of negotiating relations between the Self and the Other. But I want to draw attention to the way that this mapping of shared cultural capital, like the stereotype, produces 'truths' about people that simultaneously seem more powerful and are more illusory.

How many times have you felt a connection with someone because they liked the same things you did? Didn't you feel like the two of you had an understanding because of your shared tastes? Didn't you feel like you were meant to be together? Conversely, how many times have you felt angry, going "There's no way I could ever like someone who likes this thing I hate! They would never understand me!" or uneasy, going, "What will we talk about?"

Let's mention the song now, shall we?
You say that we've got nothing in common
No common ground to start from
And we're falling apart
You'll say the world has come between us
Our lives have come between us
But I know you just don't care

And I said, "What about Breakfast at Tiffany's?"
She said, "I think I remember the film
And as I recall, I think we both kinda liked it,"
And I said, "Well, that's the one thing we've got."
Basically, this song is about a guy trying to paper over his doomed relationship by invoking shared tastes. Has the relationship died because they were too different, or because they had given up on it because there were no shared tastes to reassure them of their compatibility? You could read the chorus as optimistic, an attempt to resuscitate the relationship by finding common ground; cynically, as evidence of how fucked their relationship is that their only pitiful connection is this film; or romantically, that they're prepared to overlook the issue of shared tastes and find other ways to connect with each other.

I verge on the cynical; for me, this reveals how reductive it is to base your connections on shared tastes. Your girlfriend is trying to break up with you, for fuck's sake, and you're not even listening to what she's saying - that there's more to 'having stuff in common' than just shared tastes. McCrea also writes, "Who doesn't want to drown in quicksand with someone?" Well, seductive as the prospect is, I don't want to drown in quicksand at all!

Let's roll out another nasty early-90s song now:
Baby, seems we never ever agree
You like the movies and I like TV
I take things serious and you take 'em light
I go to bed early (and I party all night)
Our friends are sayin' we ain't gonna last
Cos I move slowly (and baby I'm fast)
I like it quiet (and I love to shout)
But when we get together it just all works out
Not that I am basing my argument on Paula Abdul or anything, but what about the principle of 'opposites attract'? More to the point, what is it about these people that attracts them to each other? Depressingly, I am beginning to think it's sex. Fuck - I've spent all this time trying to mount an argument and it all falls down at the end.

But surely there must be ways for people to connect? Surely people can be complementary rather than similar? Surely their loves can fill the emptiness of other people's hates, and vice versa? Surely there's more to conversations than just the pang of joy that comes from recognising a little of oneself in the tastes of the other, or the alienation of recognising difference in the other? And surely we can be imaginative enough to find things we love about each other that aren't pop-cultural tastes? What about your delight in small things? What about your curiosity? What about the way you hold my t-shirt down while I take off my jumper? What about the way you'll always repeat a silly thing back to me because you're not ashamed of having said it?

On Friday night, I met Amanda (and for a while, Sandor), and had a wonderful conversation that lasted for hours. It consisted of debates and discussions of ideas. I talked about the ways I've started to analyse my reaction to the London bombings (which I'm still too timid to post here), and they mentioned possibilities I hadn't thought of. Amanda talked about the brilliant, vulnerable workings of the brain and of the patterns of brainwaves as we sleep. We debated feminism, ethics, VSU, and many other topics I was too drunk at the time to remember now. Sometimes we had to say, "Well, we're going to have to agree to disagree on this one." It was great. I had a great night.

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