Generally speaking, being ‘cultured’ has always lent to the idea of having ‘taste’. Again generally, Taste is an ideological construct and is imposed onto others without personal taste being questioned. It’s those darned advertisers again.
Taste can be measured by any number of means, from fashion to home decor, literature or music. It is often linked to prestige items prompted by postmodernism and therefore confirms a person’s social identity.
It is apparent that style and taste ‘trickles down’ within the fashion industry. For example, Burberry’s check print is/was a staple of fake hats adorning the heads of questionable characters, but it started off as a signature pattern of a very much prestige brand. However, when it comes to taste and style, there is also an upward trickle. An example of this is the style of punk, trickling it’s way up to musicians such as Avril Lavigne. We say it trickles up because it would not be said that Avril Lavigne has/had the true values of a punk, or would be accepted as part of that sub-culture, but she does wear the style and this is the only part of the sub-culture she borrows, rather than the original values of the sub-culture. This small element of the style is known as a signifier, which is something we connect to the style of the original idea.
Taste is something that has its emphasis on economic power and lifestyle as well as personal taste and, because of this, consumerism allows us to ‘be who we want to be’ through signifiers. We can dress in a certain way and be supposedly ‘tasteful’.
Eugenics is a topic that can be associated with modernism, as we are often encouraged to look the same because of the stringent use of materials and dampening of individual style, whereas postmodernism allows personal style to develop, making taste that much more personal.
While talking about what adorns the body, the image of the body itself, body image, is another matter that needs to be addressed. It seems that the image of the body for many years has been the focus of convention and not healthiness. From corsets designed for pregnant women a hundred years ago, to the work of the ‘artist’ Orlan, who undergoes surgery in non-clinical settings with surgeons wearing Prada as a way of questioning a means for embellishment and rejuvenation.
Body modification is not only as extreme as it sounds, it is also something that is attributed to the likes of Jane Fonda who, after undergoing cosmetic procedures, is still the face of non-surgical anti-wrinkle creams produced by big brands. Is this not simply playing with consumers’ minds? Jane Fonda was once the queen of fitness videos and is now playing on her once natural image with the promotion of ‘re-perfecting’ lotions and potions. Is this not the woman who had ribs removed for cosmetic reasons? And what is ‘re-perfecting’ anyway?
Let’s all just live in a world where we can be whatever we want to be, rather than who we are *rolls eyes*. Perhaps we can use Second Life as our first and walk around in fairy wings (does Second Life still exist?). Unfortunately, it seems that unless the world of image, advertising and consumerism undergoes a huge paradigm shift, nothing will change and we will all still render the above important in our lives.
Advertising originally reasoned with the consumer, telling them exactly what it is, but perhaps with a little too many white lies to accompany it. There were even ads planting the seed of using body image to impress husbands, who apparently only admire their wives if their stockings don’t run. These shock advertisements clearly lose their effectiveness in the long run and only work temporarily to those observing without much thought or education to what they are being fed. Advertising draws us all in even if, for the most part, we can chuckle at how unattainable these images are. Advertising appeals to emotions of the consumer and often creates an aspirational image; these companies are trying to sell a way of life and insinuate that these products will instantly transform yours. Perhaps there are a few women out there who thought that by purchasing those never-running stockings, her husband might actually care. The shame.
Robert B Cialdini stated that there are six basic tendencies that make humans react positively to something, obviously something that should not be ignored by corporate advertising giants. These are reciprocity, commitment and consistency, social proof, authority, liking and scarcity. Mix them altogether and there you have the perfect recipe for appealing to consumers who want their lives to be altered by one miracle product and will probably part with their money to get it, or else feel terrible that they can’t afford the one thing that will change their lives. We’ve all been there. ‘If only I could afford (that rubbish) everything would be super.’
All of the above are things that are supported, if not led, by the creative industries and it makes me wonder why we’re not uprising against such brainwashing. We are tastemakers, but that sounds like a pleasant enough responsibility. Let’s also be responsible to start the paradigm shift to change what seems to be an ugly culture.