Saturday, June 23, 2018

Because it's tacky

It came across my Twitter stream* that today is St. Audrey's Day (apparently she is also known as St. Ethelreda) and because at the "fairs" devoted to her, merchandise was so cheaply made, the word "tawdry" actually came from a contraction of "St. Audrey's lace".

So, this person proposed, St. Audrey could be the patron saint of the tacky.

This is an idea that delights me.

(*Yes, a lot of people note that Twitter is kind of a dumpster fire where the worst ideas and opinions go to die, but once again: if you're careful about whom you follow AND, like me, have a "locked" account (so randos can't @ you), it's not so bad, and also, I follow some friends on there)

And I've mentioned before my love of things that some people would find "tacky." Tackiness seems to be a very subjective thing: I've talked to people who seemed to think home-decor that was anything other than neutral colors and bare surfaces was tacky, and to me - well, a big reason I wanted my own house was so I could paint the walls "any color but white" and have space for my numerous collections of things.

But also: I grew up in the 1970s, which was maybe in some ways, the height of tackiness (though I would argue every decade has its own decorative oddities.) I like going antiquing in part because stuff I remember from being a kid sometimes shows up and while I don't often buy any of it, it's still fun and nostalgic to look at. (Glass grapes, anyone?)

I think there are two reasons I like to embrace what some regard as tacky:

1. "If it makes you happy and doesn't hurt anyone, where's the harm?" One of the reasons Twitter (and other social media) often seems like such a dumpster fire is that there's an awful lot of....policing....that goes on there. Policing of opinions that don't affect the other person, policing of how people dress, etc. (I know people find the "People of Wal-Mart" website funny but it makes me cringe because they're making fun of other people, usually without their knowledge, and also, God only knows what circumstances are going on - maybe that is literally the only clean outfit that person has that day, or maybe they're sick and running to Wal-mart to get medicine and getting out of pajama pants took too much energy).

I saw a certain degree of that "policing" as a kid. I grew up in kind of a snobbish town, as I've stated before. I honestly wonder if it was magnified because the town I grew up in was very much into its history as part of the "Western Reserve of Connecticut" and the whole idea that it was a majority-WASP (or at least, people who pretended to be) town, and the idea was how many generations back "your people" were in the US....and some of the surrounding areas, where there was less money, there were also a lot of more-recent immigrants (not necessarily first-generation, but people whose "roots" showed more than those of the people in my town). A lot of the immigrants were from Slavic countries or from Southern Europe (and some were from countries that, in that day, had been memory-holed under post-WWII redistricting or Soviet control: Macedonia, for example. And interestingly enough - some of the town names in my area - like, in fact, Macedonia - recalled those vanished nations)

But anyway. Kind of like the U and non-U idea that used to exist in the UK, there was a definite "us" and "them," and "them" were people about whom jokes were made.

I may have been more conscious of it because even though we weren't "certain ethnic" (some people who wanted to slightly whitewash the Polish or Italian jokes they told, euphemized it to "certain ethnic"), we had less money than most people in town, and my dad worked in a different and less-prestigious profession, and my parents were against conspicuous consumption of the sort people in town practiced. 

I remember some of the things people talked about: "bathtub Madonnas" (it wasn't, really, a bathtub: it was a grotto, but of course it looked like a bathtub). And plastic covers over the "good" furniture, and those plastic runners with the knobbles on the bottom that held them in place on the carpet (my family had some of those...). And some decorating things. 

The biggest thing I remember - and I've talked about this before - are lady-in-the-rain lamps:

(Photo is from here)

Oh man. These bring up a lot of memories. I don't remember anyone who actually HAD one, but people talked about them - usually judgmentally, as the sort of thing that people who also kept plastic covers over their pastel-blue sofa (colors also had connotations) had. I mostly remember them from the BEST factory warehouse where my parents bought a lot of their small appliances (and where a lot of our Christmas tree decorations, including a few we still have, came from).

I found them intriguing, though I think, because I was a little bit of a striver as a kid (I wanted to be as popular as the popular kids, I wanted to be accepted in that way, so I sometimes absorbed their attitudes), I also saw them as tacky.

Now, I don't think so. Oh, I don't think I'd want one - it sounds like there's a lot of upkeep there (cleaning the pump that drives the oil, replacing the mineral oil annually so it won't go bad), but in a way, they're kind, almost? Or maybe they just pluck the strings of nostalgia for me, I don't know.

(We didn't have one, but we did have swag lamps. Like this:

More people in my town had those, they were a bit more "acceptable." Man, I remember those chains with the electrical cord woven through them....)

But anyway. It was an early lesson in snobbery and classism, I guess, and I didn't realize until I was older that the "upper class" (or so they thought) people were showing more about the kind of people they were than the "working class" people they talked about.

Anyway. One thing I've learned as an adult: even if you don't understand or like it, if it doesn't directly hurt others (or the person engaging in it) but makes the person happy, you just don't say anything. It's unkind and....really kind of tacky-in-the-bad-way to talk smack about the movies or music or whatever someone else likes if it's not your cup of tea. Especially if you imply the person is dumber or lower-class than you because they like that thing.

And I wonder - as I said on Twitter - if some of my love of the stuff some people find tacky is the tiny part of me that's tough enough to rebel against the snobby popular kids and go, "Yeah, who died and made you boss?" and just like what I like.

But also - and woven through my discussion of #1 is

2. Sometimes stuff that just makes you happy in a simple way is good. I've written before about how I love it when people go over-the-top in putting out Christmas decorations (the "Griswold House" phenomenon). Part of it is I like it, too - I can't do outdoor decorating here (no outdoor plugs and it's too hard to rig up something that connects up to indoors) and so it's nice to see.

And there are a lot of little things that are gloriously unnecessary but they are *fun* and that is what makes them worthwhile. For example: I don't NEED to wear nail polish and in fact I often do not when I'm doing lab work or teaching labs because it gets ruined so easily. But the other day, after being in a bad mood, I decided to go ahead and put some nail polish on. I used glitter nail polish at that. Yes, glitter nail polish is EXTRA unnecessary, but it makes me happy.

And I also like the goofy old toys, and I like having my little collections of My Little Ponies or little blindbag toys or things like that. I don't *need* them in a Maslovian sense....but they make me happier, and I suspect happiness in life is a need, too.

And I like all the stuff I have hanging up on my walls - the souvenir plates on the bathroom walls, and the framed prints of old ads for flower seeds, and the various mottos to remind me ("Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else." which is attributed to Judy Garland). It's not necessary and I do admit it makes my place more cluttered and messy (and harder to dust), but it makes me happy. And all the old family photos (that was another thing when I was a kid - somehow it wasn't done to have a lot of photos of previous generations; oh, there were photos of the current generation of kids, but mostly just posed school photos or pictures of their baseball team, stuff like that.). In my mom's family, apparently several people were early camera enthusiasts and I have a number of older "casual" photos (one of my mom at about 16 goofing around, trying to ride a kid's trike, and, further back, one of my grandmother as a teenager with her family in the living room of their house, and it's clearly not a totally "posed" photo). 

And color. I love color and I admit I rebel against the trend of "white box" rooms or "classic neutrals." I like having yellow walls in my living room and all that. Again - having the walls in colors is unnecessary, and a lot of the "advice" among people is to use "neutral" walls because if you want to sell your house, it will be easier. (Memory: when my parents were selling the house in Ohio where I grew up, the real estate agent essentially told them to remove anything distinctive, anything that had "character" - like, "get rid of all those books." I guess the idea was that people generally lacked the imagination to look at a house in which people lived and see themselves living there, which is why "home staging" is such a big thing). But then again - at this point, at any rate, my plan is not to leave this house, and it seems foolish to me to live with a decorating scheme you dislike on the grounds that "well, if I need to sell some time, it might sell a bit faster." (Ultimately, my parents wound up having to hire a painter - after we had moved out - to paint over the pink walls in what had been my bedroom, and the green walls in my brother's, and the pale-blue walls in the guest room. I guess that real estate agent was right but geez.)

So for me, part of the "tacky vs. tasteful" thing is that tacky is sometimes kind of FUN. It's more decorative than the bare minimum, it's more colorful than the bare minimum. It's stuff that looks like other stuff (like the old Majolica ware that was shaped like fruits or things, or Kit-Kat Clocks, or patterned Formica). It's things that are maybe a little silly instead of just functional....and that kind of thing makes me happy. It's wearing my goofy Christmas-chullo hat in December.

And, so, yeah. And also the 1970s and 1980s type of tacky often brings up nostalgic feelings for  me - a simpler time, when I was a kid and the problems I had then, though they seemed big at the time, now seem kind of small in retrospect, compared to the problems of the world I see now. So I like going to antiques shops and looking at things like glass grapes and 1970s-era Corningware. Or looking at sites like Plaid Stallions (mostly 1970s, and mostly toy and clothing related) and Dinosaur Dracula - 1980s stuff: mostly toys, cartoons, and the sort of goofy faddy food that used to be such a thing. 

And yes, of course, this. My favorite Weird Al in years:

Again: there's that sort of "forget you and your tasteful attitudes and disapproval of me" vibe there. I may respond to that because I wish I could be more that way, instead of being so often cowed by others' opinions.

No comments: