You can’t dispute it, people say. Everyone is entitled not only to his or her opinion (which is debatable) but to his or her own taste as well. You may like Norman Rockwell or Pop music, but I prefer Rembrandt and Beethoven. So it goes.

But is it true? Just because we hear these platitudes on every side doesn’t make them true. People cling desperately to all sorts of nonsense — especially these days. Let’s just ask whether there is such a thing as “good taste.” What would it amount to? Knowing that then perhaps we can talk intelligently about “bad taste.”

To begin with, good taste is a function of that thing I am always going on about: restraint. In art, for example, when the artist exhibits not only imagination and skill but also restraint, when a decorator doesn’t fall into the trap of “more is better,” but shows restraint in the arrangement of colors and shapes, one might contend this reflects good taste. Flaubert once said “discipline makes art of impulse.” That’s about it. But we could argue about this until the proverbial cows come home. You like what you like and I what I like. And we all know I am an intellectual snob, an elitist who thinks that everyone should be liberally educated. So there! Ignore what I say.

But take the following example where ESPN — in this case — shows a singular lack of restraint and, I would say, exhibits very bad taste.

One of the features of the ESPN sports broadcasts is the segment called “Not Top Ten.” These are supposed to be sports gaffs that occur during the week, things that just sort of happen and we find them funny. They are designed to make us laugh at human foibles. And they are, in fact, usually quite funny.

But recently ESPN chose to include in their list of “Not Top Ten” the crash of the “Sooner Schooner,” a smaller version of the covered wagons that took our ancestors West. It is the symbol, the mascot, if you will, of the Oklahoma football team and it races on the field before every game with the crowd cheering madly. In this case the schooner took too sharp a turn and the entire rig came off its base and threw the occupants, including a young woman, to the ground. Several people were hurt, though none seriously. In any case it was not funny. Humor stops when someone gets hurt. If there is a rock in the pie thrown in the face of the clown and he gets cut we do not laugh; if the person under whom the chair is removed as they try to sit hurts his spine, we do not laugh. In a word, we laugh until sympathy enters in. Humor demands distance and is an entirely intellectual response; emotions do not enter in — especially sympathy for another human being.

When the schooner fell over the crowd was aghast — as well it should be. But ESPN, in its wisdom, decided it was funny and they included it in their list of “Not Top Ten” for the week which they put forward as simply another humorous incident in a sporting event. But it was not.

Thus, I submit, we have here a clear case of bad taste on the part of ESPN. They showed a singular lack of restrain and tried to pass off the hurling to the ground of at least two people and the trashing of the schooner itself as a humorous event. It was not. And anyone who thought it was should make an appointment to have his or her head examined. As so should the producers at ESPN.

Show some restraint. Separate out those things that are genuinely funny (and which therefore do not involves the harm of humans or animals) and skip the events that show people being thrown to the ground while the crowd (which exhibited much greater restraint and good taste) looked on aghast.

Taste can be good or bad and we can quibble about art and music. But when people are hurt, it is not funny and it is in bad taste to include such an event in a list of seemingly funny events, designed to make people laugh, on this or any sports show.


10 thoughts on “Taste

  1. I think videos of people being injured during any type of activity, sports or otherwise, is out of bounds and in poor taste. I relate it to the videos from “storm chasers “ who run around shooting videos of tornadoes touching down and causing destruction. It does nothing to help anyone or anything who are in the storm’s path, it just lets the Weather Channel sensationalize the weather. Forget that anyone or anything may be in there, we’re just supposed to watch the video and say “ooohhh” or “aaahhh”. Or in the case of your ESPN scenario, just laugh…

    • Excellent example! I have always wondered about those programs. But the Weather Channel, like all the others (including PBS these days), must please their sponsors!

  2. Dr. Curtler”

    Again, an interesting post.

    “De gustibus non disputandum est.” A Latin phrase meaning, approximately, “One does dispute matters of taste” or “Taste is indisputable.”

    This has often been regarded as having but one meaning, but there is a bit more to it than that.

    According to modern conventions, taste is regarded as an individual preference beyond the dispute or criticism of other individuals. This is very much a reflection of a time when the ideology of individualism borders on narcissism. Individual; preferences are regarded as the bedrock of a society in which “common culture” is constituted by commercial media messaging, morals, and memes.

    But there is another meaning, a meaning more suited to an older time. The underlying assumption is that what constitutes civilization and culture are beyond dispute. Because of this, and only because of this, it is possible for individuals to have differences in taste over minor private matters as long as they agree upon major public conventions and culture. Public ethics, beauty, the law, private property, privacy itself, and the larger social order are not matters of taste. They are the foundation of the free individual, a priori. They exist “pre-taste”, as it were.

    The modern interpretation of “de gustibus..” brings to mind the superficial understanding that Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is about the strength and importance of individual adolescent affection, when the fundamental message of the play centers on the socially destructive power of romantic love itself.

    Again, an intriguing and thoughtful post.

    Regards and respects.

    Jerry Stark

  3. Hugh, seeing blooper reels must prop up fragile egos. People like to see others mess up, when they are, of course, imperfect and mess up, as well.

    My wife said something relevant to this discussion the other day. She said she was getting tired of select friends who complain about other drivers while exhibiting the same traits behind the wheel. Our blogging friend Linda asked why is there so much road rage these days? It is because of this one simple truism – those who command the most tolerance from others are the least tolerant themselves.


  4. I fully agree with you. I was just telling someone earlier today that as a child, I hated when my grandpa watched wrestling, for it seemed to me a ‘sport’ that was designed only to hurt someone. Recently, it seems there is a lack of empathy in our society that makes it ‘okay’ to laugh at others’ misfortunes. To me, it will never be okay, no matter who it is.

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