Manufacturing Taste

In a comment to my rant on naysaying, Carl Dyke posted the following link (to a Josh Ellis piece from 2003):

Mindjack – Taste Tribes

The piece itself is rather unremarkable. Although, it does contain comments about a few things which became important topics in the meantime such as recommendation systems and the importance of music listeners for individual artists. I’m not too concerned about the piece and I realize it’s “nothing new.” It mostly made me think about a number of things about which I’ve been meaning to blog.

I could react to the use of the term “tribe.” And there are obvious things to say in terms of social groups (family resemblance, community of experience, community of practice, communitas, homogamy, in-group knowledge, social network analysis, etc.).

But I guess my take is at the same time more personal and more cultural.

Contrary to what my Facebook profile may lead some people to believe, I am not a fan of anything or anyone. I’m not saying that I don’t like things or people. I do. In fact, I pretty much like everyone. But fandom isn’t my thing. Neither is fanboyism. So I don’t relate so well to Ellis’s description of networks based on appreciation of a band. Sure, in the past, I’ve participated in similar groups, such as online discussions about one of my favorite tv shows (which still has a fairly active online fanbase). And I did join several Facebook groups about things or people I like. But my personal attitude makes me react rather negatively to fanclubs and the kind of “taste-based community” Ellis so regrettably called “taste tribes.”

Nobody’s fault but my own. I just feel these groups tend to be too restrictive, too inward-looking and, well, too opinion-based.

I’m too much of a social butterfly to spend much time in any one of these groups. My engagement to a group of people can run deeply and my allegiance and faithfulness are sometimes rather strong. But I don’t like to restrict myself to certain groups.

Maybe I’m an “alpha socialiser” after all.

The cultural dimension also seems quite important to me, but it’s harder to explain without giving off the wrong signals. Not only do I react to what I perceive to be abuses of “pop culture references” (in part because I find them exclusionary), but I perceive a kind of culturally significant attachment to individual “cultural items” (“media,” as Ellis seems to call them) in “English-speaking North American popular culture.” I’m not saying that this tendency doesn’t exist in any other context. In fact, it’s likely a dimension of any “popular culture.” But this tendency is quite foreign to me. The fact that I conceive of myself as an outside observer to popular culture makes me associate the tendency with the common habits shared by a group I’m not a member of.

I’m sure I’ll post again about this. But my guess is that somewhat shorter blog entries encourage more discussion. Given the increasing number of comments I’m getting, it might be cool to tap my readership’s insight a bit more. One thing I’ve often noticed is that my more knee-jerk posts are often more effective.

So here goes.

2 thoughts on “Manufacturing Taste”

  1. Thanks very much for the link to the ‘tribe’ critique. I’m familiar with the gist of the complaint but having it all disambiguated so clearly and efficiently is really valuable. Bookmark, si’.

    I’d like to try to cautiously rehabilitate the term (while wryly noting that it’s getting used in all its bad old ways in the context of Iraq even as we blog).

    Exactly because of its negative history, ‘tribe’ is now available for subversive reclamation in the same way that ‘bitch’, ‘nigga’, and ‘queer’ have been. In this frame the term becomes not an ascriptive stereotype but an assertive intentional identity.

    Once it’s been stripped and reloaded like this it becomes available for new use. When pretty white boys like Ellis and me use it, we may in fact be expressing solidarity with peoples ‘othered’ by the term, and reambiguating it as a critique of the civilized/savage dichotomy originally implied. In the process, ‘tribe’ is de-essentialized and becomes an umbrella-descriptor for all sorts of optional associations. Sloppy as hell, and that’s how we likes it.

    Talking context here, you know you love it.

  2. @Carl I do love it. And I pretty much agree. But it might be giving Josh Ellis too much credit to say he meant the word to be fodder for reappropriation work.
    Of course, the reason I care so much about the term is that it comes up, in non-critical ways, in courses on Africa. Hence my poking fun at the Scramble for Africa material. As I was getting out of a ranting spree, I found it liberating to use Aidan Southall’s The Illusion of Tribe as ammo against Ellis’s lack of insight into social politics. I’m usually not that nasty (and I usually make less reference to war terminology). But it’s all good for what ails me.
    That, and jamming my heart out. Being a sax player is fun.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *