Fashions in Vulgarity
NOTHING, IN A SENSE, seems easier to chronicle–perhaps in pictures alone-than a history of bad taste. The past is strewn with horrible examples, with McKinley- period offerings in architecture, with German beer-mug trophies in ornamentation. Every age yields fictional accounts of moneyed vulgarians-Trimalchio in ancient Rome, M. Jourdain in 17th-century France, the Veneerings in 19th-century England. Was “bad taste” ever more rife than among England’s indigestible wedding cakes in stone? Yet was “vulgarity” ever more ridiculous than with Lord Chesterfield, who deemed it vulgar to laugh aloud?
But, though nothing seems more easily compiled than a chronicle of bad taste, nothing after a while calls out more for revision. Let fifty years go by, and it is not what the chronicler excoriated that seems vulgar, but what he extolled. In the early 1920′s a critic of decor, championing functional furniture, might have whacked away at the curlicued accessories of his grandparents. Today all too many people wish their keepsakes had been kept, and shudder at the metal frames and tubular stems that passed for chairs and tables. Clearly, since taste began, one generation’s fashion becomes the next generation’s fright.
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