What ever happened to avoiding things simply because they were in poor taste? Not because they're crimes, not because they're immoral, but just because they leave a bad taste in the mouth. Even if you could build a logical defense of them, they make us cringe and avert our eyes. Do people even consider whether something is tasteless or not? Does it matter?
Like anything else, the pursuit of living tastefully can be overdone. I'm reading The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, set in 1870's upper class New York, where tasteful behavior is the highest good. Adultery and fraud can be forgiven, if they are handled in the proper way -- but wearing the wrong color of gown to the opera? Disastrous. My mother remembers growing up in the 50's and being told that she must never let a boy "take advantage of her." Not because fornication was wrong, not because she could get pregnant or get a disease, and not because it might break her heart, but because she might ruin her reputation. The message she got was that acts could only be judged according to how tasteless or tasteful they were.
So, we don't want to go there. For all its excesses, there is much to be said for a society where people are honest about their lives, and where we at least make some attempt to make allowances for people who have different standards from our own. Religious people, in particular, should not be afraid to do things just because they are in poor taste, if there's a good enough reason. It may be considered poor taste to be pro-life or to love Jesus, but that shouldn't stop you!
But I don't believe that people who ardently pursued the tasteful life are necessarily shallow or petty people. Tastefulness is sort of a poor man's morality, and often has the goal of making society run smoothly. It may not lead to happiness or well being, but at least you know what the rules are, and just about everyone can take a stab at following those rules according to their state in life. At least it's something.
So if we can't expect people to be sensible or moral, I do wish we could at least implore them not to act in poor taste. If we could, we might avoid bafflingly tone deaf efforts like a recent GoFundMe page that was set up, allegedly by the sister of Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who killed nine people. The page has since been taken down, but not until after it garnered nearly $1,000 toward a $5,000 goal. The cause? According to a local paper ,
Roof and her fiancee hoped to raise money for a wedding and honeymoon that had to be cancelled when Dylann Roof went on his murderous rampage.
“It was suppose to start our lives together with our new family. Our day was the exact opposite. Our wedding day was full of sorrow, pain, and shame, tainted by the actions of one man,” she stated. “The Charleston Massacre took place and our lives were forever changed. The media abused our privacy and published all of our wedding information and destroyed our dream day. Destroying the first day of Michael and my life together.”
“We would like the chance to start our lives on a positive note,” she stated “Therefore, we have decided to start a Go Fund Me account. We know money cannot replace the wedding we lost and our perfect day, however it will help us to create new memories and a new start with our new family.”
She allegedly promised to donate 10% of any funds raised to the church where her brother carried out his massacre.
I would like to note here: anyone can start a GoFundMe page. It's entirely possible that this one was set up without Ms. Roof's knowledge or consent -- either by someone who wanted to make her look bad, or by someone who simply saw an opportunity to raise some money (like the almost certainly bogus relentlessly gay yard money grab). So it would be unjust for us to assume that this is the full story, and I don't want to criticize the woman herself. No point in that; so please let's skip telling this young women she was wrong.
But here's what gets me. People are assuming the page is just what it says it is, and people are defending the idea. It's not her fault her brother is a murderer, they say. You can't blame her for feeling bad about having her big day ruined! And anyway, she's giving some of the money to charity! No one has to donate, after all, so who cares?
Because . . . it's in such poor taste. Such incredibly poor taste. Such incredibly, monstrously, unspeakably, civilization-ruiningly poor taste. There are some things that you shouldn't have to argue against. You should know that no amount of disappointment makes it okay for a would-be bride to raise party and vacation money off of someone's tragedy. You should know that nine deaths are more important than losing your deposit with the caterer. You should know that sometimes, awful things happen to you. Sometimes people make you suffer. But that doesn't mean that anything you do in response is excusable, just because it's legal, or just because you have your reasons.
You should know that terrible times have a sifting effect, letting the truly important human experiences of loss and pain and death and forgiveness stand out in high relief -- and that if your lesser pain gets sifted away, then you just deal with that. You just do. Because to raise your hand in protest at the minor outrage you've suffered, when the bodies of the dead are barely cooled, is just . . . .in such poor taste.
Good taste is not much of a virtue to strive for. In the hall of monuments to human achievement, it's only a modest bust, at best. But my goodness, it's something.