"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


bad taste isn't a crime

Longtime readers of this blog know that each spring, I temporarily suspend coverage of African politics for a couple of nights to focus on a very important international issue: the Eurovision Song Contest.

(I can't help it. I love Eurovision. It's my semi-secret shame. Well, that and the fact that since my social life moved to Atlanta to die, I've been watching seasons 1 & 2 of the ABC Family dramady Greek.)

Eurovision always has a few political overtones - the Turks never vote for the (actual) Greeks and vice-versa - but this year, things have taken a turn for the even more bizarre than the typical Eurovision over-the-top-ness. Azerbaijani citizen Rovshan Nasirli, who was among the 43 Azerbaijanis to vote for the Armenian entry in this year's contest, was interrogated by his nation's security forces about his text-messaged vote. Some observers think the country's authorities are concerned that those 43 votes might affect the status of the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Now. Whether the outcome in voting for the third-place finisher in the Eurovision contest really has security implications for ethnic politics in an Armenian-dominated, semi-autonomous enclave or if this means that perhaps the U.S. should withdraw foreign aid from a country whose security forces have gone off the deep end are questions that should be left up to those who know more about the "'European' countries that aren't really in Europe" than me. It isn't Mr. Nasirli's relationship to his country's increasingly authoritarian regime that interests me, per se, although I certainly hope he doesn't face any dire consequences for any other of his text messaging activities. Rather, it's his questionable taste in music. I mean, really, would you have voted for this, even in protest that your country entered an act that isn't really Azeri?

I think not. Clearly Mr. Nasirli's only crime is his terrible taste. Or his lack of recognition of something that is truly scary.

Speaking of bad taste in post-Soviet states, back in June, I took a little mini-vacation to eastern Europe at the end of my post-dissertation research trip. Part of that trip involved visiting Budapest where it was rainy and cold pretty much the whole time I was there. (Don't get mad. It's a lovely city. B
udapest has the best Mexican food I've ever encountered in Europe. Go fig. But let's just say that the beautiful...gray Danube is a little more difficult to appreciate when you can't feel your toes and leave it at that.)

Anyway, in an effort to escape the mind-numbing June cold, one afternoon I found myself inside the wonderland that is an Hungarian shopping mall. All I can say about that experience is, "wow." And may I add, "wow." Three floors of stores, almost all of which carry exactly the kind of clothes you'd expect to see on a Russian mail-order bride. There wasn't a natural fiber in sight, the shoe stores had entire displays of the sort of footwear one normally only sees on women who collect most of their salaries in $1 bills, and I seemed to be the only person in the packed mall who didn't approve of neon yellow lyrca leggings as a fashion statement.

That experience plus this whole Eurovision incident has me thinking: shouldn't the U.S. be doing something about the whole issue of bad taste in the rest of the world? Being rich and powerful means that we have a moral duty to help out countries less hegemonistic. There's just no way around it. And since my government is apparently in the mood to fund foreign aid projects of low priority and questionable utility, I've got an idea. How about a new USAID program to sponsor Taste Police for emerging democracies? They wouldn't have to be involved in harsh interrogations ("You voted for Ukraine?!? Have you no decency or regard for the innocence of children, sir?") but could instead make friendly suggestions to taste offenders and, in really extreme situations, hand out citations. Think what the world would be like if Eurovision were dominated by more eco-friendly woodland-inspired acts like Norway. Or if I never had to share a train compartment from Bratislava to Brno with three girls in black polyester workout pants with the word "sexy" bedazzled across their butts?

I think such a program could really Make A Difference. Let's start calling our Congresspersons and asking them to support the creation of a task force to study the Taste Police issue. Those of you living elsewhere could ask your bureaucrats to ask the European Union and the UN to do something about this Critical Issue. Who knows? If the root causes of bad taste were addressed, we might even see solutions to some of the world's most intractable problems. Peace in
Nagorno-Karabakh could potentially be a real possibility within our lifetimes. Or at least those of our great-grandchildren.

Who's with me?



Anonymous Sister said...

You're really bored, aren't you?

Monday, August 17, 2009 11:56:00 PM

Blogger Pierre-Louis said...

wow! this was the best blog post I've read in a long time! It shoudl be preinted in The Economist...so so good! Sarcasm at its best...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009 8:31:00 AM

Blogger Ron Rollins said...

REally good Mexican and margerita's at Joe's in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009 9:45:00 PM

Anonymous Marta said...

I was most amused by your blog. I actually found it when I googled "bad taste in Eastern Europe." My boyfriend is Romanian -- and "wow" (to quote you) is his taste terrible. If something isn't new and flashy and, frankly, trashy, he doesn't like it! And he's a highly educated mathematician! I admit I'm an Englsih PhD who probably read a little too much Henry James and who probably has an overly aesthetic imagination.... but it's seriously hard to live with someone with this "cement and plastic bling" aesthetic.
Of course, there's a lot of beauty in Eastern Europe too -- the old sections of Bucharest are lovely and the Black Sea is charming.
Ah well, thanks for letting me vent!

Saturday, March 26, 2011 12:48:00 PM


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