February 2, 2012

Don't Let 'Tacky' Run Your Life

The article Let Go of the Spatula: Reconsidering Wedding Registries on Get Rich Slowly recently discussed wedding registries.   I bring up the article only because there were several comments from readers that used the word 'tacky' to describe what they thought of registries or other ways of wedding gift giving.    These people objected to the registry or other things about weddings and labeled it 'tacky'.   

Tacky is basically just a way to say you find someone elses behavior to be objectionable.    If I look up tacky in the dictionary it says it is 'not tasteful or fashionable'.   It also gives alternate definitions using words like : crass; cheaply vulgar; tasteless; crude.    Generally using the word 'tacky' is just a way to say you dislike something based on your opinion on how things should be.  

When people are talking about manners and etiquette then 'tacky' gets used to disapprove of what is 'wrong' or 'not acceptable'.   If someone quotes Miss Manners as saying that it is 'tacky' to do something then this is cited as some sort of authoritative and official stamp of disapproval.   Its basically like saying "no that doesn't follow the rules of our society and is not acceptable behavior".  We aren't allowed to be 'tacky' when it comes to the rules of etiquette.   You of course don't want your wedding to be 'tacky' right?   That would be abhorrent  to modern society.

Why should we let rules of etiquette dictate our behavior to this degree?    Other peoples views about my behavior are really only their opinion.    I'm not hurting them in any way so they shouldn't have a problem with how I conduct my life.

Think of it this way lets compare two scenarios : 

1) Lets say that you were organizing your wedding and you decided you would prefer everyone to bring their own food and make it a 'pot luck' instead of hiring catering.   Then disapproving Aunt Betty let it be known through the family gossip grape vine that this clearly 'tacky' thing to do.   Would you go ahead with your pot luck idea or reconsider it?

2) You are sitting in your house watching TV and wearing sweat pants.    Aunt Betty comes to visit and she is wearing a $500 designer outfit.   Betty declares that your sweat pants are 'tacky' and you should dress appropriately like she does.   Would you start wearing $500 designer outfits to lounge around your home and watch TV?

We're probably more likely to put more weight on Aunt Betty's opinions about our own wedding in scenario #1 and feel more embarrassed by our tacky  pot luck idea.   But is it really much different than Aunt Betty's opinions about how we should dress when we watch TV in our own home?  

In both cases Betty is really just voicing her own opinion about how she thinks things should be done.  Betty is not the elected representative of the world view every topic.  Its tacky because Betty says she thinks it is tacky.

Now clearly most of the people have strong opinions on the 'right' way that a traditional wedding should be done.   If you did poll everyone then you might find the majority of people do agree that a pot luck wedding is 'tacky'.   People are much more likely to follow the societal norm when talking about a traditional activity.  Thats a lot of what tradition is about:   Doing something the same way every time.   You can't have a tradition if everyone does it completely differently every year.  This I think adds weight to someone elses use of the word 'tacky' to describe your ideas about a traditional activity.   Hearing its 'tacky' means we're doing it 'wrong' and we don't want to do the tradition 'wrong'.

When you add 'tacky' to 'tradition' it can cause people to do things and act in a way they wouldn't otherwise.   I don't care if Aunt Betty likes how I dress but I may listen to her opinion on how to hold my wedding.   Thats simply because its a tradition.  

You don't have to follow tradition unless you want to.   I don't have to put up a Christmas tree and I don't have to buy flowers on St. Valentines day.   Those are traditions but its OK if I don't do those things.  If someone else thinks my plastic Christmas tree is 'tacky' or they think my Valentines day balloon bouquet is 'tacky' then that is simply their opinion.   I didn't ask for their opinion and I frankly don't care.    On the other hand of course if you value tradition and want to do things the traditional way then thats perfectly fine too.


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