Three cheers this Sunday morning. I'm declaring that good and bad taste are dead. Last week I was asked to contribute to a film Channel 4 are planning for the New Year in which they will celebrate Bad Taste. I hate to disappoint them, but the whole subject is simply not an issue any more.
A few years ago I remarked that good taste was something that middle- class people dreamt up to keep the working class in their place. I had a furious row on a BBC arts programme with the ever-pompous Stephen Bayley, pashmina wearer and scourge of Sir Terence Conran, who was promoting his book entitled Taste: the Secret Meaning of Things. Both Mr Bayley and the other guest, Brian Sewell, trashed my theory and more or less declared me nuts. Unlike either of them, I don't make a living out of telling people what to put in their homes, what to wear, or what art has merit. Nor do I think you can draw any deep conclusions about what people's living-room furniture tells you about their minds. I considered Messrs Bayley and Sewell to be taste Nazis, who enjoy making the rest of us feel inferior. But when, this week, I started thinking about taste for Channel 4's film, I realised that everything I once felt so strongly about had simply evaporated into thin air.
Something fabulous has happened, and the turning point seems to have been the wedding of Posh and Becks. We crowed at their thrones, the gross amount of money spent on the occasion, the total absence of what we (snooty middle-class people) considered "taste". But Posh, like her or loathe her, is a woman of steely conviction. She plainly does not give a toss what the style police think. As far as she's concerned, if she wants something, then she'll have it - from clip-in, pop-out lip rings to hair extensions to Nicole Farhi sofas. Just as the fashion industry gave up issuing a series of seasonal edicts about hemlines and colours in the early Seventies, so the turnaround has occurred with every aspect of design that touches our lives.
What revolutionised high fashion was the irresistible rise of street fashion, in the shape of denim and dungarees, when people started to customise their clothes. After that, you could wear anything anywhere and mix one look with another. One day you could be in a tailored suit, the next in a soft Ossie Clark chiffon dress. Who can forget the fashion war waged at a Buckingham Palace charity tennis match last year, when Elizabeth Hurley turned up in a demure yellow Versace suit, to be upstaged by Anna Kournikova in a barely-there denim sun-dress (albeit by Dior)?
Equally, when punk burst upon us, the pop charts stopped being a reflection of one kind of sound. Since 1976, they've represented an explosion of talent, drawing on a variety of sources and cultures. You can purchase music by The Clash and Ennio Morricone, Handel or Dr John and not be pilloried for your eclectic taste. And so, gradually, the whole idea of what is "tasteful" or appropriate has been overthrown. Suit yourself is the order of the day.
Look at our newspapers. It only took a couple of weeks after 11 September for all of them to move seamlessly back to the usual agenda: fashion, recipes, shopping columns, travel advice, Anne Robinson's ghastly outpourings and, somewhere among all this, the daily news. No one is wasting time debating the subject of taste, and what is an appropriately "tasteful" mix, during a time of war. The truth is, variety is our lifeblood. In our disposable culture, it's no longer possible to live a life governed by a series of aesthetic regulations. But when it comes to our homes and the objects we surround ourselves with, it's taken a long time for the concept of taste to be comprehensively junked.
We used to be fed a succession of images showing versions of the approved style of the day, from Terence Conran to Stephen Bayley, from World of Interiors to Elle Decoration. In the work-obsessed culture of the Eighties, that meant grim, pared-down monochromatic homes that mimicked our offices. Then, in the Nineties, along came Kelly Hoppen to explain that a few sticks, a couple of carefully placed pebbles and a lot of beige constituted the epitome of good taste.
But the death knell for the Taste Nazis has surely been sounded with the ludicrous posturings of the minimalist architect John Pawson. This man has stripped everything away - children's colouring books, fridge magnets, bunches of multicoloured flowers, door handles. Pawson's world is smooth, vacant, vacuous, unreal.
The fact is, we are messy creatures, who secrete fluids, cough, have dandruff, make mess. We are not smooth, wrinkle-free bits of laminate in human form. Pawson's bare interiors suddenly seem as redundant and irrelevant as Clive Sinclair's C5. When you see art students with fluffy dice in their cars, and Wayne Hemingway (owner of Red or Dead) writes a book about kitsch, you know that anything goes. Wear hiking boots with chiffon. Hang brocade curtains with Memphis furniture. Stick plastic cutlery with Wedgwood, a 1950s three-piece suite with a great new rug from Ikea. Posh has shown us the way - and let's all give her a vote of thanks.
Next up: how to get rid of the Design Council ...
Better by tube
Is there anywhere more formidable to enter than the new kind of place selling beauty products? Take Space NK, for example, which is reminiscent of a science laboratory.
Once, the gunk you slapped on your face and body came in glitzy packaging with lots of gold caps and stoppers. Now it's all clear glass bottles, white plastic recyclable containers and labels that look like the answer to questions from an A-level chemistry exam. I always feel my humble enquiries are not worthy of the highly trained sales personnel who work in these white sci-fi emporia.
Take last week's quest to buy something that will stop my face looking shiny on TV but isn't really a foundation. The answer is a tinted moisturiser, apparently. But isn't this just the same old basic foundation under a different name? And these days you have to smooth it on with a big fat brush. Of course it comes in a plain white tube and costs a ludicrous pounds 28. But something remarkable happened to me in the two hours I swanned around covered with a face-load of the stuff after the free demonstration.
Two people said I looked "really well". So that's all right then.
I've just seen a film that reminded me so much of my summer holidays that I laughed from beginning to end. A group of drunken Argentinians lounge around a swimming pool finishing bottle after bottle of red wine. Mum starts collecting up empty glasses, falls down and cuts herself, and no one but the teenagers notice the body bleeding profusely on the paving.
Happiness and Together were two other terrific films in which you entered a crazy world where all values are turned on their head. La Cienaga is another. Don't worry about the plot. There isn't one.
'La Cienaga' is at the ICA, The Mall, London (020-7930 3647)Reuse content