A while back, I happened to catch a popular radio host discussing some guy in Florida who’d painted his house in his old fraternity colors--purple and gold. Predictably, the man’s neighbors were up in arms.
Now, as offensive as a purple-and-gold house might sound to you, hearing the way the talk show host carried on about it was worse. It was an outrage, he declared in so many words, that people could simply paint their houses any color they pleased, and by golly, there should be a way to stop them from doing it. It was a classic argument for the Taste Police.
The talk show host’s callers threw an even feebler light on the matter. With barely-masked disdain for “ethnic” color preferences, they gleefully ridiculed other people who, God forbid, had painted their houses orange or pink or electric blue.
At best, this sort of thinking is provincial. At worst it’s just plain racist. America’s demographics are changing, and along with many other things that belong in the dustbin of history is the idea that Caucasians have some sort of monopoly on defining good taste for everyone else.
In any case, the whole idea that there are “tasteful” architectural colors is utter nonsense, as even the most cursory survey of architectural history will attest. The architecture of much of the Mediterranean and Asia, to mention just the obvious examples, is beloved for its vibrant use of color. How is it, then, that when these same hues appear on homes in the world’s most multicultural nation, they suddenly become “tasteless”?
What’s more, if strident color schemes are so offensive, why is it permissible for, say, a huge Swedish retail chain to paint their colossal stores in the most galling blue-and-yellow color scheme imaginable, while an individual who paints his house in those colors is seen as some sort of threat to the public order?
Some towns are so mortified by the idea of vivid color schemes that they actually specify the range of colors people can use on their own homes. Surprise, surprise--the allowable “tasteful” colors just happen to reflect the sedate color preferences of Northern Europeans.
Would you tolerate a law that dictated what color clothes you could wear in public? Or what color car you could park in your driveway? If not, why would you tolerate a regulation dictating what color you could paint your own home? After all, your taste in clothes, cars, or houses comes down to the same thing--a highly personal choice.
The usual tiresome Taste Police response to this assertion goes something like, “Well, if I have to look at my neighbor’s purple house all day, it’s infringing on my personal right to a tasteful environment.”
It’s an argument that doesn’t hold water, because there’s no such thing as an objective standard of taste--one person’s tasteful is another person’s awful, and that’s that. In other words, the neighbor may well find a beige house just as offensive.
Whether other people find our favorite colors tasteful or awful, we still have a perfect right to express them, be it through our clothes, our cars, or our homes. If preserving that right for myself means tolerating my neighbor’s purple-and-gold house, so be it. It sure beats having the Taste Police make my choices for me.