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It’s strange that we believe our tastes define who we are, even though to a great extent, they are the least important thing about us. Like Rob from Nick Hornby‘s High Fidelity, we feel superior to those whose tastes don’t measure up to our own idiosyncratic standards, and take any slight against our own tastes as personal attacks. But maybe we can also come to his semi-understanding that what CDs, DVDs, and books we own are not the definite guide to who we are.

I have songs on my iPod that embarrass me to admit, even as I sing aloud at the top of my lungs when no one is around to hear. The odd song by Barry Manilow, Roger Whitaker, and Harry Belafonte shuffles with Eminem, Avril Levigne, and Christina Aguilera. I am neither a grandmother nor a rebellious teen. Even my usual musical preferences, which lean more towards Lilith Fair than Lollapalooza, are not impressive to those people who are cooler than I am – a demographic that comprises perhaps 99% of the world. But I’m a good person. Really.

I call my love of romantic comedies, even bad romantic comedies, a guilty pleasure, even though I get more pleasure than guilt from them. I can still believe in equal rights for women and rejecting stereotyped gender roles and enjoy Pretty Woman and Bridget Jones’s Diary. Really.

It works the other way too – I hesitate to admit my not-so-lowbrow tastes in certain company. My brother sums it up by saying I like “boring” books and movies, because I read Dostoyevsky for fun and made him sit (or, more accurately, sleep) through a Whit Stillman movie. I am out of touch with the world of Nora Roberts and Janet Evanovich that some of my friends embrace, though I read my share of mind candy too. I’m not an intellectual snob. Really.

So if I know all this, why do I care if people turn up their noses at me and my shameful love of Julia Roberts movies and easy listening classics, or think I’m pretentious because I continue to read books I was forced to read in university? It’s not just me. Get any two people into a discussion on Pulp Fiction versus Forrest Gump, or Grey’s Anatomy versus House, and they will act as though their very natures are dependent on defending their preference.

Maybe our tastes shouldn’t be defining characteristics, but maybe they are anyway. Maybe it’s another way that entertainment is important – it’s the conscious choice version of pheromones, drawing us to like-minded people. We can’t determine similar life philosophies based on a simple list of CDs, DVDs, TV shows, and books, but comparing Britney versus Christina, or great visceral movie with sentimental sweet movie, or soap opera medical drama with acerbically witty medical drama, or Ann-Marie MacDonald versus Diana Gabaldon is the shorthand way to that end.

“Intelligence is really a kind of taste: taste in ideas.”
Susan Sontag