There is a very, very thin and very gray line between what is tasteful and what is tasteless. To dance on that line is the work of the comedian or the provocateur artist. Most of us try to walk that line while checking from time to time to make sure we’re not straying over it or at least correcting our path when we do misstep.
The problem, of course, is that taste, like mores, is something that is built on ice and is always moving this way and that so getting a firm grasp on where that line is is never easy. We are growing as both a species and culture and as we change, so too do the things we find tasteful and tasteless. As we change our language changes and so too should our behavior change. People may get worked up and declare that society’s changing is ‘wokeness’ or that the culture is too ‘politically correct’ but the fact is that we’re all just working to find a place where the least powerful of us will still feel they have a place in society when the strongest have all the power.
It’s a fair concern and one we need to take seriously.
With all of our changing though, we are still rather myopic when it comes to some things and with how we view them.
Regionally to where I live there’s a former psychiatric facility that has been host to ghost tours for years but which is now getting funding to become a fully fledged entertainment venue with ghost tours, a restaurant, and a ‘speakeasy’.
It feels as if a line between tastefulness and tastelessness is not just being crossed but leapt over.
I have been on ghost tours and personally love them. They mix the historical with the mythical and intertwine them, showing that it is in our myths and folktales where history yet lives. Sure, that story of a headless revolutionary soldier walking the streets looking for his head is silly at first brush and may seem utterly false, it hints at the horrors of war and that it was a ghastly business on our soil so many years ago. Ghost tours and ghost hunting feels like it is dancing on that gray line, sometimes wavering too far over that line but generally walking it. If they are done with respect, and with a touch of history, I feel like those ghost stories only serve to keep history and the people that lived there alive. I went on a ghost tour in Washington D.C. and it was fascinating and thrilling to see some of the capital’s sights at night when no one was there.
My issue with this plan at the psychiatric facility is that it goes so far beyond simple ghost tours. It is letting people come to dine and drink at a facility where people were literally at the worst place in their lives. They were struggling with sanity there. They were struggling to find meaning to their lives. Some probably underwent medical procedures. Some must have died. It feels tragically crass to imagine going for a night on the town where you stop and dine, go on a ghost tour, then hit up the bar after before you head home in a place where people were screaming from the demons they were wrestling with internally.
Maybe I am too harsh.
The fact is that without commerce, history in many circumstances dies. We just don’t respect it or cherish it and many times it makes too much sense to bulldoze the past and build new.
It’s a very American mindset.
Were there not a component of business in this plan this former facility would probably be bulldozed so something else could be built.
Maybe a parking lot.
So it’s hard to get too outraged here but it still feels wrong.
It feels hurtful.
I cannot imagine how I’d feel if I had a loved one that had gone there and been hospitalized there and now it was going to be a part of the nightlife.
It makes me wonder if my skin is too thin here or we just don’t respect the past or ourselves enough.
The line of taste is one to dance upon, to walk near, and to once in a while peer over, but we should always be mindful that history is full of dead people that were once loved. Just as we will one day be dead and hopefully remembered. How would we feel if we were simply part of the ‘spooky history’ of a place where people went to eat steak and drink a beer while a large screen television showed them a sport.
It’s worth thinking about.
And worth considering as we weigh the past and the people that fill it, with our sometimes petty desires in the present.