Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Kopi Luwak

Not to stretch this metaphor too far, but it seems that we overdose on critical buzz before we ever trust a product these days. Was it always this way? It seems to me that there was a time when I saw a movie trailer and said "that looks good," without checking what my more trusted sources thought. I would just walk into restaurants without reading reviews. I would try a perfume or body product because I liked the notes listed on the packaging or ad-- or even because I liked the package, or name.

Now, I'm a cynical bastard and I tend to trust harsh criticism from strangers much more than I trust ad copy, gut reactions, or raves from friends and family members with taste that matches only questionably to mine.

I blame the Internets. We are all experts; we dissect topics on which we are only self-declared experts, savage one another's opinions in ways undreamed of in previous decades, and get trenchantly involved in details that are only minutae. We're a society of conceited dilettantes and malevolent cynics, feeding one another's pricklier impulses without ever trying anything new.

We are schizophrenic, now: simultaneous neophobes and conspicuous, obsessive consumers. We churn through experiences at a phenomenal rate, but first, we vet them through the opinions of people who are ultimately strangers and probably no more expert than we are, ourselves.

No wonder rates of autism are on the rise. We are a society of housecats. And it's virulently contagious. Rampant cynicism was so cool when I was in school... now it's considered countercultural to be nice (think emo or twee, and try not to aggro.) Soulless Oscar Wilde imitators hell-bent on offending our peers in ever more sophisticated and cynical ways. Exclusivity has the prerequisite of excluding-- we do not want to like the majority of what we see.

We won't enjoy something until someone else has taken a chance at digesting it. And that's the excuse for today's loosely connected metaphor.

The civet cat (they're not cats) is an animal with sexual glands in its butt, which excrete a filthy smelling compound long used for a perfume fixative. In large quantities, civet (the gunk, not the critter) smells like ass. In small quantities, well diluted and masked by prettier aromas, it is seductive and lends fixity to fragrances. Sources vary in levels of cruelty, but the animals do not have to be killed to yield their valuable goop.

One of their cousins, also a civet, eats coffee cherries. They don't digest them well, so the coffee cherries just end up intact in their feces.

Collected, cleaned, and processed, the resultant coffee cherries are made into Kopi Luwak, one of the (supposedly) finest and most luxurious coffees in the world.

Are you wincing and telling yourself that you would not drink it? Me too -- for reasons that I find more solid than "critics say it's overrated."

I'm going to try to like things for their own sake for a few days, and see if I can still do it.


Nathan said...


A somewhat bizarre sidenote to this post, is that a side-effect of "everyone's a critic" syndrome, is there is now a complete inability to argue without fighting about a subject. I'm guilty of it too, at times. One can not voice opinion on a subject many times, without being judged. At some point we've completely lost the ability to have a discussion about the merits we find in a particular item without resorting to hyperbole. We have this bizarre need for everything to be top-shelf and immediate. No more waiting, no more "just enjoying". We have to be at intellectual or perceptual orgasm at every second.

I think this is why I embrace apathy so much.

That and I like to argue.

Ducks said...

Heh. From what I've seen, I agree -- depending on the forum. VegWeb, which I have linked on this blog, used to be a great site for constructive arguments and gentle disagreements that provoked thought, not declarations of allegiance. (Nowadays, we have a lot of younger and more outspoken members and there is a lot more flamewar... and some very good, very new moderators who are under perpetual fire.)

Perceptive comment, and thank you for leading us farther in a provocative direction. I was all the way back to poo-poo jokes. =)

Do you think the vituperative nature of today's public discourse is really the overvaluation of personal critique from Internet "experts?" I suspect that this is a trained "blame the victim" reaction (which I started, I am not snarking at you.) By trained, I mean-- every time our regulatory and protective agencies fail to guard us, they make it our fault. See your doctor if you have an erection lasting more than 4 hours; don't eat raw eggs; smoking can be hazardous to your health. All of this kind of advice is predicated upon making a tough and nasty job the bailiwick of the public.

Take a look at our politics-- reductive, predicated upon catchphrases and lowest common denominator arguments. Politics was not always that kind of arena. There has been a phenomenon in discourse, but I don't blame the Internet alone.

I think that campaigns of advertising, politics, etc. are contributors. The chilling thing about the Internet fostering of know-it-all-ism and kneejerk flamewars is that it doesn't promise anything more nuanced in the future, in my opinion.

I love the "intellectual or perceptual orgasm" comment. Brilliant! :)

As for apathy, I don't think you do... make of Orneryboy your hero and delve into ironic apathy as much as you want, but I have seen you speak passionately about so many things that I don't believe ya about not caring.

Thanks for commenting. You don't speak up much, but you always get my noodle rolling.