When I was growing up, I used to get extremely excited whenever a letter arrived for me in the mail. Just as I could never understand why grown-ups didn’t just eat Mars bars the whole time, I couldn’t comprehend how they weren’t overjoyed at the reams of colourful envelopes which would pour through the mailbox on a regular basis.
I have to say that I still do take a kind of perverse pleasure in receiving junk mail; I think it’s the same part of my psyche which loves watching the home shopping channels on the television. But I know that according to received wisdom, I’m part of the exception, not the rule. We all hate junk mail, right?
It’s interesting that a large part of the American population actually seems to like receiving junk mail. They tick the boxes asking to be put on to mailing lists, not the ones asking to be taken off. But you don’t really hear these people talking about it in polite company. It’s one of those views, like homophobia, say, or a fondness for the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, which many more people hold than admit to.
But it’s weird, isn’t it. Jaundice is meant to be a bad thing, right? We’re all meant to be increasingly proud of our post-ironic status, but a childish (ie, genuine) love for junk mail is still shameful. And there I was, proclaiming my hatred of chain hotels long before I actually hated them.
Then I flew back to New York from Belize, and was informed by the check-in person that because the flight was delayed I would have to spend the night in Dallas. I know there was a time when I would have secretly loved the idea of an airline putting me up in a hotel for a night, but this time I really shuddered at the thought. All I wanted to do was to get home to my bed.
So what’s going on here? On the one hand, I am honestly getting in touch (or touchingly getting honest, or something) with my post-ironic love for Britney and QVC, yet on the other hand I actually felt good that I wanted something noble like Home rather than something fake like an airport hotel.
I think there are maybe two possible explanations here. The first is that I felt good because my feelings had finally fallen into line with my expressed opinions; I didn’t need to feel like I was lying any more when I said I hated airport hotels.
The second is that disapproval of jaundice applies only to jaundice about real things, and not about fake things. So jaundice about airport hotels or junk mail or Mars bars is fine. Even things like trendy New York bars are fake enough that it’s cool to be jaundiced about them.
But the question then arises: What is real? What is the set of things such that jaundice towards them is a bad thing? I mean, calling someone jaundiced is still pejorative, right? But give me specific examples! I’m beginning to think that jaundice is one of those bugaboos which everybody hates but which doesn’t really exist. What do you think?