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Sunday, 8.14.05: What Is Quality?

This question just occurred to me: What is our idea of "quality" these days?

Last night we watched a "Making Of..." featurette for the movie Final Cut. It showed how master crafters made gorgeous wooden computer consoles and laptop cases from fine woods. I've seen this before -- movie directors going to extreme lengths to reproduce a perfect reality on their set. If they are shooting a film about an artist in France, they must find a genuine old French villa and rehab it with all the perfect fittings for an artist of the time. Even though the viewer will never appreciate their efforts, will never even see their work in 3 dimensions, it is still important to create a believable movie world.

Now switch channels.

As we get ready for our own upgrades, I've been watching HGTV. This channel specializes in shows that demonstrate household fixes that take drab, disorganized rooms and make them sparkle with designer flair, often on a very tight budget.

First of all, the sleight-of-hand is obvious. Sure, the owner pays only $1000 in materials for the transformation. It implies that your $1000 could do the same. They gloss over the savvy of the design team and access to all those fabulous power tools. Who needs new cherry-wood cabinets? Just grab some old boards and your router...

But sometimes the quality falls into what I'm calling the "double-sided tape" category. There is a certain subtle ethic here: oh sure, go look at your inspiration rooms, your museums, your grand house tours. Then, come home and reproduce something just like it with your flea market bargains. And make it snappy! Don't worry about fine stitchery -- use double-sided tape. Want some modern art? Grab another old board and a can or two of Rustoleum...

I can't decide --

Does this represent a wonderful can-do spirit? The essence of American optimism? "Just because I'm poor doesn't mean my house has to look trashy." Watch the experts, get some ideas, and get moving.

Or is it really a cynical put-down of artsy snobs who invest lots of time and money in high-quality construction and real antiques? It is only the surface gloss that counts -- the perception of quality. That's American too -- buy your car for the flashy tail fins, not the repair record. Things that last too long are boring.

Or maybe what it's saying is, look, develop your own sense of style. Work with what you have. It isn't the money, it's the boldness of your statement that counts.

Does it matter?




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