Elements of Taste: Understanding What We Like and Why

Elements of Taste: Understanding What We Like and Why

by Benjamin Errett


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Elements of Taste: Understanding What We Like and Why by Benjamin Errett

From My Little Pony to the Sex Pistols: An engaging exploration of why we love what we love
Katy Perry. Wes Anderson. Coldplay. Star Wars. Hamilton. Gilmore Girls. We all have our most and least favorite things. But why?

In this smart, funny, and well-researched book, Benjamin Errett brings together the latest findings from the worlds of psychology, criticism, neuroscience, market research, and more to examine what taste really means—and what it can teach us about ourselves.

Covering kitsch, nostalgia, snobbery, bad taste, George Michael, and what it means to be “basic,” this is the ultimate read for anyone who devours popular and not-so-popular culture.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780399183447
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/17/2017
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 630,249
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Benjamin Errett spent a decade editing the arts pages of the National Post. Once they were finally edited, he wrote this book. Recommended pairings include his previous book (Elements of Wit) and a dry white wine. Maybe a Sémillon? He dips his fries in mayonnaise and lives in Toronto.

Read an Excerpt

Sour and Salty: The Taste of Punk
Who among us hasn’t, at one time or another, wanted to be sedated? And in that desire, we see the eternal appeal of punk rock.
What made the Sex Pistols so amazing? the rock critic Greil Marcus asked in Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century. His answer came in book form, but to sum it up, it was their embodiment of the deeply suppressed desire to kick over the coffee table of polite society, possibly set it on fire, and perhaps proceed to urinate upon it. It is sourness in its most rebellious form, and Marcus sees it as a hidden thread through the 1900s, linking the Dadaists, sound poetry, the Lettrists, the Situationists, and other anarchists in highly improbable ways.
It’s fitting, then, that in this most defiant art form we have to defy the researchers who inspired this system. They found that punk rock was almost entirely dark, ranking above even horror films or heavy metal. In our version, that makes it salty: intense, edgy, and hedonistic. And while all those elements are certainly there, it’s no coincidence that teenagers are the most susceptible listeners to the atonal yawp of Mr. Rotten.
Johnny Rotten’s aim, Greil Marcus writes, was “to take all the rage, intelligence, and strength in his being and then fling them at the world; to make the world doubt its most cherished and unexamined beliefs; to make the world pay for its crimes in the coin of nightmare, and then to end the world— symbolically, if no other way was open.”
The band’s biggest hit was timed to be its most notorious moment: “God Save the Queen” was released right before Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee in 1977. Linking Her Royal Highness to a fascist regime and singing that she wasn’t a human being hit all the soft spots: Factories refused to print the album, radio stations refused to play it, stores refused to sell it, and the charts refused to list it. The Kingdom was United against the Sex Pistols, and in spite (or because) of that, the song was enormously popular.
“God Save the Queen” ends with the words “no future, no future, no future,” and if you look at the time and place in which it was released, it’s quite clear what fans had to feel nihilistic about. Britain of the 1970s was a country of rolling strikes, lost empire, epic inflation, constant labor strife, and a sense that liberal democracies in general and this one in particular had run out of gas. (Oh, and there was the OPEC crisis.) When Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives came to power in 1979, they did so on the clever slogan “Labour Isn’t Working.” The greater sentiment was that nothing was quite working, and anyone who believed that was a prime candidate for the message of the Sex Pistols.
Contrast that with the Silver Jubilee celebrations. If everything was falling apart, why was everyone putting on a happy face to celebrate the twenty- fifth anniversary of the queen’s accession to the throne? Such a commemoration was the epitome of sweetness: people coming together to engage in pleasant, lighthearted celebration. It was perfectly countered with something sour: a rude, rebellious, and adolescent finger in the eye of anyone who cared to gawk. It turned salty from there— hedonistic, dark, aggressive— but the initial shock was the thrill of seeing Her Royal Highness’s face with a safety pin through the royal lips.
Teenage rebellion is generally rooted in the realization that adult society is full of lies and propaganda, that it doesn’t make any sense. The world of the 1970s was one in which nothing seemed to work, where all governments seemed out of ideas. In the West, they called it malaise; in the Soviet Union, they invaded Afghanistan. To call the whole thing a fraud wasn’t exactly illogical.
And boredom: it’s hard to underestimate the importance of boredom in adolescence. How much creation, destruction, and rock music has been birthed simply because there was nothing else for teenagers to do?
When the punk moment of the late 1970s passed, the aesthetic lived on as the uniform of teenage rebellion. Leather jackets, skinny jeans, Doc Martens, piercings— even clean- cut rebel Ferris Bueller fashioned his hair into a Mohawk. The howling rejection of the modern world is rarely part of the look. The punks were salty back in the days of the Sex Pistols, but time has washed most of that away. What’s left is a distinctly sour aftertaste.

Table of Contents

Aperitif: Ketchup Is the Perfect Food 1

1 Setting the Table: How All Taste Comes Back to the Tongue 5

What Sort of Music Do You Like? And How Useless Is That Question? 5

Embodied Cognition, or Why Warm Rooms Are Filled with Warm People 11

Are You Ready to Order? 15

Palate Cleanser: The Ultimate Taste Test 19

2 Sweet: The Taste of Innocence 23

Kawaii: The Sweet Society 26

Tasting Note: Coldplay 31

Cozies: Murder without Death 32

Bronies: Finding Sweet Solace 36

Tasting Note: Friends 43

Beanie Babies: Cultural Sugar Highs 44

Sweet Sounds 46

Tasting Note: The Notebook 51

Sweet Smarts 52

Palate Cleanser: A Brief and Painless History of Taste 55

3 Sour: The Taste of Rebellion 61

Sloche: Adolescence on Ice 65

Tasting Note: Mad Magazine 68

The Last Action Hero 69

Tasting Note: Indian A Jones 71

Sweet and Sour: Marvel's Magic Formula 72

Tasting Note: Blarping 74

Sour and Salty: The Taste of Punk 75

Palate Cleanser: The Wisdom and Foolishness of Crowds 79

4 Salty: The Taste of Experience 83

Salty Postcards and George Orwell 85

Tasting Note: True Detective 89

Salty Superheroes 90

Tasting Note: Drake and The Weeknd 92

Disco Won 94

Tasting Note: Trey Parker and MattStone 97

Salty-Sweet: So Wrong but So Right 98

Palate Cleanser: The Impossibility of Bad Taste 101

5 Bitter: The Taste of Repulsion 109

Coffee, Beer, and Cults of Bitterness 113

Tasting Note: Tim and Eric 119

Unwatchable Films 120

Tasting Note: Kanye West 122

When Bitter Is Better 123

Tasting Note: Futurist Cooking 126

Mr. Difficult 127

Bitter Art 129

Plate Cleanser: The Myth of Supertasters 133

6 Umami: The Indescribable Taste 139

Oddly Satisfying Norwegians, Part I: Karl Ove Knausgaard 142

Tasting Note: Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games 148

Oddly Satisfying Norwegians, Part II: Slow TV 149

Tasting Note: John Hodgman 151

Martin Parr and the Mundane 152

Tasting Note: Gilmore Girls 156

The Interesting Secret of the Dull Men's Club 157

A Job You Can't Lose 159

Palate Cleanser: Aging Tastefully 165

7 Harmony: How to Put It All Together 169

Harmony in the Kitchen: Building a Balanced Dish 170

A Tasting Menu For The Connoisseur 171

Harmony in the Culture: Building a Balanced Artwork 173

A Tasting Menu For The Nostalgic 176

Everyone's a Curator: Planning Your Cultural Meal 176

A Tasting Menu For The Dabbler 179

Anyone's a Curator: The Problem of Too Many Cooks 180

A Tasting Menu For The Adventurer 185

Someone's a Curator: The Genius of Diana Vreeland 186

A Tasting Menu For The Minimalist 189

Something's a Curator: The Limits of Technology 190

A Tasting Menu For The Enthusiast 197

You're the Curator: Let's Do This 198

Acknowledgments 201

References 203

About the Author 227

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Elements of Taste: Understanding What We Like and Why 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A fascinating + entertaining take on why we like what we like. I blazed through it!