“We are just beginning to scratch the surface of what happens when a molecule binds with the tongue, and then all of the biochemical events that happen after that to get a perception. If you imagine a domino trail, we’ve knocked off maybe four or five dominoes, and have a thousand more.” Taste receptors are blunt instruments. With taste alone, one cannot distinguish a grape lollipop from a watermelon one; coffee is like hot water with a bitter aftertaste, and Coke a bland sugary solution. The limitations of taste are unsurprising when one considers its evolutionary purpose. Our biological progenitors, living in the wilderness, needed to know only what was worth eating and what wasn’t. If something tasted sweet, there was a good chance that it provided energy; saltiness suggested the presence of minerals; sourness indicated the level of ripeness, and bitterness the presence of poison.
Movie critics, wine connoisseurs, jazz heads — these expert analysts set the standard for what’s good, bad, and kitsch.
But what’s popular is social. Trends are the result of the wisdom of crowds. The problem with the masses though is they’re usually wrong. Marketing serves them repetition.
Taste is a property of the mind. It’s individualistic. You can’t impose it. We relinquish our individuality when we outsource our taste to tastemakers and crowds.
“For taste governs every free — as opposed to rote — human response. Nothing is more decisive. There is taste in people, visual taste, taste in emotion – and there is taste in acts, taste in morality. Intelligence, as well, is really a kind of taste: taste in ideas.”
— Susan Sontag
From the essay “Notes on Camp,” available in Against Interpretation: And Other Essays (1964)