Taste and Cultural Politics (PCUL4P34)
Department of Communication, Popular Culture, and Film
Course description: William Wordsworth famously opined that “taste,” the physical faculty of perceiving flavour, is a “passive sense” and thus incommensurate with the metaphorical use of the word to describe “intellectual acts and operations” of discernment, much less with those operations as they are codified as “Taste” (qtd. in Raymond Williams, Keywords, 313). Since Wordsworth’s declaration, a rich body of scholarship has emerged that tests and complicates the poet’s dichotomy, demonstrating that both physical taste and its metaphorical manifestations must also—or, in many cases, instead—be recognized as the products of far-reaching political, socio-economic, and cultural processes. “Taste and Cultural Politics” surveys this field, with an eye towards understanding the role that politics, class, gender, race, and ethnicity play in constructing taste. Our exploration will begin with contemporary food culture, a site where taste as a physical sense and as a metaphor for discernment intersect. The cultural politics of food will serve as an important touchstone, as it so explicitly demonstrates the ways in which taste is at once articulated as a matter of distinction and connoisseurship (foodie-ism), and determined—in whole or in part, depending on one’s views—by tangled networks of power and ideology (global agri-business). The main focus of the course will of course rest on the ways in which taste is construed, upheld, appropriated, subverted, and transgressed by consumers of diverse media (e.g. romance novels, Céline Dion songs, cult movies). As signaled by a recurring titular reference in our readings, the primary object of our study here will be neither consumers nor the media they consume, but “what we talk about when we talk about” this exchange.