TASTE: Why You Like What You Like

A Cultural Studies Analysis

by Arthur Asa Berger (San Francisco State University)

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Berger’s book, “Taste: Why You Like What You Like”, is written in the author’s characteristically informal and highly accessible style and notebook-style presentation, with his own lively illustrations and minimal jargon, making it particularly attractive to students who are new to the field. It encourages students to see the topic of taste as highly relevant to their everyday lives. Short extracts from other sources alert readers to some key voices offering different perspectives. This usefully comparative approach encourages students to reflect on the differences and to consider which are most productive for their own purposes. The book is wide-ranging but (wisely for a slim volume) does not seek to be comprehensive, and the choice of topics and examples is necessarily selective (it would be useful to learn later from the readership which examples are most widely regarded as most useful). Above all, Berger’s introduction communicates enthusiasm for the pursuit of understanding its topic and offers tools for students to apply for themselves.

Dr. Daniel Chandler
Aberystwyth University, Wales

Berger approaches the topic of taste with an open eye and a broad perspective. His book with the title “Taste – Why you like what you like” provides the reader with many intellectual tools to approach the pervasive phenomenon of taste. Taste is often tied to personal choice and taste is ubiquitous in today’s world of consumption that offers us so many products among which we can choose, while we think we express ourselves. However, Berger shows that taste is not pure; rather, it is tied to many factors that lie outside of us. The starting point is the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu who has rooted taste in distinction and social classes. Our taste expresses where we are embedded in our society and where we want to go, simultaneously exposing our efforts to those who can read them. The value of the book is that Berger includes theory from semioticians, psychoanalysts, sociologists, Marxists, journalists, and others. This broad perspective is really helpful to understand the complex phenomenon of taste and its many invisible mechanisms.

Prof. Dr. Brigitte Biehl
SRH Berlin University of Applied Sciences
Berlin School of Popular Arts, Germany

Taste is an enigmatic topic. We recognize that taste plays an important role in our life in that everything we buy and many things we do are governed by our sense of taste. But what exactly is taste? How do we get our sense of taste and how does it affect our everyday lives? Does it evolve as we grow older or is it a constant in our lives? Is it affected by all the “influencers” to whom we are exposed as we watch TikTok and commercials, or do influencers merely spark some kind of inner sense of taste that was with us all the time? Is our taste based on our social and economic status or something else? What role do income and cost have in determining what we choose to buy? What role do the qualities of what we buy and the choices we make shape our decisions? Is taste based on logical thinking about things we wish to do or buy upon emotions we have generated by things like identification, status, or cultural imperatives? Taste always involves some element of choice, because if there is no choice, taste is irrelevant or moot. But what are the determinants when we compare things to buy or get or do when we have choices to make? This book takes its point of departure from the work of the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, whose book 'Distinction' is considered a classic work of sociological analysis. The topics dealt with are shown in the table of contents below. The book is distinctive in that it offers discussions of four methodologies/theories used in discussing taste: semiotics, psychoanalytic theory, sociological theory and Marxist theory and then applies these theories in the second part of the book to a variety of topics involving taste, such as yogurt, dogs, the singer Celine Dion, ocean cruises, brands, smartphones, men’s facial hair, and so on. Readers of the book will learn four methodologies they can use in analyzing taste and see how these methodologies were applied.

List of Figures and Tables

Dirk von Lehn
King’s College London

Part I: Culture Theory and Taste

Introduction: What is Taste?
Taste and Buying a New Car

Chapter 1
The Semiotics of Taste
What Semiotics Does
The Basics of Semiotics
The Semiotics of People Watching
A Partial List of Signs Involved in Reading People
Lying With Signs
Facial Expressions

Chapter 2
The Psychoanalytic Perspective on Taste
The Unconscious
Freud’s Structural Hypothesis
Age and Taste
Gender and Taste
The Myth Model
Psychology and Psychoanalysis
Taste in Music: Psychological Studies

Chapter 3
The Sociology of Taste
The Individual and Society
Clotaire Rapaille and Codes
Grid-Group Theory and Preferences
Uses and Gratifications and Taste
Claritas and Taste
Herbert Gans and Taste Cultures

Chapter 4
Marxism and Taste
Marxist Theories
Marx on False Consciousness
The Problem of Alienation
Haug on Commodity Aesthetics
The Postmodern Problematic
A Postmodern Trope
Part II: Taste in Everyday Life
A Note on Methodology

Chapter 5
Micro Manifestations of Taste
What to Eat for Breakfast

Chapter 6
A Lesson in Home Economics: Yogurt

Chapter 7
The Evolution of Dogs
Some Hypotheses About People’s Taste in Dogs
Statistics of Dog and Cat Ownership
The Cost of Having a Dog
Whitney. A Case Study:

Chapter 8
Celine Dion
Who Is Celine Dion?
Carl Wilson’s Book: Let’s Talk About Love
Why Some Critics Dislike Celine Dion
Carl Wilson on Pierre Bourdieu
The Culture Wars: Why is Popular Culture So Unpopular?
Typologies of Taste

Chapter 9
Ocean Cruises
Social Class and Cruising
Categories of Cruise Ships
Nothing But the Best: Regent Seven Seas Cruises Line Brochure

Chapter 10
The Branded Self
“Looks” and Poseurs
Aberrant Decoding
The Importance of Success

Chapter 11
Smartphone and Developmental Crises
The Impact of the iPhone
Smartphone Addiction

Chapter 12
Men’s Facial Hair
Facial Hair and Fashion
A Brief Case Study About a Very Short Beard
Georg Simmel on Fashion
Styles of Mustaches
Shaved Heads
Two Hypothesis on Facial Hair

Chapter 13
Bad Taste Jokes
What is a Joke? 1
The Structure of a Joke
Three dominant theories of humor
The Forty-Five Techniques of Humor
45 Techniques of Humor in Alphabetical Order
An Application of the Techniques of Humor to a Joke
Bad Taste in Jokes

Chapter 14
Popular Fiction: Mysteries
A Psychoanalytic Perspective on the Mystery Story

Chapter 15
Keeping a Journal
The Theory/Applications Structure of My Books
The Creative Process
My Illustrations

About the Author
Index of Names
Index of Topics

Arthur Asa Berger is Professor Emeritus of Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts at San Francisco State University, where he taught between 1965 and 2003. He graduated in 1954 from the University of Massachusetts, where he majored in literature and philosophy. He received an MA degree in journalism and creative writing from the University of Iowa in 1956. He was drafted shortly after graduating from Iowa and served in the US Army in the Military District of Washington in Washington DC, where he was a feature writer and speechwriter in the District’s Public Information Office. While in the army, he wrote about high school sports for The Washington Post.

Berger spent a year touring Europe after he got out of the Army and then went to the University of Minnesota, where he received a Ph.D. in American Studies in 1965. He wrote his dissertation on the comic strip 'Li’l Abner'. In 1963-64, he had a Fulbright scholarship to Italy and taught at the University of Milan. He spent a year as a visiting professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at The University of Southern California in Los Angeles in 1984 and two months in the fall of 2007 as a visiting professor at the School of Hotel and Tourism at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. He spent a month lecturing at Jinan University in Guangzhou and two weeks lecturing at Tsinghua University in Beijing in the Spring of 2009.

He was inducted into the University of Iowa School of Journalism and Communication’s Hall of Fame many years ago. He is the author of more than one hundred articles published in the United States and abroad, numerous book reviews, and more than 80 books on mass media, popular culture, humor, tourism, and everyday life. Among his books are 'Bloom’s Morning'; 'The Academic Writer’s Toolkit: A User’s Manual'; 'Media Analysis Technique'; 'Seeing is Believing: An Introduction to Visual Communication'; 'Ads, Fads and Consumer Culture'; 'The Art of Comedy Writing'; 'Humor, Psyche and Society'; 'Searching for a Self: Identity in Popular Culture, Media and Society'; and 'Shop ‘Til You Drop: Consumer Behavior and American Culture'. His books have been translated into ten languages, including Persian, Italian, German, Russian, Chinese, and Turkish. Berger is also an artist and has illustrated many of his books.

Taste, Semiotic Theory, Psychoanalytic Theory, Sociological Theory, Marxist Theory, Sign, Socio-Economic Status, Unconscious, Psyche

See also

Bibliographic Information

Book Title

TASTE: Why You Like What You Like

Book Subtitle

A Cultural Studies Analysis





Number of pages


Physical size

236mm x 160mm


50 B&W

Publication date

March 2023