in which the naked chimp is unmasked, his machines debugged, and his bugbears debunked

Monday, October 08, 2007

From being like a virgin... to learning how to like aversion

Now you’re all grown up, you know the brownness of avocadoes can’t hurt you – but don’t you still cut those ‘bad’ bits out? Bruised bananas taste perfectly fine, but how often have you removed the bad bits or even thrown away the whole bent banger, simply because of the way it looked? Aversion, the power of yuk, is the second technique a baby learns to use in order to manipulate the world around it. The first one happens when the baby realises, ‘If I cry long enough, they come back.’ Shortly after that, it realises that you cry, they come, they give you ‘what you want’, then all you you have to do is reject what they’re trying to feed you, and voila, you’re the boss. You’ve learned that ‘no’ beats ‘yes’ every time, and now you can rule dinner. They don’t call it a high chair for nothing.

The power of yuk survives into adulthood – essentially, ‘picky eaters’ are just trying to regain or retain some influence over an out of control world in which makes them anxious, using one of the first techniques they ever learned. The second oldest trick in the book. A technique that has served them for many years just like they like it, with all the pickles picked out.

That’s one interpretation.

The other one is more direct: the shit really does taste awful. Beer, liquor, cigarettes… all the ‘adult pleasures’ taste disgusting to most kids. I remember male friends of mine ‘forcing’ themselves to drink beer until they liked it, simply because they’d realised early on in the piece that both their social life and their masculinity depended on it. Bottoms up, Aussie blokes.

So what is it? Martinis, caviar, oysters, truffles, cigars and cocaine are all supposed to be signs of class, the very stuff of that distinguishes the finery of high living monied adult sophistication from the ‘greasy kids stuff’ of chicken, chips, sauce, lollies, chicken noodles and icecream. To kids, they all taste yucky. Does this prove that kids have ‘immature taste’, or that adults have ‘bad taste’?

It’s worth thinking about in terms of what we know of the cruel honesty of children. If a kid calls you fatty, it hurts the most because you know that, from the child’s perspective, it’s true. That’s what makes them such great bullies, and why their meanness hurts so much – they really mean it. They’re not capable of those other hallmarks of adult behaviour – hypocrisy and disavowal – they call it like they see it. ‘Colonel Blimp’ is not the respected CEO of a Liquor Empire, he’s just a big fatty boomba getting even more enormous by eating slimy food and smoking gross cigars.

I think back to my sister and cousins, dancing around the living room to Madonna’s ‘Like a Virgin’, blithely mouthing lyrics they would not grasp the adult meaning of for another ten years or so. Lucky them. But maybe what Madonna was really treating us to was not a description of a petal-browning deflowering so much as a subliminal lesson. Maybe what she was really singing was not, ‘Like a virgin’ so much as ‘Like aversion’, a hidden version contained within the virgin version…

The song would make a whole different kind of sense, one that I think carries a truth – most of the things that adults do are really, really yucky. Maybe this is what Madonna was really saying when she explained how she’d ‘made it through the wilderness’ – after a lot of practice, she’d come out the other end enjoying the very things that caused her so much disgust and distress as young’un. Or maybe this is why thugged out, blinged up rappers are so keen to show themselves enjoying a number of disgusting pleasures at once: Cristal, XO, LV, Escalade, bling – their mastery is a matter of juggling eight yuks at once with the practiced ease of an old pro. Look mum, no hands, ice grill – say cheese.

So listen here, kiddo, this is the world you’ve been offered: you can either show your aversion and reject it with an ‘I don’t want to, it tastes yucky’ attitude and ostracise yourself for having ‘kiddy tastebuds’. You get to keep your icecream, but you’ll never make it in this industry, baby. If you wanna do that, you’re going to have to learn to do what all the successfully adult men and women have learned to, and actually enjoy eating, drinking and doing the most disgusting things. Bottoms up, chin chin – say 'yum, blue cheese'. Learning to enjoy what formerly repulsed you – that’s what it really means to become a (wo)man, kids.

1 comment:

jessie said...

Another interesting bunch of thoughts, Pete. Bunch of random responses (hope you don't mind me ranting on your comments page-pet topic of mine):
What are we disgusting compared to? Angels? We learn to be disgusted by ourselves, don't we?

Babies rejecting food is an inbuilt survival instinct: based on inexperience of food in general,inability to distinguish if something is off, inability to digest certain things at certain ages, and avoidance of potentially dangerous substances. Not to mention no other way to communicate when they have had enough, or whether they were hungry in the first place.

Alcohol is a poison, which is why our bodies (in the form of our senses) tell us to reject it, but once we have built up a tolerance to the poison, we have a less strong reaction to it and can more appreciate the other flavours present (in beer, for example).

Many different reasons why people like or don't like things, and I suspect sophistication or lack of has little to do with it.

Cultural context is certainly a big influence. Always strikes me as funny when anglos complain about strong flavours in asian or indian or even european food: there is a myth that anglo food is somehow "plain" or "normal" and to that my response is- mustard, tomato sauce, cheese, vegemite, worcestershire sauce, vinegar etc etc. So called "baby palates" shove plenty of complex, challenging flavours down their gobs every day.

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PC is an animal of the antipodes believed to be related to a gibbon.