Everyone’s a connoisseur nowadays. Patisserie, whiskey, cheese: all the little pleasures in life are seen not be enough, they need to be ranked and properly appreciated. You can’t just enjoy a bar of chocolate any more; it has to be 85% cacao and handmade by a master chocolatier.

When she was about 3, some friends of mine saw my daughter eat a piece of 85% cacao chocolate (they didn’t see her spit it out afterwards) and were impressed by this, for some reason. I’m not exactly sure why. If anyone had asked me I would have said I was prouder of the fact that I’d managed to train her to use a knife and fork at the table to eat most of what was given to her. I’d have been more impressed with myself if I’d managed to develop her palate to the point where she’d eat cabbage without complaining.

Being a connoisseur is the new gluttony. CS Lewis wrote about something similar in The Screwtape Letters. Being a connoisseur means rejecting perfectly good pleasures in pursuit of something better.

Worse, though, being a connoisseur means being blown about by the vagaries of fashion. What is regarded as good whiskey today was seen as being second rate 50 years ago. Being a connoisseur isn’t about recognising what’s good and bad – there’s good SF and bad SF, and I hope I write the good stuff – but it’s about identifying the smallest possible subset of the good and rejecting the rest.

Marketing people love this, it allows them to distinguish between brands. Shops love it, it means they can charge higher prices. We’re fools to fall for it.

Sometimes good enough is good enough. We’re snobs to think otherwise.


1 Comment

  1. I completely agree. There’s two things going on really. Learning to recognise when a thing is well-made and learning to recognise what is currently fashionable/cool. So much of what passes as connoiseurship is the latter: consumption as a marker of status and tribal membership, rather than consumption for its own sake.

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