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The Remarkable Fred Rogers

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When Fred Rogers was in his senior year of college, he returned home to visit his parents and discovered something new in the house: a simple television set. It may seem mundane today, but for Rogers at the moment, he saw something bursting with potential. He took one look at the box and he knew that this was something he wanted to be a part of.

But, as the years passed, Rogers grew frustrated with what appeared on his TV screen. What he saw as an instrument for good was being filled with distractions and manipulations. As he told CNN, “I went into television because I hated it so, and I thought there’s some way of using this fabulous instrument to nurture those who would watch and listen.” Rogers would end up spending the rest of his life doing just that.


Fred was born on March 20, 1928, in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, not far outside of Pittsburgh where he would live for most of his life. Though he was born to a wealthy family, his early childhood was difficult. He was an overweight child, gaining the cruel nickname “Fat Freddy” from his schoolmates. His documentarian, Morgan Neville, describes it as a “lonely childhood,” but also believes it was this isolation that laid the groundwork for what his show would become: “he made friends with himself as much as he could. He had a ventriloquist dummy, he had [stuffed] animals, and he would create his own worlds in his childhood bedroom.”

From the very beginning, Mister Rogers was finding solace in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, but there was also something else that made him feel better: music. He began learning the piano at age five in thanks to influence from his mother and grandfather, who were both passionate musicians. Music was actually Rogers’ first passion—he would end up going to Rollins College in Florida to get a degree in Music Composition, which he put to good use. He wrote nearly 300 songs for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood over its long tenure.

Thankfully, Rogers’ childhood started to get better as he grew older. He became more confident and started making friends. But his love for music and imagination never left him, and when he first set eyes on that television set in his senior year, he already had all the skills he needed to put it to good use.

After college, Rogers would spend several years working various jobs for several musical television shows, but in 1952, a new opportunity arose. The country’s first community-funded, educational TV station was getting started, and they wanted Rogers to develop its programming. Not only was it the exact kind of thing that Rogers had envisioned for television from the start, the station, WQED Pittsburgh, would bring him back close to his home. How could he say no?

One of the shows that was put on the air at this new public television station was called The Children’s Corner, which began in 1954. Though Rogers was never onscreen himself, it would lay the groundwork for what much of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood would become. Rogers worked as a puppeteer on the show, and he developed—and voiced—many of the characters that would eventually become beloved the world over, such as Daniel Striped Tiger, X the Owl, King Friday XIII, Henrietta Pussycat, and Lady Elaine Fairchilde.

During his early years on television, Rogers went to seminary when he wasn’t working, and he was eventually ordained as a Presbyterian minister, but even his church could see his special calling. After he was ordained, he was told to continue his work in TV. He would work behind the scenes for years until 1963, when a Canadian television executive named Fred Rainsberry called him up. He had recognized Rogers’ potential, and told him: “Fred, I’ve seen you talk with kids. Let’s put you yourself on the air.” He wanted Rogers to develop a 15-minute children’s show called Misterogers for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Rogers agreed and moved to Toronto to begin his career as an unlikely TV star.

It’s You I Like: The Remarkable Fred RogersSamantha Henman | Factinate
Characters from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

Misterogers aired on the CBC for three years, and it saw the origin of many iconic symbols from the Neighborhood, such as the Castle, the Eiffel Tower, the Tree, and the Trolley. But while the show was an amazing start, when the opportunity arose to come home and air for American children, Rogers took it.

In 1966, he took his show back to Pittsburgh, working once again for WQED—but don’t feel too bad for Canadians. They lost Mister Rogers, but a puppeteer from Misterogers named Ernie Coombs stayed North of the border, and he would eventually fill the void Rogers left with his own show, Mr. Dressup, that would go on to be beloved by generations of young Canadians.

Eventually, National Education Television wanted Rogers’ show to be seen all across the country. And so, in 1968, that first, half-hour episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood aired for children all across America, as it would until 2001. From the beginning, Rogers knew exactly what he wanted his program to be, so it should come as no surprise that it changed very little over its long life. He always started the show by coming through the front door, taking off his raincoat, suit jacket and dress shoes, and putting on one of his iconic sweaters—which he later revealed were all hand knit by his mother—and sneakers. The episodes would usually follow a given theme, would feature a trip to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, and he would always close with another song. This was the format of the very first episode, and it would remain the same even after hundreds of shows.

Officer Clemons and Mister Rogers

Outside from a brief appearance as a preacher on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, Fred Rogers only ever played Fred Rogers on television. As he saw it: “One of the greatest gifts you can give anybody is the gift of your honest self. I also believe that kids can spot a phony a mile away.” Mister Rogers respected children, and so that’s why his show tread into territories that few other children’s programs ever would. After Robert Kennedy was assassinated, Rogers talked about death on his show. In an era of racial violence and segregation, he had an episode where he soaked his feet in a pool with Officer Clemmons, a black policeman. Rogers loved children, but he did not believe in hiding reality from them. As he put it:

“When children bring up something frightening, it’s helpful right away to ask them what they know about it. We often find that their fantasies are very different from the actual truth. What children probably need to hear most from us adults is that they can talk with us about anything and that we will do all we can to keep them safe in any scary time.”

Throughout the decades, Rogers’ unending effort to make every child he came across feel loved and respected was nothing short of remarkable. For years, whenever he would feed his fish in the show, he would say out loud what he was doing, because he once received a letter from a blind girl who was worried that the fish were going hungry. He didn’t just do this once—after he’d read that letter he did it every single time, because every single time he thought of that little girl and did not want her to worry.

In 1981, after a young quadriplegic boy named Jeff Erlanger wrote him a letter asking if they could meet, Rogers brought him onto his show to talk about how his wheelchair worked and why he needed one, before singing a duet of Rogers’ song “It’s You I Like.” Perhaps the most heartwarming moment of an already heartwarming career was when Erlanger was a surprise guest at Rogers’ Television Hall of Fame induction ceremony many years later. The moment that Erlanger came out, Rogers’ face completely lit up. He immediately jumped out of his seat, clambered up onto the stage and gave his friend a big hug as the audience was left in tears. Erlanger quoted the song the two of them sang back in 1981 when he looked at Rogers and said: “When you tell people ‘It’s You I Like,’ we know that you really mean it, and tonight, and behalf of millions and children and grownups, it’s you that I like.”

Fred Rogers got into television because he believed it could be an amazing tool to help educate and support the children of the world. As he said while speaking to Congress about the importance of public television, “Those of us in broadcasting have a special calling to give whatever we feel is the most nourishing that we can for our audience. We are servants of those who watch and listen.” Though sadly it may seem like this is a rare sentiment today, Rogers believed this to his very core, and he took this obligation seriously for every single one of the 912 episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

His dedication to the children of America did not go unnoticed. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002 for his contribution to the well-being of children and for the example he set after years on public television. He was given more than 40 honorary degrees from such colleges as Yale University, the University of Pittsburgh and Dartmouth College, and he earned countless awards for his work. One of his sweaters was even put in the Smithsonian Museum as a “Treasure of American History.” He passed away on February 27, 2003, just shy of his 75th birthday. The next day, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazettededicated an entire section of its paper, and most of the front page, to Rogers. More than 2,700 people attended his funeral.

Mister Rogers knew that the world could be a dark place, but he always saw the light in it. Perhaps that’s why there has been such renewed interest in him in recent years. The upcoming film You Are My Friend starring Tom Hanks will examine how Rogers deeply affected a cynical Esquire reporter who was tasked with writing a profile about him. The 2018 doc Won’t You Be My Neighbor? has become the highest grossing biographical documentary of all time, and it sits at 99% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. Rogers’ continued idealism in the face of adversity and the unwavering care and kindness he showed his viewers for so many years are rare gifts, and he’s still fiercely admired, even 15 years after his death.

His show might have seemed corny at times, and his refusal to update it as the years went by may have seemed obstinate, but Fred knew what he wanted television to be the moment that he first looked at one. His place on public TV meant that he never needed to bow to pressure from advertisers or corporate leanings, and he was free to do what he thought was best. The longevity of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and the man’s continued legacy, are proof enough that, no matter how cynical we may get about the world we live in, it will always have the potential to be good, as long as there are good people in it, and Fred Rogers was one of the best.

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History

Teen Movies And Female Friendship

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Teen movies have come a long way from early examples like Rebel Without a Cause and West Side Story. There were the slasher films of the late 70s and early 80s, movies like Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Around the same time, a young filmmaker by the name of John Hughes began making movies about teens that blended drama, comedy, and romance. As nuanced as his portraits of teen life were in films like Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink, their source of conflict, and thus the major focus, was always the main character’s romantic relationships.

But in 1988, a sharp-witted movie titled Heathers came along and turned all that on its head. Rather than a soft-focus, soft-hearted take on the teen experience like The Breakfast Club, it wrapped up some of the grittier realities of teen life in a glossy (and hilarious) package—including toxic relationships, class awareness, familial indifference, cliques, extreme emotional highs and lows, and the unfortunate truth that sometimes your best friends are also your worst enemies. Heathers and its emphasis on cliques and friendship went on to have a major influence on two of the most popular teen films that followed it into the 90s and 2000s: Clueless and Mean Girls.

Heathers was a revisionist film, deconstructing and skewering the conventions of teen films that had come before—especially the aforementioned John Hughes-helmed entries into the genre. It’s an important movie for the way it looks at cliques and how popularity affects females specifically, and their friendships.

The focuses of the film are the four most popular girls at Westerburg High School: three Heathers and one Veronica, our protagonist, played by a young Winona Ryder. Veronica hates her friends, particularly Heather Chandler, who is the only one who seems to match her intellectually. Veronica’s boyfriend J.D. (portrayed by Christian Slater) steers Veronica into poisoning Heather Chandler and making it look like a suicide, which sets off a boost in popularity of teen suicide as an issue and practice, as well as more murders perpetrated largely by J.D.

After her involvement in Heather Chandler’s death, Veronica finds it increasingly difficult to interact with and relate to the two remaining Heathers, acknowledging that despite being her worst enemy, Heather Chandler was also her best friend. Her friends negotiate their friendship and popularity in different ways after the death as well, with Heather McNamara becoming more and more lost while Heather Duke adopts some of the more unsavory character traits of the deceased Heather Chandler.

In the 90s, the teen genre built from films like Heathers and grew into a more postmodern take on the form, with more movies telling stories centered on female friendship. This was best exemplified in Clueless, but was also apparent in films like Jawbreaker (the most obvious Heathers imitator), horror entries like The Craft, and teen-centric period films like Mona Lisa Smile and All I Wanna Do. The influence of both Heathers and Clueless reached into the 21st century with Mean Girls—coincidentally (or not) directed by Mark Waters, brother to the writer of Heathers, Daniel Waters.

At a time when teens are struggling to establish a sense of identity, social hierarchies become extremely important to them: find a place within the social hierarchy, and identity is guaranteed. This is where cliques come in. They’re important because they’re supposed to work together like puzzle pieces, fulfilling different roles within the social structure of the high school.

In Heathers, Clueless, and Mean Girls, we are introduced to the trope of the “anthropology shot,” which is a quick way for the audience to understand the cliques or social groups that populate the film’s world. This type of shot typically occurs in the high school cafeteria, the only place where all the different groups would be together at once. In Heathers, we see it when Heather Chandler conducts the lunchtime poll in the cafeteria and Veronica encourages her not to just ask the same people she normally talks to.

In “anthropology shots” like this, plot devices like the lunchtime poll provide an opportunity for our characters to interact with people in different social groups without transgressing the boundaries between the groups. The lunchtime poll is briefly referenced in Mean Girls, and the main character, Cady Herron, is also given a “cheat sheet” by her friends Janis and Damian as a way for her to navigate the high school, complete with a map of where every clique sits in the cafeteria.

Aside from the clear divisions of space, what we notice in these films is the difference in dress between social groups, which further serves to reinforce the social structure. In Clueless, this plays out as Cher, Dionne, and Tai walk in the open air campus between classes, pointing out the students in glasses and plaid who produce the school’s TV station, the “Persian mafia,” in leather jackets and on cell phones, and the school’s popular boys, who either dress in sportswear or button-up shirts with cardigans.

These types of rules regarding dress within a social group are also an important part of Mean Girls. When she is inducted into “the Plastics” (the popular girls), Cady is given a list of the rules—everyone must wear pink on Wednesdays, no wearing a tank top two days in a row, jeans and track pants are only worn on Friday, and so on—all of which have to do with the way the group dresses. Regina George, as the leader of the group, is clearly the creator of these rules, which she acknowledges later in the film when she is forced to leave the Plastics table for wearing sweatpants. These rules are meant to uphold a social structure where Regina serves as leader. As such, her breaking the rules is damaging to that structure, the same as if anyone else in the clique had done it.

Similar rules, unspoken and otherwise, exist in Heathers, mostly in its unique use of color, which begins in the very first scene. Each of the four members of the core clique has their own signature color—the leader, Heather Chandler, wears fiery red; Heather Duke, her underling, wears green, the color of envy; and Heather McNamara, the weakest of the four, wears yellow, as in “yellow-bellied.” Their fourth, the miserable Veronica Sawyer, wears blue. When Heather Chandler dies, Heather Duke takes her place, inheriting Chandler’s signature red scrunchie and shedding her green clothing. These rules tie the clique together, but at the end of the film, Veronica, finally sick enough of the group to blow it up (not literally, as her boyfriend intended), snatches the scrunchie and pursues friendship with other girls, specifically ones not named Heather.

These films exist in “Girl World,” a phrase borrowed from Mean Girls. It’s a time between childhood and adulthood, where teen girls grip tightly onto what power they have in a world that affords them relatively little. They form connections with each other and, in those connections, work through the stereotypical trappings of femininity—fashion, shopping, gossip, and makeovers among them.

While this period allows females to experiment with power and leadership, this is not to say it confronts or offers a solution to the problems that they face. A problematic aspect of many of these films is the representation of female power through a depiction of female friendship that is inherently competitive and cruel. While this is touched upon very lightly in Clueless through Tai’s turn against Cher and the character of Amber, it is much more present in Heathersand Mean Girls.

However, this dark element also challenges a potentially harmful idealization of female friendship. Idealization can lead to an overly sentimental portrayal of friendship that discounts the autonomy of the female characters. The films included here manage to portray feminine relatedness and connection unsentimentally, allowing the characters to feel and express real emotions like anger, jealousy, distress, and aggressiveness.

The cycle of films examined here all attempted to parody the conventions of the teen film genre, but through their similarities and the creation of their own set of tropes (the anthropology shot, the makeover montage, etc.) they became examples of a new type within the genre to be parodied themselves. In each film, the difficulty of being a teenager is complicated by close female friendships, social structures, and issues of class and status.

While films like Heathers and Mean Girls are more interested in heavily satirizing the dark side of female friendship and power as it occurs in a high school setting, their depiction of the characters’ performances of identity is as nuanced as the subtler parody found in Clueless. While they have much in common, each film retains a unique take on what it means to be a teenage girl and the crucial role that friendship plays in the lives of young women.

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The Dangers Of Werther Fever

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I Got Chills, They’re Multiplying

In 1774, strange occurrences began popping up throughout Germany. First, young men began dressing, en masse, in a very peculiar manner. Like a uniform, thousands of youths started to sport yellow trousers, a matching waistcoat, and a blue jacket, complete with dark boots. But then the eerie but relatively harmless phenomena took a disturbing turn: a rash of suicides followed, with each of the victims sporting this very same uniform—and all holding the same pistol. Germany, it turned out, was dealing with some of the very first instances of copycat suicide. But what was driving these young, finely dressed men to despair?


A book, that’s what. In the ages before boybands, self-made Youtube stars, and Youtube shows about making boybands, people in the 18th century mostly had to occupy themselves with, ugh, books. So when you just had to get your angst on? Books. When you needed to pour all your horny teenage desires into a fictional version of yourself? Still books. And in 1774, Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe (say that three times fast) became an overnight sensation when he published history’s horniest, angstiest book featuring people who still wore waistcoats: The Sorrows of Young Werther. You see, before there was Bieber Fever, there was Werther Fever.

Line engraving depicting a scene from The Sorrows of Young Werther.

In the book, the titular Werther is a sensitive artiste who wears yellow trousers and falls hopelessly in love with the virtuous, beautiful Charlotte. Alas, Lotte is engaged to another man named Albert, so instead, young Werther decides to strike up a platonic relationship with her as a consolation prize. That’s right, your boy just friend-zoned the heck out of himself. It doesn’t end well: Charlotte eventually marries Albert, and Werther, convinced someone has to be eliminated from his totally unnecessary love triangle, kills himself with a pistol. Thus, the copycat suicide was born.

Good Grief?

Young men of the period resonated with Werther’s alienation from society, his outpouring emotions, and his individualism; Goethe once said, “It must be bad, if not everybody was to have a time in his life, when he felt as though Werther had been written exclusively for him.” Goethe became the toast of the town, Napoleon Bonaparte himself was a Werther fan, and a deluge of Werther-related prints, porcelain, and perfume were manufactured to cash in on the fever. But as the copycat suicides hint at, there was a dark underbelly to the mania: young men also resonated with Werther’s final, dramatic act of violence. The Sorrows of Young Werther is an elegy for the bittersweet follies of youth, but the cultural response to the novel belies an 18th-century masculine disenfranchisement that has echoes in today’s cultural climate.

Werther Fever
Five cups with scenes from The Sorrows of Young Werther, made by Konigliche Porzellanmanufaktur, Berlin, 1847-1849.

But the novel and its tragic fallout also bring up another contemporary, related debate: how much does life imitate art? To put it in 21st-century terms: do video games incite violence? Do slasher flicks make serial killers? Did Werther wreck these men? Art is influential; when we read or watch it, we feel deeply, and maybe we get ideas. Famed wit Oscar Wilde made the case that, “Life imitates art far more than Art imitates life. A great artist invents a type, and Life tries to copy it, to reproduce it in a popular form.” In this view, Werther made these young men and then unleashed their tragic deaths onto the world, like a doomed assembly line of little real-life Werthers. Thanks a lot, bud.

But however darkly romantic this image is, it seems more likely that these men were looking for an outlet for existing grievances, something to give their woes shape. Art can’t be created out of nothing—and, more importantly, fiction can’t fully encompass us: we are living, breathing, growing, and changing. When I read Catcher in the Rye for the first time, I wanted to be Holden Caulfield. Now? You couldn’t pay me to date him. We change, we grow beyond the books we read and the films we watch; they shape us but they do not make us. In following Werther’s plot right up until his end, the youths robbed themselves of the privilege to go past him. No matter how many times you re-read The Sorrows of Young Werther, he always ends up dead. These boys shared the same fate as Werther, but they once had other options.

Let The Flame Wars Begin

In fact, in a truly impressive case of 18th-century fanfiction, Friedrich Nicolai decided to exercise these options. Not super into Goethe’s original climax, Nicolai totally rewrote The Sorrows of Young Werther as a satirical text with a happy ending. He called it The Joys of Young Werther, naturally, and in it Werther is tricked into avoiding his suicide, eventually gets the girl, and overcomes his youthful disenfranchisement to reintegrate into society. Does Nicolai’s work completely override the subversive elements of Goethe’s novel? Oh, for sure. But it also imagines a world outside the text, and proves that literature need not be taken as gospel, especially for our lives.

Portrait of Friedrich Nicolai

If you need any more proof that The Sorrows of Young Werther is more than just a revered handbook for 18th-century nice guys, get a load of this: Goethe was pissed off at Nicolai for the liberties he took with Werther, and clapped back with the poem “Nicolai on Werther’s Grave.” In it, a simple passerby (a thinly veiled Nicolai) ends up defecating on Werther’s grave. Wait, what? That’s right, Goethe rails against Nicolai for disrespecting his novel… by gifting everyone with the image of someone plopping a nice, thick number two on Werther’s final resting place. The jury’s still out on how much dignity that actually gave back to the novel. But what I’m really trying to illustrate for you here—besides the image of a MAN POOPING ON A GRAVE—is that we have lives beyond texts, and even these texts can have lives beyond themselves.

In short, fiction is powerful and moving, but its endings need not be our ends. The Sorrows of Young Werther itself went on to influence the burgeoning Romantic movement of the 19th century; Goethe went on to write more novels (though he continued his feud with Nicolai until his death); and many years later, kindred characters like Holden Caulfield and Madame Bovary were created. Tragically, the victims of Germany’s 18th-century copycat suicides never found out an essential truth: we can read other books, and we can become other people.

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Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, The Father Of Food Writing

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“Tell me what you eat: I will tell you what you are.”—Brillat-Savarin.

After eating food, the next greatest pleasure is certainly talking about it. People love talking about the last fantastic meal they ate or what makes their favorite recipe special, and with anything people love talking about, writing and reading about it comes next.

Before Anthony Bourdain quit the kitchen and put pen to paper, writing a number of celebrated books; before Lucky Peach magazine; before Ruth Reichl, Sam Sifton, Samin Nosrat, and the like, there was Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. Without this legendary 18th century gastronome, we might not have Proust’s madeleine moment, the beautiful writing that is characteristic of modern cookbooks, or even the Food Network—after all, as much fun as it can be to watch on mute, each show has a team of writers behind it. Not to mention that without Brillat-Savarin, we also wouldn’t have the unbelievably creamy and deliciously rich cheese named for him. Through his writing, Brillat-Savarin transformed the way food was thought about, talked about, and the role it played in people’s lives. Like it or hate it, he’s undeniably one of the original gourmands, and thus the forefather of similar 20th century stereotypes like the gourmet or the “foodie”—and that’s not even mentioning his role in the French Revolution, his interest in low-carb diets, or the bizarre declaration of love for his cousin that appeared in one of his book dedications.

Father of Food WritingGetty Images

Brillat-Savarin was born to a family of lawyers in France in 1755, and staying with the family tradition, he studied law and practiced as a lawyer in the years before the French Revolution. It was certainly an interesting time to be a well-off lawyer in France, what with all the guillotine use going around. But when the Revolution broke out, he managed to stay in France at least for a while, and was sent to be a deputy in the new National Constituent Assembly. Later, while serving as the mayor of Belley, his hometown, he came under fire and escaped to Switzerland. After years in Holland and the US, he was finally able to return to France in 1797. It was then he was appointed magistrate in the Court of Cassation, a position he’d keep for the rest of his life.

That position didn’t stop him from writing or pursuing his true passion: food—or more to the point, eating. While he had previously had several pieces published on law and political economy (and one erotic short story), he published the work he became best known for just two months before his death. Titled Physiologie du gout, or The Physiology of Taste, it has never gone out of print since its initial publication in 1825. The book is a landmark text in the field of gastronomy, which is essentially the analysis of the connection between food and culture. According to Brillat-Savarin himself, “Gastronomy is the knowledge and understanding of all that relates to man as he eats. Its purpose is to ensure the conservation of men, using the best food possible.” Well, when you put it that way, it’s essential to the survival of the species!

Father of Food WritingGetty Images

Hyperbole aside, The Physiology of Taste is one of the urtexts of French cuisine, that (in)famous term that evokes rich sauces, butter, foie gras, wine from Bordeaux, escargots, cheeses, duck, truffles, and any other ingredient that could cause instantaneous heart attack or gout. The book illustrates the role that not only food, but the act of cooking, serving, and eating—the ritual of it all—plays in French culture. Its chapter names range from “Analyses of the Sensation of Taste” to “Financial Influence of the Turkey” to “Are Women Gourmands?” (survey says yes). The exhaustive and holistic nature of the work—it includes meditations on the relationship of food and digestion, rest, sleep, dreams, health, different types of sickness, and death—only serves to illustrate just how important Brillat-Savarin thought the role of eating in everyday life was. It is at once a glossary of gastronomic terms, a collection of recipes and techniques, a diet book (Brillat-Savarin thought that sugar and white flour caused obesity), a memoir, and philosophical reflection.

From the outside, dedicating so many words and so much effort to what could be seen as a frivolous pursuit might seem insensitive, especially considering its proximity to the poverty that both precipitated and followed the French Revolution. But food has always been such an important part of French culture, and it had its role on both sides of the Revolution—the infamous “Let them eat cake” of Marie Antoinette to the part that poor harvests and deregulation of the grain industry (read: hunger) played in fomenting animosity toward the aristocracy. Whereas its close counterparts in other languages may have negative connotations (think of the word gluttony in English), the French word gourmand signifies no guilt. The Physiology of Taste is snobby, yes, and where it attempts class consciousness, it fails. But, to his credit, Brillat-Savarin was unapologetic about his passions and did not begrudge any human anywhere the same satisfaction: “The pleasure of the table belongs to all ages, to all conditions, to all countries, and to all areas.”

Father of Food Writing

While he certainly wasn’t the only person during that era to put words to paper when it came to the subject of food, with just one major work, Brillat-Savarin opened the doors for scores of food writers before food writing was even a thing. His eclectic mix of recipes, explanation of techniques, reflections on just why some things aren’t delicious and some things are, and personal narrative, are reflected in many types of modern food writing. From the Food section in your local newspaper (the fancy and casual restaurant reviews balanced with recipes and essays); to best-selling cookbooks that you can also sit down and read like Sami Tamimi and Yottam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem and Anthony Bourdain’s Appetites, and even to ultra-popular blogs like The Pioneer Woman. While some of those examples are more gourmand than others, they all emphasize how highly personal the subject of food can be—and just how much fun it can be to talk about it—just as Brillat-Savarin once did.

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