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A Long Rambling Post On Snobbery and Slumming

I was struck by this post by Amanda, reflecting on Roxanne’s New Year’s resolution, snobbery, and intelligence:

I had a conversation a few months ago with a friend who drunkenly told me that I am sort of amusing because I apparently make like I’m some punk rock chick but deep down inside I’m really bright and educated and I just told him that I didn’t really think the two were opposites or anything. He was mildly humbled and corrected himself, but I knew what he meant.

I told him I disapprove of the division between high and low art. But obviously, the distinction still stings or I wouldn’t have a post like this. But I did quote the Ramones to make my point, and it was pretty funny. So it’s very confusing.

I’m stung by snobbiness. By no means do I think Rox is a snob, because true rejection of snobbiness would mean embracing high and low art without double-checking it or anything. I am acutely aware that many aspiring and educated people I know have sneered at me for having my rock music habits. And many of my good friends who didn’t study what I did in college or didn’t go at all sometimes worry that I think I’m better or something lame like that. The worst is people who come from the snotty, educated background but like to hang out with a sort of wide-eyed wonder at how cool they are being by being near the rock and roll, what they perceive as thuggish types that are many of my friends. Or, to put it more succiently, they’re slumming.

I’ve always viewed my open snobbery as a fun digression into playful competition. Almost a year ago I wrote on this very subject:

…things I am snobbish about include celebrity worship and fansites (trash), materialism (stupid), misplaced wealth (I might be jealous), video games (waste of time, unless it’s a game I like and play myself), music (the more obscure the better), fashion (“classic” looks only, please), and snobbishness.

Even as I look down on snobbery, which suspiciously seems like snobbery, I know that I am a snob. I don’t know of any of us that aren’t.

The commenters on this post were asked to list their snobbish habits and which forms of snobbery are unacceptable — a very interesting thread. But over the last few weeks I’ve been thinking about elitism of another sort, the same sort that Amanda references.

Earlier today I went on my biyearly trip to the hair salon. I was musing on a potential writing project aimed at young single parents, born from my ruminations on the weird ways I save money and the weirder ways I spend it. My hairdresser and I were talking about antiques, high school, Nikki Sixx, and dating.

“You and I are alike,” she said. “Kind of weird, unwilling to accept the standard.” She was referring to men.

Agreed. I’ve never been one attracted to the guys in crew cuts and polo shirts, or those whose interests don’t go beyond football, Victoria’s Secret catalogs and Smallville. And in my experience, in this town, that leaves me with a select few, a population who must be combed of those whose hobbies include a never-ending ingestion of illegal drugs and those who engage in LARP. One of my sisters suggested that what I need is a nice graduate student, but even these are a chaparral of football-loving, Victoria’s Secret-gazing, Smallville-watching, pot-smoking, live action role playing kind of crew. Or for that matter, unforgivably snobbish. In the bad way.

Finding women my age with whom I’d like to spend time is just as frustrating. I find myself navigating a sea of competition and infighting for male attention not worth having, the arrangement of an unspoken pecking order, or for some reason, younger women all too eager to pander to my feminism and just as willing to degrade themselves for the attention of football-loving, Victoria’s Secret-gazing, Smallville-watching, pot-smoking, live action role playing men. This is why I was pleased when my hairdresser gave me her phone number and encouraged me to come out with her sometime. And why I was also pleased when another two women I have long admired invited me out to play over the holidays. I’m shy enough to have trouble approaching people for anything more than a pen or a stick of gum. I don’t make new friends very well and I hold on tight to the ones I have.

This is something my mother, and the many people I know who believe as she does, has never understood, how I could be a reasonably successful, intelligent, (on my way to) well-educated person and surround myself with people Mom might describe as “tacky.” Where she sees someone’s lack of formal education or perhaps a few past digressions, I see whole people. When I have pointed out to her that if someone judged me on my past, my language, or my easily shifting demeanor, I wouldn’t be able to get anywhere, she dismisses that as somehow different. When she laments their tattoos, I remind her that I have tattoos. Weird hair? I have weird hair. Spurious circumstances? I have spurious circumstances in some circles. And when she suggests that I am somehow a wide-eyed voyeur in a “thuggish” world, I want to take her hand and show her that the lives of blue-collar workers, gays and lesbians, people of other colors and cultures, aren’t that much different from ours except in the most meaningless ways. But usually I remind her that in many realities, my reality is less than desirable.

Sometimes I wish Mom had met Tammy. Hell, I wish everyone could meet Tammy.

What it really comes down to, as Amanda put it, is offense at the taste of others. I’ll never understand my poor mother (who I have apparently decided to pick on in this post) and her penchant for manufactured pottery, and I imagine she’ll never understand my thing for red wine (a maybe once per week thing she has deemed “too much”) and obscure music (“the drums are so loud! it’s just so noisy”). She’ll never understand my compulsion toward male-centered homoerotic novels or why I use the F-word far too much in adult company. So be it. She has to love me. It’s practically a law.

The incongruities between perception and reality are difficult to reconcile to someone who remains and will choose to remain an outsider of different realities, why Amanda and I sting at the assertion that being “some punk rock chick but deep down inside I’m really bright and educated and I just told him that I didn’t really think the two were opposites or anything” because they aren’t opposites or anything. And this is why, to pick on the parental units again, that I continuously feel the need to defend my choice of friends and mates across the four-decade generation gap between me and my parents. A lack of formal education does not equal a lack of intelligence or a lack of worth.

And believe you me, when I find someone worth my time I drink it in. Intelligent people don’t waste good company on faulty preconceptions.

[To anyone interested in football, Victoria’s Secret catalogues, Smallville, marijuana, or LARP: Present company always excluded. I swear.]

18 thoughts on A Long Rambling Post On Snobbery and Slumming

  1. Until recently, I had trouble relating well to women my own age or younger. I’ve never been able to figure out exactly why that is, but I think the answer may lie in some of the issues you bring up here.

  2. Dude, nobody watches Smallville.

    As for my hypothetical crew, they must understand that French heist movies like Rififi and Le Cercle Rouge are infinitely better than Ocean’s Eleven and that Modest Mouse, whom they are currently fawning over, only sounds halfway decent because everything else sucks, so why not listen to The Sparks instead?… or die trying.

  3. Well, I confess that I am 1) a nice graduate student and 2) I like football.

    Vicki’s Secret catalogs: Why bother? They’re like Maxim. Which I hate.

    Smallville: Uh, what’s that? 🙂

    Marijuana: Had it twice in my whole life. Didn’t like it either time.

    LARP: Okay, what’s that? No, really…what is it?

    Norbizness: I love heist/caper movies…I’ll have to check those out!

  4. Linnaeus, I’m glad you asked about LARP because I was too embarassed to. It sounds like a sex game for Trekkies/Renaissance Faire folks.

  5. Ahem, LARPer here. Don’t go for the D&D (mediaval fantasy) stuff. Horror, Sci-Fi & comedy of errors type stuff is usually good for some laughs. Think of a play where everyone is both cast and audience. One good one was a Star Trek spoof on the worst ship in the federation. Every character was incompetent and petty. It is very geeky, but often also involves good food & drink and is fun for extroverts looking for an audience. I’d say I’m moderate player. A few evenings a year are plenty for me. Some I know play monthly or more. I’m also not into weekend-long games, not do I generally talk about LARPs or LARPing. Most people find it boring. I’ve never seen any sex in a game, but things can get very flirty and I know several couples who met through gaming.

  6. [To anyone interested in football, Victoria’s Secret catalogues, Smallville, marijuana, or LARP: Present company always excluded. I swear.]

    i like one of these very much… yes, i do.

  7. I love this comment on the Milk and Cookies movie: “Looking at the glass half full side of things, at least their outside and socializing.” And this: “I had to watch that three times until I laughed.” The only reason I know about it is that a friend and I drove past a LARP one day and she admitted she has dated a few guys who were LARPers. For shame.

  8. Finding women my age with whom I’d like to spend time is just as frustrating

    This is most of the reason I have few close female friends. Which is almost as frustrating as the accusation, I, like Amanda, always get; you can’t be punk if you’ve a) got an education or b) are middle class.

  9. Oh, right this is about you and meeting compatible people. You mentioned something promising is happening on the BF front. I hope you didn’t find out he was a closet Victoria’s Secret addict or {horrors} a LARPer and that things are going well. Nice to meet a new flesh & blood friend too.

    Now, more defensive posturing on LARPS… I can see the other objectionable things more than the LARP stuff, since it just geeky. And you have admitted to geekiness in the past. Not that you have to justify your preferences. My betrothed doesn’t get it either, but she works every other weekend, so I can schedule a game around her schedule. I’d say about half the people I’ve met are creative, interesting, people who do not talk about football, Victoria’s, etc. The other half have way too active a fantasy life for me.

    Hilarious movie BTW. One thing to keep in mind is they may be laughing at themselves as much as we are at them.

  10. LARP rolls down stairs, rolls over in pairs, rolls over your neighbor’s dog. It eats up time, without reason or rhyme, it’s LARP, LARP, LARP.

  11. Man, I hope my buddy didn’t come off as a dick. I think he was just curious is all.

    Nice post–I hate snobbery but boy I can be a snob about music. *sigh*

  12. Ron: And you have admitted to geekiness in the past. Not that you have to justify your preferences.

    Oh hell yes, I’m geeky. I defend my blogging obsession on a near daily basis with certain friends and family members. I’m geeky about a helluva lot of things. Knitting, I think, is number two.

  13. Gee, jam. I think I have an idea.

    shoot. here i was thinking i was being all man-o-mystery & shit.


    this girl said: Which is almost as frustrating as the accusation, I, like Amanda, always get; you can’t be punk if you’ve a) got an education or b) are middle class.

    if this is true, then the vast majority of punks i know & have known would all be disqualified.

  14. jam, I think it comes from the same place that says “if you’re middle class and a liberal you’re just being patronising”. apparently, to be punk or to champion the rights of the underdog you have to have some sort of “cred” (god i hate that word) or you’re just a faker.

    i have untold rage on this subject, i may have to blog about it after hiatus

  15. I have a similar issue with my mother and obscure music (although I have such a piss-poor conception of “obscure” that I think that everyone has heard of the Velvet Underground and Yo La Tengo
    and am still reeling from comments like “that new band Modest Mouse”) and saying the f-work too often and male-centered homoerotic novels. Actually, it’s the male-centered homoerotic novels that throws so many people because, being a straight man, I shouldn’t be reading those things, much less writing one. I think that you and Amanda had it right when you said that it’s “offense at the tastes of others.”

    One problem I’ve run into, though, is that sometimes education and/or interest in a certain field leads to a shift in perception that creates a gulf between oneself and others. I’m a fanatic for storytelling and this affects my perception of novels, movies, video games, and many other things. I’ll find myself disliking a particular movie because I’m not fond of its theme, its use of imagery, or its structure. This is sometimes hard to explain to other people, though, without sounding like someone speaking from deep within their own rectum.

    Over the Christmas holiday, I watched the excretal “Man on Fire” with my family but found it largely impossible to explain my dislike for the movie to my family members. I was bothered by the religious imagery used to bolster the movie’s support of vigilantism, but couldn’t quite articulate this without eventually seeming pedantic. I don’t view this as a failing on my family’s part (although I am frequently tempted to do so) because recognizing theme or imagery is, despite what some academics would like to think, a learned skilled and they have not yet learned it. I can no more hold this against them than my brother, a car mechanic, can reasonably hold it against me that I don’t know a bad “clank” from one unworthy of attention.

    And yet, I’m often accused by my family of being snobbish in my tastes, or I’m misunderstood and have “arty” or “difficult” movies recommended to me based entirely on those qualities. They didn’t like it so I must, because I hate everything they like. Because of my interests in other areas, it’s assumed that I’m a snob with regard to, say, movies when in reality I despise many art and foreign films as passionately as I despise many Hollywood movies.

    All of this is the long way of saying that perceived snobbery is often the result of a lack of knowledge (which, in turn, sounds like the snobbiest statement I could possibly make). I think that the line between snobbery and not-snobbery lies largely in how one views and treats those who do not have the same skill sets as oneself. Do you hold it against other people that they don’t like music with such loud drums, or do you make an effort to understand that their definition of music may be different from yours or that they may lack an understanding of music that incorporates such music as you prefer?

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