Thursday, December 16, 2010

Sans noblesse

Correct me if I'm wrong but it seems like a relatively recent development in US culture - or perhaps it's the culture of the Facebook nation? - to wear the label of "snob" lightly now.  If one makes distinctions of quality between things in a set, one is invited to smirkingly excuse one's snobbery.  If you love fine wines, you say are a "wine snob."  If you like art films or critically acclaimed movies, you are a "film snob."  I saw a commercial a while back in which a guy who likes brand names identifies himself as a "clothes snob."  You can be a pancake snob, bottled water snob, pho snob, design snob, or a music snob.  The appellation tends to address the products one consumes.  That is, you can be a snob about the sorts of things you can also "like" on Facebook.  This common meme is about tastes more than a concrete sense of class position, income, etc. A snob is not anymore an uptight, haughty, profit-seeking yuppy, but that yuppy can be a snob if he prefers to drink only the finest wines, in Reidel glasses.  It is as though the distinguishing feature of the snob is no longer that he feels that those who diverge from his tastes and practices are inferior as persons, or that he pretends refinement & connoisseurship to gain in status, but merely that he seeks and trusts in his ability to make evaluative distinctions.

4 comments:

McCloud said...

This will be up your dark alley, "homage' to Boris Vian's "je suis snob":
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=whQNY3uJuI0

traxus4420 said...

i think it goes along with the reappropriation of 'nerd,' which now signifies 'someone who knows things about something in particular' without anymore implying 'social outcast.' like nerd, snob is a kind of post-ironic social nicety, at once an alibi/apology for making fine distinctions in a supposedly egalitarian, equal public, and an alibi/apology for damaging that illusion.

so it still is a claim of superiority (nothing as crass as class superiority), but with a show of self-awareness, that displaying superior skill, knowledge, or discernment might hurt others' feelings and make you look like an actual snob.

which is why they're both american things - can't imagine them making any sense outside of the country.

Jon Hastings said...

Yeah - it's real, it's recent, and it's very helpful in avoiding awkwardness in conversations about, say, Inception with co-workers, acquaintances, etc.

Zach Campbell said...

Thanks, McCloud.

Traxus, that's a succinct & astute way of putting it - bravo. It's as though an awful interpretation of 'egalitarianism' has taken root: a kind of public homogenization of talents & inclinations. I hope it's obvious that I don't wish to overlook the fact that there are politics of taste, and that paeans to "meritocracy" are problematic themselves ... but there's something I don't trust about this flattening of all taste. By making any sense of discernment a mere gesture, a localized affectation of aristocracy, the possibilities of actual criticism (on a social level) and of improved, enhanced enjoyment of leisurely things (on a personal level) are threatened, constricted ...

Jon - yes indeed it's got its utility. Perhaps unfortunately ... but there you are.