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The Role of Snobbery in American Culture

A bonus article from columnist Dear Jon.

by Dear Jon
April 9, 2001

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The Role of Snobbery in American Culture_Dear Jon-A bonus article from columnist Dear Jon. By no one's request, I have decided to write a special feature, a bonus column for the Partial Observer not based on anyone's letters, including letters to myself. I think I may have done this before, but I am not sure, and I don't have time to look it up.

A question in the letters prompted me to write about "Low Brow, Middle Brow, and High Brow." After further reflection, I am writing this to address a serious problem: In the United States, there is confusion between Snobbery and Elitism. "Elitism" is undemocratic and anti-American. Its design is to protect the privileges of a few by repressing the aspirations and options of the many. Often, elitism is not activist. Rather, the elites simply choose inaction, and by inaction prevent the momentum of action in others, so that the system of privilege and repression perpetuates itself.

Snobbery, however, is the safeguard of culture. A snob is one who chooses opinions, pursuits, and relationships according to a hierarchy of value. Dear Jon is no elitist. But in case you couldn't tell, Dear Jon is definitely a snob, and I am proud of it.

A snob can tell the difference between "Dumb and Dumber" and "There's Something About Mary," between "A Fistful of Dollars" and "Unforgiven," between "Shoe" and "Dilbert," between "Taster's Choice" and "Einstein Brothers," between "Coors Light" and "Goose Island Blonde," between "Ground Chuck 75% Lean" and "Ground Round 85% Lean."

The world needs more Middle Brow snobs, in other words, people just like me. Lots more. But, like our President, I am a Compassionate Snob. Out of my sense of civic duty as an American, I want to provide clues to those who have none, so that you can know why you are snubbed by snobs.

If you have been snubbed by snobs, it is probably for some very good reasons. Review this checklist.

1. Do you reduce all political debate to the question, "What about MY children?"

2. Do you contribute, "Well, all politics is local, you know," in order to sound intelligent?

3. Are you convinced that the relational dynamic between Samuel Jackson and Bruce Willis in "Die Hard III" redeems the movie?

4. Should Al Gore be the President because he won the popular vote?

5. Are you positive that the 3rd Millennium began on January 1, 2000?

6. Do you read John Grisham novels, and then pick up Stephen King to "get into more serious literature?"

7. Was "Gladiator" the best movie of the Year 2000?

8. Are Sports writers in the Associated Press the best people to choose the College Football National Champion?

9. Is the All-Star baseball game played by the best players in baseball?

10. Is Tiger Woods the only reason you watch golf?

11. Do the sexual undercurrents in any particular commercial make the product more attractive to you?

12. If Peter Jennings says so, is it true?

13. Is "Tomb Raider" more real to you than civil war in Macedonia?

14. Are all your friends--real friends; people you hang out with because you trust and enjoy their company--the same color?

15. Are all things that are old, also irrelevant to your life?

16. Is Dear Jon the most challenging prose you read on a weekly basis?

17. Does "People Magazine" represent hard-nosed, objective journalism?

18. Does your peace of mind depend on the daily fortunes of a professional baseball team?

19. Does poetry have to rhyme?

20. Does "art" have to look like something?

21. Is Jazz music just noise?

22. Is it obnoxious for the Starbucks server to keep out a tip cup when you are already paying 5 bucks for a lousy cup of coffee?

23. When someone tells you, "I am an aspiring (actor, musician, composer, painter, author, playwright), do you ever say, "But what's your REAL job?"

24. Does your social responsibility end where your family's prosperity begins?

25. Do the initials NPR stand for "No Public Restroom?"

If you have said "yes" to any one of these questions, you have probably been snubbed by a snob. The more times you answer "yes," the more likely you are excluded, either politely or coldly, from the circles of the Middle Brow. As the light comes on in your brain, however, please know that you do not have to be snubbed permanently. The ranks of the Pretentious Middle Brow are open to you. All we require is that people reflect critically on the information that bombards us all.

Here are three steps to entering the ranks of the Middle Brow:

1. Make time for the news: A daily paper or weekly news magazine, much of which is available online, or one of the Big Three television network's daily half-hour news summaries in the early evening. Often, polite conversation among Middle Brow snobs is little more than critical reflection on current events as filtered to us through the major media outlets.

2. Program one channel on your car radio to NPR. When your Top 40 station goes to commercials, switch over. Hopefully it will not be during pledge weeks. Listen to whatever they are doing, especially if it is an essay on some slice of Americana or current events. Listen to their tone of voice. Critique their perspective. (i.e., The reaction, "What a PINKO!" is okay to admit silently to yourself. However, in conversation with Middle Brow snobs, it is better to say something like, "The other day on NPR, I listened with some interest to a Liberal Elitist's perspective on the new economic underclass created among Indigenous Peoples as an outcome of Indian Gaming." See the difference?)

3. Some of you may have your confidence shaken by my hints and suggestions. Have no fear. The way to become a Snob is to act like one. You can easily gain acceptance into the ranks of the Pretentious Middle Brow, by taking interest in the conversation of Middle Brow snobs. Coax it along by saying things like, "I hadn't thought of it that way before," and "Your perspective is very challenging." Comments like this do two things: First, they signal that you are absorbing the content in a critical manner for future dissection. Second, you are stroking the ego of the snob by taking interest in their opinion, which you find worthy of consideration and critique. Nothing gets on the good side of a Middle Brow snob like a stroked ego.

So remember, if a snob has snubbed you, it is probably your fault for being stupid. Get over it and make friends by listening and learning. Snobs are not Elitists, after all. The more of us there are, the better; the health of our democracy depends on there being more snobs and a lot more snobbery in America. But if you choose to be bitter because you were snubbed, do us all a favor: Stay home on Election Day, and please, whatever you do, DON'T submit your All-Star ballot.

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