Snobbing on…

I missed my post two weeks ago. I apologize.

It’s been hard for me to keep track of what’s going on. I’m ending a single year in a new place I’ve never been before, and heading off to another single year in another place I’ve never been before. My friends here have almost exclusively been people here for just the one year because no one else thinks we’re worth the energy. They’re used to having one-years around, and what’s the fun in making friends with us? The people who suddenly realize they’d wish they’d made friends with us say loudly all the time, “Oh it’s SO terrible that you’re leaving. What EVER will we do without you.” Dramatic sigh! Mime of pining!

Meanwhile, my two co-one-years and I are reaching the point of reckoning. Were we really best friends, with so so much in common, who will stay close for all eternity, visiting one another on pilgrimages in honor of this amazing friendship? Or will we drift off, like one another’s Facebook statuses for a while, and then have new best friends?

I feel like maybe we’re testing those boundaries, knowing full well they’re potentially real.

Tonight I found myself feeling really grumpy about taste. One of the things I’ve learned to do since leaving NYC is keep my picky tastes to myself. If someone says they like something I don’t, I’ve learned to shut the fuck up. Don’t explain why I think it’s crap. Don’t ask them pointed questions about why they feel so sure it’s not crap. Just shut up.

It’s not who I am, though! I have always been a dick about taste, not because I think I have good taste, but because I think it’s a fun argument to have. A former girlfriend said at one point that she never introduced her liking of anything to me until she was sure she wanted to hear a devastating criticism of it. I hate cynicism as much as the next person, but purist aestheticism is at least entertaining, no? I love reading cruelly withering movie and book reviews. I don’t mean the Michiko-Kakutani-style bad review (“This book was too long! It tried too hard!”), but the kind that reveals what a fluffy, messy mistake looks like vivisected and stuck hanging up raw on pikes. Look! A kidney!

But it’s not something you do with friends. There is something in the devastating commentary (gimmicky, facile, shrill, naive) that suggests, “I can’t believe you fell for that.” In NYC, where devastating commentary is oxygen, most of my friends only admit to enjoying the shittiest possible things (reality TV, the poppest pop music, books for children) or the rather obscure (Delta blues, pre-Code cinema, “outsider” art) because they’re devastation-proof. It never wanted to be more to us. My friends here sometimes admit to liking the forbidden zone of the middlebrow. They talk about reading the New Yorker fiction section unironically.

To be honest, I was kind of a cunt about it. I’m testing my boundaries with them. Maybe I’m testing how permanent the effects of country living have been on me. Maybe I’m pushing them away as a defense mechanism because we’ll miss each other. To be fair, they’re both doing it too. (“I’ve never told you this, but my boyfriend really hated you when you first met!” “I’ve never told you, but the feeling was mutual.”) This life of ours is hard to keep living in when we know our love is so fragile.

9 responses to “Snobbing on…”

  1. FPS says:

    In NYC, where devastating commentary is oxygen

    …there is always that moment where devastating consensus goes awry. It’s all fun and games until someone says “of course [X] is middlebrow crap foisted on the gullible!” and someone else says “but…”

    It’s the somewhat archetypal moment of the “Old Academy” scene in Manhattan.

    Yale: “I think Lewitt’s overrated. In fact, I think he may be
    a candidate for the old academy. Mary and I have
    invented the Academy of the Overrated, for such notables
    as Gustav Mahler…”

    Mary: “And Isak Dinesen, and Carl Jung…”

    Yale: “Scott Fitzgerald…”

    Mary: “Lenny Bruce. Can’t forget Lenny Bruce, now, can we? How
    about Norman Mailer? And Walt Whitman?”

    Isaac: “I think that those people are all terrific, everyone
    that you mentioned.”

    I try to back off if I sense I’m the Mary in this situation because I don’t love being the Isacc, suddenly abandoned in my enthusiasm and so suspect even in my further derisions.

  2. A White Bear says:

    I’ve been Isaac in so many situations that I don’t realize how painful it is for others. I really like some things other people don’t, and I’m OK with that. Like a lot of academics, I have so much cultural capital that I can burn quite a lot of it by liking whatever I like. And it would surprise me in you, FPS, because you know so much more about opera than I ever will, so if you were into something middlebrow, I wouldn’t imagine criticism of it could even touch you. But it can, as I’m learning.

    I accidentally put a good friend of mine on her back foot by making an eye-rolling comment about certain middlebrow Park Slope novelists, some of whom, it turns out, she likes, finds transcendent, even. She admits openly to liking shitty mystery novels of course, in the same way that one gleefully discusses reality TV in any company. But that special category of “middlebrow” and “overrated”–it’s particularly stinging, I think.

    I probably get attacked most often this way about my enjoyment of movies. I like movies. It’s not that I can’t or don’t criticize them, but they really just don’t make me angry when they’re bad, or when (even worse) they fail to live up to their pretensions. I don’t feel personally *harmed* by a movie that turns out to have a very silly bourgeois epiphany. So when I watch movies with people who get OUTRAGED by the failure of a movie to be avant-garde, transcendental, radical, etc., I get a taste of what it’s like when I tell them that their favorite author is infuriatingly mediocre.

  3. FPS says:

    I’m ok with people not liking the stuff I like, of course, but devastating commentary can be a different matter: people LOATHING the things I like. Worse yet, people loathing things I really hold dear. Even you and I have danced this dance: I dropped quickly out of a conversation a few weeks back when you and Mutual Friend O were saying how risible is the magazine that I look forward to every week and that caused me to move to New York. I figured: I can’t come out of this one a winner. I’ll either feel defensive or think “AWB and O are smart and probably right” and like something a little less that was genuinely important to me.

    The problem may be that I don’t, in my heart of hearts, consider it middlebrow. I’m sure I’ve been on the other end of this plenty of times. And I think these strategic decisions about what is middlebrow and what one will term middlebrow for the sake of funny and devastating conversations can be a bit of a trap.

  4. Josh K-sky says:

    The New Yorker is a terrible magazine, but it’s better than all the other magazines that have ever been tried.

    (The New Yorker is not actually a terrible magazine, but everything looks terrible once you look at it through Bourdieuvian glasses. This is why the middlebrow feels so indefensible — because you can’t defend the statement that “this is good” from sounding like “I am special.”)

    I like a lot of stuff, it turns out.

  5. A White Bear says:

    Cabinet is the best magazine that has ever been tried.

  6. A White Bear says:

    Tonight, my friend whose taste in Park Slope novelists I called, last night, “hopelessly middlebrow,” gave a devastating critique of my love of early Werner Herzog films. We’re even!

  7. Dave says:

    It’s fun to complain about things that are bad. Also fun, but riskier, to say that things are good. I have to remind myself that not everyone plays this game and I can hurt people’s feelings. It turns out a lot of people really love that “We Are Young” song that makes me want to stick burning pokers in my ears; but the people who like it aren’t playing the game when they like it.

  8. A White Bear says:

    My God, someone I love brought up that song to me and I just never responded, just in case she might have wanted to say it was cool. I hate hate hate hate hate it.

    I’ve communicated to a friend here that it would be entirely acceptable to see Prometheus. She brought up lots of bad reviews and expressed concern that I am a person with taste… and I was like, girl, I defended Transformers. Let’s go see Prometheus.

  9. FPS says:

    I will say this for that “we are you-ou-ou-ou-ou-ou-ou-oung” song: once anyone mentions it, it is automatically lodged in one’s medulla oblongata for about a week THANKS GUYS. (Actually I’m way less offended by it than youse. it’s banal but not especially offensive to me.)

    I have decided to dislike Cabinet arbitrarily, having read exactly one article in it, on the basis that two people who love it have told me how much The New Yorker sucks. Cabinet, you are anathema!