A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal. -Oscar Wilde

Monday, October 19, 2009

You're wondering if I'm snobby (apologies to Adrienne Rich)

From Merriam-Webster:

Main Entry: snob
Pronunciation: \ˈsnäb\
Function: noun
Etymology: origin unknown
Date: 1781

1 British : cobbler
2 : one who blatantly imitates, fawningly admires, or vulgarly seeks association with those regarded as social superiors
3 a : one who tends to rebuff, avoid, or ignore those regarded as inferior b : one who has an offensive air of superiority in matters of knowledge or taste

Recently I've had the odd experience of being called a snob from several quarters. It's not the first time-- growing up, my family was labeled snobby by the rest of our upper-lower-class town for actually buying books and because my brother and I attended Catholic school (never mind the pennies scraped together, little luxuries forgone to pay for it while said neighbors drank and otherwise wasted what little money they managed to hold on to). But coming of age in an environment surrounded by my intellectual peers and playing the role of the pauper pretending to fit in, I forgot that odd barb. Until recently.

My first impulse is defensive-- I AM NOT A SNOB. I grew up in a shitty little town where people honestly asked me why I wanted to go to college. I watch football-- really watch, not "watch" and treat the game like some sort of amusement in the background while socializing with others. I prefer to wear jeans and teeshirts and either docs, flipflops, or sneakers. I wear mostly Old Navy clothing. I don't own any "nice" jewelry-- most of mine is costume (vintage style a la 1928, which I love) or things I or my mother made. I shop at Marshall's and Gabriel Brothers and own precisely one "designer" handbag-- bought at Marshall's because it was a great bag, not because it was by Michael Kors. I eat fried bologna sandwiches and cornmeal mush (not polenta-- mush) and Primanti's. My furniture is all Ikea and hand-me-down with a few used pieces. I love to cook, but I make mostly homely dishes and my cookware is all hand-me-down. I rarely drink wine, and I love Faygo redpop (though it's too sweet for me to drink anymore). I drive an old jeep that I named Zilla because it's big, greenish-gray, has a grill that looks like teeth, and it consumes massive amounts of energy. Dude, I LOVE Godzilla. And Hellboy graphic novels. And Stephen King.

Totally not a snob. A nerd, grad student, more than slightly impoverished, sincerely amused by corny movies and music, divided between science and art-- but a snob? I don't think so.

Let's unpack why I've been called a snob by several quarters as of late. I'm a snob because I don't sound like I came from the area where I was raised, therefore I'm ashamed of my beginnings. I'm a snob for educating myself about politics beyond propaganda and jingoist radio hosts. I'm a snob for using polysyllabic words, because that means I'm speaking down to someone. I'm a snob for not finding sexist/ racist/ homophobic "jokes" endearing. I'm a snob because I read more than one book a week. I'm a snob because I find most of what appears on television vulgar, infantile, repulsive, and literally mind-numbing, for thinking it's a travesty when people actually believe the religious and scientific hokum in the Davinci Code and its brethren or when "scary movie" has become synonymous with "torture porn".

Going back to M-W's definition (#3 being the commonly used meaning of the word in the states), do I rebuff those things I regard as inferior? Perhaps. But it's not that I think I'm superior for preferring to read something new to watching The Bachelorette and the like; I think that everyone should read something new rather than watch The Bachelorette and the like. I think that everyone should use their vocabulary to its full extent and use it well-- the use of "big" words should imply speaking up to rather than down to one another. I'm not using "big" words to talk down to you, I'm using them because they more accurately express what I'm saying and I assume that you have a vocabulary large enough to understand. If that's so awful, then perhaps I am a snob. An impoverished snob, which I would have thought an oxymoron, but there we are. And proud of it.

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