My musings on the mainstream media and culture.

Postmodern Snobbery: We’re All Snobs about Different Things


Here’s the truth. We’re all snobs.

I mean, some of us are less snobby than others.  Many of us try our best to be open-minded.  But when it comes right down to it, all of us have some thing that’s important to us, and we look down at certain other people when they don’t share that thing.  You may be an open-minded person, but admit it, on some level, you’re a snob. Because, as much as I hate to admit it, so am I.

People have always been snobs. The curious thing about today’s snobbery is that we’re surrounded by diverse people with different and conflicting snobberies.  It used to be that people belonged to tight-knit groups where community members looked down at the same kinds of people.  Sometimes those people belonged to a different race or religion, or maybe those people drove the wrong kinds of cars or let their daughters act the wrong kind of way.  Of course, this sucked for the people in these groups who didn’t conform to the norms of group snobbery.  But for those who did, there was a sense of belonging.

These days, it’s rare to be part of a homogenous group and have no contact with people from different groups.  We come into contact with people with different snobberies every day.  The good thing about this is that this makes us more open-minded.  The difficult thing about this is that no matter what we do, we’re bound to trigger someone’s snobbery.  That’s not always bad, because it makes us build a thicker skin, but there are sometimes that I find these conflicting snobberies downright exhausting.

Some people feel superior to casual dressers, and others feel superior to people who wear $300 Stuart Weitzman shoes.  Some people feel superior to suburbanites who live in starter mansions, while others feel superior to city-dwellers who don’t have granite countertops.  There are snobs about wine and organic food and artisan cheeses, and snobs who make fun of these people and order larger soft drinks just to piss off Michael Bloomberg.  There are NPR snobs (pro and anti) and fitness snobs and punctuation snobs. As I wrote before, some science fiction geeks act more snobby about the so-called “normals” than the normals themselves act.  And then there are music snobs, who judge others who don’t share their hipster taste in music.  Frankly, I feel a little snobby when it comes to music snobs.

Often, I think women are caught in the crossfire of these conflicting snobberies more than men.  No matter what we choose, we’re bound to come across someone who turns up their nose.  Take your husband’s name?  Keep your own name?  Either way, someone will disapprove.  Stay-at-home mom?  Working mom?  I remember pushing my baby daughter in a stroller through a mall and hearing two passing women say, with disgust, “Stay-at-home mom.”  I wasn’t actually a stay-at-home mom — just one with a flexible work schedule — but that was an eye-opening experience.  And don’t even get me started on the breastfeeding issue.  Women who breastfeed their babies in public and women who don’t breastfeed at all are both demonized by different factions.

And, of course, there are the Big Issues, like religion and politics.  Many of us really do make an effort to be open-minded to different perspectives on the Big Issues, and usually these efforts are successful.  But quite frankly, there are moments in all of our lives when we just wished everyone agreed with us.  I put myself squarely within that camp.  And I bet you feel the same way about yourself.

So, as you can see, I sometimes find postmodern snobbery frustrating.  But is it entirely a bad thing that we’re surrounded by people who judge us in different ways?  Here are some thoughts.

First of all, I’ve come to think that snobbery in a heterogeneous world is somewhat of a defense mechanism.  I realize that the moments I feel the most snobby are the moments when I feel the most left out.  Recently, I had dinner with a group of people from a wealthy suburb, who were talking about assorted Things Outside My Experience, like exclusive youth hockey programs and college Greek life.  I found myself feeling judgmental.  But I also felt myself feeling sad, and I realized it was because I felt like I didn’t fit in.  More than I cared that about our differences, I wanted these people to notice me and like me.

So I wonder how much of snobbery is really feeling superior, and how much of it is just being part of a diverse world where we’re bound to come across situations where we crave acceptance.  And I wonder if the solution to this is to make an effort to find comon ground with people who are different than us.

Second, I think there’s an interesting line between snobbery and curiosity.  In the postmodern world, we come across a lot of people who are different than us, and I think we’re both frightened and fascinated.  TV makes a fortune off of this fascination with shows like The Real Housewives and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.  Viewers watch because they feel superior to people on both ends of the class spectrum — spolied rich women and “rednecks.”  But they also watch because they’re fascinated how these people live.  I sometimes watch 19 Kids and Counting, a show about an ultra-conservative, birth-control eschewing Christian family.  I find myself passing judgment about some of their life choices, like the degree to which they shelter their children from alternative viewpoints.  But I also feel absolutely fascinated by this glimpse into the lives of people so different from me.

So maybe one approach to postmodern snobbery is to focus more on the curiosity.  Take it all in.  I was at a party recently, listening to the conversation of a pleasant group of Meat Snobs.  I myself am a semi-vegetarian, and it’s never occurred to me that people might have strong opinions about the taste of grass-fed versus corn-fed beef and stuff like that.  So I just listened and learned something new about us quirky humans.

So yeah, we’re all snobs, and like it or not, we sometimes are going to get judged by other snobs. But that’s just part of being surrounded by a heterogeneous world with people who aren’t all clones of one another.  And much as I’m uncomfortable being judged sometimes, we’re better off this way.

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2 thoughts on “Postmodern Snobbery: We’re All Snobs about Different Things

  1. Rebecca on said:

    I am just about to post about my most recent tramping trip – during which I realized that I’ve become a “tramping snob” – LOL!

  2. Renee on said:

    Interesting topic–it makes me wonder what I’m snobby about, despite trying hard to NOT be a snob. I’m kind of a sushi snob I suppose. And I am perhaps a bit of a “northern snob,” which I discovered to my dismay when I lived in North Carolina. On occasion (usually in rural areas) I would talk to someone who would, the moment I opened my mouth, adopt a very distinctive facial expression that clearly relayed to me, “You Damn Yankee.” Which, to your point, made me feel like the odd man out and therefore defensive, when I should have been more curious about their viewpoint perhaps. Good food for thought!

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