Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Snobs: Part two

Part two of a two-part post.

Facing my Inner Snob


I attended a conference, packing as we all do: maximum changes stuffed in a carry-on, trusty basics extended via accessories. Tying an Hermès scarf over a simple v-neck, I thought, I'll bet no one here (employees of an unglamourous retail chain) will know what this is. Then I asked myself, Do you care? No.

Whew, just squeaked under the snob wire that time. But did I? Or was I guilty of the snob's shell game: They don't know, but still, I am 'better'? And if I meet someone who does, won't we enjoy our status semaphore?

The op
posite of snobbery is humility, and its shy cousin, modesty, traits Canadians revere. This makes us sensitive to snobbery, and prone to hiding our light lest we appear arrogant. While we have produced world-class snobs like Conrad Black, we much prefer discretion.

We have at least one self-confessed snob in the family, Le Duc's eccentric, beloved aunt. He and she will sit, brandy snifters before them, belting out the lyrics to Boris Vian's classic, "Je Suis Snob" (click for English translation).



Reverse snobs scare me more, because they are often anti-intellectual, so they stop thinking. (Just try to find a broadly-read reverse snob.)

The true snob courts those above. The reverse snob resents them, and can broaden his resentment to contempt for any achievement.
They are prone to Tall Poppy Syndrome, the criticism and punishment of the successful.

However, I have also heard snobs disparage those they consider beneath them. Ageism, sexism and racism occupy the same hermetically-sealed universe as snobbery, because they establish and maintain an arbitrary status differential. Any religion founded on a premise of election (we are saved, you are not) is tinged with snobbery. If you're unsure whether the organization you're thinking of joining is a snob lodge, ask yourself, Is their premise 'being a member is being better'?

The real cost of snobbery


For the material-object snob, the obvious cost is financial. The premise that consumption elevates is a marketer's dream. Once we agree, we're theirs, willing to buy what we can't afford, whether house or handbag. And of course as you climb, the accoutrement becomes ever more expensive. What a brilliant scam.

The deeper cost is to a person's humanity. When our life is dedicated to approval and status, we isolate ourselves on our narrow rung of a precarious ladder and, peering anxiously up to the next level, worry about slipping. Or we look with disdain on those below. Run by envy and fear, life shrinks; hyperselectivity whittles the range of experience to a narrow band.

I'm not advocating settling for shoddy goods, denying ourselves the pleasures of possessions, or downplaying our talents or achievements. I am, though, hoping we'll pause, if we wander into Better-Than-Thou Land, to ask ourselves if we really want to live there.

25 comments:

Nancy K said...

Sarah Palin and her ilk come to mind as reverse snobs. Not a pretty picture.

Anonymous said...

Ouf Duchesse! Vous me laissez avec beaucoup de pain sur la planche. Par où commencer?
Suis-je 'snob', 'bons' oû alors un peu des deux? Je ne sais pas où me ranger, il faudrait y voir. Ah mon Dieu, je sens une migraine... :)


Orane

Frugal Scholar said...

So complex! One of my colleagues--poorly dressed and uninterested in style--has a (faux) Chanel bag as pictured. She bought it in Mexico, when she needed a tote. Someone told her it was a Chanel knock-off and she was stunned. She hadn't noticed the C's--nor did she know what they signified.

So I--b/c I "know"--can't (?) buy the fake Burberry bag at Goodwill. But the person who buys it can exult in her bargain and then sell it on ebay, as authentic.

I don't know what I'm getting at here....

hostess of the humble bungalow said...

Material object snob...ouch, could that perchance be moi?
I do love pearls, the real kind...Hermes...and no knock offs please but that is because I detest fakes in any form...art forgers all.
I do not advertise the genuineness of my gear, just as you say smugly wear them...this may be a light bulb moment...

L'age moyen said...

You've come at this from all angles. Aptly articulated for me is your comment on our club/business/neighbourhood etc. is better than yours. My spidey-senses start to tingle when I hear the talk of exclusion and all I know is that I don't want to be a member of that 'club'. I've only had a few experiences where I feel the door has been truly thrown open to all and that we're all better for inviting everyone in. The club snob/reverse snob seems to bother me far more than the 'stuff' snob.

LPC said...

Questions of identity, confidence, and relations to others. Sometimes I'm tempted to toss it all and just start singing, "Love Is All You Need, La, La, La." I read once that every comedy, every happy ending, must have music.

These posts are so direct that it's almost as though I have to put them in my mind's closet and think about them in secret.

Belle de Ville said...

Very interesting post.
Religions of election, what about religions of blood, ie, "you can't be one of us unless your mother was one of us"? Inclusion because of birth not the profession of choice, that seems the ultimate in snobbery to me.

Duchesse said...

Nancy K: Thanks for saying it, was reluctant to comment on politics of country where I no longer live.

Orane: C'est pas noir ou blanc.... On peut etre snob au sujet d'une chose et pas du tout au sujet d'autres.

Frugal: Your friend did not display snob behaviour when she bought the tote. Buying an object with the *paramount* and conscious goal of garnering superior social status is snobbery, whether one buys the authentic or fake. Deliberately misrepresenting goods one sells is fraud.

hostess: Perhaps you are a pearl connoisseur :)

L'age moyen: I suspect the exclusivity of clubs or co-ops etc.taps into deep and ancient tribal instincts about safety and security as well as the more superficial social snobbery. While I've had a good time in as a guest at some clubs I'm with Groucho on that membership matter. I enjoy places that create a convivial atmosphere open to all (as long as they behave) like a good pub or coffeehouse.

LPC: This is by far the more satisfying kind of post for me to write, so am most complimented that you said it makes you think, secretly or otherwise.

tippchic said...

Duchesse; have to comment again on this one. I wholeheartedly agree that snobbery is a close cousin of racism, sexism etc.
And they are all tied to fear- our own fear of each other , and our fear of being 'found out' as less than adequate (to someone else's standard).
Reverse snobbery I feel is also exclusive.
I am as guilty as any for indulging in a taste of snobbery occassionally and always it is fueled by my own worry of being seen as not good enough.

As you say these are your favourite posts to write; bravo for tackling it. More please!

lagatta à montréal said...

Duchesse, I'm so glad you remembered the Groucho quip about clubs, a very loaded one indeed.

The question of the Chanel bag knockoff raises another, besides intellectual theft. Conspicuous consumption can be snobbery, and is bad for the planet, but the poor planet is sagging under a huge sea of CHEAP, throwaway goods. It is probably better for people who can afford good quality items to buy those, but limit their purchasing.

Tish Jett said...

Here we go -- and it has nothing to do with age -- I shall repeat myself: part two of the series is also a gem.

Your vocabulary, your prose, your annoying way of provoking us to actually THINK. What next for heaven's sake, Duchesse?

Your treatise should be published. It's brilliant.

Mardel said...

Oh my, I believe this part is even more thought-provoking than the first. Agree with Nancy K on the political front. I grew up in area where this group represented (still does) the norm and my instinct remains wanting to run as far as possible. I had never heard of "Tall Poppy Syndrome" but see that it is also not uncommon.

I'm certainly guilty of indulging in snobbery occasionally, primarily motivated by insecurity I fear, but usually I see it for what it is and back down. Or at least I hope I do.

Duchesse said...

Belle: Lineage is one of the steepest barriers to inclusion our species has managed to come up with. Most religions allow conversion, but there may be sects within some that do not- I don't know.

tippchic: Yes, fear fuels it, and often the person is unaware of the pervasive quality of the fear. I also believe snobbery is supported by a domination culture to keep people striving for empty symbols of material success. Now where did I put my Prada bag?

lagatta: While I agree about cheap junk, is any handbag really worth many thousands of dollars?

Tish: Thanks, wish I knew how to do that- and am happy our blog community is reading.

Mardel: Seeing it for what it is- self-awareness- is all any of us can hope for.

Lynn said...

How ironic that some of the comments here reek of snobbery. When you refer to people as "her ilk" and "this group", you are revealing much more than you intended.

lagatta à montréal said...

Personally, I think spending thousands of dollars, euros or quid on a handbag is ridiculous, but then I fear being more than a bit of a counter-snob (though definitely not of the Palin variety)!

But the value of couture is such a complex topic that it probably deserves a post of its own.

I'm such a prole that I was thinking more of leather-lined leather $200 shoes as opposed to plastic $20 ones, not exclusive couture...

diverchic said...

This is a lovely discussion. I am reminded of the song from South Pacific "You've got to be Carefully Taught" to love and hate before you are six or seven or eight....
I was carefully taught and have struggled against "groupism" my whole life. I shudder to think of the many categories in which I am a snob. I will confess to you privately.

Duchesse said...

lagatta; What is considered extravagant, pretentious, a special treat... all is relative. I consider this when showing things to buy on this blog, often choosing higher-end than I would buy for the pleasure of admiring well made goods.

s. said...

Some of my Americans friends rue the rise of anti-intellectualism in their country but I ask what this movement is rebelling against. There has certainly been, and not only in the US, a smug belief amongst intellectuals that their way is The Only Way and I consider the current trend to be the pendulum swinging against this falsehood. Snobs and reverse snobs; those who worship at the shrine of intellectualism and the anti-intellectuals: they are merely two unfortunate sides of one dysfunctional coin.

Imogen Lamport, AICI CIP said...

I think if you're worried about coming off as a snob, then you probably don't have anything to worry about.

LPC said...

So I've been thinking and thinking about this. Here's where I come out. There's snob, and reverse snob, and intellectual, and materialist, and so many ways in which one may fall prey to propping oneself up to the detriment of others. Too many ways for me to be sure I prevent them all, in intent, or thought. So I have to judge myself in the end by the affect I have on those I love, and those I am fond of, and to a lesser extent, those who do me no harm.

Do me harm, well, then I'm going to relax the standards.

Not to go all Sartre on the group, but keeping pure motives 100% of the time is simply beyond my capabilities, so I have to focus on outcomes, which I can affect.

Duchesse said...

s: Two opposite sides of the same coin, but who would you prefer running your country?

Imogen: Yes- and I have seen so much unconscious behaviour, as well as what I suspect is inaccurate use of the term that I want to explore it.

LPC: Outcomes depend on the stance one holds- values and attitudes, which are sometimes unconscious. My wish is to examine these, then make choices. "Keeping pure motives 100% of the time" is an ideal, and who could possibly achieve it? Snobbery is strategy that is opposed to my values and ultimately alienates me from others, so I want to catch myself out when I fall short.

LPC said...

Agreed. I spend most likely too much time examining my internal attitudes, if anything. But there are times, when having found the attitude, I simply have to roll my eyes at myself and then move my focus to the behavior. If I am stuck in a loop chastising myself for my motives, I try to move to a clear evaluation of the impact. Does that make sense? It's a question of where to spend the effort. I'm not denying that some effort must be spent in self-understanding, just explaining my path all the way through in dealing with this issue. FWIW.YMMV. And all sort of other relevant acronyms.

Duchesse said...

LPC: Makes sense to me. I like the saying, "We judge ourselves by our intentions, others judge us by our behaviour." Behaviour is the part that shows.

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