Monday, July 7, 2014

Is Culture Snobbery The New Resistance?

When I was a young person in the 80s I remember people talking about how "capitalism consumes everything" and how I was like "Oh, yeah I guess," but I was also sort of like "no it doesn't: what about punk rock? what about me and my friends with our thrift store clothes and bizarre hairstyles? what about protests? what about hanging out, not doing anything?"

Now, I feel like if you wanted to do a school project diorama showcasing the concept "CAPITALISM CONSUMES EVERYTHING," all you'd have to do is slap a giant glass dome over some part of the modern world and you'd be good to go.

Tbh, I didn't really see it coming. But more than ever it feels like resistance is futile. No matter what you do trying to challenge the status quo, the status quo has a way of eating that shit up and spitting it back out as a commodity.

Punk sensibility is now "personal style & branding." Protests feel like the symbol of resistance necessary to buttress the true power of the entrenched. And anything you do on the internet is valuable to someone in the form of data about you -- turning your quietest mood, your nostalgic thought, or your sexy imagining into someone else's dollars.

Plus somehow the internet, which started as the experience of connecting with a handful of other weirdos talking about something no one cares about with no one else paying attention, has become the opposite: a place where nothing really counts unless it's seen, and liked, and favorited, and making good stats.

The "hanging out" of the slacker generation, Gen-X, which was at least nominally anti-establishment and involved actual cafes and actual reading and actual talking to people, seems to have given way to social networking and watching stuff.

I don't know what the answer is but I will say that a quality in myself that I used to think of as conformist I now think of as resistance and it is this: I am a culture snob.

Yeah, that's right. I'm a culture snob. And I'm not ashamed to say it. I don't have a TV. I don't watch any "shows" or do Netflix. I occasionally go to the movies but it's usually high-brow shit like 8 1/2 or other international films. I don't read general interest or fashion magazines and I don't read the Huffington Post and I don't look at TMZ.

I read a lot. I like The New Yorker. I like to go to the opera.

When I was young I was inclined to see these things in the light of establishment activities and I was inclined to be a bit embarrassed by them.

I used to fall all over myself explaining -- and this is true, too -- that one reason I didn't have a TV was that I was a channel flipper, and I would flip channels endlessly, couldn't really stop flipping channels, even as it felt like my life was wasting away.

I used to fall all over myself explaining that I didn't have anything against trashy movies and stupid things -- it was just that I was easily bored and needed a high level of intellectual stimulation all the time not to fall into pits of ennui. Like I had a personality problem.

Well, no more apologizing.

Because while I'm obviously not naive enough to think that actual artistic things and actual literature are somehow outside the capitalism and commodification machine, I do think they offer something "entertainment" often doesn't, and that is the capacity to challenge and disturb you in ways you didn't expect or foresee or maybe didn't think possible.

My reflections on lifehacking last week got me thinking about the opposite of lifehacking, and I thought about that whole "slow food" movement and how there might be a "slow life" movement and that reminded me how many of my activities are, relative to most people, pretty damn slow.

This led me to check out the Wikipedia page on the "Slow Movement." Interestingly, while there's a "slow art" (which looks interesting) and a "slow media," there isn't really a "slow culture" in the sense of what it means to read and listen and look and think about things in general in the old receptive and open-ended way, where you might spend an afternoon reading a novel, or listen to a whole album, all the songs in a row, or whatever.

The Slow Movement seems to take as one of its antagonists things like Twitter, on grounds that OMG 140 characters? But I think that is a mistake. There's nothing wrong with Twitter as long as it doesn't take over your whole life. It's the way these things take over your life, so you can't do anything slow, that's the problem.

I now regard my own ability to sit down and read quietly like a rare and treasured thing that has to be nurtured and kept alive. I'm certainly not going to risk damaging it by, say, allowing push notifications on my phone.

Finally, I'd like to say that as a person who seldom consumes mainstream entertainment media, I'm frankly a little shocked by the scene out there. Isn't there so much sexist crap? Isn't there ridiculous racial stereotyping? Isn't there a lot of nationalism and violence and absurd Good Guys Fight Bad Guys And You're With Us Or Against Us?

Kids? Just say no. Slow it down! Culture snobbery FTW!


Daniel said...


As a pretty committed anti-culture snob (for a number of reasons), I am pleased as punch to see a cultural snob self-identify. It is honest and has a long tradition in the West. In music, which is my "field," reformist critics across times and places identify their particular time as exceptional (-ly bad) - bad taste that was bad for people and caused by bad things (crumbling of traditional institutions for musical culture and authority, with the democratization of taste) - or the catastrophe of now. It's ubiquity, or at least frequency, sort of dulled its impact on me.

Joseph Epstein, who I think is a really good and funny writer, wrote a book called Snobbery: The American Version, which might interest you.

Patricia Marino said...

Thanks for the comment and interesting book suggestion, Daniel. I'll check it out!