Snob. SNOB. snob. “Snob.”
That’s the word.
It’s that word that the world of wine encounters all the time.
But what I want to know is, what does it say about our culture that being smart is cause for insult? That we have turned synonyms for intelligence into epithets?
A recent column in a well-known wine publication included the following phrase:
“overly articulate wine snobs”
Overly is generally defined in most dictionaries as:
and Articulate is generally defined as follows:
1. uttered clearly in distinct syllables.
2. capable of speech; not speechless.
3. using language easily and fluently; having facility with words: an articulate speaker
4. expressed, formulated, or presented with clarity and effectiveness: an articulate thought.
By this logic then, does someone who is interested in (and knowledgeable about) wine become a “snob” when they tip over into being excessively capable of speech? When they evidence too much clarity and effectiveness? When their syllables are too distinct? When they are excessively not speechless?
I don’t mean to pick on this particular author, because in truth, this column is really but a whitecap in the endlessly churning and storm-wracked sea of anti-intellectualism that washes over us daily these days. And to the author’s credit, there is indeed a legitimate point being made elsewhere in the article, that a few pompous blowhards can really wreck an otherwise fine occasion. But in writing this article, they did inadvertently afford me a bit of a trigger.
Consider the opening salvic declaration:
“Wine is supposed to be fun.”
Wine is supposed to be fun. This is the opening line of a first paragraph that concludes by wondering how wine became “so intimidating to the average diner,” i.e. so not fun.
The assumption here seems to be that “intimidating” and “fun” are incompatible; that intimidating apparently means unique knowledge is involved/presumed/required, and that that’s not fun.
It also seems to suggest that for wine to in fact be fun again, it must be rendered no longer intimidating; in short, that it must be de-intellectualized. Because that which requires specialized knowledge is apparently not fun.
As I noted above, this was just one article. And one need not look far to find other examples. In the world of wine blogs alone, there are countless sites devoted to wine for people who are not “snobs,” or who purport to be about wine, without the “snobbishness.”
The point is, that as far as I’m concerned, learning new things is in fact great fun. Sometimes difficult or challenging, sure, but also fun. I like to learn new things. And I like to be around people who know more about things than I do. And I like to learn from them. That’s how I learn new things.
Here is another way of looking at it: Are fun and intimidating really incompatible? Consider Sky Diving. Jazz? Watercolor Painting? Mountain Climbing? Investing in the Stock Market? Playing World of Warcraft? Knitting? Sea Kayaking? These can all be fun! And sure, they can all be intimidating to those who don’t know how to do them yet. But so what’s the solution? Dumb it down? Not if I’m bloody sky diving it isn’t!
So here’s another way of looking at it: things actually gets funner the more you learn about them! More knowledge about mountain climbing = less falling off mountains!
Take classical music. This is most certainly another realm in which appreciators of the genre are regularly derided as snobs.
Don’t know a thing about classical music? Just sounds like a bunch of screechy violins and a fat guy singing in Italian? Well, spend a bit of time studying it, preferably with someone who knows more than you do. Ok, now you’re getting it. You start to recognize the difference between cellos and violins, adagio and allegro. Duh duh duh duuuuuh. Yeah, that’s Beethoven’s Fifth! Now you’re on to it! Hey, this is pretty good stuff! This is pretty fun!
Pretty soon you’ll be able to spot it like you own it; “Ah, that’s Tilson Thomas conducting Mahler’s 5th with the San Francisco Symphony Opera.” And now, guess what? You’re a snob.
Except you’re not. You just know stuff. And that’s a good thing.
A synonym for snob? Elitist.
Which means that being anti-snob is being anti-elitist.
And being anti-elitist is to be populist rather than separatist, to be democratic rather than despotic, to be unifying rather than segmentative. In short, to avoid presumptive judgment in favor of inclusiveness.
But dig this …
Say you’re at a restaurant, and you have a blowhard sommelier who pontificates endlessly about the wines on offer. This is offensive to you, because it feels as if the sommelier is talking down to you. You are offended because the sommelier appears to have made inappropriate presumptions about you; what you like, what you know, what you can handle. This is offensive to you. It is offensive because it feels presumptively judgmental in that same way that sexism, racism, ageism, are judgmental. When people make assumptions about you — your abilities, your knowledge — that’s offensive. It particularly smacks because it feels like a class issue. Assumptions are being made about class. And that’s especially offensive.
Class is a touchy issue. You don’t want to get involved in making class judgments.
Well, I charge that calling someone who knows a great deal about wine a snob is in fact just this sort of judgment, and it is indeed offensive.
For example, my mechanic knows ALOT about my car. And if I ask about my car, I get an EARFUL. I mean, a full-blown overly articulate pontifacatory earful!
And my father-in-law can talk about movie-theater seating for 8 hours straight without taking a breath. He knows EVERYTHING about chairs.
Ever try to build a house yourself? Bloody hard, isn’t it? Carpenters know ALOT of things.
Fix your own plumbing lately? Yeah, me neither. Called my plumber. Got a tremendously intensive, overly articulate explanation about brass pipe fittings.
Snobs, all of them!
Except not, of course.
And why not? Because they’re “blue-collar!”
You’d NEVER call a blue-collar worker a snob, would you?
Talk about making judgments based on class. What, they’re not good enough to be snobs?
It’s all a bit confusing, really.
But the real point I’m trying to make is that knowledge is a good thing, and we should be glad the intelligent walk amongst us.
For example, while I’m not going to say a thing about being for or against Barack Obama, if the question du jour is, do I want a president that’s just like me? Then the answer is an emphatic NO!
I want someone who knows a great deal more than I do.