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May. 5 2010 - 6:53 am | 458 views | 3 recommendations | 16 comments

The cultural elitists

The conversation starts off innocently:

“We don’t own a television.”

Good for you. I admire that. As a TV addict, I know how all-consuming television can be. Unfortunately, any conversation that starts off with that sentence usually devolves in about three seconds.

“We’re so much better than you. We’re smarter, more cultured and just better people all around. Our shit smells like roses and the sun always shines on our home.”

At least that’s what’s implied most of the time. Most of the no-tv people I’ve met are evangelical about it. They preach, they rant, they try to convert you. They want to save you. Even if you don’t want to be saved.

The cultural elitism doesn’t stop with the people who choose not to own a television at all. There are twice as many people who actually have televisions in their home, but only use the “idiot box” to watch PBS or The History Channel. And they’ll tell you that in no uncertain terms while they wrinkle their nose in disgust at the thought viewing anything else.

“Oh, Muffy and I only watch educational shows or public television. Everything else is just dreadful. We just don’t understand people who watch those – what do you call them? – oh yes, sitcoms. The bane of society, I tell you.” Meanwhile, the guy knows damn well that you watch not only sitcoms, but cartoons, reality shows and late night movies with gratuitous sex and violence. He’s talking at you, not to you.

I don’t like being made to feel as if I have to defend my choice to watch World’s Wildest Car Chases or Cheaters. When the discussion about any of this comes up, anyone who says to me “I’ve never seen a single episode of any of those shows and I’m proud of that” is automatically labeled a prick. You’re purposefully insulting me in an elitist sort of way. You are better than me because you watch eight hours of Law and Order a week but you don’t watch anything on FOX? Please.

This isn’t exclusive to tv watching. There are musical elitists, book snobs, movie purists. They will scoff at your album collection, laugh at your bookshelf and recoil in horror at your DVD purchases. They will think less of you if own any romance novels. Never mind that you have a PhD, you spend ten hours a week volunteering at the homeless shelter and you take in stray cats. You’re a lower class of human being because you own the Skid Row box set. You’ll be the scourge of the next MENSA meeting when word gets out about your Harlequin collection.

I love television. We have four people and five TVs in this house. Every TV has a cable box attached, with about 500 channels at our fingertips. Do we watch them all? Hardly. Do we watch tv constantly? No. But in the mind of a cultural elitist, we are neanderthals who stare at the screen every night for eight hours or more, drooling, stuffing our face with chips and beer, and lowering our IQ by five points an hour. Smart people don’t watch Ninja Warrior. Intelligent people don’t even know what Best Week Ever is. Good, honest citizens have their remotes (if they have a television at all) programmed to skip over any channel that doesn’t have a scroll on the bottom begging you for cash. Of course, those public channels are turned off during the day, and their kid has never even heard of Barney or Arthur. Their kid is better than yours.

I am a cultural swamp, according to the elitists. Even though the majority of my television viewing takes place on the Travel or History Channels, my love of COPS negates that. Even though my book shelf contains the entire works of Shakespeare and Poe and there’s a whole section dedicated to the literature of western civilization (I was an English major, you know), somewhere in my trove of reading material is a worn copy of Flowers in the Attic and if that doesn’t let me out of the culture club right there, the ten shelves of comic books and graphic novels will, or the fact that while I have the entire Transmetropolitan collection right next to my copy of Ulysses, the Transmet collection is more dog eared than Joyce.

You know what? I like things that you think are crap. I’m listening to My Chemical Romance right now and I know you are pointing and laughing, but I don’t care. I’ve danced to a Vanilla Ice song. I love heavy metal with satanic references, vulgarities and screeching guitars. I’ve read Flowers in the Attic about twenty times. Not only do I watch COPS religiously, but I liked Wife Swap. I’ve never seen Gone with the Wind. But I’ve seen Tromeo and Juliet ten times. It won’t matter to you that I have an extensive theater collection on both DVD and CD. My love of Les Miz means nothing because the next song on my iPod after Master of the House is by a band called Anal Cunt. So if I like what you like, I’m in your little club. Until you find out that I also like what you don’t. And then not only am I out, but I’m ridiculed, pointed at and told that I’m not worthy of breathing the same air as you.

If you want to be a snob about the things you find entertaining, that’s your prerogative. But the minute you start unleashing your tirade of thinly veiled insults at me, I will turn you off like a bad tv show. Cultural elitists are the bane of my existence.


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  1. collapse expand

    Although I could barely lower my standards enough to read this, I found it very entertaining. Don’t tell Muffy.

  2. collapse expand

    Great article as always Michelle. But I think you’ve got it wrong. I spend most of my week in a place without TV — not by choice. I’m in the country and satellite and cable service are non-existent here.

    Do you realize what a pariah you are in a conversation if you’ve never watched Glee or American Idol? I just nod and laugh and pretend I know what everyone is referring to.

  3. collapse expand

    Well said! There are so many by me it is a bit sickening.

  4. collapse expand

    Hey, calm down there. No reasonable person indicts anyone for having a “sweet tooth” or getting a little dirty on the side. But if your diet is all Cheetos and KFC, obviously something may be wrong.

    It’s no secret that the majority of television is pure garbage. The whole arc of soap opera is to keep replaying the same story over and over again. Just like plenty of nighttime dramas involving the executive and judicial branches of our government. (I’ll write about the exclusion of the legislative in another post someday)

    The reason this is seen as “trash” is because instead of following an actual human story arc, they become like lullabies that are very simple and very repetitive. If your diet has too much of this substance in it, you are either an idiot or just addicted to some fantasy. Like romance novels or comic books. Which are certainly awesome at times and do have merit.

    But if this is the majority of your diet, then it is entirely possible that some people will not take you seriously. Or maybe you’re just 15.

    Having said that, this comes across as a bit insecure on your part. Honestly, while I do watch some television, I can totally respect someone who doesn’t and throws the whole thing away. It’s worthless for news. Jon Stewart is more trusted than the real news anchors. Cop and robber dramas are ridiculous as a whole if not totally propaganda. I’ve seen House. It’s crazy predictable. TV is a total desert with a rare cactus flower here and there.

    TV is the least common denominator. It is easily digestible. When you watch a documentary on cells, stars, or the Large Hadron Collider, you are getting a condensed, nicely packaged, layman’s terms experience. The scientists that you see in the video have spent countless years of intimacy and sweat to bring you some tidbit of knowledge that you can easily digest. Along the road to this knowledge, they had to digest some really tough things. And this should encourage us all to expand our “diets”.

    Interestingly enough, the first time in my life that I stopped watching tv was when I was 16 and started playing the guitar. And as someone who seems to appreciate music, you know where that can lead. And it did for me.

    Jesse

  5. collapse expand

    Wow, thanks. As one of the unwashed TV-less (actually, I wonder, do I qualify if there’s an old set with a DVD player and a Netflix subscription?) I had no idea I was an elitist. I always thought I was just a geek—maybe a dork—who had to get a subscription to Entertainment Weekly just so I could understand what people were talking about. So, sorry to say, post fail (that is the proper locution, is it not?).

    I’ve been loving your posts, listening to many, and you are far to cool to take anyone’s elitist put-down seriously. But, of course, if you want to take on the vegans, there’s cultural snobbery worthy of some attention!

  6. collapse expand

    This wasn’t about tv owners vs. no tv owners. It’s all about how treat people who may not have the same views/tastes as you. I know plenty of people without televisions who don’t fall into the cultural elitist category. If you don’t lecture people about how your lifestyle is superior to theirs, then I’m not talking about you.

    For instance, if you work on the assumption that anyone who watches tv does nothing but watch tv and has nothing else in their “diet.” then, yea.

    Todd, I refuse to take your “post fail” seriously. (winking smiley face goes here).

  7. collapse expand

    To me, the problem isn’t television or the lack thereof; it’s the social superiority game. I live alone and one day I decided that paying for cable wasn’t worth it on a per hour basis. Without cable, I get no reception. When this information has come out in a social setting I’ve had people jump all over me about being a snob. In these situations, I feel as defensive about not having a t.v. as you do about liking yours.

    When it comes to literary tastes, I pass the snob test, but if we move over to music, I’m down there with you in the gutter. Believe me, I’ve been judged for it too.

    I’m not ready to become totally relativistic about artistic production and say that the Brady Bunch is better than Shakespeare. However, I am ready to say that we shouldn’t judge someone’s entire value as a human being based on his or here record collection or bookshelf.

    Keep in mind that some works of genre fiction have grown in reputation over the years and the evaluations of the snobs haven’t always been right. I myself would make a really strong case for the value of my favorite comics and to me anyone who says otherwise just because they’re comics is without independent judgment.

    By the way, you’ve mischaracterized Mensa. A lot of their members have atrocious taste. The New York group has a special interest group that watches bad horror movies.

    Now, if you pardon me, I have an inexplicable urge to listen to some Anal Cunt.

    • collapse expand

      You do see this a lot. God forbid someone has eclectic taste! I have a friend who likes like 97% of the same music I do, one day he finds out I don’t like Mastodon. I found out later he told our mutual friends that I have no credibility when it comes to music, all because I don’t like his favorite band, waaa!

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  8. collapse expand

    Also you got to love people who judge something without ever hearing or seeing it.

  9. collapse expand

    Ms. Catalano,

    Wow. Really? There are snobs in the world? There are people who are sure that they are superior to others because they do (not) / have (not)/ think (not) _____!? Whew, now I will not longer tell complete strangers that drinking Merlot is horrible waste of time.

  10. collapse expand

    The internet is full of all sorts of these arguments. When I first encountered the internet through the forums on usenet, they were sprinkled with the Star Trek Vs. Star Wars debate. The Star Trek fans thinking their product was superior (it’s not) to Star Wars. Then there is the famous Gilmour Vs. Waters debate. Mac Vs. PC. XBox vs. PS. Heck there is even a debate between different types of boardgames. Some people just feel the need to have something to lord over others.

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