Occam’s Razor

August 6, 2007

Of Literary and Musical Snobbery

Filed under: Uncategorized — lesturla @ 1:28 am

Within a span of one “blog-week” I have read two unconnected friends (except for the fact that they both just graduated from Ateneo Law and will take the bar soon — just found out that they do know each other hehe) write about Literary Snobbery (Anna) and Music Snobbery (Cliff) great blogs they have by the way. To a certain extent I have silently admitted that literary and musical aristocracy is passé but never really got my thoughts organized enough to pen down my take on it. Here’s an attempt.

Elitism of all forms never really reached a positive historical peak. If at all, all it managed was create a great divide in history and highlight the elitists’ lack of dexterity. The irony stands however on how after years of education that teaches us these very words, we find ourselves turn into elitists in more ways than one.

It’s too tempting to cite human nature – the natural sense of acclimatization in which years of education that provides us “tasteful” literature forces us to like no other kind. Admittedly, it’s not only education that promotes this. Associations we make mostly in educational institutions we get ourselves into during our formative (educable) years also have a big impact on what shapes our “taste”. It’s that “thing” that no matter how much we deny remains true and undeniable that really feeds this “taste” – the need to belong.

In school for example, there is the group of students who gush over romantic novels professing their adoration of authors whose names range from Danielle Steel to Judith McNaught. And then of course we have the elitists who have firm faith that as far as romantic novels go, Jane Austen is the author to read. Same story goes for the suspense/thriller types, on one hand you’ve got the Sidney Sheldon fans and in another you have the Tom Clancy and Robert Ludlum types. In fantasy, you have the JK Rowling group while snobbishly at the other side of the fence you have the J.R.R. Tolkien loyalists.

On hindsight, it may not be too bad an idea to have people developing their own tastes. It is worthy to note, however, that in this case elitism does not lean heavier on one side. In most cases, it is equal in bearing and equal as well in disadvantages. The disadvantages that I speak of lie more on what either side misses. In this great literary divide, I don’t suppose serious readers will disagree with me when I say that you can never read too many books in this lifetime.

It distresses me therefore that until now, I have yet to lift a Harry Potter book. No matter how much prodding I get from friends whose tastes I “trust” anyway – I am just purist that way. I share Anna’s view on this and let me quote her. When it comes to fantasy yarns I think there are two classes – the pure ones by Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Lewis Carroll, and the tin-cup ones like Rowling and the slew of Rowling copycats. How bad does reading Rowling get? Shouldn’t be all that bad really, but this deep seeded literary elitism is just much too big to shake off. I have managed to come up with many lousy excuses in the past to not read Rowling – I usually get away with a whiny, “The book’s too heavy!”

Going back to my original question, I guess I will never know how bad or how good reading Rowling can get unless I start reading her. Same goes to Coelho and all those many other authors whom I have secretly dismissed to have gained a following from those “readers” who have no clue what true literature is.

My losses are huge and I sincerely mean this devoid of any sarcasm: I missed too much bad literature. And like Cliff’s take on hip-hop, I have years to catch up on.

Which brings us to music. My level of music aristocracy is not as bad as the kind I have for literature if anything it’s just an exaggerated stubbornness. The difference is that unlike bad literature, bad music can be forced to you. This is of course ahead of the invention of the iPod. Let me note however that during those “cab-riding” years when the iPod was still in its conception stages, it was with huge, almost stubborn, reluctance that I responded to bad music. On many occasions, I had to get off cabs fuming mad because of the bad music blaring from their stereo. Of course I could have asked nicely for the drivers to change their music or simply to turn the stereo off, but like a classic snob I had to make a statement – with a banging cab door. Else, I’m just a brat beyond redemption.

In defense, I have always maintained that I did not spend years shaping my “taste” in music only to be accosted by noise that some people pass off as music. My years of love affair with music that made me dash to record stores to find “that song I heard somewhere” and years of discovering the unpopular but “tasteful” has given me the right to “choose”. Music for me is sacred. It makes me remember exact moments in time. It makes me remember scents. And knowing how forgetful I can get, it is important to me besides the fact of course that when I remember times and places and even scents, I prefer to remember them with great music. Fine, that is me being me – nothing wrong with that except that I didn’t realize that along the process I was being a prude—shutting off an entire world of music that I haven’t even tried on before.

Take this experience I had here in Hanoi. During my first week here I was invited to join some sort of “team building” in one of the local Karaoke joints. I prepared myself for the usual profusion of the likes of Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, ABBA, Bryan Adams, The Carpenters and Jon Bon Jovi. I was even prepared to put on a fake smile throughout the celebration, not that I am a total fake – but in the corporate world, senior executives are not exactly allowed to show snobbish behavior in front of their people even though it’s not directed to anyone in particular. Going back, nothing prepared me to an instant immersion to Vietnamese pop music. Throughout the event I stared helplessly to another Pinoy in the crowd as if asking if there’s a way out of this miserable auditory abuse.

Which brings me back to my point: Musical aristocracy deprived me of the chance to dissect and appreciate the richness and diversity of Vietnamese music. I can’t possibly know everything about music, but there I was – conveniently shutting the world off again.

But it is a work in progress, that much I am willing to admit. Right now, I can proudly say that I am a fan of OPM although I used to heavily abhor it (blame the April Boys). I still have reservations on listening to the jingly, novelty types but I appreciate how it catches the masses’ attention – I mean there must be something good in there somewhere that makes people sing and dance silly.

For the most part, having gone through the tedious process of discovery accounts for the huge chunk of literary and musical snobbery. After all, how dare those whose claim to literature is a mere by-product of the movie adaptation. Even more, how dare those who call Rowling a genius when they haven’t even read Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Although one can not easily dismiss the elitist argument, when it comes to the bottom line that knowledge is not measured by the few that you know but by the differences that you’ve uncovered from the many – snobbery is on the losing end.

While it is true that it takes years to develop good taste, it is pointless and rather silly that “taste” also becomes the bane of one’s literary and musical exposure.

In this day and age where information is literally at ones “clicking”, a closed mind that discriminates inevitably loses. And as history goes elitism is not about to reach a peak. In fact, in many respects it has already reached the early stages of its death.

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1 Comment »

  1. […] My take: People like Malu Fernandez should not see publication. They should see a psychiatrist or an exorcist! Abnormal yang baboy na yan! Pwe! Meantime, boycott Manila Standard Today and email their advertisers to pull out their ads. Di ba sabi ko nga yang elitism na yan ay walang naidudulot na maganda?! […]

    Pingback by Isang Dambuhalang Idiot « Occam’s Razor — August 20, 2007 @ 3:31 pm


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