I know several people who call themselves food, music, and movie snobs. Some of them put down anything that is mainstream. To me, this implies that everything mainstream is poor of quality and everything else is of good quality. I think it’s possible that a chain restaurant to serve good food or a mainstream artist to make good music.
Rejecting everything that’s mainstream isn’t the same as saying that everything mainstream is low quality; it’s merely that one doesn’t want any mainstream stuff. The whole anti-snob attitude has never made much sense to me.
It’s possible, sure. I don’t think everything mainstream is automatically shit, nor do I automatically think everything underground or alternative is great. The problem is that anything mainstream is calculated to appeal to the widest possible variety of people, and to turn away or offend the fewest. This usually makes for a bland, unremarkable product.
Here’s an example: while I have fairly non-mainstream tastes in film, books and music, I’m an absolute snob for beer. I’d rather drink water or soda than BMC (that’s Bud/Miller/Coors to you). Why? Because the mass-brewed beers are so goddamned bland. They’re calculated and formulated to appeal to the palates of millions of people with different tastes, so they’re intenionally inoffensive.
They’re all so similar: golden yellow, fairly high carbonation, very low hop bitterness, alcohol around 5%. That’s fine if that’s what you like (or, as in many cases, if that’s all you’ve tried), but sometimes I want a dark, sweet bock with a heavy, caramelly malt taste. Sometimes I want an India Pale Ale with so much hops it rips my tongue out and stomps on it. Sometimes (OK, often) I want a strong Belgian ale like Duvel or Chimay that comes with its own specialized glassware and, at 10% alcohol, knocks me on my ass after two bottles. The point (and the point is the same for food/film/books/music) is that there’s a WORLD of other stuff out there that may not appeal to ALL tastes, but it may appeal to YOURS or MINE.
Film: I enjoy a blow-em-up Will Smith or Vin Diesel movie from time to time, but I think that a lot of people who think those movies are the height of cinema have never heard of some of my favorite films, and who knows? Maybe they’d like them if they saw them.
Music: People who depend on American Idol to tell them the next four CDs they’re going to buy, may not like The Buzzcocks or Carcass or Apollyon Sun, but in most cases, they won’t even get a chance to find out.
For me, the problem with mainstream anything is that it’s like going to Baskin-Robbins and seeing ony five flavors of ice cream in the display window. They really do have 26 more flavors available, but you have to go out of your way to find them.
I feel your pain. I don’t demand that everyone appreciate all of the esoteric bands or films I like, but it’s annoying when people deliberately limit themselves. I know people who will go see any Adam Sandler throwaway playing in the theater just to kill two hours, but I can’t entreat them to sit down and watch The Searchers because it’s old so it must be boring, and besides none of their friends have seen it so how good can it be?
Or to go with your example, my sister loves American Idiot, but try telling her that if she likes Green Day she might also like Buzzcocks or the Ramones. No, if it hasn’t appeared on a Now! compilation, she already knows she’s not going to like it.
On the other hand, everyone has to set their own priorities. I’m not really a beer drinker, so it would be hard for me to muster up the enthusiasm to devote a lot of time trying different beers and honing my tastes. I realize I’m probably missing out by settling for whatever’s easily available, and I’ll gladly try something different when the oppurtunity presents itself, but I’m just not interested enough to put in a lot of effort.
We agree on all points here. BTW, I chose the beer analogy simply because I figured fewer people on the board would be able to relate, and it would thus be a better illustration of how weird we must sound to mainstreamers when we talk about our movies, music and books.
I think it’s easy to overstate this, particularly with respect to movies.
Was Lord of the Rings a mainstream movie (series)? What about The Incredibles? What about The Godfather? What about Wayne’s World? Schindler’s List? Raiders of the Lost Ark? Silence of the Lambs?
What bugs me is people who dislike something solely because it’s popular. It’s one thing (probably a good thing) not to LIKE things solely because they’re popular, but DISliking them for that reason is snobbish in the extreme. Not to mention stupid.
Because she only likes what she is sure she is “supposed” to like. Many if not most people don’t have any tastes at all. They wear what they are told to wear, listen to what they are told to listen to.
I agree. There are certainly a lot of interesting, well-crafted movies that enjoy mainstream success. Still, to someone who cares about movies even a little, it’s frustrating to know that more people saw The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift in two weeks than will probably ever see Serenity. As long as there are audiences who will obediently take whatever they’re given, the movie with the largest advertising budget wins, period.
You’re correct, with movies probably more than any other single medium.
Abso-freaking-lutely. It was a big budget film based on an enormously popular series of books that had been in the popular canon for over half a century. Having said that, I loved the movies, warts and all. And I didn’t get too upset at the concessions the movies made to a mass audience (mostly maximizing female roles and shortening/simplifying non-central plot elements) that wouldn’t have been made if the movie were aimed squarely at LOtR nerds like myself.
Sure. I would say that any G or PG animated movie whose promotional buildup includes Happy Meal toys can safely be called mainstream. I also loved this movie. I’m waiting for Pixar to lay an egg, and so far they haven’t. I’d point to Miyazaki for high quality animated films that are not ready (yet) for the mainstream.
Not at the time it came out, perhaps. It was just so good and so compelling that it changed the mainstream. Partly, thanks to this film, violent mob drama is now part of the popular consciousness.
Absolutely. Based on a skit from that most mainstream of comedy outlets, SNL. Depending on gentle mockery of 80s pop culture for most of its laughs. It was a totally mainstream comedy film. I loved it.
By my definition, sure. It was directed by the Greatest and Most Popular Director in the World. It featured a hefty production and promotional budget. It did deal with gritty subject matter in a fairly unvarnished manner, but it (the Holocaust) was and is a subject of interest to many, many Americans. A similarly well-made film about the Armenian genocide or the Rape of Nanking would not be mainstream.
One of the movies that ushered in the era of the modern blockbuster (along with Jaws and Star Wars? Og, yes.
Since it was based on a massively popular novel, I would say yes. However, like The Godfather, I think this movie may seem more mainstream now than it was at the time, simply due to its influence.
I agree on all points here.
I really don’t like snobs. The primary reason isn’t their taste in (whatever). It’s that they want to impose their tastes on others. It’s the way something good becomes bad if enough other people like it. Labeling oneself as a “snob” is a social superiority move.
That’s a perfect example. Personally, I don’t like the bland megabrews, either. But if someone else wants to drink them, that’s fine with me. I’ll enjoy my oatmeal stout, maibock, or porter, and you can enjoy your Bud Lite. I’m not a snob about it because I don’t consider the Bud Lite drinker a lesser human being.
Now, if that Bud Lite drinker was listening to Milli Vanilli on his iPod…
I really like the movie Cool Runnings. There is absolutely nothing ground-breaking, surprising, controversial, intellectual, idiosyncratic, or esoteric about Cool Runnings. No one will ever study it in a college film class, or write an essay about how it made them see the world in a different way. It’s mainstream through and through. But it’s also well-crafted, well-acted, sharp, funny, and damn entertaining. It proves that no movie has to dumb itself down to appeal to everyone. If every throwaway mainstream crowd-pleaser was as good as Cool Runnings, the world would be a pretty sweet place.
Actually, I think you just did.
(and I liked it too)
I see this a lot in the underground metal scene. I’ve spoken with a lot of people on messageboards, YahooGroups, and at concerts who won’t give a band a chance if they didn’t originate from Northern Europe, have sold more than 10,000 discs, or don’t sing specifically about death, gore, destruction, and hatred for God.
I think it’s sad since they’re going to miss out on a whole lot of great music that way. When they insult me for liking the newest Disturbed album or for not liking the newest offering from Eye Hate God, I just let it roll of my back. I don’t need to let their ignorance bother me.
Well, just remind them that EyeHateGod are from New Orleans, and that thanks to their association with (gasp!) Phil Anselmo, they do sell more than 10,000 albums these days.
You may be the only other person on these boards that I can ask this of, and even you may not be able to respond: do you have the new Celtic Frost album, and what do you think of it?
At least that’s somewhat content-based. My wife doesn’t like female rock singers, so I’m not going to push Sleater-Kinney’s The Woods on her even though I think it’s the best album of this decade. Girl singers annoy her and that’s that. It’s a little silly, but she knows what she likes and I can respect that. What gets me is when people reject something for no reason other than they haven’t heard of it or seen it advertised on TV.
I find it silly to limit your experience based on expectation. You may not listen to country, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t some country you may like.
I’m also frustrated by the previously mentioned “I only like what I’m supposed to” school of wimpiness.
I also dislike it when people hear a snippet of something that doesn’t sound like what you’re supposed to listen to and pronounce it awful. (Had that experience listening to Steeley Span once–someone dismissed them out of hand based on less than 8 bars of one song).
Of course, I think you can learn from things you don’t like. Liking something is not necessary to it being potentially valuable to you (but it is helpful in the long run for continued pleasure). Also, sometimes, you need to dig deeper than gut reaction to understand what something is trying to offer as opposed to being face value (especially true of movies and literature, true but slightly less-so for music).
The worst part of most popular music (i.e. heavy raido rotation) is that it is designed to be inobtrusive background noise, not art and like McDonald’s the more you have of it, the more difficult it is to appreciate something more than that).
So, you get a veneer of good as opposed to depth. Most people are willing to settle for that. Fortunately not everybody feels that way. This doesn’t mean that everything designed that way is bad, but it is unlikely to offer a the kind of depth you get from fully invested work that people expect you to notice and be affected by.
Sorry, I seem to be in babbling rant mode today.
I agree that Cool Runnings is awesome.
But you’d be amazed what people will study in an academic setting. I remember someone in the early nineties remarking on the shockingly high number of masters theses and doctoral dissertations written in a single year on Madonna. People are very thinky about pop culture these days.
I’m a music geek, and I admit it, but I would never call myself a snob. And I think anyone who freely calls themself a “culture” snob is trying to cover up insecurities and ignorance. They are trying way too hard, when they have to discount anything “mainstream”. That’s an especially tall order. First they have to define mainstream – how many people have to enjoy something food or culture-wise to make it “mainstream”, at which point the snobs single-handedly discount it? One-hundred people? One-thousand? One-million?
I find that self-proclaimed snob types usually have a very narrow set of cultural interests, because they refuse to be open to new things outside of their peer-interest group, and are first to criticize anything and everything for superfluous reasons.
So, I don’t think you can really appreciate the finer details of anything without being as knowledgeable as possible about as many other elements in your area of interest. And along the way, if you listen to, for example, every electronic-based music album you can get your hands on, for years and years and years, to narrow your focus down to 50 albums you consider the highest quality, in order to be a snob about that kind of music, along the way it would be impossible to not pick up some mainstream or somewhat popular records along the way. And I would say that about any cultural medium.
The older people get, the more likely they are to outgrow the “popular equals bad” illusion. And the less people they have around them to worry about impressing with their snob attitude, the less important it is for them to care about what they like and whether or not anyone knows it.
My musical tastes these days place me way outside the mainstream (mostly pre-war blues and country), but I occasionally find mainstream things I like. I remember my then-girlfriend’s surprise that I liked that I liked Nirvana. She thought I’d be ashamed to like anyone that popular. I also love the Beatles, and they were possibly the biggest, most-hyped act in entertainment history.
I would draw a distinction between cultivating the image of disdain for the mainstream, and actually having offbeat tastes, without caring what anyone thinks.
Haven’t heard it yet. It’s on my list of albums to buy.