Sophistication: What is it? And do we even care?

I just found this thread, which I missed last week since I was on vacation. It was eerily familiar to the “ordering milk in a bar” thread, which I’m too lazy to link to but I’m sure someone will come along shortly and fill that gap.

Both threads more or less come down to two camps:

Camp 1: What you prefer to eat has no bearing on sophistication.

Camp 2: Enjoying some food prepared in certain ways (steak cooked rare, not well-done), or enjoyed in certain locales (wine in a bar, not milk), or preferred over others (Triple-cream brie over Velveeta) speaks of sophistication.

Granted, these threads only cover sophistication in relation to food; there’s obviously other areas. For example, I don’t think many of us will argue that one who enjoys Bach over Britney Spears is displaying a level of sophistication, at least in their musical tastes. In the same vein, one who reads War and Peace is usually considered a more sophisticated reader than the person who sticks with Harlequin Romances.

For those examples, it seems like it would follow that as someone educated themselves in certain areas, it could be said that they became more sophisticated. IE: someone who knows nothing about music may enjoy whatever comes on the Top 40 radio station. Give that person a few lessons in classical music, and they may find themselves enjoying that as much as the radio station. I’d tend to say that this person ended up with a more sophisticated taste in music.

With food, though, that breaks down, at least in the threads I mention above. Many people argue the point that what you eat doesn’t have anything to do with sophistication. So at least to some people, education does not equal sophistication.

So what is this concept of “sophisticated”? If it’s not a matter of education… what is it? Is it just a snooty way of dissing people? Or are there really some things - actions, foods, passtimes - that are more sophisticated than others?

Yeah, that’s my take. “Sophistication” is the adult equivalent of comparing lunch boxes or making fun of the kid with last season’s shoes. I figure, I’ve lived almost a quarter century, I don’t have to listen to anyone for advice on what to experience next. I’m through with the whole social game; I’m not eating/reading/listening for anyone but me. Why should I care what anyone else thinks? At the end of the day, I still have to look at the plate/book/record and be like “why did I buy this again? Oh, right, that ‘sophisticated’ person told me to.” Screw that!

Now, “sophistication” is different from depth. There are people out there who claim to be “foodies” or “winies” (winers?) who don’t even know much about the purported object of their obsession, they just affect a “cool” interest to fit in with the other snobs. Case in point: most English majors, who diss my love of science fiction yet don’t know anything about the classics except what they were forced to read in school, and maintain just enough “sophistication” to get along in high society without letting anything they read penetrate the surface. Such surface-level sophisticates hold no interest for me. But being obsessed, whether it’s over wine or Harlequin Romances or Sanskrit, is something else entirely. I’d rather hang out with someone who really has the holy fire over something–anything–than a bunch of people recreating junior high. People who are really into something usually don’t care what you like either, they’re too busy being into their own thing to worry about what other people do/have/listen to/read.

Basically, I think one of the marks of being an adult is not caring what other people do, not putting things other people do into categories or saying one thing trumps another. Do I think Chaucer is better than Danielle Steel? Well, of course I do, but I can respect that person’s decision to read what she wants, since she’s (purportedly) an adult like me, capable of making her own decisions. I think it is utterly juvenile to put yourself above another person just because you like different things. There is a fine line between introduction and unwanted education, and while I do try to introduce “better” (from my POV) things to people (usually in the “oh, you like science fiction; try this!” vein), I can accept where they’re not wanted and try to understand why that person likes what they like, and learn from them. There may just be something in popular culture you like too, you high-falutin’ sophisticate.

But I think it IS a matter of education. Well, of experience. The point was made by several people in the linked thread that so bad if someone likes their steak well done. But that a well done steak loses some of the qualities that a rare steak has…and it would make sense to experience a steak cooked it’s “supposed” to be cooked before you decide you prefer well done.

My favourite food used to be spagetti-os. And nowadays, when I want them I STILL EAT SPAGETTI-OS! And I don’t care who knows it. But I also eat sushi and properly cooked steak and sauted duck breast in port and…cavier on little toast points. And I don’t care who knows that either.

Had I just stopped at spagetti-os I would not be sophisticated. But more importantly I would have missed out on a lot. I do think it’s about knowledege and discrimination. And what your choices are based on.

that it’s not so bad if…


Aren’t you contradicting yourself there? I’m not asking if it’s OK to put yourself above another person based on what you like or don’t like - that’s just rude. But there are distinctions to be made - like you said, most people would agree that Chaucer is better than Danielle Steele. It’s not a leap to say that reading Chaucer reflects a more sophisticated level of reading than Danielle Steele.

From what I saw in the steak thread I think the hang up is with words like sophistication. People assuming if they don’t agree they are being insulted so in turn label the others snobs and set out to defend their position.

My guess is that it’s the words and suggestion that they are unsophisticated…“slobs” or something for enjoying things other than the way the sophisticated “snobs” say they should. Lots of emotion gets interjected in to the argument and it goes round and round.

I guess in cases like food the word sophistication brings a note of education and experience but also has a tone of elitism and snobbery to those that have different taste than the so called sophisticated pallet prefers.

At the end of the day we still have to learn about things, develop standards of measure, and establish grades of quality. Some people will take interest and learn as much as they can and develop their experience to a high level. They will obtain information along the way that others do not have… :confused:

Call it what you wanna call it…


Heat does things to meat at various temperatures and exposure times. Science does not care how done we like our stakes, it just does what it does. :slight_smile:

Does “sophisticated”= “snobby”?

Does “unsophisticated” = “slobby”?

Personally, I think those equations are fine, and I fully embrace my snobby and slobby sides, but the problem here is that many people (see the steak thread) find being labelled “unsophisticated” a gross insult, whereas others (like me) use it as a value-neutral descriptive term.

BLARGH :smack:

You do realize that in general the lovely classic music people listen to [ oddly enough I happen to have Strauss ‘Blue Danube’ playing] was the top 40s of their time? There is no particular value to listening to Strauss’ version, over Spike Jones’ version [which happens to be next on my itunes playlist=)] or listening to Bach, PDQ Bach or Bachman Turner Overdrive.

Just like Shakespear was the ‘Young and the Restless’ of his day. Popular entertainments all.

Honestly, parents were whinging about the immorallity of waltzes just like the immorality of the NY hustle.

Oh, and for what it’s worth, on the same play list I have Georgia Gibbs doing ‘Milkman, Keep those bottles quiet’, Rammstein ‘Ohne Dich, Du Hast, Kokain’ Tom Lehrer "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park’ and ‘Sic Mea Fata’ from the original [non Orff] Carmina Burana, and Rob Zombi’s ‘Living Dead Girl’

What does that say about my sophistication?

So you’re saying that Britney Spears is the same as Strauss? :smiley:

I don’t agree with your assessment. Sure, classical music was the popular music of the time, but the pieces we play over and over nowadays are the ones that have stood the test of time, much like the Beatles have stood the test of time. We don’t still play the crappy stuff - although “not crappy” doesn’t necessarily mean “complex.” There’s plenty of simple toons that have stood the test of time. That brings me to my next point: appreciating the music of another time or culture - therefore stretching your knowledge of music beyond what is simply forcefed to you - is something that people who are more into music, and thus more educated about music, do. You have to go out of your way to find it. I think there’s a certain amount of value in that.

I tend to believe that expanding your horizons is a good thing. I prefer to spend time with people who have broad tastes. There is nothing wrong with reading popular fiction, listening to popular music, or eating at chain restaurants. However, I tend to like to be around people who are willing to explore new things and have experienced a wide variety of various genres and cusine.

I find I have the least in common with those who are still stuck in their ways since they were young. They listen to the same music, eat the same meal in the same restaurant, drink the same drink in the same bar, live in the same house, always go to Florida or Vegas for their vacation, etc.

To me, sophistication means being able to enjoy the Rolling Stones one day and Bach the next. Going to a dance club on Saturday night and the art museum on Sunday. Reading Stephen King and Charles Dickens at the same time.

Can I add:

Knowing the differences and appreciating them for what they are…

I don’t care what a sophist tick ate.

Actually, in the same general sense yes. I think if I hear Greigs Morning one more time I may scream. Beautiful piece, I have heard it said that it is actually considered one of his best pieces. But I have heard it so many times either in offices or as music on hold, or on PBS radio [and in heavy rotation on the classic music vid channel we have] that I am sick and tired of it. Same as I have long ago passed my tolerance for Hey Jude, or Freebird, Moonlight Sonata or even Rhapsody in Blue.

Just think of how many incedental pieces of chamber music got written, were popular for about a month and pretty much never played again … pop music, just like J-lo. Much incedental music was written for a specific occasion and not really meant to be ‘immortal’ at all.

To me, “unsophisticated” things are things that are easy to like. Uncomplicated movies, sweets, food we grew up on, catchy pop music, etc.

“Sophisticated” tastes are things that take a little bit of education to enjoy. Fine wines, for example. Without some knowledge, you won’t fully appreciate the wine’s complexities. A lot of art house movies need some cinema background to be fully appreciated. Classical music is more enjoyable with some music education. Literature is more difficult and challenging to read than Dean Koontz.

Some things can be injoyed on both “unsophisticated” and “sophisticated” levels. You might like a painting because it’s attractive but if you have some art history, you can appreciate how the painter incorporated art techniques from other artists. Other things are difficult to enjoy without the education. A lot of modern art is very clever if you know the influences but seems ordinary or even ugly is you don’t.

I like tremorviolet’s answer full answer, but I boiled it down to its essence to make a point. The very word “sophisticate” comes from the Greek “sophia,” which means wisdom. To become sophisticated, one must acquire wisdom. Wisdom is acquired through (1) education and (2) experience.

You like what you like, and there’s (usually, local authorities permitting) nothing wrong with that. But the matter of whether or not your taste is “sophisticated” depends entirely upon whether you acquired the ability to enjoy something through education and/or experience. Sometimes, the two (natural inclination and sophistication) mesh, sometimes they don’t.

Sophisticated things become unsophisticated as soon as they’re popular. If everyone had a golden monocle, there would be no one to brag to about how shiny and golden your own monocle is.
From the Incredibles:
Mom (comforting her son): Everyone is special!
Son: That just means that nobody is special!

When my wife’s friend ordered a high end red wine and then dumped in a pile of ice cubes, I realized I’m a bit of a snob. Heck, the waiter almost fainted. So I guess a certain level of sophistication is appropriate in given situations.

Get those snails off her plate, and bring the toasted cheese sandwiches I asked for!