Post by Orlando Enrique Fiol Post by Dana John Hill
I live in a town that's somewhat famous as an indie-rock center. I can
tell you from experience that people who are really into indie rock are
some of the most elitist music fans you will ever encounter, in the
sense that if you don't like the right bands and go to the right shows,
and one-up those around you with tales of the legendary or obscure acts
you have seen, you are judged. Rock criticism in print and online is
some of the most pompous stuff you will ever read on any subject.
Here, I think it useful to distinguish between snobbery and elitism. Snobbery
tends to be practiced by members of a common socioeconomic background to
distinguish themselves from others by unique tastes, fashions or behaviors.
Elitism is generally practiced by upper classes to keep the lower classes out.
Whereas many hard-core indie rockers may judge people who neither know nor like
their preferred obscure bands, there hasn't been a tradition in indie rock of
engineering every aspect of a music's aesthetics and surrounding culture to
reinforce one class' superiority over another.
Post by Dana John Hill
I am not saying there aren't quite a few serious classical music fans
who couldn't do better to be a bit more welcoming to the new and
uninformed listeners out there. And I will give rock fans credit insofar
as they are eager to tell anyone they meet about their newest and
favorite records. But the elitist label put on classical is unfair.
If you consider classical music history, you will realize that the elitist
label is not at all unfair. We're living in a very different time than Bach or
Mozart did. Laborers weren't exposed to Bach's Brandenburg Concerti or Mozart's
Jupiter Symphony; they were exposed to folk music that is largely lost to us
now because it was not passed down through notation or recordings. Classical
music was meant for kings; everybody knew it, from the way musicians were
expected to dress to the way they were expected to speak and defer. Eventually,
the court got replaced by the conservatory, the ivory tower, the graying
orchestral and operatic audiences and other social institutions with their own
brands of elitism. Show up to the Met with frizzy hair, tattoos and ripped
jeans to see if you get let in.
The following posted here about 15 years ago may be of interest:
A snob is somebody who only pretends to
share the taste of his social superiors. A snob doesn't apply critical
standards. A snob wants to appear to be part of some elite social or
intellectual group, and feigns a taste for the things he or she perceives to be
shared by the members of that group. Snobbery and elitism are not the same
thing, although American anti-elitism leads to a hatred of snobbery: "Why
would you pretend to like THAT?"
But American anti-elitism is selective. We admire cut-throat Wall Street
elitism and elitism on the basketball court. Nobody is offended when Sacred
Cow Michael Jordan allows his smiling face to be plastered all over every
conceivable commercial product for large sums of money, because he is a member
of the two acceptable elites: athletes and people who make lots of money. If
you're really an anti-elitist, then you should insist that I be allowed to play
basketball with the Chicago Bulls. After all, we don't want only the elite to
be allowed to play.
It is now fashionable in some politically correct corners of academia to claim
that all enthusiasm for high culture (e.g., classical music) is mere snobbery,
that is, that it is all feigned for the sake of appearances. This snobbery,
this feigned love of high culture, is supposedly just a ploy to preserve the
power structure. (What a way to preserve the power structure! To pretend to
like classical music.) At the same time, given the debased versions of
Romanticism that govern pop culture and popular notions of what art is,
"learned" art and the people who produce and consume it are viewed with
suspicion. Elites at the mastery of artistic skills are viewed with suspicion.
I've already related a little anecdote I found in the New Yorker on rmcr, but
it's worth repeating. In a New Yorker profile of Philippe de Montebello, the
curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, de Montebello tells of a group of
school children coming to visit the museum one Saturday morning. One earnest
little African-American boy raised his hand and said, "What are you doing to
combat elitism?" Not missing a beat, de Montebello responded, "Why you're an
elitist! You're not hanging out on some street corner. You're here because
you want to learn something, and I'd say that makes you an elitist."
Of course, you see a lot of Romantic/subjectivist nonsense on this newsgroup, a
preference for "feeling" over "thought," a view that the subjective response
of the listener's little ego is all that counts, that the composer had little
to do with it. On the contrary, the composer's technical mastery enabled him
to create the effects that we all respond to pretty much in the same way. Of
course, we share the composer's language. It's like sharing a mastery of
English. People only think Boulez's music is a wall of noise because they
haven't internalized the language of his music. E.T.A. Hoffman, the great
Romantic critic of Mozart and Beethoven, pointed out that you could explain the
technical effect that caused a shudder to run up and down the spine of
everybody in the audience at precisely the point when the Statue nods his head
and agrees to come to dinner in the graveyard scene from Don Giovanni, because
there is no difference between the effect and the technical means for producing
it. And we all experience the shudder at the exact same point, thanks to
Mozart. It's not so much our subjectivity as our shared competence that comes
into play. Of course, confusion does occur fairly frequently in the course of
normal everyday speech, but the instant understanding that goes on all day
without our giving a thought to it is infinitely more common than the
exceptional moments of confusion.
No, I am not a Republican.
Snobbery and Elitism
Good points David, but can I disagree with a couple of things? First, elitism
doesn't refer to the pursuit (or attainment) of excellence, but to the maintainance
of power by people who give the impression of excellence. So the boy in the museum
wasn't being elitist. But you're certainly right that the notion that classical
music is part of an elitist power structure is a quaint atavism. Most snobbery
nowadays is of the anti-intellectual kind.
Second, music, more than any other art form, targets the emotions. This is not to
say that the musical experience is only intuitive, or that learning and thinking
play no role in music appreciation, but the primary effect is one of pleasure.