Sunday, March 14, 2010


Just finished Snobbery: The American Version, by Joseph Epstein. It's a breezy read, and funny, but Epstein's observations about the breadth of snobbery (food, education, hobbies, clothing, etc.) are overwhelmed by what an insufferably pedantic fartbag Epstein turns out to be.

The ever-opinionated readers at Amazon mostly liked the book, but the naysayers said things like "this is an irritating, dull book written in a bloated, lecturing, hectoring,," and "Mr. Epstein is at his worst when he goes on about his fascination with fashionable coats and cigarette lighters." Both statements are true (he really does go on and ON about a designer cigarette lighter), and Epstein is one of those people who thinks that admitting his own snobbery excuses him from it altogether, hence all the name-dropping anecdotes and bragging that tries very hard to sound casual.

His wholesale embrace of liberal stereotypes (self-righteous vegetarians, etc.) is a major downfall of his book, particularly the chapter about college. Epstein, a college graduate and professor, dismisses the entire experience out of hand because the whole thing is a scam conjured up by status-hungry parents and lifelong scholars trying to parlay their real-world uselessness into a paying gig. And of course no one who's really smart needs to go to college, right? It's a sandbox for aspiring radicals and nothing more. This is an attitude that, surprise surprise, is championed by smug graduates from decades past who just want the fact that they attended college to be special again, in that privilege-granting sort of way. In fact, his attitude represents the exact kind of overeducated laziness he's supposedly decrying - fantasies of being swept into the high-life based on race and gender and birthright are most often held by people who are pissed off because they have to work for it in the modern era.

Basically, Epstein veers between a) the equivalent of the guy at every anime convention who leans against the wall and sneers at all the "nerds" in attendance, and b) the desperate outsider-looking-in who chronicles the lifestyles of his self-appointed betters with academic rigor. He is every grasping, overgroomed nerd you've ever wanted to dunk headfirst into a toilet. Should you decide to read his book, know what to expect.

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