About Your “Eclectic” Playlist…

Five iPods by mcwetboy on Flickr.

My playlist is eclectic. I have a little bit of everything, from Baroque to Rap to Country Fiddle music. I go to the opera and to the roller derby. I read The Economist and People. With such a variety, I tell myself, I couldn’t possibly be a snob. Snobs are the people that think their particular interest (whether music, sport, culture, etc.) is the best. Whereas egalitarian types, such as myself, like everything. Nothing snobby here, right?

Wrong according to Shamus Kahn:

YOU can tell a lot about people by looking at their music collections. Some have narrow tastes, mostly owning single genres like rap or heavy metal. Others are far more eclectic, their collections filled with hip-hop and jazz, country and classical, blues and rock. We often think of such differences as a matter of individual choice and expression. But to a great degree, they are explained by social background. Poorer people are likely to have singular or “limited” tastes. The rich have the most expansive.

In the bad old days, the rich and elite had their own special music, food, and books which set them off from the rest of the society. Even as recently as thirty years ago, Pierre Bourdieu documented some of these stark class distinctions in taste in his wonderful book La Distinction. Today posh people liking classical music is just so passé. Instead, posh people like everything. Kahn again:

Instead of liking things like opera because that’s what people of your class are supposed to like, the omnivore likes what he likes because it is an expression of a distinct self. Perhaps liking a range of things explains why elites are elite, and not the other way around. By contrast, those who have exclusive tastes today — middle-class and poorer Americans — are subject to disdain. If the world is open and you don’t take advantage of it, then you’re simply limited and closed-minded. Perhaps it’s these attributes that explain your incapacity to succeed. And so if elites have a culture today, it is a culture of individual self-cultivation.

The particular cultural forms may have changed, but the overall division is still the same. Snobbishness is apparently here to stay. Its presenting symptoms and forms may have changed, but looking down our noses at our cultural inferiors apparently has not, despite the erosion of so called ‘high culture.’

So much for feeling like a man of the people with my eclectic playlist.

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