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A Sunny Place for Shady People

Pithy, contrarian, politically incorrect and curmudgeonly rants on sex, money, power and politics and religion and philosophy. In short: Nothing matters, everything changes and there are no guarantees. The rest is rationalization and bribery. (c) Tom Milner 2002-2003. DIRECTORY of offensive POSTS at Archives: 07/09/03. RECOMMENDED BLOGS: Archives: 07/29/03. email: theoldbuzzard AT sunnyplaceforshadypeople DOT com.

Friday, March 28, 2003
Monday, March 31, 2003

Snobbery: The American Version, by Joseph Epstein. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2002.

This delightful, entertaining and exceedingly well written book somehow escaped our notice when it was published last year.

We shall now give it its due.

As Joe Epstein opines in his Preface, "Snobbery, like bacteria, is found everywhere...."

Such a gift for humor, wit, and language Epstein unfurls, as in his description of boastful San Franciscans "extolling ... their own city as unbearable Bayarrea."

Integral to all snobbery is the zero sum game: it's not enough to just win. Somebody else must lose.

Or, "acceptance from those above, rejection of those below -- must be in place for the upward-looking snob to feel the full elation of his victory."

Elitism is summarily dealt with in this distinction: "the elitist desires the best; the snob wants other people to think he ... is associated with the best."

The author visits the usual snobbish venues: genealogy, schooling, profession, as well as the social, financial, and institutional.

And, of course, one's taste gives away one's social class.

"In some circles, to speak well of, say, Whitaker Chambers, Andrew Wyeth, Wayne Newton, nuclear power, or processed cheese ... is considered a grave social lapse. 'She is the kind of person,' I once heard a woman say with deadly disdain about another woman, 'who regularly misuses the word hopefully.'"

We won't even go into Epstein's amusing asides into reverse snobbism.

One of the enduring lessons of the book: "[The snob] doesn't understand that one of the best means of acquiring prestige and carrying status is not to give a damn about them, for the paradox of prestige and status is that the more one hungers for them, the more elusive they become."

Not the least interesting of the book's charms is the well read author's selective quotations from those well acquainted with snobbery in all its vagaries.

"'Impotence and sodomy are socially o.k.,' wrote Evelyn Waugh, 'but birth control is flagrantly middle class.'"

Very tellingly, Epstein also chronicles the new snobbery attached to victim's groups: "African Americans, Jews, women, homosexuals, Third World immigrants, the handicapped, and just about every ethnic group going except the poor old Wasps."

Notable authorities on snobbery are also cited, among them: Joseph Alsop, Kingsley and Martin Amis, Cleveland Amory, Truman Capote, Henry James, John O'Hara, Vance Packard, Marcel Proust, Alexis de Tocqueville, Gore Vidal, Andy Warhol, and Edith Wharton.

We would agree with Epstein that "'Live and let live' remains the most sensible of mottos, and so much less demanding than the Golden Rule."


The rant appears on Mondays and Thursdays.

Another (unrelated) must-read:
Joseph E. Stiglitz, "Bush's Tax Plan --- The Dangers," The New York Review of Books, March 13, 2003.


Tuesday, March 25, 2003
Thursday, March 27, 2003

A LIST OF LISTS: OTHER RECOMMENDATIONS (in roughly descending order within categories)


Citizen Kane
The Third Man
Sunset Boulevard
On The Waterfront
Dr. Strangelove
The Maltese Falcon
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Bad Day at Black Rock


James Cagney
Gregory Peck
Marlon Brando
Humphrey Bogart
George C. Scott
Jack Nicholson
Robert DeNiro
Paul Newman
Al Pacino
Robert Mitchum


Katherine Hepburn
Bette Davis
Joanne Woodward
Maggie Smith
Meryl Streep
Jessica Tandy
Susan Sarandon
Gwyneth Paltrow
Emma Thompson
Kathy Bates


The Beatles
Aretha Franklin
Bee Gees
Billy Joel
Celine Dion
Eric Clapton
Whitney Houston
Bob Dylan


The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner
All The King's Men, Robert Penn Warren
The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
Moby Dick, Herman Melville
Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
A Death in the Family, James Agee


Eugene O'Neill
Tennessee Williams
Edward Albee
Arthur Miller
David Mamet
Neil Simon
William Inge
Thornton Wilder
Archibald MacLeish
Wendy Wasserstein


W. H. Auden
Emily Dickinson
William Carlos Williams
James Merrill
Philip Levine
Gary Snyder
James Ashberry
Sylvia Plath
Marianne Moore
Charles Simic


Lao-Tzu (Tao)
Arthur Schopenhauer
Albert Camus
Rene Descartes
Immanuel Kant
Friedrich Nietzsche
George Santayana
Jean-Paul Sarte
Ludwig Wittgenstein


And Recommended Blogs (in capricious order)


Additional (last minute) recommendation:

"Gays and Genes," by Andrew Hacker. The New York Review of Books, March 27, 2003.


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