Feeling superior? It may just be your insecurity
Author examines snobbery
By Staci Sturrock
Cox News Service
You, perched on the high horse, come on down from there and read this story. It's about you.
No looking over your shoulder as if we had confused you with someone else. We all sit atop a pony of pretension from time to time.
And that's to be expected. It's inescapable, really, says Joseph Epstein, author of the bestselling "Snobbery: The American Version," a funny, insightful study of snobbery's recent history and current, um, status.
"If there's a message in the book, I think it's that snobbery becomes very close to being part of human nature," he says, "but it's a part that, with care, we can rinse out of ourselves."
Epstein first saw the beginnings of a snobbery revolution in the mid-'70s. "Some seismic social change was going on in the country," he says. "Suddenly people were awfully worried about their taste in everything."
With the death of what Epstein calls "the Waspocracy," that upper-crust culture of cotillions, prep schools and the Social Registry, the floodgates opened and all social classes were free to wallow in snobbery. "Such is the progress of history," Epstein says.
One example of this sea of change: capitals of Old Snobbery such as Palm Beach and Newport, R.I., have been replaced by more "democratic ports of call" such as Santa Fe, N.M., and Aspen, Colo. "These new places have their own fraudulence," Epstein says. "A home on an unpaved road in Santa Fe costs more money because it's 'more historic.' What fine baloney this all is."
Snobbery is ultimately "kind of a luxury item of the mind," Epstein says, "most rampant where there's affluence and lack of political troubles."
One of Epstein's snobbery pet peeves emerges when parents send children to a name-brand university -- and brag about it to anyone who'll listen. "That's a snobbery that comes up a lot, I find. If my dear Peter goes to Princeton, it shows that I've been a hell of a parent. It is miserable stuff."
Of course, Epstein has been a lecturer at Northwestern University since 1974, but he says he has worked hard to rid himself of his own pretensions (or most of them).
"I don't care about any institutions. I don't need to teach at Harvard or win prizes, because I know how fleeting it all is," he says. "I'm a moderate snob only. On my income, I can't bring it off, I can't sustain it. I prefer to think of myself as a 'snobographer.' "
Cleansing yourself of snobbery isn't easy, he admits. It requires unflinchingly honest self-scrutiny -- do you truly like Manolo Blahniks, or are you buying them because of what they represent?
"Snobbery speaks to a kind of funny insecurity," he says. "If you really feel pretty good about what you've done in life, you shouldn't need to feel superior to a person who's not as well-dressed as you."