Tuesday, July 1, 2008

I Am A Culture Snob

I didn't set out to become a culture snob. It just sort of happened.

And I have to say, I'm the worst sort of culture snob: the kind who is not only snobby, but sort of proud of it.

I do try not to be too annoying in my actual behavior. But to be perfectly frank, it's sometimes hard to resist feeling that there's value to cultural snobbery: that the world is a better place with a few people in it who read Proust instead of A Year in Provence, or whatever that book was called.

Indeed, that is my sort of snobbery. I put some early effort into developing a taste for certain kinds of things, and that taste has left me bored, and annoyed, and irritated, with other, dumber things.

Let me be clear: I'm not a snob in the sense of preferring the "high-brow" to the common. I loved the Die Hard movies (um, except maybe I didn't see the last one?); I loved Pulp Fiction; I watch Flavor of Love at the gym, and I always read the daily comics in the paper.

Some trashy things are excellent.

But this is just another form of high standards and snobbery, I figure.

I was reflecting on these things over the past few days, because I had a few movie experiences. Toronto, where I live, has an amazing Cinemateque, which shows film series of all kinds of awesome things.

On Friday and Saturday I went to movies starring Marcello Mastroianni. The first was "Il bell'Antonio," which is about an attractive, wild young man who happens to fall madly in love with the girl his parents want him to marry. The second was "A Particular Day," which is about an attractive, somber older man who is in big trouble with the fascist party and spends a day with a thirty-something-and-quite-beautiful mother of six.

(The mother of six is played by Sophia Loren, and she looks lovely, and as the curtain went up, the guy next to me said out loud, "She was still pretty hot!" I know what he means, but jeez.)

These movies both seemed pretty much perfect to me. I mean, they were visually beautiful, with surprising, inventive plots, and interesting characters. Mostly, they managed to work both as "Ooh, ooh, it's a movie, look at that guy, and what's going to happen next?!" and as "Wow, that was a surprising and thoughtful treatment of something complicated I'd never thought about."

Tonight I went to see "WALL-E." I had high hopes: I went because I'd seen the preview, and read a review, and thought the movie seemed like it would be excellent. And it was inventive, and sweet, and reasonably fun to watch. My favorite thing was the visual portrayal of an Earth covered in trash. It was seriously freaky and interesting to see things like freeway on-ramps and megastore parking lots the way they would look after hundreds of years of neglect.

But to be honest, I was also bored. In between the cuteness and the futuristic aspect, the movie was just kind of boring to me. I kept feeling like it was taking up about half my attention.

And then I thought: that's what happens when you're a culture snob. An Italian drinking coffee uses up 95 percent of your attention; a starship hurtling through space with the Milky Way in the background, down around 45.

At least "WALL-E" made my snobbery seem sort of reasonable, insofar as the menace of the movie is lazy corporate types drinking giant sodas and lazing around on deck chairs. You sure got the impression everyone would have been better off trying to make their way through a couple of challenging French novels.

Which brings me back to why I don't feel so bad about my snobbery. Good things are good, right? I know not everyone has the time, mental energy, and habit required to deal with them, but isn't it good if someone does? I'm here, dudes, and willing. I'll keep the Proust flame alive.

Just don't make fun of me too much, and don't get all mad when I don't want to go see Mamma Mia. OK?

WALL-E would thank you, if he could. He's a kind of a wanna-be Proust reader, if not a literal Proust reader, it seems to me.

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