We’ve all met them. We’ve all defended our art, our tastes, our hard work to them. We’ve all rolled our eyes at them.
I’ve jokingly referred to myself as a beer snob and a film snob, to name a couple, because I have strong preferences and tend to be overly critical of beers and movies I dislike.
However, I’ve also realized that in those two realms, my snobbiness is at a 1 or a 2 on a scale of 10. For example, I (gasp!) love IPAs. If the beer subreddit is any indication, my tastes are woefully pedestrian because of this. And I love cheesy B movies, which excludes me from being a true film snob, according to some people who don’t appreciate my love of Citizen Kane as long as I have a copy of I Know What You Did Last Summer in my collection.
I experienced snobbish gatekeeping in the anthropology community, as well. When I received a grant to fund my research on bullying, I was honored at our department awards ceremony along with the other grantees. The department chair met me on stage to hand me my plaque (all sorts of pomp, yes) and asked me where I’d be conducting my research. “Right here in Florida,” I said proudly.
“Oh! Give me that back,” she exclaimed, playfully yanking the plaque back from me. I was completely mortified as the crowd tittered. Even though she was joking, the message was clear: My research, because it was taking place in America, wasn’t as worthy of the grant as research conducted by my colleagues in exotic locales.
I thought we anthropologists had abandoned our colonialist vibe, but I guess not.
The bias against American anthropology and new forms of anthropology continued as I struggled to complete my project on media’s effects on bullying. “Are you sure this isn’t more like psychology?” asked my professor, ignoring my careful framing of my research in anthropological theory. I decided that academia was not for me, but I continued to take an anthropological approach to my writing, often interviewing people and picking apart cultural issues.
And yet the gatekeeping continued.
Ironically, when I shared my recent auto-ethnography about gatekeeping in geek culture to the digital anthro subreddit, thinking they would be interested as researchers in an emerging field, I was met with, yes, gatekeeping. “I wish I were paid to blog about disagreements on Reddit,” one mocking comment said.
What. A. Snob.
Indeed, blogging is considered by many to be a lesser art form, even though it often requires a lot of research and high-quality writing. Simply by self-publishing, I was considered a blogger, not a proper, peer-reviewed writer. Never mind that the piece in question was reviewed by editors and published in a major publication.
As an artist, I see gatekeeping and snobbery by a lot of talented people who are quick to mock people they consider to be lesser creators. “If you can’t do a skill at a professional level, don’t put it in your act,” said one recent screed by someone I used to admire. This person had been performing said skill for only a few years, but apparently their head had gotten big and they felt like the arbiter of good art. They admitted they were a snob in the post, which made it all the more disgusting.
Apparently, identifying is a snob is a good way to justify your arrogance.
To be clear, I’m not talking about people who are concerned about dilution of an art form to appeal to commercialization or that some creative people accept pennies (or worst, exposure) for their creative work. I think that every creative person should want, or at least be okay with, compensation for their work. And when my fellow writers accept $5 for a 2,000-word article, it hurts my business as well as my soul.
That said, snobbery is something different. It’s the exclusion and mocking of other people’s sincere efforts based upon one’s own arrogance that one’s views and skills are at an acceptable level. But no one has set an objective standard. The closest we get is our community’s general agreement on what’s worth consuming, but snobs tend to consider themselves above that consensus. “I have high standards,” they say with their noses in the air.
I’m always supportive of people trying out a new art form or academic pursuit. We all started somewhere, and some of us progressed more quickly than others. Yet without a doubt, the people I see expressing snobbish views are the ones who tend to perform at lower levels than they imagine. Call it delusion, call it the Dunning-Kruger effect, whatever you like, but it’s the basis of snobbery. If someone truly felt confident in their skill and creativity, they wouldn’t feel the need to tear others down.
So, to the Redditor I saw recently who wished that IPAs would disappear: screw you. You’re not allowed to arbitrate others’ enjoyment of a beer style.
To the Redditor who mocked my article to try to make me feel bad for being a pop anthropologist: joke’s on you. Coming down out of the Ivory Tower is a great away to inspire students to declare anthropology as a major.
To the department head who tried to make me feel bad for studying my own society: you were wrong. Our field is about the study of humans, not “the other,” and I’m not required to exoticize people in the name of science.
To the artist-teacher who posted on Facebook to discourage people from creating the act they want: STFU. You just destroyed any confidence that your students had.
Let’s abandon snobbery in favor of compassionate support. Let’s allow people to enjoy what they like. Let’s stop gatekeeping and start enjoying the incredible diversity and creativity of our species.