Thursday, December 31, 2009

A question of snobbery

This itch to write is brought to you by the Internet Movie Database. I like to frequent their MessageBoards, particularly their Classic Film Board, which boasts, on occasion, some interesting discussions of movies much older than I am. The question of "film snobbery" came up in a recent thread, and I had to consider exactly what that term meant for me. What, exactly, makes a person a "film snob"?

I have very strange tastes in films. I like many of the things that presumed "film snobs" like: black and white films, silent films (particularly European ones, and ones that star Lon Chaney Sr.), and foreign films (I thought "Pan's Labyrinth" was by far the best film of 2006). Yet I cannot embrace many of the films most loved by high-toned critics, because I find their emotional coldness off-putting. I have never cared, and never will care, for what I call "Everyone's-a-Scumbag" films, movies in which not a single character boasts a working moral compass and not a single relationship is remotely healthy or constructive. I need a film to engage my emotions as well as my intellect, and in the eyes of many, by this I forfeit my right to be taken seriously as a film buff. So I suppose I'm part "film snob" and part "film slob" -- that is, if snobbery/slobbery is determined principally by what films one likes or dislikes.

But I don't think it is.
Film snobbery is really about how we respond to people whose cinematic tastes differ from ours. Where movies are concerned, we like what we like; sometimes we can articulate the reasons and sometimes we can't. But when we try to make other people feel bad about what they like, we cross the line into film snobbery.

Example: I love "The English Patient." (And I do NOT care for "Seinfeld," thank you very much.) When I first saw it at the theater it captivated me, and I still find it a lushly moving romantic film, even though I know many, many people disagree with me. My husband dislikes the film, and I respect his right to do so. I'm not about to attempt to "convert" him. When I watch my DVD of this film, I will watch it alone, and I'm fine with that. My hubby and I aren't always going to like the same things.
But he has never once attempted to make me feel as if there's something wrong with me because I love this film. Other people, however, have.

At the heart of snobbery lies the desire to crush the joy that others take in a given thing (a film, a book, a piece of music, a bottle of wine). Film snobs aren't content simply to dislike a film. They have to do their best to see that no one else takes pleasure in that film, and they do it by including the film's fans in their attacks. Book snobs do this as well. Sometimes I enjoy visiting and reading reviews of my favorite books. As I rifled through the countless reviews posted for Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, I noticed that 95% of the negative reviews included slams at the books' fans. ("Far be it from me to call down the wrath of a thousand virgins on my head, but these books suck!" "Avoid these books. Avoid the people who read these books." That's just a sample.) Even though I love LOTR, both the books and Peter Jackson's film trilogy, I can comprehend why others might not share my opinion. Yet casting aspersions on my sex life because I happen to enjoy a series of books is way out of line.

That's what snobs do. They're in the killjoy business.
Another tip of the hat to Eleanor Roosevelt's marvelous bit of wisdom: Nobody can make us feel inferior without our permission. Whether our favorite film is "Citizen Kane," "Casablanca," "The Godfather," or "The Hangover," let's not give film snobs that permission.

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