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Snobs have a bad reputation. Most people only think the word is disparaging, but there are at least two kinds of snobs.

The first class of snob is indeed a repulsive creature, egotistical, falsely-self important, and in most cases a total philistine. Their motivations derive from what they think the outside world expects of a quality person. This perception of the outside world, right or wrongly perceived, dominates their inner life.  They don’t love art, but  talking about it with sophisticated sounding jargon makes them appear cultured to people who don’t know better, and owning it allows them to look down on people with less money. They eat at the best restaurants oblivious of the way the food is prepared. Normally, maintaining this false self-importance requires being an asshole to those “lower” than them. This is the quintessential mark of the snob, and these vulgar boors should be denounced everywhere.

Ahh, but this second class of snob deserves a standing ovation! The Noble Snob loves what he loves and refuses to indulge in any artistic or cultural opinion but his own–not because he matters per se, but because the subject matters to him. His internal world directs the external one. He cannot sit idly by while banal, mediocre criticisms tarnish what he loves. He may become excited and brash while describing his loves and hates, and so is more likely to ignore the sense of politeness and decorum which, however well-meaning, is more concerned with preventing people from looking foolish than getting at the truth. The Noble Snob’s willingness to publicly criticize someone else’s opinion can injure egos, so they’re branded a snob in revenge.

Who are you to say? This pathetic sentence is only uttered by idiots who don’t understand that some art is better than other art. Art as “equally valuable so long as you like it” isn’t post-modern or profound, it’s just very stupid. Enjoy what you enjoy, but no amount of preference changes the fact that Bach and Tolstoy are superior artists to Lady Gaga and Stephen King. That’s just fact. Where you are on the hierarchy may be up for debate if the two artists are comparable, but there is a hierarchy.

Now, a Noble Snob becomes an asshole the second he is condescending towards people who like these latter artists. A good melody and a good story is a lovely thing, and I used Gaga and King as examples because they are indeed talented, prolific artists despite their incredible popularity. Popularity has no bearing on the quality in art one way or the other: obscurity doesn’t add value, and popularity is anything but synonymous with quality. Art’s merits are never revealed in statistics, and that’s exactly why the discussion about quality in art needs to be candid, robust, and ongoing.  It’s ridiculous to say that only the best art is worthwhile, so sneering at people who don’t like (but respect) canonical artists makes you the bad kind of snob. There’s tons of wicked artists out there.

Now, being condescending towards people who watch Jersey Shore is noble. Even the cretins who watch it know this, that’s why they excuse themselves and call it a “guilty pleasure.” Indeed, they are guilty: when shows become wildly popular without requiring writers and actors, their fans become enablers of junk and they should be tarred and feathered. When something is obviously made to be both horrible and profitable, from c-rate movies to fast food, it should be ridiculed without fear of being called a snob. But the case of Jersey Shore and its equivalents aren’t really a case at all, since nobody would call it art. But there’s a grey area between good art and trash that can rightly be debated. In order to avoid looking like a fool don’t criticize something you don’t know about, whether it’s high or low brow. But, once you have seen/judged it, feel free to tear it apart if that’s the way you feel. The search for quality depends on honest conversations.

In an age of invasive marketing where “quality” is determined by ratings and YouTube hits, enthusiasts avidly indulging their idiosyncrasies are heroes. People kind of know this now, and that’s why they eagerly, but with an endearing half-hearted reluctance, call themselves “nerds.” Maybe they love food, shaving with an old school straight blade, architecture, coffee, board games, film noir, classic literature, beer, scotch, chess, fashion…whatever. The aspiration towards quality isn’t something to be ashamed about!

The stigma of snobbery hinders people from sharing their actual thoughts and learning more about good stuff. Avoiding all friction in conversation may be a Canadian virtue ingrained in us (“I’m sorry,” “No no, I’m sorry!”), but it’s so boring! So criticize away. Nobody should be on guard about coming off as a snob, so long as they’re the right kind of snob.