Obama is an elitist because he likes arugula? This needs a lot of unpacking. Part of it has to do with the fact that arugula is a funny-sounding word. I think it was George Carlin, may he rest in peace, who compiled a list of funny-sounding words (not to be confused with the Seven Words you can’t say on television), noting in the process that almost any word with a K in it is going to sound funny (has anybody told the Ku Klux Klan about this?) As a lifelong investor in the Kokomo, Kaskaskia, Kankakee, Keokuk and Cucamonga Railroad, I have to admit he has a point. But I digress. Arugula sounds funny, and furthermore is really unfamiliar to most Americans. So that’s where it all starts. And funny-sounding food is somehow funnier than a lot of other funny-sounding things. Rutabaga, for instance, is a total hoot. Mangel-wurzels would be pretty funny too, except that we simply don’t have them this side of the Atlantic.
In addition, arugula is expensive. More expensive than plain old iceberg lettuce (feh!) Admittedly I got out of the iceberg lettuce habit during the UFW lettuce boycott way back when, and discovered in the process that there are a lot more interesting things to make salads with, not all of them as expensive as arugula. Like spinach, and cabbage, and celery leaves, and watercress, and bok choy. So maybe not liking iceberg lettuce is actually a political marker? But that still doesn’t make it elitist.
Liking wine instead of beer is supposed to be elitist, though not as much so as it used to be. Sushi used to be elitist, but now that they make it with stuff like cream cheese and avocado and barbecue sauce, it’s getting a whole new constituency. Same thing happened to yogurt, which used to be just for health nuts, but now no self-respecting female teenager can live without it. Vegetarianism used to be elitist, but health concerns and the rising price of meat are changing that.
Then there’s music. Classical music is elitist. Rock, and country, and jazz, and even, in its day, folk, used to be plebian, but are slowly working their way up to elitism, leaving hip-hop for the masses. In short, elitism, whatever else it is, is a moving target.
I’m trying a different approach to Steve’s recent post, I guess. Elitism is, first and foremost, a dirty word in American culture. It means “believing you’re better than everybody else.” (Presumably, the belief must be erroneous. Or are people who really are better than everybody else still capable of being elitist? You know, like Tiger Woods and Michael Phelps and Steven Hawking?)
So is it elitist to like wine more than beer, if you don’t think that makes you better than beer drinkers? Or is anyone who prefers wine to beer presumed to think that makes them better etc.? Likewise, mutatis mutandem, Beethoven vs. Fifty Cent and so on?
I mention this because most of the people I know who prefer arugula to iceberg really don’t think this makes them better than other people. That’s just what they like. Whatever happened to de gustibus non est disputandum?
In fact, most of the people I know who have season tickets to the symphony are a lot more open-minded about sports than sports fans are about classical music lovers. Sports fans feel free to mock “long-hair” music and sushi and arugula, while art history majors rarely if ever bad-mouth sports fans. Bad-mouthing sports fans is, I suppose, politically incorrect. (Not that political correctness ever gets a break, even from its beneficiaries.) Is it elitist not to say that you think you’re better than everybody else? This is getting too complicated for me. I welcome responses.