You are not one of the myriad of interchangeable pieces but a unique human being and if you’ve got something to say, say it, and think well of yourself while you’re learning to say it better.
– David Mamet
Yesterday, on Tumblr, my Internet buddy Diane wrote in defense of Snooki’s upcoming “novel”, arguing (quite rightly, in my opinion), that all those posts “begging” people not to buy it are preaching snobbery. And it got me thinking: when it comes to music, literature, art, fashion…who are we to tell another person what they should and should not like? Beyond the fact that joy is scarce enough in this world, and it makes no sense to me whatsoever to tell someone they they shouldn’t enjoy anything (legal) that brings them happiness, the arts are virtually defined by the absence of black-and-white, right and wrong. If I tell you that 2 + 2 = 5, you’re more than welcome to sit me down for a math lesson, but if I tell you that I really love graphic novels? You may not agree – you may think they’re lowbrow/worthless/juvenile – but you’re going to have a hard time convincing me to see the error of my ways.
Another thing that happened yesterday: I received a series of comments from one woman under the Winter Sun post that I put up on Monday (only one ended up being approved; you can read my commenting policy here if you’re unfamiliar with it). In the comments that I did not approve, the woman took potshots at me personally, but also seemed determined to let me know that she is In Fashion (and therefore Knows More Than Me). In my response to her, I tried to convey that I was interested in how she’d style the outfit differently not because she is a Fashion Expert…but because she’s a person, and because there is so much beauty in the enormous variety of what people love and choose to put out into the world.
I also extended her a bit of an olive branch, asking her – as a self-professed “educator” – to share her thoughts about “unpredictable” fashion choices in general and alternatives to the outfit ideas I posted in particular, and her response was to post another comment (again, obviously not approved) in which she completely ignored my interest in her thoughts on her own industry in favor of stomping her feet and moaning about my lifestyle choices in amazingly original ways that I have never heard before. (Super educational!)
So, eh. I’m going to give my response to this woman a B-. Not because I wasn’t able to turn the conversation in a constructive direction (although I wasn’t, and I really would have liked to).
I think my response wasn’t a great one because the truth is that I don’t care what she thinks. And I’ll tell you why.
There is a larger issue at hand here, one that I’ve thought about a great deal. I despise snobbery in fashion (and music, and art, and literature) enormously. I despise it because…look, those people who want to make you think they know more than you about these things? They may very well have a broader background in the topic, but that doesn’t make your opinions about what you like any less valid. The commenter wrote to me that I have no right to post about clothing because I am not “a fashion person.” Really? Sure I am. So are you. If you like clothing, and you wear it…then your opinion counts, as far as I’m concerned. (Also, people who say things like “you’re not a faaaahshion person”? Well…good luck to them. I’m sure they’re extremely charming and loads of fun to be around.)
When it comes to fashion, to literature, to art, to music, you love what you love; there are no absolutes. But the best way that these people have to make themselves feel awesome is to make sure that you know that your opinions are wrong. They make you feel scared to say that hey, you kinda like Hootie and the Blowfish, or that you think that rockabilly hairstyles are pretty cool, or that you enjoy reading paperback thrillers sometimes, because they’re going to laugh at you, and mock you, and otherwise shut you down. They’re going to tell you that your taste is terrible, that your job is unimportant, that your ideas aren’t good enough, that you chose the wrong life partner or house or diet or freaking dinner plate pattern.
And that is a crappy thing to do.
Were these comments that insufferable? They were childish and they discouraged engagement, but I’ve seen worse. What really got to me was the haughtiness behind it; the know-it-all sentiment of trying to “educate” me (us). If you want to tell me about all the things you love and care about? I’m dying to hear. But if you want to tell me that what I love and care about is wrong, my interest goes out the window. I’m happy to tell you what I do like, but I am never going to make fun of you for liking something else. For wearing what makes you feel great, for listening to what makes you happy, for reading what turns you on.
You know what an attitude like this does? It shuts down the conversation and creates fear. And fear breeds homogeneity. And I don’t know about you, but I want a world full of difference.
People like this want to make you feel scared to experiment, scared to express yourself in whatever ways make you happy. Why? Because they are scared. It’s not anger. It’s not jealousy. It’s fear. And the only way for them to deal with their fear is to make sure that you feel it more deeply.
I say go ahead: wear your ball gown with rainboots. And tell all those people who make you feel like you can’t to take their expertise and shove it.