Dismissive Naysayers (Rant)

Ok, I must really be in a ranting spree… 😉

Feels kind of good. 🙂

Don’t worry, it won’t last. 😎

So… Why is it that people occasionally seem forced to be dismissive with people who like something that they themselves happen not to like? You know, in culinary articles, movie reports, political rallies, book reviews… Quite frequently, a negative description of a cultural item will read like “if you like this, you must be an idiot.” Instead of the more useful: “I don’t like this and I think it’s flawed in some ways but if you’re in the mood for this kind of book/meal/movie/experience, you might enjoy it. I respect your tastes, I just don’t share them.”

Now. Some people who know e might think I’m talking about them. I’m not. Really, I’m not talking about anyone in particular. Not even about a category of people. I’m just describing a behavior. At least, I’m trying to.

Even though this is (yet another) rant, I don’t think I’m even really complaining about this kind of behavior. I’m just talking about it. Venting, yes, ok. But not really whining/complaining/dismissing. I know it sounds like something else, but I’m pretty sure I know how I feel about the whole thing. No, I don’t particularly enjoy this behavior. But I can deal with it. I’m fine. I don’t want to eradicate the behavior. I just elucidate.

I’m mostly talking about my puzzlement at this behavior. IMHO, if you don’t like something, there’s really no use in ruining it for other people. I mean, is it supposed to be funny, or something? Is it a way to brag about having a sophisticated palate, about being well-read, about having attained a high degree of media literacy?

Now, I’m sure I’ve done exactly the same thing on occasion. If I don’t enjoy it too much from other people, I hate it coming from my own sorry self. It just doesn’t correspond to my way of thinking about basically anything. If I’ve done it, I guess it might have come from a weird dynamic in which I entered by mistake. Not that it’s an excuse. I don’t need an excuse for something which is not inherently bad. But I do want to understand what’s going on.

I keep wondering how people would react when they are told something like “you’re an idiot for loving a person like this.” That, I’m pretty sure I never said to anyone. If I ever did, something really strange must have happened. But it does happen occasionally. And I wonder how people feel because it might be a path to awareness. Not that an appreciation of “a thing” is in any way similar to an attachment to a human being. But the dismissive sentiment seems to me relatively similar in both cases.

Maybe I’m wrong. About the whole thing. Maybe I just don’t get it and some people just have “superior taste” about everything than anybody else and when they say “it’s bad,” it really means that there’s no way to ever appreciate this thing in any context if you’re a worthy human being. Sure, it’s possible.

I just prefer being an hedonist. 🙂

And I prefer venting occasionally. Not on a regular basis. 😉

16 thoughts on “Dismissive Naysayers (Rant)”

  1. To rant back at the ranter: Last night I found you rather impatient with a viewpoint you disagreed with. A certain style of interaction involves putting a topic on the table that is well defined and bluntly explained. Example: “anyone who likes this beer is an idiot” – and then slowly and enjoyable discussing such a statement.

    It is similar to the style of journalistic writing where often the reader of a newspaper only reads the beginning and needs the point delivered quickly – but some people desire the full discourse and merit behind it. Think of it as a debate between two colleges on a topic. The original statement is just the topic, not necessarily something that either really agrees with. Isn’t the point of blogs, bar conversation, and whatnot to do some combination of {entertain, educate, pass time, learn from other person, smell the roses, engage the person reading/you are with, etc.}

    But you have to respect the context. Two experienced beer drinkers can enjoy this conversation – but you have to show patience. It isn’t something you go around saying to random strangers.

    “An idiot” is a USA badge of courage that people seem to enjoy. I observe that many older computer users like to announce they are “idiots” when requesting for assistance. There is an entire line of books on various topics “for idiots.” I personally find it foolish, but I recognize that the term has evolved to not be an insult but sometimes a thought-provoking introduction.

  2. @RoundSparrow Thanks for your feedback. And insight.
    Notice that I’m not ranting about anyone. Last night’s discussion was a bit weird, I agree. Much of the context is that we were going back to a discussion we had had before and that, on the most part, we were in agreement but were just going in different directions. It’s something which is bound to happen with some people. The fact that I have a hard time with statements about I supposedly meant is pretty personal and I’m working on it. It just strikes a sensitive chord.
    What I was blogging about here was something else, though. The main scenario I was referring to wasn’t a conversation. It’s a series of pronouncements made publicly by self-labelled pundits. Other voices get drowned out. And that’s what I find sad. It’s the squeaky wheel getting the grease.
    It’s perfectly fine for me if someone gives a beer a negative review, even saying such things as “I think this beer is really bad.” When someone is having a conversation with someone else and says, even somewhat seriously, that she thinks the other person is an idiot for enjoying a beer, I don’t have too much of a problem. I don’t find it particularly conducive to open discussion about preferences, differences in taste, the experience of beer in context, etc. But it’s still ok if there’s some openness.
    The naysaying I was describing is more about some Amazon/Netflix/blog reviewer dismissing other voices. Personal responses in public forums are a bit like that. Trolls, flamebaiters, haters. I really think it’s a different context from those cases you describe (including last night’s conversation about the health properties of different beer types). But I do understand where you see similarities.
    Again, thanks for sharing!
    And thanks for last night’s very pleasant conversation overall! 😉

  3. Some of this surely has to do with distinction strategies. ‘Nice guy’, ‘ironist’, ‘hater’ etc. mark out positions in interactive fields. Bourdieu here.

    Or to be more Durkheimy, sometimes we tread on each others’ sacreds, that is, those things about which we have no sense of humor, getting a predictably ‘irrational’ rise. Which can be a power move. Which takes me back to Bourdieu, or maybe Foucault, but now I’m playing the cultural reference game, oh dear…

    The general point being, to agree with RoundSparrow, that only under very rare conditions are conversations only about (or even mostly about) what they’re about, as you also said AE for another context in the academia/education post.

  4. @Carl Speaking of Bourdieu, a Spanish-speaking site about the social thinker is using his last name on Twitter. And this account following a (relatively small) number of twittering social scientists (including @Kerim from SavageMinds and @JenCardew, the SfAA podcaster).

    I see what the both of you mean. I don’t have a problem with what either of you is saying. Especially about normal social interactions like conversations and socially marked contexts.
    What I grok less, though, is the posturing about taste, in (merely semi-interactive) public discourse which seem relatively context-less. Very different from conversation: static, highly formalized. And not encouraging exchange.
    Or maybe I’m being naïve, as I’m wont to be.
    This is a case where my puzzlement is a personal reaction. I can conceive of what may be going on and I find some parts of those dismissive reviews funny. But it remains difficult for me to think that there are cases in which people find it genuinely stupid for somebody else to enjoy something. The reverse, which is still pretty snotty, I can understand (to find it stupid to dislike something). But I don’t grok why some comments should be so dismissive about other people’s taste.

    What’s interesting about this specific blogpost is that it’s quite different from most of my other ones. Not that it was that sloppy (more than average, still not extreme). But it was more “provocative” than my usual drivel.
    Although, I did post a couple of satirical pieces and, just recently, two other rants. And I just knew that at least one of these posts would get me comments and/or increased readership. It might just be a coincidence (I interacted with the both of you outside of this blog, in the past 24 hours). But it goes well with the idea that some post styles are more likely to spark interest in my blog.
    To be honest, though, I probably won’t rant much in the future. I don’t especially enjoy doing it. It worked well for me today, for a number of reasons. But it still feels like cheating.

  5. You should rant more, as you really don’t even deserve to call it ranting. It is much too thoughtful and much to introspective.

    I am not entirely sure your follow-up has helped me understand your general dislike. We wont’ even say “rant” more like “you have a personal dislike”.

    You mention “Amazon/Netflix/blog reviewer dismissing other voices” To me – I want the average net reviewer to be blunt and honest. Especially about context. If you ONLY like action films, then you should say that. If you like oddball films you should say that.

    Man up, Alexandre [ 😉 ], give us a link to 2+ examples of the type of thing you see online that inspired this rant.

  6. @RoundSparrow Well, see, ranting isn’t my thing. Posting these entries yesterday did feel kind of good but it was the kind of feeling you get when you’re consciously “playing a role,” adopting a persona. I agree that these weren’t particularly good rants but I do find them ranty. Throwing my pet peeves at people isn’t something I do often because most people seem to think that it means I dislike something about others (maybe them), which really isn’t the point. These are things which can occasionally make me react and even affect me. But I constantly keep in mind that my reactions are my own.
    I don’t want to “man up.” Not my thing. Sure, a few things I saw (yes, one was a movie review) at that time made me think about this reaction of mine. But my post wasn’t about those specific things. My post was about something which has been with me for a while, which did run underneath a few other posts of mine and which may help someone understand the kind of person I am and/or strive to be.
    OTOH, I might do a blogpost about online reviews of “content.” Yes, Netflix/Flixster reviews, Amazon comments, IMDb comments, blog comments, podcast comments, etc.
    In fact, IMDb is probably a good example. On average, most movie reviews there are thoughtful and even insightful. They occasionally do help in finding movies we might enjoy, even though the “recommendation system” angle isn’t really prominent (it’d be an obvious business model). The few movie reviews I wrote on IMDb were meant to be of the thoughtful/insightful style. Not sure I succeeded but I did try. Not just saying “this movie rocks” or “I really love this movie” but trying to set up appropriate expectations about a movie and/or to get people who saw a given movie to get some “perspective” on it.
    One thing I perceive is that people are trying to be “arbiters of good taste” and/or to protect their reputation by not admitting they like something which is considered unworthy in mainstream discourse. You know, snobbism, guilty pleasures, and “playlistism”. Actually, it’s funny to see that a definition displaying a dismissive attitude is included in this Urban Dictionary entry but is being rated down.

    Now, this can all be the start of a future blog entry. But I’m not ready for it yet.

    BTW, I really do appreciate your comments. Comments and trackbacks are among my favorite dimensions of blogging. Seriously.

  7. Sheesh, AE, what a doll you are. I mean honestly, I just love the way you think and express yourself. Reminding me to be good, as good people should.

    My friend Abe remarks that it would be awfully cumbersome to preface every sentence or even every conversation with a phrase like “in my opinion” or “from my perspective” or “according to my current understanding/mood/agenda.” Yup, yet nothing less will do for some people. When I want conversation to flow I start by telling people how right they are and then gradually whittle away at all the ways I disagree (from my perspective, according to my current understanding) in the friendly glow that follows. Patiently reframing and provoking, looking for a bouquet of perspectives, hoping for reciprocity but rarely getting it. That’s pretty exhausting, so I sometimes yearn for a more wild-westy, gunslingy version of conversation. Is that what your ‘rant’ expresses, oddly enough?

    Then again, I quickly tire of fighting too, especially mere fighting for the sake of fighting. Which I take to be the core of your irritation. It’s actually a little hard to tell because you’re being so dadgum thoughtful and diplomatic.

  8. @Carl Erm… Sorry?
    As RoundSparrow knows but relatively few people knows, I’m going through important life changes right now. And one thing I try to do is deal with what I consider to be irritants (thanks for the word “irritation” as it does capture how I feel).
    Many people who know me (including my wife) agree with you that constant contextualization is cumbersome, irritating (!) even. I have a hard time getting away from it, though.
    There are a few contexts in which I slip out. The gunslingy conversational mode you describe is easy for me to adopt when I’m among people I know very well. Especially fellow French-speakers and/or ethnographers.
    You can probably notice this in differences between my comments on SavageMinds and my blogposts here. Although, on SM, I have to remain careful because it’s a very public context to which I’m an outsider and I’m afraid of bringing the conversations back to the “Anthro-L” mode.
    So I think you and I aren’t that different. One thing which probably does distinguish us from one another, AFAICT, is that you’re more accustomed to U.S. conversational styles than I am. I’ve been living in the States on and off for ten years but this is one aspect of social life with which I still struggle.
    Ah, well…

    Anyhoo, apologies for being such a “doll” (which I don’t interpret to be a threat to my manhood). I’ll try to be less dolly but it won’t be to satisfy RS and you.

  9. Oops, I meant that doll remark as my highest compliment. I guess it’s an old fifties-ism – imagine a battered old bombshell blonde telling you this in a cigarette-scarred voice as she pours ya a cuppa joe at a Hopperesque diner.

    My lawyer ex-wife liked the constant contextualization fine, as long as I was doing it reflexively; it was the perspective shifting and incredulity toward metanarratives she got sick of. My ex-cellent new wife is more of a kindred spirit about it all (and with an artist’s eye for layers). Your life changes matter to me. I know from my own experience how much they may affect the self we have available for our interactions.

    As a fellow outsider (even to anthropology, although earlier versions of it are part of my field in modern intellectual and cultural history) I’d be interested in your take on SavageMinds. So far I like it. I just waded right in with my ignent thoughts, which is my U.S. conversational way of saying Hi and seeing if I’m going to like being there. Community is the point for me, but community of the sort where we all say what we think, then sort it out. I’ve started to get a little substantive feedback and it all seems pretty intelligent, but I also notice quite a lot of groping after an inclusive institutional model and etiquette (I linked to this blog in that context, hope that’s ok). When that happens, in my experience, the fussbudgets usually end up ‘winning’ (tragedy drives out comedy), and I’ve got plenty of those to cherish and appease in my real life.

    On the question of race dynamics in the classroom I thought you made a good point about not getting too tete-a-tete about it there, so I’m waiting for some more voices before I say anything more. But I’m in agreement with your observations, which I share from a more ‘native’ perspective, and I also find the dynamic disappointing. Would you rather have further conversation about that here, there, or both?

  10. Don’t worry about the doll comment. It made me smile. I must admit it’s the first time another man calls me a doll. But, really, I don’t have a problem with that. 😉
    (I also am taken to be a woman by some English-speakers because «Alexandre» apparently looks like “Alexandra”…)
    I’m interested in your own life changes because they sound encouraging.
    One thing I dislike (!) about the notion of “kindred spirit” is that it seems a tad bit exclusive. But I’m emotionally touched when I find such kindred spirits. Not as “people who think like me.” But “people who are fine with letting me be what I am.”
    Akshoolly… This is the corollary of one of my pet peeves. I’m self-aware (and self-conscious) enough to get somewhat ticked off when people tell me what I am, analyze my reactions, and argue that what I do is different from what I want to do. I understand that they would do it. But for someone with a long history of social rejection, “it don’t feel so good.”

    As for SavageMinds and such… I might post something here but I’d probably prefer an email conversation. I do have your email address so, if you don’t mind, I’d like to respond there.
    Not a problem about linking to me. Hadn’t noticed it but I always enjoy it. Although, for the record, I take your compliment to be a bit too strong. I don’t mind, but I don’t think so highly of my writing as to think it’s relevant to mention it in such a scholarly conversation. It doesn’t fit my dear old impostor syndrome. Or, rather, it fits it too well.
    For the record also, about SM: I think it fits its stated and implicit purpose yet I also think it could be more open or “community-oriented.” I understand why it isn’t (having seen enough of Anthro-L). Sure, there’s always a degree of exclusion involved in any community. But I wish there were something of a “community of like-minded ethnographers” who could have thoughtful discussions about ethnographic disciplines without having to “fit in the gang.” I say this as someone who has a very easy time entering most groups (being ostracized at a young age probably trained me for such). But the group seems to rely on inside knowledge too much for the group to be truly open. Which isn’t the blog’s mission.
    Now, I’m not saying the group is a clique. But I do think it displays a relatively high clustering coefficient. Which is fine. Just not the kind of group I need to live in. So I end up communicating with the group on occasion all the while realizing that, as Kerim has been saying, it’s probably better to all have our own blogs.

    Ok… Was going to reply through email. Still might do so. But it’s probably the gist of it right here.

    Thanks, dear! 😉

  11. Poking around. “Taste tribes”:http://www.mindjack.com/feature/tastetribes.html.

    Thinking about a spoof ethnography (like Nacirema) of the intellectual tribe, whose only tools are words that they chip into an astonishing variety of shapes of extraordinary sharpness and which they wield mostly against each other, except when they’re able to rub them together to make a confusing enough din to frighten off the smaller predators and rodents.

  12. Don’t worry about cross-citing. Thanks for the taste piece. Full of pop-culture references, I see. 😉
    (Don’t worry. It’s fine, really. I can get many of them and I don’t really mind anyway.)

    I do look forward to reading an extended version of the Nacirema-like “word-chiseling” post. In fact, I’m looking forward to reading your blog.

  13. No, no, no, non. Thank you. I am not going to be blogging any time soon. I work much better in conversation, reacting in a give and take mode, so I’m most happily parasitic (or I hope, symbiotic) on the blogs of others.

    When I was teaching Human Development at Cal State Hayward I ran the senior seminar once, the task of which was to do a qualitative observation of a social setting. One of my students thought she would use the opportunity to expose the complete personal uselessness and organizational destructiveness of one of her co-workers. Seems this woman spent her days flitting around the office distracting people with gossip and other chitchat.

    By the time we’d gotten through Geertz and Goffman and phenomenology and she wrote her paper, the student had concluded that this woman was the one completely indispensable employee, because she bound the office together in an informal network of information and sociability. I learned so much from that project. I’ll just be the gossip, you go right on working dear.

    I’m currently contributing regularly to a group blog called Politics and Letters; we’d love to see you. Mostly U.S. politics and the rhetorics thereof. I’ve been in my missionary ironist mode there.

  14. I understand what you mean about proxy blogging through comments on other people’s blogs. In fact, I should do it more myself. But I think it’s nice to strike a balance between contributing to other people’s blogs and working your own environment for discussion. It’s not about control. But it can be about roles.
    One important advantage a blog has, and the original reason I tried to find your blog, is that it serves as a “presence site,” an online profile. In conversations, this can be especially useful as a way to provide context. And though I’ve been quite enthusiastic about mailing-lists, this is one major advantage of blogs over mailing-lists. You can learn a lot about interlocutors and this type of learning may provide a lot of the needed context for the kind of discussion we’re having. In this case, knowing a few things about your department, your academic background and, yes, even your face can be helpful. Sure, it can be misleading. But, when it is, the discovery of a real person behind the blogger is an important experience.
    Pushing an online profile also has the advantage that people will probably not look beyond what is readily available. You can maintain a level of anonymity by sending readers to a barebones profile which signals to the reader that this is as much information as you would like to be known about you in blogging contexts. It discourages the nosier searches.
    A further advantage of an online profile is that it gives people the opportunity to contact you through alternative channels. A well-protected contact page, a clearly visible email address, a public “guestbook”…
    In a way, this profile is the very basis of online “networking” in its current form. It prevent unsolicited you would get through mailing-lists, especially public ones, but it still allows people to contact you. Personally, I’ve had a number of people contact me thanks to one of my blogs. And it’s been a very positive experience.
    The way I use blogs and other “Web 2.0” systems is also about aggregating thoughts on diverse subjects. Especially on my main blog, of course. I personally really like the fact that this blog represents the way I look at diverse, disparate subjects. No, it’s not really an anthro blog even though it’s an anthro’s blog. It’s not a blog about coffee or beer either, though I’ve blogged about coffee and beer on several occasions and have had journalists contact me about those topics. It’s not even a blog about “myself,” despite the fact that I’m the only author here. But it’s a blog where things that matter to me are adjacent.
    Besides, having our own blogs makes it easier to expand and link discussions across diverse sites. With all the talk about voices on SM recently, such a “radiation pattern” would clearly help.

    As for your HD student’s realization of her coworker’s function in context, I take it to be a good example of the value of different things we associate with ethnographic disciplines such as holism, insider/outsider negotiations, “cultural relativism”…
    If you mean to say that you perceive your role as a blog commenter in the same light, it’s fine by me. I’m really not saying you should stop commenting. In fact, I’m really happy that I can get commenters to visit from SM. But it doesn’t prevent you from having some kind of central profile.

    Despite appearances to the contrary, I’m not trying to convince you. It’s a free blogosphere and you should do with it as you wish (and blog administrators should feel free to do with your comments as they wish). I’m just thinking out loud about the value of blogging. After having done it for a few years, this kind of intro-/retrospection can be useful and appropriate.
    Besides, it’s my own blog so I’ll use it as I wish! 😉

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