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Monday, June 10, 2013

Sophisticates vs. unsophisticates

Every now and then it occurs to me, that the associations sparked by certain words determine the listener's level of sophistication:

When you hear the name Hannibal, do you first think of the Carthaginian general who crossed the Alps with his elephants, or of Mr. Lecter?

When you hear "SEC," do you expect to hear about the Securities and Exchange Commission, or the Southeastern Conference -- home to the Crimson Tide and the 'Dawgs?

Do the letters WWF evoke the World Wildlife Fund, or the World Wrestling Federation?

Does "superman" bring to mind Friedrich Nietzsche, or Clark Kent?

When you hear "The Talented Mr. Ripley," do you think of the book by Patricia Highsmith, or the movie starring Matt Damon?

Does the word "movement" make you think of the symphonic, or the bowel, kind?

After the words "the rise and fall of," do you expect to hear "The Roman Empire" or "her heaving breasts"?

Do the words "the theater" make you think of David Mamet, or the local movie chain?

Beyond words, there are other associations which give us away:

When you see a bottle of wine, do you wonder about the vintage and variety of grape, or do you think, time to get shit-faced!

When you see a man with a muscular, well-defined body, do you think what an idiot he must be to waste all that time at the gym, or, wow, that guy is jacked!

When you see someone driving a Ferrari, are you dismayed at his vulgarity, or envious of his hot shit car?

Personally, I count myself squarely in the unsophisticated category. On every single one of the examples above (with the possible exception of the SEC), I would have the lower brow reaction.

It's not that I'm really lowbrow: I don't like comic books, and have never been a professional wrestling fan. I'm just middlebrow, and there doesn't seem to be anything I can do about it.

I know that I should have some appreciation for opera, the ballet, fine art, antiquities, and the theater. And honestly, I would.....but they're just so boring.

To me, museums are places I would only go to see specimens of fearsome animals, not Art. Shakespeare was just someone I was forced to read in high school, not a joy to read.

I prefer Kurt Vonnegut, Frederick Forsyth, and Ken Kesey. The middlebrow pantheon.

I know the Russian writers are supposed to be great, but I'm just not interested. Or, at least, am no longer willing to make the effort to wade through those interminable chunks of pavement. (War and Peace was recently recommended to me, but I think I'll just wait for the movie.)

The only good thing I can say about myself is that I'm not pretentious. (Well, at least not about this stuff.) To me, there's nothing more sickening than people who affect an affection for something they think they're supposed to like, not because they actually enjoy it, but because they think it reflects well on them.

You can always tell because they advertise their love. They fall all over themselves letting you know how sophisticated they are. (The converse is also true: if anyone is ever sheepish about a hobby, at least you know he has a real passion for it.)

With the phony sophisticates, it's always their pride that gives them away.

Then again, looking over this post, it sure seems like I'm pretty proud of my lack of sophistication.

(Which is worse? I honestly don't know.)


lowly said...

Worst is having too much introspection. Marks you as an introvert, that most horrible of beings.

Those aren't binary choices:

Security -theater
target that -movement

John Craig said...

Lowly --
Ha! Guilty as charged. I do way too much navel-gazing.

And you're right, those aren't necessarily binary choices, that occurred to me as I was writing it. But I did find the idea that the same word would spark different associations mildly amusing, and I do think that even if one is aware of both choices, one of those will occur first.