a light defense of elitism

those who know me primarily through our shared love for cinema probably have a few immediate impressions of me. if you’re reading this blog, they probably err on the positive side; maybe you like my recommendations lists or believe i have a unique voice in “the discourse.” if you’re not reading this blog, well, suffice it to say that my takes may be more divisive.

this has less immediately to do with my taste (i don’t think my movie selections and favorites are particularly out there compared to my peers) and probably more to do with my attitude and disposition towards others. i’m aggressive, assertive, and elitist when it comes to film tastes. despite what you may believe about cineastes, this is actually pretty rare, online anyways. in 10+ years of spending too much time online in film circles, the most snobby place i’ve ever wandered into is the front page of r/movies, with no truly apt second place.

it may seem comical (or, if you’re one of those “not reading this” that i spoke of previously, dishonest) that a space dedicated to the saturation of corporatism to this degree is more stuck-up than archived mubi forums or private tracker boards, but again, taken from my experiences, this is just my experience of it. since i would hesitate to call myself educated in the other artforms, i really can’t say if this phenomenon exists elsewhere, but for me as a movie-appreciator, it’s definitely been an oddity that’s fascinated me for a while. the level of people believing their taste is factually superior than others when they’ve seen less than 500 movies and don’t know who jean renoir is, frankly, is mysterious to me. i had believed these types were the exception to hypercorporate types, not the norm.

first of all, what do i mean when i say snobby? or elitist? holier than thou? well, dear reader, i think you’ll find that i know these terms pretty well considering how comfortable i am with the fact that they all apply pretty well to me when it comes to film. dabbing on plebs has always been a hobby of mine, and though i may get some likes or some fun reaction images in response, it’s rare that i see any of my acquaintances engage in it in the way that i do. which is probably for the best, it would be unfortunate to see the entirety of web discourse devoted to a single strain of vitriol. but back to definitions:

a person with an exaggerated respect for high social position or wealth who seeks to associate with social superiors and dislikes people or activities regarded as lower-class.
  • a person who believes that their tastes in a particular area are superior to those of other people.

this is how google defines “snob,” which is the jumping point i’ll go off of. now, i’m firmly for the belief that taste is fully subjective, and the concept that there is any such thing as an objectively good movie is something that people who generally haven’t thought very hard about the concept ascribe to. as such, when playing the subjective game, i believe this argument goes both ways: while your tastes are your own, the reaction that other people will have to those judgment calls are also their own. if someone believes their taste to be superior to someone else’s, in the world of subjectivity, that seems fair game to me.

you might say “policing other people’s taste is hugely snobby,” and i would generally agree there. but let’s also examine what “policing” means in this context. take, for example, a viewer who doesn’t really care about movies too much, maybe they go to the theater a few times a year and watch a classic every month. clearly someone of this ilk has little investment in cinema – which is, of course, completely fine and reasonable, not everyone needs to be impassioned to a significant degree. if this is the case, why would such an individual care if another – who clearly does exhibit that passionate exuberance – sees them as a weaker film fan through the lens of subjectivity?

i ask this somewhat rhetorically, because that “casual fan” is just me when it comes to any number of subjects. chess, game theory, music, DAWs, playing falco, etc. basically every sort of area that i have a degree of swaying casual interest in. am i seriously invested in my knowledge of DAWs, or my skill in tertiary melee characters that i bring out against newer players? obviously not; it would be foolish (and needlessly snobby) to assert otherwise.

something else to note here is that the concept of elitism (particularly as it’s designated by the patrician/pleb vernacular) is largely moving away from a classist and bourgeois concept and more towards a universal one, bereft of marxist direction. what makes me say this? the prevalence of the internet in the world, primarily. now i realize that not everyone has access to the internet, but if you’re actively engaging with online discourse, then i’m going to assume you also have access to the tools for additional education in whatever subject you feel like pursuing. this was not always the case. for most of human history, illiteracy, oppression, and numerous other social barriers to entry have barred the lower class from having their opinions count on artistic taste. while this certainly is something that still goes on, when it comes to online clout (in the circles i’m in, anyways), this line has blurred to the point of irrelevance.

now back to the whole “casual fan” deal. if your investment in cinema is truly limited to occasional encounters and recommendations, how would someone’s acknowledgment of that fact hinder you from engaging with it on a deeper level? i understand people can certainly be rude or toxic about this, but if you believe your letterboxd top 4 of Pulp Fiction, The Empire Strikes Back, Shaun of the Dead, and American Psycho are really at the forefront of cinema because you’ve yet to explore it, isn’t there a certain form of less honest snobbery at play here?

i use these examples knowing full well that, if my goal is to disprove allegations of elitism, i am not succeeding. but i can already acknowledge that i believe i have better taste in films than a good chunk of people who are less involved with them. and if you aren’t involved with them, why would you care about someone who is involved with them pointing that out? somehow, though, it’s rare that i encounter this online, but i see it happen in real life pretty frequently, with people regularly clarifying they “aren’t really a movie person” in my presence as a precursor to film discussions.

with these data points aligned, i’ll make the cautious conclusion that people in film spaces on the internet are typically there because they believe they do have something to say about film that is important in some degree. obviously this doesn’t include everybody – there are more lurkers who are just there looking for recs than active posters in any forum or group – but for those who are regulars, despite whatever their exposure to history and theory, this seems to apply.

forgive me if i start to sound like a boomer here, but i believe there can definitely be a degree of an inflated sense of importance when it comes to these sorts of filmbros that you see on r/movies-type places that is brought about by social media, the net, all the usual factors. as a result, it means that people who got into film three years ago and never explored outside of english language canons are given a higher status among their peers because they can identify what the 180 rule is and probably more spout-able cinematic trivia. and, as a result, you get a place like r/movies, where this exaggerated sense of purpose culminates in a swath of filmbros who genuinely buy into the sanctity of the academy awards.

this is intellectual dishonesty at worst, but when it comes to clout contests on film discussion forums, it isn’t actually a big deal in the real world. but i think this sense of accepting the broad concept of elitism where it’s justified isn’t at all exclusive to this narrow location. the primary other place to look at it is, in my mind, politics. elitism arguments abound in many circles and criticisms; from the NYT op-eds which turn a blind eye to the working class, to leftist academics who turn a blind eye to people who can’t look up the world “dialectical.” painting all of these strokes of elitism as if they’re under the same umbrella, however, is where i think it gets dangerous.

in the film world, i remain unconvinced that there are many films which aren’t “for” working class folk. many of my online companions are bounded by a sense of paycheck-to-paycheck living, and a great taste in film. similarly, when it comes to theory (and i use this word without necessarily referring to academic literature, but also the sense of morals, ethics, and their interactions with politics at large) i am unconvinced that there are large barriers to entry when it comes to appreciation by the less educated classes. like with many of my statements so far, i can’t promise this theory without exceptions; i wouldn’t hand an illiterate person Das Kapital or give them a thumb drive with From the Clouds to the Resistance, but people in those positions are certainly capable of getting into these fields, in large part because so much of great theory and film is leftist in nature to begin with and pertains to their very situations and beliefs.

which brings me to my final point: is elitism necessarily a bad thing when it comes to political opinions? and while we can easily identify “bad” elitism in the form of neoliberal excess, i think it’s simple still to find examples of necessary, almost magnanimous elitism, holier-than-thou types, and snobs of every variety. should you consider yourself a greater individual than your adversary when their very core beliefs strike you as evil? absolutely. when you hear openly horrendous takes coming from the mouths of celebrity politicians on a daily basis, it’s okay to find a brief moment of “weakness” and think to yourself “wow, i’m really glad i don’t support bombing civilians.” this sort of cognizant, rational snobbery may be left with the opposition identifying it, but this should be owned up to when necessary. god forbid that you see yourself as more righteous when your positions are ardently more righteous.

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