“Man, you’re a total beer snob.”
is a phrase that I hear with some regularity. I don’t necessarily hate it.
My journey into beer probably looks similar to most: ingesting it in large, cheap quantities upon entering a Big Ten University, migrating from big ragers to smaller get-togethers with a more honed selection, methodically shifting through the years from the 24-can packs all the way up to 6-packs, then 4-packs, then growlers from local breweries, then dabbling in brewing myself. I can’t imagine attempting to hop from square one (Miller Lite kegs) to square now (Googling brew clones from Bell’s) with any measure of success – everyone has their own way of gradually becoming invested in something. It is, at first, almost accidental, then with a gradual awareness, then with a full-blown, abiding obsession. One day, you wake up and realize: I am a snob.
I am, admittedly, a beer snob. I am also, after working at café after café, a coffee snob. Having writing and design hobbies has made me fairly snobby about fonts. And above all else: having two degrees and a career path in opera has made me an opera snob. Again, I don’t hate it.
Recently, I Care If You Listen tweeted a Schmopera article about opera’s connection to its snobs, which caused some fair reflection. If snobs fund opera, but act as a barrier to progress, how can we circumvent their influence? What makes a snob? Am I that kind of snob?
Back track: My fiancée and I conversed at length recently about the media’s portrayal of our generation as being unwilling to invest in things. She disagreed with that notion – she posited (and correctly, I think) that our investments are micro-investments. We’re unafraid to invest in the quality of everyday things, especially as they pertain to other people: local and conscientiously-grown and –harvested foods, beer from small town craft breweries, regionally-roasted and higher-quality coffee beans, community-minded bookstores and bike shops, community gardens, et al. Investment, in a historical way, conjures images of stocks and bonds. To our generation, it means ensuring greater quality and instilling community.
This commitment to quality means being more discerning. We eliminate waste wherever possible and share whenever we can. We buy what’s in season. We patronize the businesses that make a positive impact on our communities and on the world. We invest in content, not façade. In our attempts to live a healthier and more sustainable life, we’ve found some room to be snobbish about our actions – and I don’t hate it.
The kind of snob that Schmopera mentions is a different breed of snob, an old varietal: the Stick-In-The-Mud. Their kind of snobbery dismisses new thoughts both because the new proves more challenging to digest, and because they fear that the new may sully long, proud histories. (Let alone that the histories are already sullied.) These snobs are, at heart, desperately attempting to preserve quality by keeping the doors shut, and while their hearts are in the right place, the result of their tactics often achieves the exact opposite: stagnation, datedness.
They are the witches that keep maidens in towers for fear of outside influence – and unfortunately, unlike all of the fairy tales, the witches occasionally succeed.
Am I that kind of snob? I don’t think so. I, and many, many others, look at opera as a fertile art which begs revision. Like our other personal investments, we expect a thoughtful product in return – we want opera to say something that matters, not simply look nice and sound nice. Content over façade. We appreciate what came before, but we know that we can do better. Imagining a more thoughtful future does not sully the past, it honors the past.
We stubbornly, jealously demand meaning to what we consume. That’s our kind of snobbery, and I am not in the least bit sorry about this.
Do the old snobs hold the keys to opera these days? Occasionally they do, especially in the upper echelons. That’s a circumstance that’s, thankfully, ending. A new breed of snobs is quickly dominating these days, and while we’re noticeably less wealthy, we’re fully aware that opera does not need the biggest stages and the biggest budgets to make the biggest impact. We want opera, in any size and in any setting, to say something – we want it to connect. Our new breed of snobs may change opera as it stands today, but the changes we make will grow solely from the needs, the continuing health, and the sustainability of our jealously-guarded art form.
Bostonians: any good lunch recommendations near South Station / Copley Square?
Two things that always get me out of a funk are