If you like to read non-fiction by snarky, middle-aged male journalists, you’re likely already familiar with that particular twenty-first century character quirk in which Specialized Trivia is king of the castle. I’m talking about music and the people you know who rave about Teenage Fanclub bootlegs or Bob Dylan bootleg bootlegs and spare no scorn for FM Radio. I’m talking about Trekkies. I’m talking about film students and career comedians and collectors of many kinds. I’m even talking about sports fanatics, but I mean the kind who can spout off specific plays in specific games which specifically occurred in the year 1966. Really, I’m talking about pop culture at large, and the people who believe that one media above all others is either the most practical or the most worthwhile way to be a human in the world interacting with other humans. But, to distill: I’m not talking about everybody who just really likes some genre of something. I’m talking about those friends–and you know them, in your life–who will scarcely leave their own dork corner in a conversation, and may judge you inadvertently for not knowing as much about their Thing as they deem suitable. You know–insufferable snobs (IS’).
It’s worth pointing out that the IS is primarily defined by the widely-acknowledged absurdity of his/her obsession. These people are not scientists. Academic professionals are also an entirely different ballgame–we call these folk ‘dweebs.’ Yet IS’ can be self-aware, on a spectrum. Think about Steve Buscemi’s character in the movie Ghost World and his creepily huge record collection. Think about Nick Hornby and Chuck Klosterman and Rob Sheffield and most music journalists ever. Think about the late great David Foster Wallace, who practically self-identified as a grammar SNOB in the fourth essay of his collection Consider the Lobster. Men who love tennis and vinyl and David Lynch to the end of days, hipsters, it is of these I speak–I’ve found it a funny and recent religion, this fanatic appreciation of offbeat pop culture. I write to you about it now, in fact, because I keep being charmed by the IS. I am tickled by his bottomless fun facts. I get big kicks out of his oddly aimed passion. I’m somehow made comfortable when he’s a tad socially awkward. And this being the decade and mine the metropolis where it sometimes feels that the nerds have indeed inherited the earth (YOU DON’T EVEN NEED THOSE GLASSES, DO YOU?) there is something to be said about what’s attractive in a proud geek. It has to do with the brazenness attendant to really loving something that most of the world finds uncool. And I’ve found that a bona fide snob is never doing it to be “ironic.” They go to conventions. They read the literature. They’re just that weird, and the disingenuous, snarky part of their personality is the one that knows just how weird they are and wants to let the world know they’re in on the joke, too.
And yet it becomes all kinds of fraught when the snob and the snob-lover really try to court. I feel like I’ve been on many dates that initially seemed to go well, but in the walking home aftermath I’ll realize nothing was said over dinner at all, we just had an inane three hour argument over the artistic merits of Weezer’s Pinkerton. It often seems that love and like can be confused with that ever-important “having something in common,” as if the more niche our common ground is, it follows that we two speaking are the more alike. You know every Wes Anderson soundtrack by heart, as well? Kindred! Maybe that means I’m in love with you! Problematic, no?
I love talking about movies and music and science-fiction, but I have known moments in a relationship where it’s clear that a recourse to pop culture chit-chat is just a defense mechanism to steer clear of those troubled waters of emotions, fears, meaningful secrets. It’s like those television dads who are only able to tell their television sons ‘I love you’ through the secret code of sports talk over a quiet breakfast table. I think there’s a problem when we’re three months in to “hanging out” and still, somehow, every conversation spirals back to Pitchfork’s Top 100 Lists, or plot-holes in certain indie movies. I think there’s a problem once I realize I like someone perhaps just because we can talk about the same things easily. And even if these “same things” are odd as can be to the state at large, at the end of the day such nit-pickery might amount to not so much common ground after all.
Yet I know it would be weird and impossible if people didn’t primarily find one another based on their similar and specific interests. If the world turned on lovers meeting as strangers on the street, proceeding to discuss only their innermost feelings and family histories, and moving straight from this vital and genuine kind of connection into a life based on living every moment of the present to its fullest!–also, I would be very bored very fast in a place like this. I know you can learn a lot about people from how they talk about what turns them on. And I like the IS for his passion, that is the fundamental freakness I attach to. I feel I can love a person who likes something so much they want to share it, shout it from the rooftops, hold you to the details, see you jazzed as well. And as a lot of artists–with their own fun mix of drive and delusion–are de facto Insufferable Snobs, sometimes those auteur-centric dinner tiffs can even contain an element of forward motion. Maybe we will make something with our loud, loud opinions! Maybe we’ll start a theater company, or a band! The world will know of our trivia, yet! But even these heartfelt pledges can’t prevent me from worrying about whether or not me and new boyfriend will make it as a couple, as a band and a relationship are not quite the same thing. Look what happened to The White Stripes.
Then, say, you go on a date and talk about THINGS and GENRES in their material containers for much of the evening. It’s fun and games. It’s familiar. You’re impressed, he impresses you. You’re charmed and tickled. You are brought to a secondary location and shown many more things and more things are discussed, objects are held to light, praised, mini histories are recited. And all of it is very cool (or uncool, depending on where you keep your heart), but perhaps cause to worry: you aren’t positive you’ll have something to say once all the THINGS are put aside. You aren’t positive you’ll have something to feel. After all, there are many of them and only two of you.
But comes a point—a scary point!—when the artifact flees, and you say “I am intimidated,” and he says “I am nervous,” and, “you know, thus, all these THINGS.” And then there’s some good-natured giggling.
It’s TBD what’s left in this room once everything is re-shelved, but note: the silence is not empty.