Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Beware of Artists, Part 1

My current inspiration seems to be coming from discussions had while eating food. This weekend, I had brunch with my friend Tyler and while discussing the idea of artists and social classes, he said something really interesting. It seemed that artists (and here you can take artists to mean anyone who is passionate and interested in some craft, be it music, chemistry, or cricket) tend to want to do it all and try new things while others find comfort in just doing or being one thing and staying in a certain sphere. There's nothing wrong with staying where one is comfortable, of course, but this focuses more along the lines of getting out of an area, like a neighborhood or social circle, one always sticks to and going elsewhere. And that idea reminded me of this Cold War propaganda poster I've seen before:


This is meant to be insulting, but I think this is really one of the most complementary things to be said. Artists as I know them don't stick to one group of people or one part of town - they're all over the place, doing diverse things. But ideas of art and classism are prominent issues and ones that continue to bother and unsettle me.

It starts with who I am as a person. I am privileged, I am middle class, I am what some people would consider a "bougie." I like nice things (though I often can't afford them). I drink wine, I like sushi, I do yoga and go for runs, I listen to indie music and sometimes talk about obscure things like everyone should know them. I shop at thrift stores and major chains. I care a lot about organic food and shopping local and trying fancy drinks. I am skeptical of capitalism and yet also benefited greatly by it. I am neither entirely a hipster nor a bougie yuppie and yet if you were to catch a glimpse of me in some of these actions, you might try to peg me into one of these categories. And it's true that I fit into them in some ways (especially as sometimes the line between what people consider hipsters and bougies in the US is very fine indeed). But categorizing human beings is actually really difficult. Only focusing on these aspects disregards the part of me that really likes finding a low-key bar to go to and get drinks, or the part of me that would like to stay home and order a cheap, greasy pizza then go out on the town. It overlooks that I didn't always live in a cosmopolitan place like Minneapolis or even the middle class suburb of Minneapolis, but once lived in Indiana. I lived in a mobile home on a lake in the countryside and in a 1970s brick house in a small(ish) town and when I go back there to visit family (which I haven't done for ages, sadly) I can't help but feel a sort of cultural divide. It isn't that I'm uncomfortable in the environment of Indiana, exactly, but more that Indiana (at least as I know it know) is somewhat uncomfortable with the environment I come from.

When we talk about classism, we sometimes talk about how bourgeois people flout their designer clothes and accessories and experiences, not understanding that other people do not have the ability to go out and buy these things or have these experiences. But there's another part to classism that affects me more and it involves a certain uncomfortably with what the wealthy have. I've experienced it myself and have written about it before on this blog. However, there's an aspect I haven't really touched on and it involves thinking about me as the wealthy individual.

Let's admit it: fancy restaurants can be intimidating. Places that brush up the crumbs for you and have excessive amounts of silverware on the table and have more French on the menu than what I learned in my entire high school career can be frightening because they are different. However, I like to think of myself as the sort of person who can stroll into such a restaurant and order with no problem (assuming I'm not buying. If I'm buying, I'm the sort of person who strolls in, realizes there's no prices on the menu, and leaves before I've ordered anything more than water). I didn't used to be, but I've experienced enough fine dining with people that I've gotten over my worries about doing something wrong. But the restaurants that bother me are far higher in lux than in what bothers others. Sushi places I frequent, a restaurant my friends worked at in high school - these places seem nice and good for special events, but I didn't find them intimidating. But I've seen people I know grow uncomfortable in them and I feel bit of sadness, wondering what could be done to help them enjoy it the way I do. Some of it may be a matter of taste, but in this case it's a matter of comfort.

There's a point where staying with what you're comfortable makes sense. If you've been treated badly in a certain place because you don't fit the expectations of it, you likely don't want to go back, and begin to assume that other places like it treat you the same. There's a certain strain of anti-"fancy," because it's seen as elitist because it's treated too many people that way. When restaurants won't allow people into them because they look a certain way, it's understandable why there's a bias against it.

I am privileged and have experienced this rarely. Because of this, I'd like to see more people challenge the idea of refusing to go to fancy restaurants because they think they don't fit in there. To me, refusing to go to a place like this is letting classism win, is letting this negative strain continue. I'm the sort that will frequent run-down bars and posh restaurants, kitchy diners and buzzed-about bistros, acclaimed cafes and grungy coffee shops (for those of you from Minneapolis, I'm talking about Hard Times on campus which I think embraces the grunge), often mixing these up in the same day. I generally don't have to worry about being uncomfortable somewhere. Realizing this has made me realize just how privileged I am, whether it be my race or because I've had the opportunity to have a wide variety of experiences, or - as it most often is - both. I only wish that all people could feel this way and be able to feel comfortable everywhere. And I wonder what it would take to get us to a place where this was possible.

What does worry me about the refusal to go to "fancy places" is that, in a somewhat related way, there are other things of "bougie" culture that are cast aside as uncomfortable or unwanted, such as using "big words," or being intellectual or what is perceived as sophisticated. This is troubling as a college grad whose learned that one of the worst things you can ever do is make someone feel uncomfortable about knowledge. There isn't anything wrong with using big words or appearing sophisticated or intellectual. What is wrong is the people who use these things to appear better than someone else and use them to take advantage of people, to make them feel unintelligent. I continually remind myself to be patient with people who don't know something that seems obvious to me because it likely isn't obvious at all and I like to remind people that it's perfectly okay not to know something. Because I once didn't know the things I know now and I likely don't know half the things the other individual knows.

The thing is that there really are aspects of so-called bougie culture that I like. I like my nice wine and my cosmopolitan restaurants and fine clothes. But do I also like them because they are often out my reach and things that I yearn for, either because I actually want them or because society tells me that I should want them? And so, are they often objects of desire and markers for success for me? Perhaps. But I think I also just like wine and food and clothes if they fit a certain aesthetic, completely devoid of cost. However, the bougie things I do have I can't help but enjoy. Yet I think I also enjoy them because I'm not stuck there. I don't stick to one sort of social categorization over another. Incorporated in my life the way it is with a hodge-podge of other things, the snobbery usually inherent in the bourgeois is less apparent. Does this mean there's actually a way of making the bourgeois less "bougie" or classist? Or is this merely me being immersed of privilege and not really aware of its full extent? Or is this what happens when people on the internet criticize everything and leave the blogger wondering what there is left to enjoy?

This is kind of a messy, word-vomit approach to talking about classism, but it gets me where I need to go for Friday's post on classism and theater. So, if you're up for more ramblings, stick around for Friday's post as I try to reconcile ideas about theater for the oppressed, "traditional theater," and my yearnings for a theater that a wide, diverse audience can enjoy (while also convincing the world Shakespeare is really, really awesome). So even though I feel like 70% of this post is just random though bubbles, that's all for now.

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