Is there an obligation to like certain culture if one is "smart"?
April 10, 2017 9:26 AM   Subscribe

Is there an obligation to like certain movies/shows, read certain books, listen to certain music, or otherwise consume/experience/appreciate certain pieces of cultural media in order to be considered smart?

Taste has been a source of anxiety for me for a long time: I've always worried whether or not taste and intelligence were connected in any way. More to the point, I'm worried that my tastes in particular are incongruent with those of a supposedly smart person. I don't feel "cultured" or "sophisticated" enough to be smart, in other words. It doesn't help that I see people (especially on the Internet) talk about taste in a way that implies taste and intelligence are linked. This is especially so when I see the ever ubiquitous lamenting of the apparently poor taste of the "mainstream," which sometimes seems to be accompanied by implications of intellectual or moral inferiority of that vaguely defined, yet massive, group of Other People.

I feel as if my taste is, oh I don't know, somehow "juvenile", uncultured, or even stupid, as if I'm not liking what I "should" be liking.

Really, this all boils down to worrying about my intelligence and capabilities. I think, "If I'm smart, how come I don't like [X] (where [X] is something that I imagine smart, cultured people "have to" like)? Maybe I'm not actually smart, then."

TL;DR -- Are taste and intelligence linked?
posted by arateaa to Media & Arts (82 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I mean ... no?

Obviously there's a social narrative that intelligence and sophistication go hand-in-hand, but that strikes me as a really juvenile and insecure way of looking at things. It's a stereotype. The most intelligent people I know love: trashy romance novels, kids' cartoons, bad movies, cheesy pop songs, Burger King chicken sandwiches, jello shots ... and so on. So what if "other people" think these are dumb things to like? They have the confidence to enjoy things and not fear that it "says" something about their intelligence.

Making decisions for yourself seems like a decent marker of intelligence to me - but if it makes you feel any better, here's an article about a study linking intelligence and enjoyment of trash films.
posted by DingoMutt at 9:39 AM on April 10, 2017 [7 favorites]

Taste and class are linked. That is not at all the same thing as taste and intelligence. (But since education and class are also linked, there are more people with lots of education who came from higher socioeconomic classes, as well as from racial privilege.)
posted by nat at 9:39 AM on April 10, 2017 [32 favorites]

Absolutely hell no. Don't worry about what others think of you. What you think of you is really the only thing that counts.
posted by jtexman1 at 9:40 AM on April 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm worried that my tastes in particular are incongruent with those of a supposedly smart person.

I have this problem! And at some level the issue comes down to "according to whom?" Like, culture is basically some sort of shared agreement of what people do/believe/feel. So, yes, there are definitely people who believe in highbrow/lowbrow distinctions who are in positions of power (I am in the US, can't speak to other countries). It's also useful to realize that one of the things that makes "good media" (i.e. things that advertisers want to pay for) is conflict of some sort. So this can be as simple as "Who is the best actress?" but also "People who like Iron Man are dumb" (NB: I liked Iron Man) or "You have been eating apples the wrong way forever!" So there is $$ value in creating these judgments and pronouncing about them.

Some professions have taste as a central part of them. Mine doesn't. Librarians help people figure out what information matches their needs and doesn't judge. However if you work in fashion or publishing or film making, there is definitely a sense in which having tastes which align with either dominant culture OR the culture that will make them money, has value. And this is two things

- do I like/dislike things because of my intelligence? Is intelligence aligned with certain tastes?
- does society like/dislike things because of some sort of objective reasons that can be understood? Is there cultural or personal value in having and/or expressing taste?

My issues are twofold

- I get anxious about people being very judgmental about issues of taste. MetaFilter is difficult for me in this regard, people are very judgey here (and within internet communities generally). However, I am smart, I like Iron Man, people who think smart people don't like Iron Man are wrong.
- I can also be concerned that, regardless of whether I have mainstream tastes or not (in some ways I do and in some I don't) I worry that I don't even recognize taste/style/culture signifiers which can make me more clueless than I'd like to be (as DingoMutt says: social intelligence)

So the short answer is no, the longer answer is "it depends based on what you are trying to do with the information you glean from this line of inquiry" Hope this is helpful.
posted by jessamyn at 9:41 AM on April 10, 2017 [21 favorites]

Taste and intelligence are in no way linked.

The culture you are seen to enjoy is linked to class identifiers - which are often indicated to link to intelligence, but this is in fact mostly bull.

What culture is deemed high or low depends on lots of factors mostly historical.

There is a war between 'high' and 'low' culture that those who care about it have been engaged in for as long as there has been a thing called 'culture' or indeed anything that someone called 'art'

Like what you like how you like, and find others who like it, to engage with. Trust me, no matter what it is, or how outside the norm you think they way you like it is, someone somewhere likes that thing the same way you do, probably for the same reasons.
posted by Faintdreams at 9:41 AM on April 10, 2017

Taste is complicated and doesn't bear on intelligence in any meaningful way. What I think is true is that there's some value in cultural literacy, of having a broad familiarity with the things that are out there in the cultural zeitgeist and in cultural history, independent of how much you actually like any given bit of it or an interest in learning deeply about it.

And I suspect in a lot of cases people will (sometimes with actually sniffy/snobby intent, but often probably just sort of lazily/thoughtlessly) collapse that complicated idea, that cultural literacy is valuable and a sign of critical thinking and curiosity which are both things that tend to be considered an aspect of intelligence, to the less useful cultural gatekeeping notion that liking a given thing is a litmus test for intelligence.

Basically: no, it's fine to not like stuff that other people like or think should be liked, and it doesn't make you stupid. If you find yourself frustrated/worried that you just don't even know what people are talking about re: some aspect of culture, hey, go ahead and do a little reading or poking around to canvas that unfamiliar territory. But at that point it's okay to just say, "eh, not for me" without feeling like you've done something wrong or failed to live up to your potential, etc.
posted by cortex at 9:41 AM on April 10, 2017 [12 favorites]

On one hand, certain art, literature, television, etc. assumes a base understanding of cultural history and context that can only be picked up through consumption and experience, whether that's self-taught or in schools.

On the other hand, the selection of what counts as high art or literature has been made by a traditionally advantaged social and economic class and is governed by its biases and privileged views. So where you might be told there's a relationship between taste and intelligence, there's actually a relationship between taste and wealth, or taste and institutional bias.

The sign of intelligence, to me, is the ability to understand and enjoy cultural products while understanding their significance to the culture at large. The older brothers of two of my high school peers were very much into pro wrestling. As in, they were the guys at the WWE matches holding up giant homemade signs and yelling their support from the sidelines. Were they intelligent? I don't know, but as far as I'm aware, one is now a surgeon and the other a respected economist in his field.
posted by mikeh at 9:42 AM on April 10, 2017 [1 favorite]


Or rather, taste and intelligence are usually defined in such a way as to valorize all the things that the upper classes are interested in and all the ways they think anyway. It's a rationalisation of the supremacy of the cultural interests of the elite - of course they must be superior.

That's speaking as someone who generally prefers the elitist stuff.

Much more important to approach the things that do speak to you in a spirit of curiosity, play and compassion.
posted by Grangousier at 9:42 AM on April 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

There's never any obligation to like anything. This is a correlation/causation issue.

" It doesn't help that I see people (especially on the Internet) talk about taste in a way that implies taste and intelligence are linked"

This is because a lot of smart people, especially on the internet, are assholes.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:42 AM on April 10, 2017 [27 favorites]

I think it's more important to understand why other people not only like, but passionately love things, whether or not we like those things ourselves.

That goes both ways: an educated neuroscientist who also authors delightful memoirs about time traveling Europe with his wealthy friends and family should try to understand why my friend really adores car racing and/or line dancing.

The human drives that connect us to opera or line dancing are not so disparate, and finding a way to understand them in others who are different is an important way to be more fully alive and connected to others. Refusing to try is a problem.
posted by amtho at 9:42 AM on April 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

You can safely put your mind on rest on this point; there is no correlation between intelligence and liking particular bits of culture. And most likely there never will be...any attempt to rigorously define the terms involved in establishing a connection is going to quickly run afoul of literally millions of confounding factors. Like what you like! Dislike whatever you want!
posted by Ipsifendus at 9:43 AM on April 10, 2017

I mean, sort of? At the population level? Kind of?

I guess I would expect that at the population level "smart" people would at least some of the time enjoy complicated art and culture, art and culture that are not merely enticing and accessible but that are sometimes repellent or productive of non-fun feelings, art and culture where you have to work a bit to get the experience.

At the individual level, I would not expect this, because, like, what if you're a totally talented physicist and you spend your off hours playing tennis and watching cheesy SF movies? Would you be not smart? Can we say that no such physicist exists?

Up to a point, I'd also expect that smart people would think complex things about less complicated media. So one might write something complicated about, say, cheesy SF movies.

I would not say that this holds true at the genre level, like "smart people like modernist novels, not science fiction". I would say that at the population level, I'd expect that smart people would read at least some more complicated and difficult novels, whether that means The Man Without Qualities or Dhalgren. I would also expect that smart people would be interested in situating what they read in some way - understanding, for instance, The Man Without Qualities in relation to other modernist novels, or in relation to other European novels, or in relation to other novels that don't really do gender very well, etc.

If you're really asking "I don't like opera, Derrida or experimental disco; does this mean I'm a big old dumbo", then the answer is definitely "no". Find something you do like and study it as comprehensively as possible - you will find that you have smart things to say. Find something that interests you while it also discomfits you and study it, ditto. Pursue your own interests actively and seriously and you'll produce something fairly "smart", even if you are not, like, technically a genius. Don't be afraid of people or material that are "smarter" than you - view them as sources of new ideas and knowledge rather than as proof that you're not smart enough.

IME, the most predictive "how to be smart about a thing" action you can take is to approach new material in a spirit of excited inquiry. If you've been kicked around and treated like you're not worthwhile, this can be difficult and can require some real self-soothing and mental gymnastics.
posted by Frowner at 9:43 AM on April 10, 2017 [27 favorites]

It doesn't help that I see people (especially on the Internet) talk about taste in a way that implies taste and intelligence are linked.

I always feel faintly embarrassed for people who make comments like this.
posted by DingoMutt at 9:43 AM on April 10, 2017 [5 favorites]

I'm going to disagree and say yes and no, because you're asking two very different questions:

1) Are taste and intelligence linked? No.
2) Is there an "obligation" to like certain types of art if you are "intelligent"? Sort of, although I think it has more to do with class and social circles, standing, etc.
posted by Automocar at 9:49 AM on April 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Well, there's "smart" in the sense of "insightful enough to enjoy the subtext in book A," or "educated enough to appreciate the references in TV show B," or whatever, but there's like well over nine thousand different types of "smart" and some of the smartest people I know are complete idiots if you shift the metrics by which you're grading their intelligence, so like what you like and don't sweat it.
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:50 AM on April 10, 2017 [6 favorites]

They're probably linked, but there's plenty of variance in taste among intelligent people. You're wayyyy overthinking it.

I love film-- Robert Bresson is one of my favorite directors, blah blah-- but I also love the Terminator movies. On the other hand, I have never seen a Transformers movie and never will. It says more about me than it does about movies, and that's fine, that's what taste is, an extension of your personality. (The article above about how intelligent people like trash movies is basically saying intelligent people like things that are fun to pick apart, because they're intelligent, and that's how intelligent people have fun.)

I think Disney and Marvel movies are dreck and I love a good "movie fight" (i.e. friendly but spirited argument) but I don't really think people who like them are stupid. My critique of the movies is that they're cynical, test screened to death, nonsense bullshit that cost too much and corporate taste for them prevents better film from being made. But if someone doesn't really give a shit about movies and likes Disney, why would I possibly care? I thought watching Iron Man was going to give me a brain hemorrhage but as jessamyn says, I know plenty of people who loved it and I don't think all of them are therefore idiots. I KNOW they're not idiots. They mostly don't give a shit about film as much as I do, and the ones who do just have a different sense of humor. I know I am less hostile toward screen tested nonsense that happens to tickle my particular aesthetic tastes.

I also, in spite of all this, loved the J.J. Abrams Star Wars movie because it was pure fun. I know it wasn't an intellectual exercise or high art and it was essentially someone using a shitload of money to create an amusement park ride but it really gave me a kick.

Now, certain people would say "how dare anyone say that Star Wars isn't a great movie?! How snobbish of them! How dare they say my tastes are base just because I don't like movies with subtitles?" And that, my friend, is anti-intellectualism. I think a common Metafilter trope is to say that anyone with more sophisticated taste than you is a craven liar which I find more obnoxious than having bad taste in the first place. I have bad taste in plenty of things, but I don't pretend like that makes me somehow better than people who have cultivated their taste in a certain area very carefully. You know why? Because I'm not totally insecure. I don't need to be the Best at music taste when I know for a fact I am no music aficianado, and I'm not threatened by the idea that some music buff somewhere would think my taste is lame. I could still be friends with that person despite our varying interest in music as art, as long as they weren't a total dolt.

I will also say that the idea that intelligent people loooooooooove all sorts of trash is very comforting and everything but I wouldn't say it's entirely accurate. I do love spy novels and some trash true crime/detective novels, but I'm intelligent enough to know when I like something for noble or ignoble reasons. The idea that what our basest instincts gravitate toward in spite of our intellect is 100% excellent and fine is kind of odd. I mean, you can like something and also know that in some sense liking it may be distasteful, and have varying degrees of comfort with that. That is a quality of intelligence. I also know when I read a spy novel that is the top of the genre and transcends it into true art. And that rules.
posted by stoneandstar at 9:51 AM on April 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

So I'm a stripper. In any given day, I get to spend time around people with varying education, intelligence, and taste — both customers and coworkers, and often in very intimate settings.

Your question: Are taste and intelligence linked?
The short answer: No, though people with less life experience often think that they are.

In my time dancing, I've realized that education and intelligence are not nearly as correlated as I had been taught. And the same goes for taste and intelligence, and money and intelligence.

Whether people perceive your tastes as "intelligent" depend a lot on how you discuss the interests.

For example, I have a friend who has a sky-high IQ, and he enjoys watching reality television competitions and WWE — two interests that would fall on the "tasteless" side of the spectrum, if we're going to be crass and rank them. But whenever he talks about those topics, he really pulls apart the social, financial, and production aspects in an undeniably intelligent way.

During a job interview at a prestigious, white-shoe kind of place, I was asked about my interests, and I said that I love first-person shooter video games. But then I (briefly) waxed poetic about it and spoke about interactivity in art and storytelling. I got the job.

The bottom line is that you don't need to worry about it this much. And the more life experience you get, the more this will become apparent.

You've asked a few questions about taste so far, and acknowledge that it is a genuine source of anxiety for you. It must be rough if you've viewing normal conversations about interests (film, music, hobbies, etc.) as "tests" of your intelligence. If I can gently suggest that you discuss this with someone you trust — a friend, a mentor, maybe a therapist — I hope that it would provide more insight into your personal situation than internet strangers can offer.
posted by Peppermint Snowflake at 9:59 AM on April 10, 2017 [39 favorites]

Are you conflating 'smart' with one type of American literati culture?

I know some people who've won international science awards. PhDs, known around the world for their ground breaking research. One binge watched the worst of reality TV on occasion, another wolfs down pulpy fantasy novels.

Neither knows jack about pretentious art film, and both would laugh at the notion that they aren't smart because they don't like certain entertainment.

Judging someone as stupid for their taste in entertainment is in my expererience something only done by pretentious snobby jerks, and I try not to hang out with them.
posted by SaltySalticid at 9:59 AM on April 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think I probably would have been a person who said "yes, they're linked" in my younger days. Now I am a person who says, "okay, Young Me was a sheltered asshole", largely because through more life experience my definition of "smart" has expanded drastically to include a lot of different ways of being smart. I think that Current Me is closer to an actual understanding of the world than Young Me was, FWIW.

This is probably an unanswerable question based on how you personally define "smart", "cultured", etc. But for whatever it's worth: There are people out there who may think of you as less intelligent if you do not like a certain thing. But those people are often jerks or have uncritically absorbed jerkish leanings and not unlearned them yet, including Young Me, and you might do well to consider this a useful litmus test for people whose good regard was probably not particularly valuable anyway.

I think it's worth trying a lot of different experiences to find out what you like, but I also think it's a valid and intelligent decision to say, "Okay, I've listened to a few operas," (or whatever), "and I think it's probably mostly not for me. I could probably find a few operas to like, given time, but my days on earth are limited and I would rather spend them on things I find more readily enjoyable." And then you move on to whatever thing you do like, or whatever thing kind of tantalizes you with "I can't quite tell if I like this, but there's something intriguing there, I want to investigate further," and set the opera aside and move on with your life. Life is too short to try to force-march yourself through liking something only because you think you're "supposed" to.
posted by Stacey at 10:00 AM on April 10, 2017

Or you could think about this the reverse way, like so: "Is it true that smart people must enjoy math and science?" Like, you can totally show me a beautiful equation and I will sit there and make "I do not understand you" fish faces because while I enjoy accounting in a quiet way I'm not actually good at math, so the beauty of any equation is lost on me. And yet by many metrics I'm fairly smart.

Because math and science are culturally situated differently than music, writing and movies, we have different narratives around how they are supposed to be enjoyed. It's not that important in the Anglophone world to enjoy math, the actual process of science, the actual process of programming, etc. (Nature documentaries, stories about math and science, etc, are different because they've been sort of turned into humanities.) But you can envision a world where being smart and cultured is almost entirely about one's ability to do mathy things - the mathier end of music, math itself, physics, etc. That's not even totally remote from how humans have conceived culture and intelligence at various times, either. What if we said "well, you have very little interest in programming languages, this is because you are an illiterate barbarian"? You wouldn't believe that.
posted by Frowner at 10:00 AM on April 10, 2017 [2 favorites]


I wouldn't doubt anyone's sincerity in saying they like such-and-such, even if it's something I might not like.

To be honest, I'm not really that much into movies or TV or any of these cultural things to begin with (because I don't get any enjoyment from most fiction), with the exception of music. And even in the case of music my taste, as such, is really no more than "Do I like the way it sounds?"

I just feel as if I'm not living up to some sort of standard or, worse, that what I enjoy or don't enjoy is a sign of some intellectual or moral deficiency on my part.
posted by arateaa at 10:00 AM on April 10, 2017

There are people who believe that it is true. Those people are assholes. They're often using it to gatekeep - that is, not let people into their special precious club by making up rules to cover up for underlying motives, like not wanting "those people" to belong, or to manufacture a scarcity to make themselves special.

The latter is often the driver of the decrying of the "mainstream". It's just another flavor of Your Favorite Band Sucks.

That's really all that "taste" is: arbitrary rules. There's no master list of taste. There are people out there who will think you are the best and most smartest if you want all x-kind-of-people literally dead. Why would you care if they think you're stupid? I personally want those people to hate me 24/7.

You should definitely apply some CBT-type narrative control techniques to this anxiety about taste, but also just apply some critical thinking. If someone thinks you're lesser because you like something, it might be that they are garbage. You get to decide.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:00 AM on April 10, 2017 [8 favorites]

To expand slightly on my point: these opinions (and they are only opinions) are way way way more about the person having them than you. People crave specialness and they crave identity and they want to believe themselves to be the smartest and best. Weirdly, that turns out to me that whatever they personally like (or whatever a person they admire likes) sets the bar for what's "officially" good to like.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:03 AM on April 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

I guess my question is, what makes you think you're so smart? And what makes the smarty-pants who have read the canon etc. think they are so smart?

I dunno, I used to be a teacher, and the number-one thing I tried to do for all of my students was to compliment them for being smart, no matter what. The second thing I tried to do was hold them accountable. They were all smart, and therefore had ownership of how well they might do in school.

My point is, there are lots of intelligent people out there. Tons. So many it doesn't matter. The rarities are those people who apply themselves (or have the opportunity to apply themselves), or those people who behave as principled, empathetic individuals.

In other words, you don't have to read the canon to be "smart." But in my opinion there are other things more important than being "smart", since being smart is so very very common.
posted by My Dad at 10:12 AM on April 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

I generally agree with the trend of comments here, but let me put in a good word for not being ignorant. This is actually a separate issue from whether you like something. A lot of anti-intellectualism comes from a place of ignorance, and then I'm inclined to think it reflects poorly on the intelligence. If a mind is not active and curious, if a mind does not recognize the areas in which it lacks good information, how intelligent can that mind be?
posted by praemunire at 10:13 AM on April 10, 2017 [34 favorites]

There are definitely smart people who consume "low culture" and can enjoy it in an intellectual way. And not every liberal intellectual likes Mad Men and The West Wing.

That said, I mostly *understand* why people like those things, even if I don't.

And to a degree, intellectual/"smart" life involves deliberate exercising of your brain. If you don't like that sort of thing, then certainly I can see how this might reflect badly on you.

If you're worried about the intellectual merits of culture you consume, my suggestion would be to approach everything you like or don't like critically rather than passively. It both exercises you mind and helps you connect intellectually with other smart people who consume similar culture.

What I think is important to remember is that "high culture" is not some kind of universal culture, but is itself its own subculture. "Literary fiction" of people like Tom Wolfe and Jonathan Franzen is itself the genre fiction of literary intellectuals. If you yourself are not interested in that, it doesn't make you unintellectual, it just means that this kind of genre isn't pleasurable for you.

I think there genuinely are some "intellectual" consumption patterns that come from being educated. This involves having a cultural foundation of "the things you should know" insofar as they are the things that created modern culture. But intellectual modern culture is more about using an intellectual background to think critically and critique modern culture. The reason certain cultural artifact code as "intellectual" is because they easily lend themselves to this kind of thought and criticism, but that doesn't mean not enjoying them makes you "not smart."
posted by deanc at 10:14 AM on April 10, 2017 [5 favorites]

Taking Lyn Never's point ("these opinions are way way way more about the person having them than you") a little bit further, even. These opinions are just another form of conspicuous consumption. This is no different than wearing a polo shirt with a particular logo on the chest. These people you're concerned about are so desperate for validation that their polo shirts are a good choice that they'll tell you that the logo on your polo shirt is inferior. And then they'll tell you that your choice in polo shirts reflects your character and intelligence. There's no reason to accept either argument. Maybe your polo shirt fits you better than theirs does, or maybe it was more affordable. There are hundreds of reasons you could choose to buy a different polo shirt. And no polo shirt has any bearing on your character. It is just a shirt that you wear. And so it is with books, or movies, or music. Defining someone by their consumption is silly.
posted by kevinbelt at 10:14 AM on April 10, 2017 [7 favorites]

Oh man, I actually remember your last question about this!

I definitely get that this can be a source of anxiety - I am incredibly ignorant of popular music and I used to consider it this Dark Secret that I could never let anyone know about.

I've done two things about this. The first one was to embrace my lack of interest in popular music as just a trait of mine, rather than something to 'fix.' "Isn't it funny, this one area of culture just passed me by somehow!"

The second thing was to take the things I DO care about and started learning more about them. I highly highly recommend that you do this, because it will be so much more valuable on both a personal and social level than just pointlessly absorbing The Canon.

I really like science fiction, and I stopped thinking of it as a Lame Nerd Thing and started systematically reading SF anthologies and jotting down my thoughts about every story I read, and now I know about loads of obscure authors from decades ago. I really like traditional American folk music, so I started listening to compilations of it and then tracking down full albums of my favorite artists from those compilations. I really like TV, so I started reading books about critical TV theory and the ins and outs of TV production.

Knowing all of these things has enriched my life because of the obvious reason that I know more bout the stuff I like, and also because it's allowed me to both be known as an expert in these things among my friends and to seek out people with similar interests. People come to me for SF recommendations and I joined an SF writing and critique group. I get into long interesting conversations about TV with people online and IRL. I sing weird folk music at karaoke and people actually get really into it because they haven't heard it before.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:15 AM on April 10, 2017 [11 favorites]

Also: people who only know about the stuff that "everyone" knows about likely have a very shallow understanding of those things. They don't actually care about them, they just approach them like homework assignments and then feel smug for being 'educated' while ignoring 99% of the world's culture. Frankly people like that are infuriating.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:17 AM on April 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Apparently there's a correlation between intelligence and liking trashy movies...
Some culture is going to require a certain level of intelligence to fully understand it. But a person could love opera without understanding it, or understand it and hate it. (For example)
posted by KateViolet at 10:18 AM on April 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

This is the third time you've asked basically the same thing; are you surrounded by snobs or something? Because people who judge others' intelligence on the shallow and narrow criteria of taste are snobs.
posted by kapers at 10:21 AM on April 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

@kapers: I'm on the Internet too much, is what this comes down to. The Internet (and in particular nerd-oriented spaces or any space which identifies itself as "separate" from the supposed mainstream culture) seems to have a real disdain for anything mainstream or even just remotely well known, which often extends to those who enjoy (or even just don't mind) said things. You know, the kinds of comments which aren't just content to lament Top 40 or Hollywood (which is fine if they don't like it, I don't really care for a lot of it after all), but also to characterize those who enjoy or tolerate it as a bunch of brain-dead sheeple or plebs or something similarly disparaging.
posted by arateaa at 10:29 AM on April 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

@kapers: What this really all boils down to is that I've doubted my own intelligence and capabilities for years and I'm terrified of anything that would confirm a deficiency thereof.
posted by arateaa at 10:32 AM on April 10, 2017

So, I remember your previous questions, and honey, it seems like you're really kind of hung up on this. I am gently suggesting therapy because a recurring theme in these questions is anxiety surrounding what other people might think of you. You can work on that and your life will improve immeasurably.

On preview: "The Internet" is a vast place. Maybe you're frequenting the places where stuck up, snobby, holier than thou people live. Get out of that space for a while. Take a break from the internet. Get involved with real life stuff. And I do still suggest therapy.

On preview again: Therapy.
posted by cooker girl at 10:33 AM on April 10, 2017 [14 favorites]

Just for funsies I'm gonna think of some of the smartest and most successful people I know and the 'unsophisticated' cultural stuff they're into:

-My college roommate, one of the most driven people I've ever met, is at the management level in a very competitive and prestigious field in her 20s. She absolutely loves reality TV of all kinds, pop-y dance music, and sports.

-My cousin's wife, who after a successful career in a policy field is pursuing a PhD in that field, hates pretty much all movies and loves sci-fi and fantasy TV shows and video games.

-A friend who won an Emmy writing for one of the most beloved shows on TV is a huge fan of trashy movies and 90s TV shows.

-My coworker, an international human rights lawyer, told me recently that she read literally hundreds of romance novels in her teens and twenties. She also loves sitcoms and will marathon them on the train on her ipad on the way to our office.

The thing all of those people have in common is that they embrace their love of these things, and give themselves the space to like the things they like without judging themselves for it.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:35 AM on April 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

@cooker girl: I've been in therapy for the past few months, although the bulk of my discussion has concerned a different, greater obsession/anxiety that I'm not really going to expand upon because that's not relevant to this discussion. I haven't really brought up the "worrying about intelligence and taste and what people think of me" thing as much.
posted by arateaa at 10:38 AM on April 10, 2017

Anxiety is a killer, I've dealt with it all my life and it used to totally paralyze me! But the first step to overcoming it is to try to remind yourself whenever you have one of these thoughts that you're having the thought because you have problems with anxiety, not because it's true.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:40 AM on April 10, 2017 [5 favorites]

Okay, now I will add something even snobbier. Look, my family are pretty old-school intellectual snobs. Popular music? Please. Why aren't you listening to classical and a limited selection of modern experimental work? Science fiction? What a waste of time. And television? Are you serious? What kind of idiot watches the idiot box? An idiot, that's who! (They are nicer and funner people than this makes them sound.) If you were to say that "serious" "intellectual" people watched Mad Men because it was quality television...well, my family isn't rude, but in their hearts they would judge.

My point isn't that we should all avoid science fiction, pop music, Mad Men and most novels written after about 1985 - it's that no matter what you like, there will always be people to whom it is dumb garbage that only dumb garbage idiots would like. (My family disapproves strongly of atonal composition, for instance, considering it a total fraud.)

If you focus on challenging yourself by looking at material that pushes you to think harder and understand more (even if only by a little bit) you will learn and grow. Someone who has the "right" tastes but does not learn and grow will fall behind in the end.
posted by Frowner at 10:42 AM on April 10, 2017 [5 favorites]

And yeah, it's weird that I've ruminated so long (I'm talking years) on what amounts to "Oh my God why do I like The Loud House and Bob's Burgers instead of Breaking Bad or whatever's the latest HBO show? Does this mean I'm an uncultured, unintelligent piece of trash?" but that's the way my anxiety-riddled mind works.
posted by arateaa at 10:43 AM on April 10, 2017

the bulk of my discussion has concerned a different, greater obsession/anxiety that I'm not really going to expand upon because that's not relevant to this discussion.

Obsessional thoughts, particularly ones that are intrusive and cause you a lot of worry and concern are likely part of the same general package. I know that to your brain these thoughts feel rational and that you can just suss out the truth (or approximate leanings) about taste and intelligence but realistically some of these concerns will drift more into the background as your anxiety and obsessive thoughts get dealt with. Rumination and obsession are the issues here, not taste and intelligence. You might want to look into Reassurance Seeking in OCD and Anxiety because that is what these questions seem like.
posted by jessamyn at 10:45 AM on April 10, 2017 [14 favorites]

You can safely disregard the opinions of those sneering, disdainful Internet people. They're insecure and naive. They're basically performing for each other because they (like you) fear they don't measure up. Let me guess, are these mostly young male nerd spaces? Maybe those aren't the best places for you to be right now.

Some of them are just very young and ill-informed; if they themselves aren't serious musicians then their opinions on pop music aren't expert evaluations, for example. They're just repeating what they think the acceptable opinion is, without analysis, like the sheep they claim to loathe. Most of them will grow out of it.

There is not just one metric by which intelligence is measured. And there are always people one "snob level" above you so even if you find something you think surpasses all intellectual standards there will be someone who is like, please. That's how it works. Best to opt out.
posted by kapers at 10:46 AM on April 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

Are sex, violence, insults and dirty jokes intellectual? If not, Shakespeare's plays aren't, either- and his work is practically a figurehead of "culture".
posted by windykites at 10:46 AM on April 10, 2017

[Heya, arateaa, just a bit of moderator feedback: Ask isn't meant to play out conversationally, really, so much as ask a question, get the answer you get. It's okay to post the occasional bit of clarification or followup as needed, but aim for less back-and-forth replies to various commenters going forward.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:47 AM on April 10, 2017

Lol @ the idea that Breaking Bad isn't 'mainstream' by the way. It's about as mainstream as it gets, literally everyone has heard of Breaking Bad! And Bob's Burgers regularly winds up on lists of best TV shows of [year], it's not trashy or low-class at all.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:50 AM on April 10, 2017 [3 favorites]


Sorry, I'm a bit used to Reddit and their way of doing things (although I'm coming to dislike their community and culture lately, which is why I came here).
posted by arateaa at 10:51 AM on April 10, 2017

Yeah, I think you're getting some wires crossed because you're just not hanging out (on the Internet) around people who are like you. Don't surround yourself with people you think you're "supposed" to measure up to, like reddit nerds or whatever. Breaking Bad is OK, but it's just OK, and Bob's Burgers is very well loved among Internet smart folk. So I think you're just labeling anything you like as horrid and everything you don't as incredible. Which is probably just anxiety.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:54 AM on April 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Also I know reddit has a lot of admirers but frankly whenever I try to get into it I am driven away by the fact that the average user age is very clearly like, 18. There may be smart people with valuable things to say there but you have to wade through a lot of immature dreck.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:55 AM on April 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

I just feel as if I'm not living up to some sort of standard or, worse, that what I enjoy or don't enjoy is a sign of some intellectual or moral deficiency on my part.

I think you might benefit from reading Roxane Gay's Bad Feminist. Many of the essays deal with this sense of disconnect that develops between what one enjoys consuming and what society says about those consuming that thing (e.g., "Am I a bad feminist because I like watching Say Yes to the Dress?").
posted by melissasaurus at 10:56 AM on April 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

For a more back-and-forth, welcoming environment, check out Chat (look up at the top of the page), and do please hang out on the Blue!
posted by cooker girl at 10:57 AM on April 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm terrified of anything that would confirm a deficiency thereof

My girlfriend is a tenured professor who has authored several books and has a PhD from a famous university and is known for being the student who has the record for finishing the PhD the fastest of anyone to ever have passed through her department. She also likes and owns Thomas Kincaid paintings. She earnestly enjoys feel-good movies from the 80s. There is obviously no doubt that she is "smart", regardless of the fact that her cultural tastes are looked down on by the sort of intellectual circles associated with our academic backgrounds.

If you're worried about whether you are intellectually deficient, focus on doing things that require you to use your intellect, not on consuming things that are supposedly signs of intellect.
posted by bright colored sock puppet at 11:03 AM on April 10, 2017 [9 favorites]

Yes to a lot of this being Anxiety Brain. In particular, okay, let's talk about Bob's Burgers.

I feel like 95% of my internet peer group (smart, nerdy, feminist, queer fandom types who can overthink and then write a lot of meta and fanfic about pretty much anything) are mega-into Bob's Burgers. I watched a few episodes, and it was enjoyable! But for assorted reasons it didn't hit my personal I-really-dig-this-and-I-want-to-watch-it-all-and-then-talk-about-it-on-the-Internet buttons. I haven't bothered to watch any more. I see the occasional amusing gifset, and I smile, and I have no interest in digging into the show any more than that. I'm pretty sure that at an earlier stage in wrestling with my brainweasels, I would have been looking at you and thinking, oh god, it's another smart internet person who loves Bob's Burgers, what is wrong with me, why don't I love it the way everyone else seems to, what am I missing, is it me, am I unintelligent or un-classy or something???

Spoiler: I'm not. It's just a thing that doesn't hit my personal buttons, and it's fine that you like it more than I do, and that doesn't actually make either of us smarter than the other. But in times past I would definitely have thought of you as being smarter/better than I was because you got this show that the Internet loves in a way that I do not. Which is only to say that the anxiety runs strong in every direction, and there is probably someone else looking at the things you like and thinking, holy cow, I wish I were smart/good enough to understand and like that thing! Maybe it would help to try to think about how you would talk to that person, and whether you would think less of them or whether you would want to be kind to them and reassure them. If the latter, maybe it's worth exploring how it might feel to turn some of that kindness and compassion on yourself, too.
posted by Stacey at 11:14 AM on April 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

I want to gently point out that all of your Metafilter questions have circulated around this central fear, that you are not liking the "right" and "smart" things.

Look, it doesn't matter. I'm really glad to hear you are in therapy, but this needs to be a part of your therapy, because it is causing you so much anxiety that you keep asking us the same question, but you keep refusing to listen to any of our answers.

I have a Master's and a PhD. I only mention that because our culture encourages you to assume that these degrees are markers of intelligence, and I want you to know that I like (and sometimes love) a lot of the dopiest, most idiotic pop culture materials around. I once cried after watching an episode of MTV's Tool Academy. During my Master's program, whenever someone tried to act too pretentious about what they were WRITING THESE DAYS, I would pepper them with trivia about boybands because it was exquisitely painful for them to know that anyone in the world cared about something so "stupid" and "bad" and "mainstream" (the worst of all!!!). I, an adult woman, own High School Musical on DVD. Despite its many glaring flaws, I am a decades-long fan of the show Friends and I still enjoy watching it. I have a collection of terrible romance novels that I like to reread sometimes. None of these preferences tell you anything about me or my intellect.

The worst part about people who tailor their likes and dislikes according to cultural acceptability and cachet is that it will all switch in ten years, and then you have to do it all over again. Like what you like and remember that people who try to dictate what is "correct" to like are Doing It Wrong. Doing what wrong? It. Everything.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 11:33 AM on April 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

The feeling that your tastes betray some deficiency is a hard one to get over. I remember when the movie The Exorcist came out, I remember mentioning that I'd read the book. My sister-in-law turned to my older brother and said "He read the book." I understood their private amusement that I would have read such a piece of trash (they were both writers.) I remember the feeling (and can tell this story) 40 something years later.

They're now divorced and one of their sons wrote and directed a well known movie satirizing (among other things) his parents' snobbishness. But I still remember the pain of the incident.
posted by Obscure Reference at 11:40 AM on April 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

It's definitely class rather than intelligence. One of the smartest people I've known is a huge fan of Duck Dynasty. That aligns with his family of origin, who are... not as smart. (I think the show is gross because of the cast's political beliefs, not because of the trashiness.)

I'd say I'm smarter than average and I have some terrible music on my phone, including *whispers* Hootie and the Blowfish and Whitesnake. It's what I was exposed to in high school and I link the music to specific experiences.

Basically, lots of people think that others who don't share their tastes are either trashy or pretentious. But scratch the surface of pretentious people and you'll find Say Yes to the Dress on their DVR and Katy Perry on their playlist. Everyone has their "secrets" - most people use their tastes as cultural signifiers, so they'll talk about whatever TV show makes them sound "cool" even if it's not their fave. Just like clothing, this changes based on the situation. I wouldn't wear a football jersey to a cloth-napkin steakhouse but of course I'd wear one to a sports bar.
posted by AFABulous at 11:41 AM on April 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

seems to have a real disdain

This kind of snobbery is a muscle, the kind that'll get overworked into a giant Popeye arm if you use it all the time. Part of self-care and making adult decisions for yourself includes choosing not to immerse yourself in toxicity that you recognize is actively bad for you. As you yourself have discovered in this thread, the whole world isn't Reddit, maybe it's time to step back from that form of discourse and recalibrate.

And yeah, to Stacey's point, diversity of opinion is good. If all you do is hang out with people who are carbon copies of some coolness template, that's a low-oxygen environment for intellect. I'd rather hang out with one Bob's Burgers superfan and one person who never got around to watching it than two people who can't talk about anything but that.

It's worth remembering that anything popular is popular, meaning if you look around you're looking at people who like the thing, otherwise it wouldn't be popular. They may lie that they don't, but it's fine to be a little suspicious of people's motives in these arenas.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:04 PM on April 10, 2017 [5 favorites]

A lot of people are pointing out that they know people with MAs and PhDs (and so on) who like Lifetime channel movies, or whatever, and I think those are good points, but they're kind of limited because they're still relying on some marker of intelligence to validate the other stuff. Which leaves the anxiety-prone person (like maybe you and me) feeling like we've got none of that. All my life I have been a high school dropout whose area of expertise is bad movies made between 1965 and 1985, and only then because I worked at video stores for years. I was always grasping at liking certain smart-person things, because I've noticed that lots of people say "what you like says nothing about how smart you are!" -- but they still don't like the stuff you like. So I'll give Pynchon a try! Hated it. I'll read Faulkner. Couldn't get into it. You know what I can get into? Cheaply-made movies about guys with swords fighting sorcerers and giant spider puppets. Not exactly reassuring if your biggest fear is that you're too dumb to go anywhere in life.

Which isn't to say that people here are wrong, but I think part of the anxiety around this kind of stuff is that you wind up missing out on the common bonds that people have over these things. I've spent my whole life around smart people, and I've always felt isolated. The current Saturday cocktail chat thread in MeTa has a lot of people talking about all the books that informed their lives, and I knew almost none of them. That sure made me feel a little dumb, even though nobody was actually being snobbish about anything, and certainly no one was saying I had to feel bad about what I like.

Here's the thing: I started working on my BA right before I turned 30. The weird thing that's been happening since I've been at a big, fancy university is that I've been giving myself more latitude to be honest with myself about what I really like. I don't like fiction. I hate dense, literary fiction. I want to like it, but I don't enjoy it. I've tried all my life and I just don't like it. And that's OK. I do enjoy bad movies made by inept film crews. Music? I'm bored by 99% of what I hear. I grew up listening to country music, and I love country music (and all my life I've been hearing people say they like everything "except country"). I'm giving myself latitude to like what I like because for the first time in my life I don't have to think of myself first and foremost as a high school dropout too dumb to ever finish Pynchon.

What all of this comes down to is that everyone wants reassurance. The PhD who loves WWF has a PhD to point to to prove they're smart. When you're surrounded by people who have all these things they can point to to reassure themselves, and you, that they're smart, you can feel totally alone. I'm obsessive-compulsive, and one of the biggest problems for me has been the need for constant reassurance. It's not easy, especially when your whole life seems to be going against the grain of what "smart" people should like and do.

I will say this: I understand exactly how you feel, because I've felt the same way most of my life. The internet can be a snobfest because the truth is, most people are insecure in one way or another, and they want to reassure themselves as much as they can. I can tell you that no, it doesn't matter what you like, that it has no bearing on how smart you are, and that's true, but I suspect you already knew that. It may be that it won't sink in until you've had more time in therapy, you've spent more time getting in touch with yourself, or whatever you need to do for yourself right now. But for the time being, I can tell you that I know how you feel, and I can only promise you that it's not really as bad as it seems.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 12:26 PM on April 10, 2017 [7 favorites]

> I haven't really brought up the "worrying about intelligence and taste and what people think of me" thing as much.

It seems to be part and parcel of your anxiety (anxieties), and it's interfering with enjoyment of your life. Bring it up in therapy! It's not a waste of time or money.
posted by rtha at 12:27 PM on April 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

I wish I could remember where I read someone described as "a dumb person's idea of how a smart person behaves." Because this is what I think about when I encounter someone who is making a marked effort to appear intelligent, or sophisticated.

Some random anecotal observations:

- I have played in community orchestra and similar situations for a long time, and met/talked with musicians at all skill levels. There are musicians who don't really care for a lot of music they play (although I think it's ultimately a limiting factor for them if they really have no taste/empathy for the genres they play in the most). One of the best violinists I know professes to dislike Mozart. ALL Mozart.

- A friend who is in law enforcement and therefore interviews a lot of crackpots tells me that a sure sign someone is going to be a crackpot is if they bring up their IQ as a badge of honor.

- Enthusiasm can turn into perceived snobbery pretty easily, but I've noticed that no one has the mental energy or the financial means to be an enthusiast/"person of good taste" about everything. So the joke always goes that a definition of a professional musician, for example, is one who arrives at a $500 gig with a $10,000 axe and a $5,000 car...
posted by randomkeystrike at 12:32 PM on April 10, 2017 [6 favorites]


Your enthusiasm comment reminded me of something: some enthusiast/hobbyist communities on the internet can have this annoying tendency to turn insular and become snobbish about those who aren't really into whatever their area of expertise/obsession is. And yes, those have also given me some feeling of anxiety and inadequacy too. Not to mention frustration and anger: I look at these enthusiast communities and I think "Look I don't or in some cases can't have things like french-press made coffee and paper from whatever obscure internet only store and only the best tools and only the best whatever! Dammit I just don't have the time and energy and I'm not made of money! I can't live up to these standards! It's either 'be a mouth-breathing member of the masses' or 'drive myself to perfection but also exhaustion and bankruptcy'! There's no winning!"
posted by arateaa at 12:54 PM on April 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

A lot of this can be chalked up to aesthetic purity and in-crowd versus out-crowd complaints, especially if it's an insular snobbishness toward things that aren't approved by whatever in-crowd you're associating with, either in person or on the internet.

The enthusiast community thing is, to my mind, fiercely anti-intelligence and pro-social conformity, especially if it comes to french-press made coffee and paper from whatever obscure internet only store and only the best tools. Those have absolutely nothing to do with intelligence.

The purpose of coffee to me is that it's a caffeinated beverage I enjoy drinking and like the flavor of. I sometimes drink coffee that tastes bad until I add cream (or, god forbid you read this coffee snobs -- powdered creamer) and sugar but it's free at work and keeps me focused. If I'm seeking out coffee on my own, I might buy the good shit because I enjoy a tasty beverage when I have the time to sit at home and drink it. But you have to realize that people nerd out over shit because it's something they're into, or it's a class/social marker to be into them. And those markers are not for intelligence.

Again, my advice is to find what you're into, and understand why you're into it. If you can do those things in concert, you're more self-aware than many people, and in my opinion, self-awareness is a lot more important than social markers masquerading as intellectualism.
posted by mikeh at 1:12 PM on April 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think you are driving yourself to an impossible standard.

That some people are enthused to the nth degree, including having only the very best of everything, is irrelevant to what is best for you. If you are also enthused, then of course check out those communities, but read for your own interest, not to compete. It is truly impossible to be the absolute most knowledgeable, intelligent, or sophisticated person -- at best one can hold such a title for a nanosecond, and the pursuit will exhaust you for no good reason. Accept your own self.

I think most of us are stronger in some areas than others -- quicker and more insightful at some things, wiser about some things, more interested in some things, more knowledgeable in some things. At best you can have a number of strengths.

Also the world of knowledge is huge, and impossible for one mere mortal to grasp. Pick the areas where the knowledge matters to you. For example, I love to read, and I love books, so I tend to pick up literary references and be much more knowledgeable about those. Throw pop culture references at me and I am mostly an idiot. This does not really prove anything except that I have my own field of interest(s).

I find it tiresome that people decide to classify their own cultural interests and strengths as better, particularly since they generally know little about what they are dismissing as lower class or lower culture. Really, the only merit I see to such distinctions is when the criticism is of a field of interest which involves cruelty or violence or depersonalization toward other people or animals. Because I think criticizing cruel, violence and depersonalization is fair. That's about it, though. Class oriented criticisms are simply bull. I speak as someone who does like symphony music, art galleries, good restaurants, and all that -- there is nothing better about my taste than anyone elses, and there are legitimate criticisms of me to be made when my patronage is of outfits that discriminate, engage in unfair labor practices, rely on environmentally destructive behavior, etc.
posted by bearwife at 1:17 PM on April 10, 2017

Carl Wilson's Let's Talk About Love is a great book on this topic.
posted by Prunesquallor at 1:18 PM on April 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

"...only the best tools and only the best whatever! Dammit I just don't have the time and energy and I'm not made of money!"

This is definitely a thing, and you're not alone here. Back in the day, I used to work at a hockey store. Hockey equipment is really expensive, but we had a lot of customers (and some co-workers) who would spend thousands of dollars a year on NHL-quality skates and sticks and stuff. Meanwhile, being just out of college and working part-time in retail, I had a pair of $75 skates and whatever cheap wooden stick I could come up with. And yet, I'd skate three or four times a week, and play two or three times, while they'd maybe play once a week. The best equipment is the equipment that gets you on the ice playing the game. At some point, it's not about the equipment anymore. Buying $500 skates won't make you a better skater. A $1500 guitar won't help you learn scales or chords any better. A $3000 laptop won't make you a better programmer. Look around, and a lot of times when you see people with expensive gear, it's because they're insecure about their actual skills. This is what I was saying about conspicuous consumption earlier. It's not about the thing itself; it's about sending signals to other people.
posted by kevinbelt at 1:40 PM on April 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think you gotta stop hanging out in those insular hobbyist communities. Those people don't sound smart to me, just judgy. The smartest people I know don't look down on other people who don't know about their areas of expertise; if anything, they enjoy explaining them to others so they can share the same enthusiasm.

I'll also add that disdaining things that other people like doesn't make you any smarter. I for instance sometimes think I'd be smarter in some ways if I could get into pop culture (people have such incisive and interesting stuff to say about TV, for instance, like Bob's Burgers which you mentioned liking), but it's just not my thing. I think in some ways I am smarter now that I like football than when I was all judgy about sports fans.
posted by ferret branca at 1:45 PM on April 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

For example, I have a friend who has a sky-high IQ, and he enjoys watching reality television competitions and WWE — two interests that would fall on the "tasteless" side of the spectrum, if we're going to be crass and rank them. But whenever he talks about those topics, he really pulls apart the social, financial, and production aspects in an undeniably intelligent way.

This is key. It's possible to enjoy pretty much anything in an intelligent way, and it's also possible to partake of some very sophisticated cultural experiences without learning anything or even enjoying it much. If I were at a party and one person tried to chat me up by talking to me about the sociopolitical significance of Keeping Up with the Kardashians and another told me, "I like classical music, like 'Odie to Joy',", guess which person I'd rather talk to, even though I've never seen the Kardashian show and I enjoy Beethoven.

Like others in this thread, I'd urge you to pursue your own genuine tastes in whatever way you want to without worrying about whether they're considered high or low brow or whether anyone else thinks you're smart. And if you care about developing your mind, do make the effort to learn and to try new things like Barack Obama, rather than staying in a comfort zone of the blandly familiar, like Donald Trump. I promise you the difference will be obvious to any intelligent onlooker.
posted by orange swan at 2:02 PM on April 10, 2017 [6 favorites]

The concept of "smartness" lives inside the person giving you that label. It's not some intrinsic property of your person.

You can successfully be smart to more people if you can say more of the things people expect to hear from a smart person and act more like people expect smart people to act. This is a different thing from "actually" being smart (whatever that means).
posted by panic at 2:10 PM on April 10, 2017

There's no winning!

Oh, sure there is: don't play that game. There are other games. Grab the information you need from that community and move on, understanding that those people really love being in their little clique and you don't have to also love it. You just don't have to.

The happiest homes I've found on the internet were multi-topic communities rather than these hyper-focused navel-picking places, because being insular always turns into this Us vs Them thing. Those people are wrong, and chances are really good that 75% of them know it but enjoy playing pretend and 24% of them are harmfully over-involved, and 1% run the risk of going out and shooting someone to prove to the rest how hardcore they are. And the topic at hand might be how terrible [some other race/religion/gender] are, or it might be about freshwater fish or SQL server, it's still what happens.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:14 PM on April 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

I am demonstrably intelligent (shown via test scores) but I also love reality TV. When I'm watching MTV's "The Challenge" and am enjoying watching two 20-somethings fight, I don't feel guilty. I also enjoy science and philosophy.

Tastes are often based on the culture where you grew up, not on smarts.
posted by tacodave at 3:33 PM on April 10, 2017

No. I know ridiculously intelligent people who have zero interest in, for example, music. Their lack of taste (or inability to enjoy music) has nothing to do with how intelligent they are.

On a personal level, I do get a little disappointed with people who aren't willing to venture out of their comfort zones and experience something different from what they are used to. However that's not really a matter of intelligence either.

There are no intelligence cops who will come and hunt you down for not appreciating Verdi or Kandinsky or whatever. However. Intelligence can open doors and lead you to spend time with people from different backgrounds. Sometimes, when spending time around people who grew up with certain advantages, such as parents who sent them to private school and took them to museums on the weekends .. that can be uncomfortable and can leave one thinking "If I'm smart why don't I fit in with the smart people?" The feeling of misfit isn't because of a lack of intelligence, though - it's more a matter of not having the same reference points. I might experience the exact same awkwardness in a group discussing college football, but there it's easier to be clear that I just don't have the same information that they do because it doesn't interest me or I haven't had access to it.
posted by bunderful at 4:35 PM on April 10, 2017

This is a fear that I think most people get at some point. The best way I've found to combat it: talk to people you find intelligent or think have "cultured" taste. Ask them what popular/highbrow thing they can't stand. I guarantee you will find that they hate a LOT of stuff that's considered "sophisticated."

Case in point: I highly respect my creative writing professor, who has a PhD in English and is very well read and involved in high literary circles. I discovered that she and I both hate Haruki Murakami's work. Can't stand it. We've both tried multiple times to read his books because they're so renowned, but we just can't stand it. Taste is completely subjective and has nothing to do with intelligence.
posted by brook horse at 4:39 PM on April 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

In a very literal sense, yes, there are some very specific tastes you have to have a certain degree of intelligence to have. For example, some of my professors read econometrics journals for fun (seriously). It's impossible to have that particular taste without a fairly hefty amount of specialized education and some degree of analytic intelligence.

That being said, that's not what you're asking. That's an example of "is intelligence required for specific tastes", what you asked is the other way 'round, "is taste required to indicate intelligence", and the answer to that is an emphatic no. Nthing the above folks in that I have also met extremely smart people who loved WWE and trashy reality television and bad fanfiction.

I'm on the Internet too much, is what this comes down to.

Yes yes yes yes yes. This. People on the internet are garbage about these things in a way that I rarely see in real life. Lack of consequences + the internet not feeling "real" to a lot of people lead + the need for attention = much more extreme opinions, particularly with regards to being judgmental about culture and taste.

In real life, if someone thinks less of you because you haven't, I dunno, read David Foster Wallace or something, they're a Grade-A Dipwad. If all of their friends happen to agree with them, then you need to run screaming from that particular social circle and find new friends who aren't so insecure that they need to consume cultural shibboleths to feel smart.
posted by Ndwright at 4:58 PM on April 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

Can I also add that the high and low distinctions are completely arbitrary: a lot of things we consider "high culture" today were, in fact, the "low culture" of yesterday. Shakespeare is a classic example, today it's your archetypal "high culture", but in 1598 it was crass popular entertainment full of melodrama, dick jokes, and terrible puns. Hell, they'd end every show with a dance party. Elizabethan theater was considered so gross and low-brow that the only place theaters could operate was in the same district as the brothels and bear-fighting pits.
posted by Ndwright at 5:04 PM on April 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

In a dating profile you might have a field to fill in called "I'm the kind of person who likes [...]".
That is: likes, taste, function as a signal among people.
In adolescence finding a partner is a major goal. And signalling like this is in a lot of what adolescents and young adults do. We judge and we're judged.
A lot of people like to think that they're smarter than to behave according to these social mechanisms. But there's a large risk their "I'm not like that" turns into a signalling inverted snobbery of its own.

I don't know what your age is. If you're middle aged the anxieties of the "what am I signalling to potential partners" kind are less pronounced.
If you're in the adolescent / young adult age bracket and you feel you can't just ignore that signalling thing my advice would be to not focus on the aspects where your 'taste' would be 'lacking'. But to find out which are your strong suits of coolness and focus on those.
posted by jouke at 5:57 PM on April 10, 2017

Is there an obligation to like certain movies/shows, read certain books, listen to certain music, or otherwise consume/experience/appreciate certain pieces of cultural media in order to be considered smart?

Short answer - No.

More to the point, I'm worried that my tastes in particular are incongruent with those of a supposedly smart person. I don't feel "cultured" or "sophisticated" enough to be smart, in other words.

Firstly, if by "smart" you mean intelligent, then this is largely orthogonal to education and experience.

A person who lacks exposure to culture, might be considered 'uncultured' rather than 'unsmart', but anyone who thinks that you need the 'right' sort of culture to be smart isn't being very smart themselves. On the other hand, someone who limits their cultural exposure to cartoons and reality TV and never reads, is likely to have a stunted experience and possibly lacks the curiosity that drives most smart people to know more about the world.

My advice is to like what you like, and as long as you have an open mind and are willing to give new cultural experiences a try, you should be fine. 'Liking' something you're really uninterested in because of the expectations of others will not end well.

Needing to like the 'right' things is not smartness, it's snobbery.
It really is OK to just be You.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 6:42 PM on April 10, 2017

It's also ok not to be smart. I mean, maybe you're not (remember I have no idea). This is not the disaster you seem to assume it might be, is it? Personally I think being kind or just or content is more important than smart.
posted by jojobobo at 8:07 PM on April 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

Intelligence doesn't mandate DISLIKING anything. We all get pleasure in our own sometimes quite unaccountable or idiosyncratic ways. However, there are some things that are so universally appealing to smart people that disliking them is strong evidence of unintelligence. A person with reasonable exposure to them who nevertheless dislikes Shakespeare or Beethoven might have good reason, but much more likely is just dim.
posted by MattD at 9:24 PM on April 10, 2017

I'm just wondering, do you live near a university town or know many people in your age group? What is your baseline level for interest? There seems to be a great deal of anxiety and self-consciousness, and I'm not sure what your environment is surrounded by.

I live in a college town, and almost everyone I'm friends with by choice is incredibly smart, and has incredibly diverse tastes. I myself loved going to college, because it was a chance to be intellectual and be critical thinkers about anything we choose. I personally was introduced to the joy of watching VH1 reality TV shows and Big Brother with some friends of mine, and we got to really dissect the totally bizarre human nature of it and it was completely thrilling after I got super annoyed by it at first. I've been introduced to some delirious camp movies which are completely not my cup of tea and I would never watch it on my own, but are the bread and butter of some of my friends.

My main interests are writing, music, and kpop and self-help books that talk about Buddhism and mental health. I have pretty much an encyclopedic memory of everything that has gone in since 2007 in kpop, and wrote my first college paper on the sociology of the kpop entertainment industry and how it was related to the rise of chaebol monopolies in the South Korean economy. I'm an English major that prefers reading young adult fiction, and pretty much loved my Young Adult Fiction class. I can deeply appreciate literary fiction, but I don't really live and breathe it like some of my friends do.

I am basically down for anything of really good quality, but I am most compelled when I hear people make strong arguments for why they love or enjoy the thing that they love, because it means that they can introduce it to me and I can introduce things to them. I started playing D&D after realizing that it totally flatters my storytelling sensibilities, and I learned how to dance. Both of these were from friends who told me about why they loved them, and I was interested and could see myself doing them too. If I am part of a culture of anything, it is being down to try anything once and learn to appreciate it and see what other people appreciate about it. That's living life to me. Maybe consider looking up multipotentialite?

Those insular communities online do a huge number to your head. They're like the 0.0001% of those hardcore interests. I barely post on any of those hobbyist communities, because I'm just not there yet. Although, I did post on the /r/AsianBeauty subreddit for a while, and am pretty damn good and putting together a skincare routine for people because I did memorize all the frameworks of it, and the purpose of ingredients for skincare. A lot of those people on that subreddit have PhDs in chemistry, and channel their obsession with chemistry into formulating skincare and choosing the best products. I mean, I probably have a lot of obsessions that I simply am forgetting to list, because it just seems normal to me to have idiosyncratic interests.

Basically, what I'm getting at is, choose what's interesting to you, and be passionate about it. Listen to other people about their passions. If people are assholes about it, flip it back on them and ask why they are such assholes about it. Ask them what's so great about it. Everyone is not developed in some area of culture that is important to someone else, and it's worth seeing it as an opportunity to get more educated in something. But I think it's fraught to worry about wanting to be part of one small insular culture just for the purpose of being good at something or liking something. Just like what you like!

I mean, one of my best friends made fun of me for only knowing "The Sandlot" and wanted to introduce me to more movies from that time period. I'm down. I don't really choose to watch a lot of movies on my own though. But I still like The Sandlot, except for that weird creepy misogynistic lifeguard scene that is totally rape culture.
posted by yueliang at 12:59 AM on April 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Is there an obligation to like certain culture if one is "smart"?

No, not at all, if anything nowadays people using markers for taste is looked upon as a contraindicator to most people given the overall attitude towards culture currently in fashion.

The more salient question might be though whether there is anything that really measures "smart" other than people believing you as such and to some extent perhaps what you accomplish. I'd suggest that might be the real worry involved. There are, to my belief, no concrete outward markers for intelligence in terms of specific actions, interests, or abilities. I've met people who are extremely intelligent in traditional scholarly senses who were pretty hopeless in day to day circumstance and people who were completely unlettered who were something of geniuses in their day to day living and in enacting meaningful personal philosophies.

Some people who are deeply devoted to the arts will have invested great deals of mental energy into developing strong critical skills that, within that culture, are indicators of intelligent engagement, but outside that culture may seem pretentious or without use. The same is true within areas of mechanical interest, mathematical, athletic, social and whatever else you might name. The measure of intelligence within narrow communities are in how one engages and communicates the subjects of interest to that community in the terms they deem meaningful. You can't look for an outside marker to prove intelligence objectively as intelligence has many forms that can't all be accommodated by any single measurement.

It isn't at all unusual to feel concern over one's abilities or how one is perceived by others, I think much of the strong reaction against taste markers and "elitists" developed from that. The arts are a fraught area of concern because almost everyone engages with them in some form, and often feel both their reactions are valid because they are theirs and they hold their judgments as worthwhile due to that and that opposing perspectives are suspect due to an imagined threat to their critical abilities. There is no need for that as taste comes from one's whole history of innate talents and learned perspectives. To not have a highly developed interest in the arts is no more damning than not having such for the sciences, social engagement, or any area of possible interest.
posted by gusottertrout at 2:43 AM on April 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

[One comment deleted. arateaa, I'm sorry this subject makes you feel anxious, but AskMe's not a place for back-and-forth discussion, and it's not a place for repeatedly asking the same question. It's a place for concrete questions that can be answered. If what you really need is someone to talk with about this in a back-and-forth way, that's totally okay, but it's something to do with your in-person therapist.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 10:30 AM on April 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Lots of responses here are orbiting around the complicating factor that cultural omnivorousness is a dominant logic of taste these days, meaning that having a broad selection of 'high' and 'low' culture in the quiver of your taste is higher prestige in many circles than being the master of traditionally 'high' cultural references.
posted by umbú at 12:08 PM on April 11, 2017 [4 favorites]

I was at my college friends' 1920s jazz-themed wedding a few years back and I fell into a conversation with one of my friend's uncles. It started off normal enough, but as we kept talking, something started feeling a bit off. I couldn't quite put my finger on it until the live band started playing again and he said something like, "I bet you don't know what song this is." (He was right--I don't know or give a shit about jazz.)

And I'll be honest, for a minute or so after I peeled off of that conversation (which I did VERY QUICKLY after that), I was pretty steamed. The dude had clearly derived some sort of smug self-satisfaction with his own perceived intellectual superiority from our interaction, and as a grown up "smart kid", I was unused to being used as a foil for someone else to prove how smart they were. It truly DOES suck to be placed in a situation where you're made to feel like you're some kind of rube for not having the same knowledge as someone else.

But that's when, as if a light bulb had clicked on, I realized what the problem was: that guy was an ASSHOLE.

And after that, it was like water off a duck's back. Because why would I waste ANY of my time worrying about if some miserable asshole thinks I'm smart or not? Fuck that guy! He sucks! And in the immortal words of Patton Oswalt, he's probably going to "miss everything cool and die angry".

So to answer your question: No. Culture, generally speaking, isn't prescriptive.

The stuff you like or don't like isn't an indication of your intelligence. Personally, I'm much more likely to think the opposite: if I meet someone who is embracing something high-brow or obscure in a way that seems like it's performative rather than coming from a place of genuine interest or enjoyment, I'm probably going to think that that person is uninteresting and a little sad. Insecure posturing isn't a good look, and I just don't know how to make conversation with someone who isn't honest about their likes and dislikes.

It sounds like you need to hang out in friendlier corners of the Internet.
posted by helloimjennsco at 1:21 PM on April 11, 2017 [5 favorites]

In a rough sense, intelligence is your learning/ thinking capacity and education is how much / what you have learned. I'm not well educated about sports and some other things that don't interest me much. There are other areas where I have read a lot, taken courses, etc. I'm reasonably confident in my intelligence & education. I also know what I don't know. Sometimes people are assholes when I ask questions, but smart people understand that admitting what I don't know and asking is smarter.

Some things I've noticed. Lots of people lie, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. They didn't read that book, they slept through that documentary, they didn't know where Aleppo was either. People who care a lot about what others think of them spend a ton of time trying hard to be hip/ cool/ smart/ whatev, and don't seem to achieve acceptance. Some people use "cool" to bully other people and achieve social dominance.

I suck at the social status game. Really suck. So, I try really hard to opt out. I wear what I think is comfortable, looks good on me, and mostly comes from thrift shops. I read what interests me, so John McPhee essays are on the night table along with a best seller and a really trashy novel. I love listicles on the Internet, as well as long-form articles in the New Yorker. At a dinner party, I don't chat up the trashy novel, but when I talk about missing Leonard Cohen, that's real, I love his music.

Be you, but also be the best you. Metafilter is one of the few places on the Web where I read or write comments. Block anybody who's an asshole to you, either on reddit or in life. Develop the skill of listening and showing an interest in other people. Be grateful for what you have. The more you pay attention to what you (feel you) don't have, the smaller you will feel. When you recognize your own value, strength, general wonderfulness, and look for the best in others, you will attract wonderful people to you. It will also give you some shielding from mean jerks I'm writing this for both of us, as I need this reminder a lot.
posted by theora55 at 10:08 AM on April 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

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