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Check It Out

Courier Article by Pam Locker
Sunday, August 18, 2002

My Subject This Week is Snobbery - What is it, How do we get it, and is it possible to cure?

Snobbery: the American Version by Joseph Epstein (Houghton Mifflin, 2002).

Epstein, a University of Chicago graduate and lecturer in English at Northwestern University, contends in this wickedly humorous tome that very few contemporary Americans are free of snobbery.

Most of us spend our lives literally comparing ourselves to every person we encounter and making snap judgments about our relative inferiority or superiority. One moment we might be cruising along in our new Chevy Tracker, raving to a friend on our Sprint cell phone (with unlimited calls) about the new Liz Claiborne purse we just got. Moments later we pull up next to an aquaintance in her new Range Rover, who ends a call on her Samsung SPH-1300 PDA/cell phone and conspicuously deposits it in her elegant Dooney & Burke purse.

There are two ways to enter the "snob-free zone" where one is neither upwardly or downwardly snobbish. One way is to be wellborn, go to elite schools, make a fortune from a respectable career, and have a perfect spouse and children - all of which doesn't guarantee freedom from snobbery but the potential to reach such a state. The other is through Christian "agape," a feeling of oneness with all mankind. Unfortunately, agape is usually gained through charismatic experience and ends up being short-lived.

Epstein says our culture has elevated the celebrity to top snob status, ranging from entertainment giants of all types to millionaires, controversial political figures, and even serial killers. Being connected to film or TV is the surest route to celebrity, while rubbing shoulders with celebrity is most easily attained in L.A, NYC, or Seattle.

Why can't people just live and let live? Why can't they just be satisfied with who they are? Epstein doesn't have the answer, but he is painstaking in analyzing the syndrome.

The Psychology of the Sopranos by Glen Gabbard, M.D. (Basic Books, 2002).

I love The Sopranos. I borrowed the first two seasons on videotape from the library, and then ended up on the HBO web site, painstakingly examining plot summaries and video clips for the next two seasons. I'm looking forward to the third season being released later this month and even thinking about subscribing to HBO before the fifth season starts this fall.

Written by a Professor of Psychiatry and serious "Sopranos" buff, this book revived poignant memories of Tony, Dr. Jennifer Melfi, Livia, and the rest of the Family. It turns out that that a large percentage of the top writers and production team have been through psychotherapy and wanted to bring their knowledge to the screen. A psychiatrist consultant reads the scripts and advises them on therapy sessions and medication.

Speaking of snobbery, my all time favorite scene remains the one where Tony goes golfing at the country club with some suburban neighbors who sneer at his Mafia connections while sharing illegal insider trading tips.

21 Dog Years: Doing Time @ by Mike Daisey (Free Press, 2002).

You will laugh out loud at this outrageous and disrespectful book. Being a snob, I must admit that I actually saw CEO Jeff Bezos in person at a Book Expo conference in Chicago. He looked and acted just as the author described - chinos, a blue oxford shirt, expensive shoes, balding head, constant laugh, and wondrous aura.

Daisey recounts the tribulations of being a customer service wage slave in a messianic establishment that uses tabletops for desks, stocks Bics instead of Sharpies, and keeps everyone slaving away with the stock options and the prospect of future untold wealth. He describes rallies where Jeff practically levitated above the crowd, and Christmases where all the managers were sent to isolated warehouses as box packers.

The amazing thing is that keeps on ticking. Ultimate potential snob Jeff Bezos describes himself as going from "internet poster boy to internet piƱata" since the company's birth seven years ago. Read The Last Laugh in the September 2002 issue of "Business 2.0" for an informative update on the company and the man.

Pam Locker is a librarian with the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of EVPL.