You mention insecurity, which is indeed at the root of it. Think about the guys in High Fidelity. Why do they endlessly obsess over musical taste, question each other’s taste, sneer at the taste of others? Because they have erroneously mapped onto “taste” the drive to acquire useful knowledge and skills. Ordinarily, young people in the prime of their lives should be acquiring the skills and knowledge of their people, in order to contribute to the survival of the group. A primary motivator in acquiring such skills is the desire for status, and young people get that need satisfied by developing those skills, proving their worth and mettle, and, often, going through an initiation ritual. Now you are an adult of our tribe — a vital member of the group who helps us survive in a difficult world.

In our society, though, we have made many people somewhat vestigial. Nobody is really that critical to our mega-tribe’s survival, and the ratio of really important positions to people who could do them is alarmingly low. Many people are left with a deep, gnawing sense of uselessness. It’s a profound insecurity that the vast majority of our ancestors never dealt with.

The solution? I must just need to acquire MORE of the skills and knowledge that my culture says it values! To prove my worth I should carve out a niche. I’m the one who knows about cult rock 45s! I’m the one who knows which books signal the wrong sort of ideas! I AM THE ONE WHO TWEETS.

All this activity is completely fruitless, of course (analogous to what David Graeber calls “bullshit jobs”), but it momentarily salves the anxiety.

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This is, again, the transition between the third and fourth stages of adult cognitive development. Stage four of cognitive development has an internal structure of justifications, where stage three cannot process the world through anything but popularity contests.

That $300,000 education you mentioned used to solidly provide a transition from three to four, up until poorly-understood pseudo-postmodernism undermined it in the humanities. (Although it could not do so in STEM, which is why STEM majors took over the world.)

At the risk of every one of my comments here being repetitious, this is yet another reason I would like very much to know what you think if you read Robert Kegan. It seems to have explanatory relevance for every topic you tend to discuss most often. "In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands Of Modern Life" examines the transition between stages three and four specifically.

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Aug 31, 2021Liked by Freddie deBoer

Part of the reason this sort of thing is so prevalent is that nobody is doing anything else, right? Complaining + not offering alternatives = no change.

What do you think about hosting a book/movie club here, Freddie? It'd give you a chance to write some reviews like you want to and give the rest of us a chance to discuss art without anyone using the word "problematic".

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thank you Freddie, this is a beautifully done piece; it captures so much of relevance. I particularly love your subtitle: "like 90% of cultural elite bullshit would be cured if they had healthy sense of self."

I particularly love Ray Bradbury's story about his own journey to honoring the reading that made him happy. He was particularly in love with Buck Rogers as a nine year old. There weren't really any comic books as such when he was nine, so he cut the comics out of the paper and made his own, pasting the series' into books, coloring them himself. When the kids in his school found out they shamed him for his taste; he went home and tore them up. What happened then was this:

“Kids made fun, I took on embarrassment, and tore up the strips. A month later, empty, I burst into tears, asked myself what was wrong. The answer: Buck Rogers was gone, and life not worth living.”

He went on to say:

“Without all this splendid mediocrity, this sublime and wondrous trash in my background, I don’t think I would be any sort of writer today.”

In fact, Something Wicked This Way Comes, one of the greatest novels in American literature, would never have been written.

It seems that for those of us (and i include you Freddie in this, it is part of the reason why i read you and subscribe) . . . for those of us who have been shamed, we were presented with a choice to honor ourselves or to immerse ourselves into a clique, become part of the crowd, give up what we have loved for the massman's way of thinking (as Goethe termed it). In honoring ourselves, we have had to look at what really matters to us and then stand true to that even if sometimes we fail to uphold it because of the vagaries of our human condition.

You have captured the core of that in this piece and i thank you for it. It made the beginning of this day a better one.

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It's just so tiring how literally every cultural artifact in America is scrutinized in this way, and instead of merely saying, "I didn't like this book" or "I didn't like this movie", you have to amp the dislike up to 11 and make a performative display of revulsion, not only for the work itself, and not only for the people who enjoyed it, but also anyone that even consumed it to begin with.

I'd like to think these tedious bores will stop doing this as they get a little older, or grow a little more intellectually curious, but I'm not going to hold my breath. Because what good is it if you not only loudly, performatively display your refined tastes in X without loudly, performatively, displaying your loathing for Y?

If we could float people who do this out to sea on an iceberg, I could die happy the next day. I swear to God almighty.

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for me the funniest swing of the pendulum is Johnathan Franzen, and maybe more broadly all of "the Johnathans" Lethem, Safran-Foer, and for some reason Michael Chabon gets included as well. When I was finishing high school and in college all these guys were in good standing and maybe even winning awards. I loved The Corrections and still do, and several of Michael Chabon's books will forever be among my favorites. He has an incredible imagination and I still remember some of the metaphors from "Mysteries of Pittsburgh" even though I haven't read it in over ten years. Michael Chabon has also long been a proponent of genre fiction, graphic novels, things that twenty years ago were seen as low art but (I think) have become a little more elevated recently.

But the writers themselves? ah well, they're from another era and as far as I can tell completely ignored if not scorned. Too many echoes of Updike, can you really trust a man who writes about a woman like that? Where's the female protagonists, etc. Nevermind that all the stories I remember had queer characters, never mind that they are men themselves and despite their impressive imaginations they are probably more talented at writing from a perspective nearer their own.

Whatever. This is why, even as a literature major, I have no desire to participate in the publishing industry or any of this discourse. People are insisting on doing their (frequently bad) politics through art, and it produces shitty art as it always has and always will.

(and just to be clear art that is more likely to satisfy the politics of the current moment doesn't have to be bad, I loved the Broken Earth Trilogy and I definitely do not like NK Jemisin's politics)

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It seems like criticism has just gotten worse. On one end, you have the "plot hole" side of things, where people nitpick random stuff to prove that a book or film is "objectively" bad. I think the wokes have invented their own type, where you look for things that are "problematic." Both forms of criticism add nothing to our culture.

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I’ve seen a lot of hate for the “classics” from my generation (millennials). But it’s always seemed to me that those people are jealous of others who can sit down and get through a volume of Proust, simply because they can’t. It sounds like a cheap shot, but I really believe a lot of the hatred toward certain books and writers is a concealed jealousy of people who have the patience to actually sit down and read and engage with texts.

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"I didn’t like John Grisham’s The Firm but you don’t see me constructing an entire fucking personality out of it." is gold. Pure gold. thank you.

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During the early part of the Trump era, I was mad insecure about going against Woke consensus regarding movies and the Oscar race. I was that guy who rooted for La La Land to win over Moonlight one year and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri to win over Get Out/The Shape of Water the next. It felt awful; I felt like I was suddenly a Republican even though none of my actual political views changed. I imagine some people went through this process with books too.

Looking back, I realize it's all rather silly and I never had anything to worry about. Most people don't care about award shows outside of the Twitter obsessives. And I love the point made here that maybe it's Yelling Woke Twitter that are the true insecure ones. They're in pain, so they project that pain outward onto other people.

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I already complained yesterday about people who sneer at my entire genre (romance) because it makes them feel smart. So I won't go into it again, except to say that some of the great lines in today's post were cathartic for me.

The current trend within the genre (and others, like YA fiction, etc) is to hate on upcoming books based on the demographics of the author and characters (a white author writing POC characters, etc). Someone will announce a new book, and everyone will rush to make hostile, sarcastic comments on Twitter.

They make uncharitable assumptions based on the blurb, but otherwise nobody has read the book, let alone engaged in a meaningful way. It's just the cool kids and their sycophants tearing down an author for points -- while pretending they're "punching up" and fighting oppression.

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Aug 31, 2021Liked by Freddie deBoer

I wish people paid more attention to Salinger's unreprinted and unpublished work.

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My "hate" for Catcher in the Rye comes not from any objection to the work itself. It comes from being forced to read it in high school where any art, craft, message, or meaning were obliterated under the pressure of atomized "skills" I was supposed to master while reading the book. I was never free to discover Holden's loss of innocence or how he psychologically functioned or what the corruption he saw pervasive in society really meant to the character and readers. What does the psyche reap when isolation and loneliness are sown?

No, I needed to be at attention for popcorn reading where I might be called on at any moment to jump in and being reading, even in the middle of a sentence. I needed to learn how to identify five examples of mood, five examples of tone, ten examples of characterization etc. etc. Did you find THE theme? You'd better be ready because THE theme is on the unit test. I was told that I, and every teenager, identified with Holden because we were all developmentally identical little rebels doubting authority - so why not be more engaged?!

It also took us seemingly forever to actually read the book. What could have taken a week or two followed by deep discussion of the text ended up being a month of interminable popcorn reading in class, a handful of pages at a time.

So, yeah, there are a lot of reasons people pick to dislike books like this, but we can't count out educational malpractice!

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Growing up in a blue collar family I didn't think about reading as a signifier. My father, IBEW, gave me _ Working and Thinking on the Waterfront (Eric Hoffer)_ . When I did go to college the YSA/ anti-war kids were very snooty about Hoffer. Many did ID with Salinger. I couldn't understand HC's world at all. As I moved on in school I learned what one should discuss to be accepted and how to 'hide' any non-approved reading from the cool kids. Looking back this was a total waste of self. You know what men have a great sense of self? Guys who can fix things. My father said to me don't go out with any guy who can't change the oil or a tire or rewire the house or build real bookshelves. Good advice. As for reading--all reading is good reading at the time you are reading it and better to have read anything than never read at all. Whether it was the Fountainhead or Infinite Jest or 10:04...it's reading and reading leads you on. Speaking of which there is a new book coming out: Stalin's Library. See where reading lead that fellow. https://kathleenmccook.substack.com/p/stalins-library

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This was terrific as always. It's always great when a much better writer puts the inchoate thoughts running through my brain on paper in a fun and interesting way. :) Thanks, Freddie.

I maintain that the media is NOT dead. When a real magazine with interesting voices and non-ideological articles and reviews comes along people are going to subscribe in the millions. You know how much I'm spending on Substack subscriptions just to finally find some good reading again? I'm afraid to even tell my WIFE. I've never hid anything from her before.

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I really think more people should read Bordieu. No taste preferences of any kind are ever innocent and are an intricate part of how the class structure of society organizes and legitimates itself. It could never be another way. That these opinions are often expressed by those with 300k educations is in no way a coincidence. Taste is habitus and they are merely following that same habitus in the field of books. Cultural capital is very real, and people develop and invest in it precisely because it gives them the ability to dictate taste to everyone else. The field of culture is as unequal and unfree as the economic field. That is the bitter truth.

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