Don’t Be a Music Snob

Of the categories of people I want to punch in the face (yes, I’m still working on my deprangry; thanks for asking), near the top of the list are people who leave shopping carts rolling around the parking lot, people who try to use Jesus to win political arguments, and people who are music snobs.

There’s something that’s just inherently wrong about music snobbery, but I have a heard time explaining what. Helpfully, Douglas Williams takes a stab at it:

There is no tension between these different sorts of music for different occasions, any more than there is tension between cereal for a breakfast and a steak dinner for an anniversary. 

Many of our problems in working out the ramifications of a true cultural education are problems in cataloging or grouping. Because we want to choose up sides before thinking through all the issues carefully, we tend to latch on to issues that are not really issues at all. For one example of this, in his (generally good) Music & Ministry, Calvin Johansson argues against pop music on the grounds that it is “mass produced.” 

But of course, virtually everything is mass produced now. The planet has billions of people on it now, and if somebody in London wants a CD of Vivaldi, then he will get one that was pressed in Los Angeles, and shipped in a crate from Baltimore. And that’s the old fashioned way of mass producing Vivaldi — it is quicker these days to just bounce it off a satellite. 

Comparing Mozart to Vince Gill is like comparing your lawn mower to your dishwasher and asking which one is better. Better at what?

I don’t know that I agree with his categories of appropriate circumstances for musical condemnation, but I agree completely that there are appropriate and inappropriate ways to criticize music. Or any other kind of art, for that matter.

For the music snob, the standard for good music is, “I like it.” The standard for bad music is, “Anyone else outside of the music critic for the Village Voice has heard of it.”

I do not accept this critical standard. For instance, I don’t like the band Nickleback, a widely popular band that is the object of derision for many a music snob. The fact that I don’t like them does not make them bad. They seem to be fairly competent at playing their instruments, at least as far as the standards of rock’n’roll are concerned, and they must bring something to the table as entertainers, because plenty of people go to their concerts and buy their albums. A lot of people like Nickleback, and I don’t assume that this fact makes those people dumber than me.

Music snobs, though, look at Nickleback and their fans the way that the government of Israel looks at former concentration camp guards. If they had their own intelligence service, they would hunt Nickleback down and try them for war crimes.

I don’t think it’s necessary to make that kind of judgement, and I really don’t think it’s necessary to get that mad about it. You almost get the feeling that music snobs don’t care as about music as much as they care about establishing their superiority. But like the man said, you can’t really establish superiority between a dishwasher and a lawn mower. People like what they like. They don’t have to explain their preferences any more than that.

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