We’re all snobs to one extent or another; since we care about culture, we care about the difference between good and bad, and promote the former while condemning the latter. And since we care we seek to influence others with our snobbery, in as polite and pleasant way as possible, of course. Subjectively, I try to take a different stylistic approach than James Wolcott, but I do enjoy his writing, it’s the main reason I look at Vanity Fair.
And so I enjoyed this new one too, in a very personal way. It’s always interesting to see what other people are reading on the subway, and gauging their reactions to what I hold. Who doesn’t enjoy public validation of one’s taste and intellect from a stranger? Of course, many years ago, when I was reading “Satan Wants You,” I found that people on the subway gave me a lot of room . . . That’s part of the pleasure and use of having the package for your cultural artifact, and why books will never go out of style. More books being published than ever before; digital media means it’s cheaper to make something we want to hold in our hands.
Music is a different matter, however. Listening to music is essentially a private activity, not only in that it’s mostly done in the privacy of one’s own home, but that it is done by doing nothing. Reading a book is an activity on display, while listening is the opposite. So the music collection belongs, appropriately, in the home and the portable music player is, in my view, a wonderful way to bring some comfort of home with us where ever we roam. We can impress visitors with whom we’ve made enough of an intimate connection to invite in, but I disagree that making an impressive music collection has anything to do with male mastery over a body of any kind. I say this as someone who loves collecting music, especially music in a box. The point of collecting is to impose order on chaos and there’s nothing sexualized about it. The world is mad and random, our homes are where we create order against this chaos, and the music collection belongs there. To have Beethoven or Charlie Parker in a box means having a universe described and circumscribed, a collection of information that both asks and completely answers a question. Perhaps it’s an expression of masculine identity, but that means the identity is one that requires comfort, order, repose. I do not believe that those are considered markers of masculine identity by those who think about such things. To put a bizarre perspective on it, take a look at this paper; we collect to control ourselves, not the world.