5 Things 'Smart' People Believe (That Are Totally Wrong)
If there's one issue dominating the headlines these days, it's definitely the terrifying spectre of snobs.
These damn snobs, with their infinity scarves and leather couches and red hair.
They ruin everything. "Man, I really enjoy The Negotiator," you might say cheerfully at a party. "Well, fuck you!" the Snob screams, bursting out of a nearby air conditioning vent. "That movie introduces a new character at the beginning of the second act without even alluding to his existence before that! How dare you enjoy something that I, through my knowledge and education, have deemed inferior?" Then they sip their single-malt scotch, back flip onto a suede couch without spilling a drop, and seduce your girlfriend. (At least, I think that's how it goes. I haven't been to a party since college.)
Want to defeat them? It's actually quite simple -- just use their own powers against them by pointing out ...
Laugh Tracks Are A Perfectly Acceptable Storytelling Technique
Imagine you're still at that same party with the same back-flipping snob. He's in the corner, drinking a PBR and V8, and you're chatting with a buddy you haven't seen since high school. The subject of television comes up, as it often does. "Arrested Development was great," you explain, "but I gotta admit, my favorite show of the past 10 years is How I Met Your Mother. Sure, not every episode was a home run, but when they were on, they were on. They weren't afraid to get real without actually ruining the comedy. And you know what? I actually liked the ending! Sue me!"
But the Snob! He's overheard you! He shoves the person he's talking to out of the way and plunges into your conversation like a snake into a box of mice. "How I Met Your Mother is fine, I suppose," he hisses, "but I just couldn't get over the laugh track. I just can't endure that the show thought I was so stupid that I needed them to tell me when a punchline happened. But it's fine that you liked it. Really. There's nothing wrong with that."
What to Tell Him
Laugh tracks are, and always have been, an effective (and valid) storytelling tool.
Laughter usually isn't a reaction to humor, but to companionship. Roughly 20 percent of laughter, or one in five chuckles, comes in response to something funny. The rest of the time, people are laughing just to put each other at ease. "Hey! Good to see you, hahaha!" or "Haha, yeah, I see your point about laughter." Some scientists even think that laughter precedes speech as a form of communication. Our hideous, monkey-like ancestors used to huddle in caves together, giggling maniacally at each other to feel more comfortable. That is the horrifying origin of human companionship.
So while it's true that many shows use laugh tracks in the place of jokes (The Big Bang Theory is an obvious example), a lot of other shows use laugh tracks because they're trying to make you feel like you're part of the show's community. Shows like Friends and How I Met Your Mother are about a fun group of people who hang out and have adventures and care about each other. How I Met Your Mother is even shot from the perspective of someone who is hanging out at the bar with their buddies.
In fact, you might even argue that the strength of the show was how it created something similar to the feeling of hanging out with a bunch of old friends who you love and trust.
This isn't a universal constant, obviously -- Seinfeld used laugh tracks, and no one would wanna be friends with those jerks. But it should be clear that anyone who's dismissing a laugh track as pointless or stupid or condescending just doesn't understand what the tool is doing, or is just incapable of feeling companionship with other humans.
Demanding "Proper Grammar" Ignores How Language Works
Now you've done it. While explaining your laugh track point to the Snob, you used the phrase "a bunch of friends who you love and trust." He pounces like a puma on a gazelle, thrusting his finger in the air and shouting "Whom. That should be whom you love and trust, because ..." and then keeps talking, because somehow his lungs haven't seized from embarrassment at the words his mouth is making them complicit in.
Well, he's got you now. You screwed up a grammar thing, so it's exposed you as an idiot. Right?
What to Tell Him
A lot of people are happy to end this argument at "You understood what I was saying, so what does it matter if I said it correctly?" But frankly, I hate that argument. Expressing yourself well has an inherent value, and everyone should avoid speaking incorrectly. The real issue is that there is no one way to speak that is inherently "correct."
People who correct others' grammar seem to assume that grammatical rules were handed down on high from some kind of unimpeachable entity, and that anyone who doesn't talk right simply hasn't been shown the light. But the opposite is true: Humanity developed language as a community effort, then some people noticed patterns and wrote them down. But the rules were slightly different everywhere, so eventually, one ruling class decided to use it as an excuse to punish poor people who say "y'all" or live in the inner city.
"But there have to be rules," says the Snob, "or language devolves into chaos." Only there are rules. Every dialect ever, from the nasally Midwestern to the slow Southern drawl to Valley Girl gibberish to the Mark Whalbergian shrieks of Boston, has its own strictly followed rules, even if the speakers don't know they follow them. You follow hundreds of "rules" without realizing them, because instead of being taught them by a stern teacher, you just heard it as a baby and internalized it without ever saying it out loud. The best example is this one:
"Adjectives in English absolutely have to be in this order: opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose Noun. So you can have a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife. But if you mess with that word order in the slightest you'll sound like a maniac. It's an odd thing that every English speaker uses that list, but almost none of us could write it out."
Terrifying tall 31-year-old rectangular orange French lunatic.
I guarantee that none of you knew that rule unless you saw that it went viral on Twitter last month, and yet it's undeniably true. You can probably think of a couple exceptions to it, but the article explains most of them away, because it's slightly more complicated than I have the space to get into here.
"Not Being Real" Is Necessary To Survive
At this point, your phone rings, and it's Robert from the office. He explains the problem quickly: David ate too many mushrooms again, broke into the office, and started rampaging through the all the desks, eating everyone's mice and shitting on their keyboards. Real quick, you tell him the code to the locker with all the tranquilizer rifles, and remind him that it's your day off. Robert sighs, tells you to fuck yourself, and the conversation ends on good terms. But then you look up and notice that both the Snob and your friend are staring at you with their eyebrows cocked.
"Why do you talk to your co-workers like that, brah?" the Snob asks.
"You totally switched into a different voice. Why? Why do you have to put on an act for them? Why can't you just be real with them?"
What to Tell Him
You're probably familiar with the idea of code-switching in broad terms -- how people talk in slightly different dialects or accents, depending on who they're talking to and when. Even if we don't notice it in ourselves, we notice it in people we're close to. Like when your significant other talks to her mother on the phone and suddenly has a thick Boston accent. But even if you've accepted that there are multiple version of the "real" you, that's still just the very tip of the iceberg when it comes to code-switching.
I dealt with this concept a lot back when I worked in a high school, teaching a writing class to a largely poor, minority studentry. I had a lot of students who were frustrated that they had to write in a different way than how they spoke. They felt like this was contrary to the "Be true to yourself" message that was built into every other facet of pop culture. And it is, because their "true selves" aren't acceptable in mainstream professional culture. They had to learn a new way to be. And it was up to me to teach them! And I didn't even have a teaching degree. (Luckily, their other teachers did.)
So is forcing people to code-switch bad? No, because different types of communication lend themselves better to different situations. Here's a story about how a bilingual school developed a hybrid French/English "code" among the co-workers, because some ideas are better expressed in English, and some in French. For example, there's "Un programme de planned giving," because "Planned Giving" is a bit of nonprofit lingo that doesn't exist in French.
If it's not a weird sex act or a chocolate-covered cigarette, the French can't be bothered to describe it.
I guess my point is that the ways everyone communicates are so rich and complex and weird that it'd be a shame to dismiss any one way as "not real." It'd be downright snobby. And you know how I feel about the snobs.
Proper Dress is Totally Arbitrary Bullshit
"Your clothes suck," says the Snob, because he is an increasingly obvious strawman for the points I want to make in this article. Look, I'm sorry to be demonizing snobs so much. I just get kinda worked up about this stuff. I don't think anyone who holds these opinions are bad people. They're just misguided, or stupid, or evil. Maybe I should drink some tea or something.
What to Tell Him
We've heard a ton of stuff about Hillary Clinton's fashion sense this election. This is most likely because while Clinton's two outfits from the first two debates were completely different in every way, Trump pretty much just changed his tie and called it a day.
Why? To put it simply, we have some pretty clear rules about what "proper dress" looks like for straight white men. We know exactly what a good suit looks like for them (and the "them" here includes me). But for literally everybody else, the only rules that exist are rules about what's not okay to wear. And they're constantly changing.
Take, for example, black employees who get in trouble for braiding their hair or letting it naturally exist as an afro, angering people who are apparently unaware that asking black people to use artificial chemicals to completely change the way their hair grows has a long and ugly history attached to it. The unspoken implication is "Don't look the way you do -- look like me."
Then there are school dress codes, which are inconsistently enforced and explicitly sexist. High school girls are asked not to wear clothes with "visible bra straps," because they might distract the boys, because men (as we've very recently learned) are inhuman monsters incapable of controlling their sexual urges, and we must all live in fear of them.
Oh god, they're traveling in packs now.
The argument goes that preserving a proper, professional environment means enforcing standards in attire. Uniforms, after all, are a good way to promote unity in schools, in the military, and in a lot of professional environments. No one is saying that you can't do that. But it's also insanely obvious that sometimes it's just an excuse for people to be sexist, racist, or just exclusionary dicks -- like the bar in New York City which made up a rule banning "baggy jeans and bling," but had no problem with ripped jeans, baseball hats, and "stylishly" filthy backpacks (just typing that phrase made me realize that not only am I no longer cool, but I have no interest in it whatsoever).
"Sure, but wash it."
For a social species, it's weird how obsessed we are with being exclusionary and condescending. We don't want to admit to ourselves that we're talking down to people, so we come up with arbitrary rules which just so happen to keep a certain type out, and then shrug our shoulders and say, "Hey, it's just the way things are." (For an example, scroll down to the comments!) Or we just come up with labels for people we don't like. Labels like "outsider" or "snob."
"Pretentious" Isn't Even the Right Word
The problem with outsnobbing the snobs is the same as the problem with staring into the abyss: It stares back, and eventually you become the monster you sought to destroy. I understood that from the beginning. By teaching you how to trounce this fictional snob at this fictional party, I've infected myself with snobbery. Now I'm a monster, and there's no place for me in this world, so let my final act be one of sacrifice.
Before you call me "pretentious," realize that "pretentious" doesn't mean what you think. Its root word is "pretense," which means "false" or "an attempt to make something that is not the case appear true. Technically, "pretentious" only refers to people or ideas that pretend to have ideas that they don't actually have. But it is usually used to refer to people that are full of themselves, or impressed with their own importance. Cockiness. When Damien Lindelof described himself as "pretentious" on the Prometheus commentary track, he wasn't calling himself a liar -- he was just saying that he liked to show off his knowledge. Ironically, he was in fact exposing himself as an idiot, because the word he was trying to use is "sententious," which means "given to moralizing in a pompous or affected manner." Or "sanctimonious."
This is my absolute favorite fact, because it is so devastatingly pretentious. I mean "sententious." Wait ... using the word "pretentious" there makes it pretentious. I'm going to stop this paragraph now, because it sucks.
Anyway, it's clearly too late for me. I'll never be able to take myself seriously again, and neither will anyone reading this. But please, use what I've taught you here to go out and make the world a better place. And remember me as I was before I wrote this insufferable goddamn article.
Find out why the snobs were right all along in 5 Things Every Snob Says (Confirmed By Science) and then tear them right back down again in 6 Snobby Claims That Science Has Officially Debunked.
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