I have a pet peeve, and I think it’s me. Have you ever had a conversation with someone and been appalled by what you heard and then suddenly realized, “Oh, my God, I sound like that!” with the follow up thought, “shoot me now”? Is there a worse eye-opening moment to be had? My latest revelation occurred the other week while I was enjoying a little after work relaxing time over a few beers at a local outlet of a chain eatery slash bar.
Now we all know that I watch crap tv and read crap books, and we all know that I have an aversion to people who think themselves fine writers and/or thinkers because they have access to a thesaurus and cable news (i.e. endless adjectives and other people’s ideas). How many times have I hammered the whole “never end a sentence with a preposition” non-rule that people hold up as gospel while looking down their pointy noses at anyone who does end a sentence with a preposition? So many. So so many. And in doing so, I’m looking down my pointy (if somewhat regal) nose at those who are simply ill-informed.
So we’re sitting there at this chain eatery slash bar and chatting hilariously about a variety of marvelous topics, when all of a sudden, like a pulsing radioactive bolt out of the serene blue sky (who says we can’t all write badly if we want?), I hear (and I quote), “we don’t watch anything at our house but PBS and Masterpiece Theatre.” With that tone, emphasis on “we” and “our.” Replete with that simultaneous downwards and sidelong I think I smelled something off-putting look that such people get when they make these declarations. Silence. Shock. My mouth may have dropped open a bit as my brain ferreted around for an appropriate and not war-starting response.
But you know me, and no such luck on the not war starting thing. So I ask with all due respect about this person’s background. For surely we have here a graceful and elegant member of the upper classes, someone so refined as to . . . well, as to not be sitting in an eatery slash bar gulping down the draft beer special of the day. What to my wondering ears do appear (only not appear, because I heard it, but you know)? But eight tiny peeps and a gulp and an ummm, followed by an apologetic biography of a totally upstanding and respectable middle class family, which I really already knew since I work with this person in a decidedly non upper class work-a-day environment, was sitting in a chain eatery slash bar with them, and was quite certain that I’m neither a graceful nor elegant member of the upper classes.
So what’s with the wannabe Masterpiece Theater set? The set with college degrees from solid, if mid-tier, colleges who imagine (as Sammy does in Updike’s fabulous short story “A & P”) that the upper classes are milling around in black tie, munching on herring snacks, and catching up on last night’s airing of a Jane Austen novel made “real” by the folks who think manor houses, large gardens, and frilly dresses capture the interiority of a complex character-based novel? And that’s not to suggest (though I suppose it does) that I see nothing redeeming in MT’s fare, quite the opposite, they do lovely work. But if that’s all I ever watched, I’d be completely out of touch with reality, and might imagine that I, too, was above such common activities as watching network television. And I might not see the irony of my sitting in a (let’s face it) common chain eatery slash bar and making these declarations.
Advanced education has its drawbacks, and I think that one of them can be the false sense of superiority that it engenders in some people. Obviously, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be educated, of course we should, but part of that higher education might come with some humility and self-awareness. Reading (literally) thousands of books–many deemed bad or pulp, most “classic”–doesn’t really make me or anyone “better” than anyone else; it doesn’t make me a kinder, more compassionate person; it doesn’t make me altruistic or concerned about humanity. It just means that I spent a couple of decades sitting on my arse with this book or that in my hands. Wouldn’t change it, of course, but I’m not improving the world, and I’m not curing cancer nor am I fostering global harmony and peace on earth. Funny how the folks who are working towards these things seem so . . . what’s the term? down to earth? That’s not quite right, but something along the lines of not snooty and nasty, with a false and somewhat sad sense of superiority.
I’m a bit out of practice in writing these things, and I can’t find the “bang, boom, sizzle” ending that I want. Maybe you can supply it and attribute it to me.
And yes, any excuse to show a photo of the delicious Colin Firth.