I slumped in line at Starbucks during my morning coffee break, desperate for my ritual fix of caffeine needed to get me to the afternoon coffee break. My ears piqued at the conversation of two young women in line behind me; it was more interesting than the narrative in my head castigating me for having a job where leaving to get a coffee is among the workday’s greatest thrills.
I decided to eavesdrop on the young’uns, hoping they might be good Millennial “snowflakes” and say something naive and ill-informed; that might make for a hearty, contemptuous laugh when I needed a momentary respite from the drudgery at my desk. I pretended to surf my smartphone so they would not cotton on and listened in.
They were talking about Tim Horton’s – another coffee franchise. Tim’s, as everyone calls it, was for many decades an iconic Canadian-owned brand. In keeping with current capitalist trends, it has since been bought out by an anonymous holding company from somewhere far, far away. Before Tim’s was sold off, the chain had become a national treasure in the hearts and minds of Canadians, despite the marginal coffee and other low-rent cafeteria items on its menu.
Tim’s is a case study in the efficacy of marketing strategies appealing to jingoism and Canadian affinities to baseless, sentimental tropes about Canadians’ love of hockey and our general affability. Tapping into the endless feel-good well of such delusion helped Tim’s establish an almost cult-like brand loyalty among millions of patrons. Such loyalty compelled consumers to suspend their reason, judgement, and discernment about the quality and content of what they put in their bodies.
This is not me pointing a pretentious finger at others. Until I moved to a city where Tim’s was less of a presence, I too was a branded dupe. There were many days when, as I struggled to finish my graduate thesis, I fell asleep at my desk and woke up in a cold sweat yelling “Medium, double-double!” For those not indoctrinated in the tongue-speaking of Tim’s, that is a medium coffee with two pumps from the cream-dispenser and two sugars.
In any case, one of the two young’uns behind me said, “Hey, I love my Tim’s. I’m not a coffee snob.”
Whoa now. Wait a second. Okay, let me get this straight: someone who, given the choice between a cappuccino made of fresh ground coffee beans exposed to the right amount of pressure, heat, and filtered water and a cup of Tim Horton’s made from low-grade coffee beans ground up and bagged seven weeks ago, sitting in a decanter that hasn’t been washed in three days, is a snob for choosing the cappuccino? That is some dicey logic m’lady.
I hear this kind of thing constantly in my hometown, one I originally shunned but have since returned after living in Vancouver, a city where only billionaires from China and the Gulf Arab states can really afford to live. My hometown is a working class town, full of people who take pride in being no frills, regular Joes. We’re salt of the earth types. Those interested in hoity-toity, frou-frou, glitz are advised to just keep moving east to Taranna (Toronto, that is).
Most days the aversion to all things ‘bling’ is what I love most about where I come from. If you’re a stranger or if you’re new to town, folks here will bend over backwards to help you out even if, at the outset, they don’t like the looks of you. If you’re standing at a bus stop you are guaranteed a conversation about the weather or the NHL hockey team. If you’re stuck in an elevator there will be no awkward silences because everyone will give their two cents on the situation. You will know every minute you’re not alone. It’s not such a bad thing, unless you’re introverted like me.
At the same time, beneath the folksy-town charm there’s a smothering, conformist leitmotif. It is at times a little unhealthy and incredibly stultifying if left unchallenged too long.
My fellow townsfolk love getting shit-faced drunk, not as a by-product of an event where drinking happens, but as leisure in itself. Grown adults routinely indulge in binge-drinking rituals like college frat boys, dulling their consciousness with as much of the cheapest, skunkiest alcohol their meagre working-class money can buy. Ten hastily consumed drinks into an evening, and they regress to their un-socialized, poorly-inhibited teenaged selves.
My prairie kinsmen love large, gas guzzling, parking-lot hogging, lane encroaching pickup trucks, even though most of us don’t haul bales of hay anywhere. Trucks make sense where it is winter six months of the year and having a fuel-efficient sub-compact car is a recipe for untold misery in the snow, ice, cold, blizzards, … etc. A sports jersey and baseball hat is the weekend uniform for men over the age of thirty-five.
People ’round these parts eat meat three, maybe six times a day. They have little tolerance for self-righteous, tree-hugging vegetarians imploring us to eat kale, hug trees, read books, care about things besides hockey, and call cross-dressers ‘trans-gendered.’ We are blue-bloods. We love our necks as red as can be. We love our dad-bods and couch potatoes.
We love lining up for shit coffee.
You get the idea. These are the run-of-the-mill things we do where I live.
Back in my twenties, I came up with a term for my hometown brethren who were zealous followers of The Gospel According to Red-neck Jesus: “Ham’n Eggers”. I have heard local radio DJs use this term recently, a testament to how well travelled the moniker has become over the years. When I dashed off to the über bougie west coast my fondness grew for the pissed-drunk, bible-thumping, truck-loving, steak-eating Ham’n Eggers of my hometown.
In other words, I don’t disavow local traditions from on high; I do not denigrate Ham’n Eggers. I love Jesus too, in my own Buddhist-like, non-religious way. I love periodically binge-drinking, especially while watching Canada win another World Cup of hockey. If you need to drive through snowbanks to get to work, nothing gets the job done better than a half-tonne.
I absolutely love ham and eggs for breakfast. It’s divine. If I could eat meat six times a day without becoming morbidly obese, I would. I love people in my town for who they are. My disdain for the bougie west coast and its vapid culture betrays me as someone who has, despite outward appearances, been successfully inculcated in the ‘Gospel According to Ham and Eggs.’
I’ve lived in a big city with poseurs awash in fancy suits, name-brand bikini underwear, who adorn their personas with elements of a fantastic life purchased on credit to impress their fellow sheep. Frankly, I much prefer the saggy, rumpled ham and egg wardrobes of my town. By comparison it makes me feel like a GQ model in my fashionable, yet on-a-budget attire. It’s a nice change after living in a city with throngs of rich folk whose monthly wardrobe budget is ten times my annual salary, which often meant I felt like an Okie from The Grapes of Wrath.
On the other hand, affixing of the label “snob” to those of us who embrace things not ham and egg is a bit passive aggressive, isn’t it? Throughout my life, I’ve been variously called out for liking classical music, reading books with no pictures, talking about philosophy, doing yoga, meditating, not really caring about professional sports, or having a keen interest in the goings-on in the world beyond the wheat fields hugging my town.
All along I’ve had to fend off the insinuation my interests were somehow fraudulent, part of an affected persona; that I purposely chose my tastes as a contrarian. I am subjected to a variation of this riposte repeatedly, “Ooooh, this guy thinks he’s all fancy ‘cuz he knows stuff other than hockey fights and Duck Dynasty.” I think the word you were looking for, my ham and egg brother, is ‘pretentious.’
It strikes me as a shrewd way to enforce conformity. I’m not suggesting everyone has to travel the world, drink exotic Indonesian coffee beans at breakfast, or run to their nearest yoga shala for a moral cleansing. But the lack of curiosity in the flat denunciation of the difference is maddening – and is very commonplace among many folks who surround me. Instead of this: “You’re such a snob for not liking Tim Horton’s or Rascal Flatts” how about this: “Why would you say Tim Horton’s is shitty coffee and David Bowie is such a genius”?
This hits home as an issue whenever my partner and I tussle for control of the radio dial as we’re driving to or from work. She wants to listen to one of the fifteen Top 40 pop or country radio stations on the radio dial in my town, each of which plays the same twenty hit songs. These are the auto-tuned songs, the songs with beats ripped-off from samples of real artists, songs that transform the existential angst of life into campy pop-culture massacres; songs which, in a year, will compel everyone to stick an ice pick in their ears.
Sure, they’re filled with catchy beats that make you want to bop your head. They sound great in a night-club; they are ideal background music for the spectacle of lights and dancers who flank the pop star on their circus tour. But here’s the thing; they’re pop songs. They’re made to appeal to the widest demographic of music listener in existence. I am not one to denounce a whole swath of art, but on the whole, pop music in general is like, “Music for people who give zero fucks about music.”
I am not judging. I love many pop songs. Many people listen to nothing but pop music. Not everyone has to care about music. The point is that, just because millions of people like pop music does not mean it is intrinsically good, in terms of its artistic merits. Millions of people thought National Socialism and Bolshevism were good too, right?
The point is, those who listen only to pop music, whose tastes in cultural genres mirrors whatever is mass produced, cannot claim to have discerning taste. Not in terms of culture, in any case. Their faculty of judgement, dulled by the fact of its mass-production is, as we Ham’n Eggers like to say, “As useful as tits on a bull.”
Eventually my partner shakes her head. She is incredulous I am insinuating, yet again, she has bad taste. I dig a little deeper into my foxhole with rationalizations to justify my position, providing logically defensible reasons why her taste in music is terrible. My mouth is flapping so quickly it causes tons of damage before my brain can find the off switch.
“Okay, so we’ll be listening to Justin Bieber and Hedley in two-hundred years like we’ve been listening to Mozart? Come on!” I say.
Ultimately I retreat. Fine. Yes, I’m a music snob. I am making her feel self-conscious about her taste in music, which she conflates. Do I also think she has bad taste in clothes? What about her family? Are they bad too? Is anything about her good? Yes! Except her taste in music! Every time I hear it an authentic part of me dies.
I brace for a chilly evening and sex involving baby oil, Google, and more self-love than I can usually muster.
Okay so I have to accept there is no measure for anything, right? Anything a person does to occupy the excess hours of their existence, no matter how feckless and inane is inherently enriching, I suppose. Those whose “reading” consists entirely of Twitter feeds are right to claim their opinions on world affairs, the economy, and climate change are as valid as those who spend their lives immersed in any of these fields?
Come on, now. The idea those who swaddle themselves in the vacuous chimera of mass culture to the exclusion of all else possess authoritative views in matters of taste, or much of anything else, is totally fucking absurd.
Make no mistake, I am no less capable of guilty pleasures than anyone else. I grew up with a single mother whose most reliable babysitter was the television. I ate that shit up. Escaping into re-runs of The Big Bang Theory is a great way to avoid the reality that the life of the modern, middle-class adult is a Sisyphean nightmare at times. Soulless, mind-numbing junk is an easy salve for the angst-ridden pain of existence.
At the same time, I would never say someone is a “loser” or something similar if they said Homeland sucks. I wouldn’t defend my taste by turning their opinion around on them. In the grand scheme, television is drivel; a truism that counts even for well-acted, suspenseful, and relevant dramas. I harbour no delusions to the contrary, a fact that is readily apparent by the low tolerance my stimulus-craving brain has for it. My curious mind quickly tires of the formulaic, clichéd, derivative heaps of manure most television programs cultivate by the truckload.
Curiosity; that faculty of mind distinguishing human beings from apes and pigs. It’s what compelled humans to invent the tools of modernity that have made our lives infinitely easier than those of our ancestors: the combustion engine, electricity, airplanes, computers, and so forth. It’s a mental faculty that has proven instrumental to our continued survival; one whose slow death our culture celebrates. Every day I am beholden to countless instances of Westerners pissing on the grave of the one virtue that secured our place at the top of the food chain: human wonder.
Throughout history, there are scores of examples where absolute rulers have sought to cast a pall of ignorance over the masses. How did they do this? They withheld education, books, and sought to control the information available to them. In lieu of power and participation in the fate of the nation, they gave them bread and circuses to pass the time. The despots of yore knew ignorance was more powerful than a loyal army to keep the masses subdued.
A mind engaged inevitably comes to be a mind that reflects; one that is prone to ask “why are most of us struggling and poor while that small batch of billionaires is getting richer every year?” Minds habituated to reflections of that nature are not as easily swayed by the answer, “Don’t worry struggling middle-class peon, the wealthier we billionaires are, the better off you will be. Eventually. Just wait a little longer.” Only those whose wits have been irrevocably dulled after years of sloth and torpor indulged in front of the television would be satisfied by such incredibly foul, deranged horseshit.
This is what gets my back up about the “snob” comment, especially when it’s wielded against anyone or anything that smacks of intellectual discernment. It is symptomatic of the anti-intellectual fervour that has cast a long shadow over North American culture for decades; since the senile guy who once starred in Bedtime for Bonzo became the most powerful puppet in the Western world. It’s a catch-all ad hominem that allows for the quick dispensation of arguments too complex for addled, lazy, ignorant minds to apprehend.
“Climate change? Universal medicare? Billionaires paying taxes like me? Pffft, what a lib-tard,” is what results from decades of elites doing everything in their power to whittle away institutions that diminish ignorance and sharpen minds. Our nations are beset by structural issues that need solutions from elected officials with intelligence, integrity, and wisdom. The electorate must be capable of discerning when such a rare creature bravely leaps out of the woodwork; they must be able to separate the wheat from the chaff.
With collective consciousness at its intellectual nadir, it becomes possible for a corrupt huckster like Donald Trump to stand as a legitimate candidate for President of the most powerful, wealthy, and influential nation on the planet. When I heard he had the audacity to seek the nomination, I thought he would have been laughed off the stage. It’s one thing for an unprincipled, lying, megalomaniacal blowhard to toot his horn so as to fatten his wallet. I don’t like it, but I can’t fault a guy for fooling suckers out of a billion bucks. However, presuming to seek the honour and privilege of the Office of The President of the United States? “Get the fuck outta here,” as his fellow New Yorkers – none of whom can stand him – would say.
Yet there he is, the guy with the skin tone of a Cheetoh and a combover helmet passing itself off as a “trademark hairstyle” has corralled legions of dupes into believing he would be a good custodian of US trade and foreign policy. He is a shameless, lying, misogynist, Muslim-banning, chest-thumping, race-baiting, ignoramus. He lies incessantly about his net worth and regularly proclaims to Howard Stern he’d fuck his own daughter if she wasn’t, well, his daughter. In Trump’s mind, this is his knock-out feminist punch against those who claim he is a misogynist.
The kind of publicity he courts is telling, not only about how creepy he is but where his priorities lie. He’s not running for office to serve Americans or to advance some lofty ideological principle he’s been gnashing his teeth on. He’s running because he gets off on putting himself in the public sphere for any shameless reason so others can stroke his image like a bunch of under-sexed, middle aged suburban housewives at a Magic Mike show. Trump wields his ego like a throbbing hard-on looking for any glory hole that holds the promise of a money shot.
The lack of discernment in matters of taste has overtaken the electorate’s capacity to discern what is or isn’t politically in their own interests; has rendered them incapable of spotting incompetence when it is standing right in front of them frothing at the mouth. Donald Trump perfectly embodies America’s cognitive descent down the rabbit hole of absurdity; where the more daft, emotionally-stunted, and incapable of thinking things through a person is, the more celebrated they are. The American elite has steered their countrymen towards this dubious place by serving the same shit coffee incessantly, wearing down the will of resistance to the affront not with reason, but with the kind of persistence only money can buy. Trump embodies the cultural atrocity of absolute collective ignorance sown by the American corporate elite – Republicans and Democrats alike.
Closer to home, many of my fellow Ham’n Eggers swallow the turd in a cup about how taxes, government, and immigrants are bad. They believe it because the guy on television said so; and they took him at his word because he is a WASP male who looks more like them than the other “snowflakes” decrying the heinous tactic of spinning fascistic propaganda and spewing divisive vitriol just to win votes. All the while, exponential growth in corporate wealth and executive incomes despite increasing poverty and inequality seem perfectly normal. Nobody believes the outrage about the system being rigged by those with money for those with money because they are too busy watching reality television; watching professional athletes bash each others’ heads in to critically examine the racketeering and corruption rings the guys in the suits at the country clubs have been using to rake it in all these years.
For a long time folks have been consuming cups and cups of shit coffee served up on a shiny platter suggesting it is good for us. The longer we’ve been choking it down, the less bitter the taste. A diet of such deprivation cultivates a mind to the taste of shit until it stops pining for something more wholesome and true. A mind thus malnourished believes the common sense dogma aimed at convincing the ninety-nine per cent to be happy eating shit and dying without ever having won the grace of government favour to improve their chances of tasting something a little better.
Next time you hear someone say “That cuppa Tim’s sucks” try to restrain your instinct to defend the turd. Don’t automatically succumb to your impulse to silence the differing view by uttering slurs like “snob” or “bleeding heart liberal.” Don’t believe the hype; it will dull your capacity to adjudge the shit coffee and fascist demagogues as terrible for your soul and horrendous for your country.
Instead, listen to your fellow citizens who, despite being reared on the same diet of cultural drivel as everyone else, were able to find something different that tastes so much better than what they were led to believe was the best. Their ability to assess the flavour of the popular swill was not dulled by their ignorance of alternatives. Driven by curiosity, their mental faculties were more robust against a cognitive bias that makes it difficult to resist culturally-determined ideas of what is virtuous and good, not because they are logically or ethically compelling, but because they are ubiquitous.
Thanks to modern forms of cultural media it is ridiculously easy to carpet bomb a mind with any message, no matter how deplorable. Despite being told millions of times in a thousand different ways that, “Corporate bullshit is good for America” the folks with more curious noses are still able to smell what they smell; their minds still able to conclude something that smells like shit is not good, no matter how often the converse message is repeated in cultural media. Curious minds are not so permeable to propaganda, no matter how authoritative or legitimate it seems because of the establishment pedestal from which it is championed. They are not so easily fooled into believing what is false and reprehensible is true and virtuous, despite having been bombarded by memes hatched to incite the mental inversion.
In the end, I’d rather be chastened as a pretentious, critical snob than a bamboozled cultural dupe. It is sad to witness the conditioned mobs thinking their shit coffee is enjoyable simply because they were told to think as much in the ten thousand hours of commercials pummelling their brains. Such is the frailty of the human mind. The billionaires are ecstatic it is so readily hoodwinked by the chimera, and compels such fervent belief in the fables they extol to clean us all out. A cultural preference for anything that dulls our mental capacity simply fills their pockets with our shit-eating money. If you don’t like the sounds of that, then stop buying it.