I Devote a Category to General Snobbery for a Reason

Nobody will believe me, but I didn’t write that review of Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne to troll Bioware fanboys. That people actually bothered to comment on it surprised me, especially hyrulehistorian, who got burned in the review but commented with a dignity that seems lost throughout much of the digital buzz that is the internet. A good example of somebody without said decorum is J, who called me a pretentious twat and told me to go re-read Tolstoy. (In his defense, he apologized for the name calling soon after)

I admit to having left comments on other blogs that might be read as inflammatory, insulting, and rude, but generally, I take a person’s whole internet corpus into consideration before doing so. After all, my own blog contains writing that’s embarrassingly bad, or fails to convey the points that I thought I was making. Since the Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne review doesn’t fit that description, it’s safe to assume that J’s comments were based on the single post that he probably read only in part. Would a blogger on the order of J’s description of a pretentious twat (Tuesdays with Morrie, Tolstoy, Heller, etc.) devote part of his blog to reviewing video games or movies like Amazons, Pagan Love Song, or anything directed by Hisayasu Sato?

My blog, my criticism, and my interests are thoroughly middle-brow. But my academic background is in literature, film and theatre (in that order), and I could write a review about Synecdoche, New York critiquing the interplay of formal and thematic elements. I don’t want to. I might do the same for the kung fu movies I review as well, but I generally don’t spend too much effort since there isn’t really that much there to critique. In a sense, kung fu movies share a cultural demarcation with those generic fantasy books that get dumped on in my Tomoe Gozen review. They take mythical, even archetypical icons, images, and stories, often unique to the geography from which they come, and genericize them. The difference is that I usually like kung fu movies.

Writing about things that I like is immensely fun as long as I’m explaining why I like them. Could I show how Chang Cheh is only about as technically skilled as a B-rate Hollywood film maker of the same era? Sure, but there’s no point in that. I could just as well point out Robert E. Howard’s repetitious vocabulary, but I think that it’s forgivable in the context of what and where he wrote.

Is it pretentious to like just anything? Not as long as you keep it in perspective. If somebody wrote an ignorant screed about Night of the Hunter I would comment to tell such a person that they were wrong, not because Night of the Hunter is a favorite of mine, but because the critique itself was ignorant. If somebody were writing about Tsui Hark’s Green Snake and didn’t care for it because its special effects are unconvincing and the pacing spastic and the acting distinctly hammy, I might not even care. I don’t love Green Snake because it is a great movie (although as far as I’m concerned it is a great movie).

I don’t look down on people who like Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne for whatever reason. The review was an excuse to rant about the unpleasant relationship between fanboys, franchises, and literature, as well as get some kicks out of Gaider’s poor prose. On some level, it must be strange to see somebody advocating an unjustly ignored Gene Wolfe novel, making fun of IGN for being tasteless, and writing a few hundred words on a Taiwanese wuxia movie based on a pulp novel all within a period of about ten days. The mere fact that I like some popularly derided things doesn’t mitigate that I like others that are more commonly considered sophisticated; neither does an appreciation of complexity prevent my enjoyment of simple things. That is the highly subjective concept of “taste,” and on a blog devoted to talking about various media, some of it not well represented and some of it viciously defended, it must be understood.

You must decide yourself why you like what you like. I am thoroughly unprepared to tackle such an issue in a broader social or psychological perspective. I do consider taste a useful social construct, but neither my blog, nor anything else I do online is about actually proving my credibility in that area.


  1. "I could just as well point out Robert E. Howard’s repetitious vocabulary, but I think that it’s forgivable in the context of what and where he wrote."

    Could you give me an example of some of Howard's repetitious vocabulary? There were some words Howard liked to use, but I don't think he's any more repetitive than other writers.

    That said, I agree wholeheartedly in how horridly Dragon Age was marketed. Then again, it bothers me that apparently making a "different" fantasy milieu means switching the roles of Elves and Dwarves around a bit. The nu-metal sex & gore video sure didn't help at all.

    I'm kind of in the same boat as yourself: I'm sure many would consider my extremely picky tastes in fiction highly pretentious if I didn't make my love of the Transformers comics and just about any film featuring a dinosaur fairly plain. I'm all over the map when it comes to low/middle/highbrow stuff.

  2. It's not terribly noticeable if you don't read whole collections in one sitting (which I used to do) because they occur across his oeuvre not within in the same stories, but, Lord help me, it gets tiresome reading how Conan "crushed" a woman against himself for the umpteenth time, or how Conan, his opponents or some miscellaneous beast is "massive." Considering he wrote like a madman on a deadline to make his living in a rough economy (especially in a place like Cross Plains) I consider these flaws pretty minor.

    That, and his style is always thoroughly readable, if unpolished in spots.

    I highly doubt that anybody genuinely liking something for what it is can be called pretentious. My various REH collections sit on the same shelf as Borges, Gene Wolfe, and Walker Percy. I think these kids are pretentious. most of what they write is an affectation, and a poor one at that. (Have you tried to read any of their other blog posts? You'll get more out of reading Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne.)

    That's one of the problems with that word. "Pretentious" is a pejorative lobbed by the ignorant at those with the temerity to correct them, or to have higher standards than them, or to have any standards at all.

  3. It seems that linking doesn't work with my comments. The people I was calling pretentious were these: http://ohtheplaceswewillgo-books.blogspot.com/2010/01/more-fantasy-and-racism.html.

  4. I wasn't offended by the post. I read it, and it was amusing. I think we all tend to be rather vociferous in our opinions when it comes to stuff we like -- I myself can go into a rant about Robert Jordan or David Eddings that would make me sound like a crazy person.

    I think people get defensive on the behalf of their favorite hobby/writers/whatever because they think someone, somewhere might actually be swayed by them. Who knows? Maybe there is such a person. The day I let such a person tell me what I should like, however, is the day I hang up my hat.

    Same with the day I stop being able to take feedback for what it is. "What it is" might be complete asshattery, but that's not going to make me crazy. ;)


  5. I'm glad you weren't offended, since that wasn't the intent of that post. I'm also rather gladdened that you were amused, since amusement was the aim and everybody else who commented seems to have taken it a little bit more seriously than I'd really anticipated.

    I certainly wouldn't want to make crazy the writer of Baldur's Gate 2's dialogue, even if I suspect that he just attempted to passively accuse me of "asshattery."