Wherein I ask the French waiter for a Cheeseburger

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Apr 3, 2007

Filed under: Links 21 comments

I love this quote, which Steven posted here:

I glory in my plebeian tastes.
I wallow in the crass, the banal, the mundane.
I feel no shame at all in in cleaving to the middlebrow.
And I derive great pleasure and satisfaction from the impotent spluttering of those who think they are my betters.

This is my declaration of independence from the tyranny of pretension and snobbery.

This reminds me of stuff I’ve said before: I don’t know why we like it when other people like the stuff we like, or why we lothe it when other people like the stuff we hate. I don’t know why we’re wired this way, but we are. Somehow I enjoy my ham sandwich more knowing that you love ham sandwiches too. People are funny.


A related quote from C.S. Lewis:

Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, “What! You too? I thought I was the only one!”

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21 thoughts on “Wherein I ask the French waiter for a Cheeseburger

  1. Woerlan says:

    Mankind has always been funny. IMHO we’re one of the biggest cosmic jokes in existence.

    You just have to live with it and make yourself better.

  2. Anne says:

    I was just thinking about this the other day, inspired by Stephen Jay Gould’s essay in I Have Landed (can’t remember which one, specifically), where he argues that the distinction between “high” and “low” brow material is a false one. In fact, now that I consider it, there’s a whole bushel of scholarship out there about the dichotomy between what we now might call high- or low-brow. In the fifties, for example, Nancy Mitford would have called it “U” and “Non-U.” There’s an equally impressive bushel of scholarship out there trying to explain the persistence of such a division: sublimated classism and socio-economic politics, to name two. The distinction implicates a great deal of our culture — maybe every facet of it — and is a fascinating one. Consider the creed quoted above: it advocates embracing the “crass” and “mundane” in pretty high-falutin’ language, creating a distinction between the subject it purports to laud and its own existence by utilitzing intelligent, exciting language. It’s partly sincere, and partly a wink at its audience that its author recognizes and embraces this divide even as he claims to cross it.

    I realize I’m utterly overanalyzing this; that you posted it in part as confirmation that it’s nice when people like what we like. As I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately, I thought I’d contribute my comments anyway.

  3. bloopy says:

    wait, but doesn’t that quote specifically say he derives great pleasure from, essentially, what others, specifically highbrow folk, *don’t* like?. . .

    what i find kind of amusing about that quote is that he declares his independence from pretension and snobbery, yet comes off as kind of a pretentious snob in doing so. . .

  4. Ryan says:

    But, I don’t like ham sandwiches.

  5. neminem says:

    It ‘asn’t got much ham in it…

  6. Cineris says:

    While I can kind of agree with this sentiment, since I often disagree with what is considered “good” or “bad” by cultural elites …

    I think the sort of relativism implied in something like this turns me off. Writing off distinctions between good and bad just to poke a finger in someone else’s eye seems pretty dumb.

  7. Carl the Bold says:

    I don’t want *any* ham!

  8. Charles says:

    Where ever you find humanity you will find that they have divided themselves into 2 groups. Us and the Enemy(from any one persons point of view. Elaboration: for any person in this chunk of humanity that person will see any other person of the chunk of humanity as belonging to their group or is an Enemy of the group).

    These groups seem to for up along group similarities. I believe that this happens because humanity instinctively likes mental uniformity in our groups becuase this is/was advantageous to our long term survival.

    I.E. my group has a significant advantage over other non-uniform groups if every member of my group can predict with a high degree of accuracy what the others of my group are going to do. Our group moves in concert with a single goal in mind. The easiest way for this to happen is if we all have very similar reactions to a given situation.

    Example with ham sandwiches. (very simplified. if it helps think of dogs rather then humans)

    Me, Shamus, and a group of fellow ham sandwich lovers come upon a another non-uniform group of comparable size to our own with many ham sandwiches, many tuna sandwiches and many tofu sandwiches. Because Shamus is like me I assume because he is closer to the ham sandwiches he will do what I would do which is to get the ham sandwiches. Because the sandwiches are being collected this then frees me and my group to defend him while he collects the sandwiches. Also becuase he knows that the group will move to defend him on his sandwich run he doesn’t have to worry about maintaining defensive ability.

    The non-uniform group has the following difficulty. There is not a clear consensus on with sandwich is the most valuable so the group will split into many different groups as some move to defend individual sandwich types, some do nothing, some move to enage us, and some leave the area, so they do not defend with their full strength

    All this explains why we would have feelings that would cause us to prefer to associate with groups of people that are like us.

  9. Bloopy, you need to read the entire thread on MeFi for context to understand why I wrote what I did.

  10. Will says:

    That MeFi thread was a bit of a slog.

    That fact that modern and post-modern “art” pieces can hang upside-down in galleries for weeks on end without notice, or be confused with the artistic output of a lower-order intelligence, does not speak well of the “artists” or their sychophants.

  11. Justin says:

    Then you have the whole subculture that only likes things so long as people in general do not like them. Mostly this seems to be a musical phenomenon, but I’m sure it happens elsewhere as well.

  12. bloopy says:

    steven, that’s, um, kind of a long mefi thread – especially considering that after a brief skim it appears to be a topic/debate that doesn’t resonate all that much with me. . . but even out of context i think i get what you were saying and didn’t mean to sound so snarky. . .

    hell, i do the same thing. . . i enjoy mcdonald’s and regularly ate at street stands when i lived in mexico, but at the same time i enjoy going to fancypants restaurants and hardcore vegan eateries. . . i also get some pleasure out of the shock people express when they find out i eat at “the other extreme” (vegans don’t much care for the big mac – go figure). . . it was similar to the pleasure i got out of being on both the rugby and badminton teams in high school and the incredulous questions i’d get from teammates on both teams about the “losers” on the other team. . .

    the pleasure i feel, however, is something that i’ve acknowledged comes from sort of an elitist attitude, similar to how people can feel a bit smug when they like, say, a band that nobody else does, and then complain about said band being a sellout when they become popular. . .

    but i also agree with shamus’ thing about liking it when other people like what i like. . . for me it probably stands out the most with clothes. . . not that i’m a snappy dresser or anything, but if i really didn’t give a hoot about other opinions i’d probably wear sweatpants and a t-shirt every day of the year. . .

    jeez that was a whole lot of rambling. . .

  13. Mordaedil says:

    You try telling someone you regulary visit 4chan, and you’ve made a friend at least :P

  14. Sartorius says:

    The curious converse to this, I think, is that there is no surer indication of man’s predisposition to sin than that we derive pleasure from: owning something that other people can’t own, being part of a club that other people can’t be part of, knowing a secret that other people aren’t allowed to know, etc. The Groucho Principle is, of course, the humorous expression of the concept, but there is something perverse in that we want everyone else to *want to be* but not to *get to be* like us.

  15. -Chipper says:

    Shamus, What, you too? I thought I was the only one that liked C.S. Lewis :-)
    An interesting side effect is when you find someone who shares similar tastes in many areas & then find they like something you find awful. That’s when you realize what is really more important to you – your view on that one thing, or your friendship with that person.


  16. -Chipper says:

    bloopy Says: “what i find kind of amusing about that quote is that he declares his independence from pretension and snobbery, yet comes off as kind of a pretentious snob in doing so. . .”
    He is using the language of the elites (1)so they will understand him, and (2)to show he is smart enough to understand what they value, but does not value it himself, and(3)to tweak them. At least that’s the way I read it. I like it.

  17. Matt` says:

    Maybe its a monkeysphere thing – knowing that the 150 people closest to you all like ham sandwiches subconsciously puts you at ease in knowing that liking ham sandwiches is perfectly normal.

    (possibly substitute 150 with 1, if you’re very close to that one person, if that person is the only person around at the time, or if you happen to be a hermit who lives almost alone, but has a companion to prevent insanity)

  18. Steve says:

    Big surprise. Humans are herd animals.


    Ha! My Ham sandwich is on wheat bread.

    (Big surprise two: Humans also exhibit ‘pecking order’ behaviour within the herd)

  19. Julia says:

    Hm. This explains why I hit it off so well with someone last summer (she’s one of my best friends now):

    How many people are going to a) like going to the restaurant where we met (mutual friend’s little party), b) have very bad gastrointestinal reactions to ham sandwiches (any pork, really), and c) love reading about really nasty epidemics?

    (It’s really nice for someone else to totally have your back on the dead pig thing, and to understand that it’s just not going to work for you if they cook you any.)

  20. jfml says:

    It’s quite the other way round with me: if I recgnice that a lot of (stupid) people like something I adore I like it a little less. And if something is really popular in the first place I don’t even bother about it at all. That is a pretty stupid thing because it makes you miss the rare things that are popular AND good.

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