Meta-Cynicism

I was twelve years old the first time I was called a music snob. A teacher was playing a request from one of my classmates – “Harder to Breathe” by Maroon 5 – over the loudspeaker in our classroom, and I GUESS I wrinkled my nose at it. The teacher looked at me and laughed. “You’re sort of a music snob, aren’t you, Sam?” Me? A snob? I was cultured! I was knowledgeable! I was wise beyond my years! In fact, I was a little prick. I’d made a common mistake – common even for people who aren’t twelve years old. I’d confused cynicism with sophistication.

This blunder has become even more ubiquitous in college. What’s more, people apply this attitude to increasingly intellectual pursuits. People seem consistently determined to assert themselves as the utmost authority on a given craft. Art: “I’m so over Andy Warhol.” Classical music: “4’33 changed my life; if you don’t get it, you don’t get music.” Literature: “Have you even read Infinite Jest?” I can understand what’s happening, at least somewhat. Kids in college have each of their feet in two completely different worlds. One pink Converse with stars drawn all over it in silver Sharpie is still in our childhood, where we believe we’ll grow up to be all we promised ourselves we’d be. One leather wedged lady boot is in our future, where we know we’ll have to fight to set ourselves apart at a job that probably won’t be the professional baseball player (yeah, and I grew up before Monet Davis was around) or garbage truck driver we thought we’d be when we were twelve. In order to bridge the gap, we try to invoke the jaded demeanor of a much older individual. In truth, this cynicism – or any cynicism for that matter – isn’t the mark of someone who’s lived a full life as we believe it to be. It’s the mark of someone who’s lived a sad life.

There probably isn’t a whole lot that we can do to combat this discrepancy. It’s natural for someone who is young to want to act older. Honestly, I don’t think it’s a bad thing to want to be cultured, to be well-read, to listen to cool modern classical music, to like weird artists. The real issue arises when we can’t appreciate something that’s just damned pretty.

For example, do you remember The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats? It was acclaimed for breaking the color barrier in children’s literature, but when I was little, all I cared about was the pictures of the kids playing in the snow that reminded me of my Bubbi and Zayde’s house in Chicago. Kids’ brains work like poetry does – only they don’t have to sit down and analyze and find themes and rhyme schemes and think “So what?” while they’re reading. Everything is poetry to a kid.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be analytical, but it’s definitely not healthy to be analytical all the time. Cynicism is derived when a mind is unhealthily systematic, and it’ll suffocate your creativity in the end if you’re not careful. Take a second, and reread something that used to make your brain work without looking at itself in the mirror every five seconds. Sure, you could be using the time to brush up on your Joyce or Kafka, but if you’re visiting this blog, you’re probably already pretty well-read.

Samantha Horwitz