Rock snobbery and male bonding

by Rob Horning

7 November 2005


This Slate article about how pathetic rock snobbery is was occasioned by a new book that skewers music reviewers and their pretentious vocabulary. The rock snob is a pretty easy target; he is much like sci-fi nerds and computer geeks. And they are almost always he, women who become rock snobs—like women who become sports fans—often seem to be performing a kind of gender masquerade, trying to have their culture perceive them as essentially male, as “one of the guys”. Obsession with this kind of minutia, for better or for worse, is gendered male in our culture, and is the stuff that male homosocial bonding is made from. In fact the ability to establish an intense but non-sexual relationship is predicated on having something innocuous but endlessly elaborate like rock music to discuss. Eve Sedgwick famously argued in Between Men that love triangles in literature served to provide a homosexual bond among two men an alibi in the form of a woman they both love, transforming it into a homosocial love, the male friendship that transcends the pettiness and bitterness and selfishness that clings to male-female relationships as our culture routinely depicts them (what, with men being from Venus and all). Rock snobbery (and other forms of pop-cultural obsession—video game playing, car repairing, communal drug taking, etc.) perhaps serves a similar function, while skirting some of the sexism implied in using women as a cover-up.

This is why those who mock rock snobbery often do so in sexualized terms, referring to snobs as “effete” and usually implying they are “pansies” because of their knowledge. Anti-intellectualism of this sort, that sees people who care about knowing things as sissies, may be a covert expression of an underlying homophobia, which is itself an expression of gender panic, of insecurity in how to establish and maintain one’s own gender identity while assimilating all the various things the world has to offer.


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