You may only read this site if you've purchased Our Kampf from Amazon or Powell's or me
• • •
"Mike and Jon, Jon and Mike—I've known them both for years, and, clearly, one of them is very funny. As for the other: truly one of the great hangers-on of our time."—Steve Bodow, head writer, The Daily Show

"Who can really judge what's funny? If humor is a subjective medium, then can there be something that is really and truly hilarious? Me. This book."—Daniel Handler, author, Adverbs, and personal representative of Lemony Snicket

"The good news: I thought Our Kampf was consistently hilarious. The bad news: I’m the guy who wrote Monkeybone."—Sam Hamm, screenwriter, Batman, Batman Returns, and Homecoming

November 03, 2010

Sad Faces in Snoburbia

Oh man, faces must be frowny in Washington, D.C.'s liberal Snoburbia suburbs today. But congratulations to Lydia Sullivan, whose bl_g about the Snoburbs has been written up in the Washington Post, the Official Newsletter of the Snoburbs*:

Sullivan's fascination with social hierarchy and class dates to her childhood in a poor neighborhood of Huntington, W.Va., where her father was an English professor at Marshall University. She was the sixth of seven children in a family where no one felt part of an elite: Her parents didn't know what the PSAT was, let alone worry about how they could better position Sullivan for a National Merit Scholarship. "I've studied snobbery my whole life, both as a victim of snobbery and perhaps as a snob myself," she says. "I don't like to think of myself as a snob, but I have a $600 faucet and $300 door handles."

The house she shares with her lawyer husband, John Flyger, and their four children is assessed at about $675,000, according to property records. She drives a well-worn 2003 Toyota Sienna minivan with a peeling Snoburbia sticker on the back.

Sullivan's Snoburbia reminds some readers of Stuff White People Like, a satirical blog that became a bestselling book, but she bristles at the comparison - if only because Snoburbia, she insists, is hardly an all-white enclave.

"People in Snoburbia aren't racist," she says. "They're classist. But they would never say that."

The rest.

* The Washington Post is also the Official Newsletter of Quiet, Tasteful Genocide.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at November 3, 2010 03:49 PM

Snoburbia blog is so good!

Posted by: Cloud at November 3, 2010 05:43 PM

People in Snoburbia are racist. Trust me, I grew up there.

Posted by: Alaya at November 3, 2010 05:44 PM

The snoburban liberals sad feelings about the election results simply reinforce their attitude that poor white people are stupid (and that's why they're poor, you know - and sometimes they're uppity, too - that's why it's better to hire immigrant help)

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at November 3, 2010 05:54 PM

Such stories tend to feed my anti east coast bigotry which is probably unhealthy. Was the article author implying that a 2003 was an older vehicle?

Posted by: pulaski at November 3, 2010 06:16 PM

Great Post! Thanks.

Posted by: Rupa Shah at November 3, 2010 06:22 PM

Was the article author implying that a 2003 was an older vehicle?

She drives a well-worn 2003 Toyota Sienna minivan with a peeling Snoburbia sticker on the back.

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at November 3, 2010 06:24 PM

Sullivan's Snoburbia seems like more of an "aren't we cute?" effort -- an update on the Lisa Birnbach's "Preppy Handbook" (which she's plugging an update for herself) -- than any attempt at actual satire.

I was particularly impressed by how no one in her family felt "part of an elite" with her university professor father, not to mention her stint as "publisher of Washington Monthly" that ended in 1992, back when the "48-year-old stay-at-home mom" would have been the ripe age of 30.

If she'd felt she was a member of the elite, who knows what publications she would have been the publisher of in her mid-to-late 20s.

Posted by: darrelplant at November 3, 2010 06:46 PM

"her father was an English professor at Marshall University"

no wonder she has such an acute sense of class, coming from this unforgivingly proletarian background. as is well known, university professors rank right between gas station employees and night shift seven-eleven staff on the social ladder of working class america.

Posted by: Aron at November 3, 2010 09:20 PM

Darrelplant, speaking as somebody who's been on both sides of that kind of profile, the satirist's actual POV goes out the window--it's the worldview of the publication that matters most. Marxist magazines thought Barry Trotter was staunchly anti-capitalist; mainstream mags thought it was simply potty humor; when in fact my motivating satirical POV was a well-articulated fear that visual media inevitably supplants written media, and turns a conversation between individuals (even if mediated by corporations) into something much less idiosyncratic and human. I got a lot of coverage, and NEVER ONCE did anybody make that point. I'd even say it, and it would never make it into the piece. The idea smelled seditious or boring or something, but it's what made me write the parody.

Peter Workman (Yale '77 I think) doesn't publish The Preppy Handbook if it portrays preps in a harsh light. That manuscript, if it ever existed, is still in someone's closet, because book publishing then and now is preppy to the bone. If you've got good satire in you regarding Snoburbia, I say let 'er rip--and I'll even tell you how to self-publish the book. Always room for more good stuff.

In a world where somebody like PJ O'Rourke skates--I like him personally, but find his take often sour and reductive (his latest is called, charmingly, "Don't Vote")--I like Snoburbia's genuine, if gentle, satire from the inside.

Posted by: Mike of Angle at November 3, 2010 09:35 PM

... my motivating satirical POV was a well-articulated fear that visual media inevitably supplants written media, and turns a conversation between individuals (even if mediated by corporations) into something much less idiosyncratic and human.

For reals? I've got to read that, then.

Posted by: Cloud at November 3, 2010 09:50 PM

Which came first, snoburbia or consumerism. Clearly the former fuels the latter. But, can consumerism be traced to cultural attitudes of snoburbia?

Posted by: IronButterfly at November 4, 2010 06:59 AM

I shop at Big Wally.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at November 4, 2010 01:19 PM

This is totally off-topic, but I'm on the Atlantic's mailing list, and among the other articles that were being announced I saw this one:

When the TSA Touched My Genitals
A journey through the security line at the Baltimore airport.
By Jeffrey Goldberg

As a Maryland resident, and a fan of yours, I wishfully reinterpreted that as "Local hero punches Jeffrey Goldberg in the balls". Of course the reality is nothing like that, but I can dream can't I.

Posted by: Jack at November 4, 2010 03:51 PM

Angle Mike, I understand your point about the profile venue. But stuff like the Preppy Handbook mostly just ends up as self valedictory pap that reinforces the culture it's supposedly mocking.

Even things like "Animal House" which ridiculed the Greek system (but from the perspective of a bunch of guys who'd been in fraternities) ended up sparking a revival of sororities and fraternities on campuses in the early '80s (which led in turn to The Preppy Handbook, God help us). Or take "The Big Bang Theory" and its pandering to dweebs and nerds. I watch it myself and enjoy its tweaking of stuff I'm all too familiar with, and nobody would ever put it on the air if it was a more biting critique of geeks, but then again it doesn't pretend to be anything but an attempt at entertainment.

And I still find it completely ridiculous that someone who somehow ended up in their 20s as publisher of Washington Monthly maintains they didn't come out of an elite, no matter which college they had to settle for.

Posted by: darrelplant at November 4, 2010 04:01 PM

Your take sounds spot on to me, darrelplant. And your point about the Washington Monthly (besides being pretty hilarious) echoes one FAIR often makes about the usage of "middle class" by people who are, by any sane definition, well above it.

Posted by: John Caruso at November 4, 2010 06:48 PM

a college professor didn't know about PSATS and National Merit Scholarships? Did he never interact with students or did Marshall never get students that took the PSATS

Posted by: BillCinSD at November 4, 2010 10:38 PM

"a college professor didn't know about PSATS and National Merit Scholarships?"

Alas, college professors in 1980 in West Virginia with lots of kids didn't always have their ears as close to the ground as you might think, and a National Merit Scholarship wasn't at the forefront of everyone's minds then, though of course such scholarships really could change the lives of kids without any money, as happened for me.

"Publisher" of the Washington Monthly is a great title, conjuring up images of golf with Martin Peretz, but it's actually one of those jobs you can have and still qualify for Medicaid. I'm thinking of getting myself a volunteer position somewhere as "Director of Earth" one of these days.

I love that peeling Snoburbia sticker, but I hate that $600 faucet. What sort of person has a $600 faucet? Somebody should slap her!

Posted by: N E at November 5, 2010 06:46 AM

Ah, the Carusian definition of 'sane' rears its head to defy objective criteria! And darrelplant, who said anybody "settled for" anything? That lady is probably a proud Mountaineer!

The sad thing about this for me is that there was a time in this country when everybody thought it was normal for REAL middle class people to go to college. It was the expectation of my parents, a shoe salesman turned prison guard and a sales assistant in the office of a meatpacking plant, that I would go to college, and there were no rousing speeches at my graduation about how I was now part of the upper class or the 'elite' and could abandon bowling and ping pong (I was a youth champion) for polo. I attended with scholarships and something once known as "financial aide" some private colleges and universities that my parents thought pretty hoity-toity (sic?), and I did too until I started meeting those godawful Yalies! (just kidding JS and Mike). Stuff of myth and legend like that which seems to be going the way of dragons and knights now.

This country doesn't exactly pay a tribute to working people, so I understand the resentment of phonyism. Even "Labor Day" doesn't seem to have anything to do with working people now. In my opinion, that's too bad, because a lot of bad things flow from people feeling they don't really matter, and our society values money way too much.

Posted by: N E at November 5, 2010 07:15 AM

Oh, we children of the middle class are still going to college, all right.

Posted by: Cloud at November 5, 2010 12:07 PM

Here's a comment from a post about nutella:
"Nutella is made from PALM OIL which is harvested in plantations that were made by destruction of some of the only remaining orangutan habitat in the world. It's disgusting and its eaters are irresponsible."

The difficulty of keeping up with the snobs in Snoburbia is why I live in the middle of fucking nowhere.

Posted by: SideShow Bob at November 5, 2010 12:44 PM

Oh Cloud, you're nice to say, but my work suffers from being betwixt and between. If I could just turn my brain off, I could make a wonderful living writing mainstream comedy. Or if I could become sure enough in my own moral superiority that I could wave the bloody shirt without feeling like my fly was open, I could sell books to that crowd--be it right-wing or left. But I try to do both, and please neither the mainstream nor the hardcore.

With the Barry books, because it was a multi-audience phenomenon, I tried to build in several different strata of jokes--low, middle, high--all running at once. Don't know if it worked. Tried to move it all forward, though.

Darrelplant, funny thing about "Animal House"--which is deeply satirical in intent, if not how the audience took it--was that Ramis said "everybody thinks they were the Deltas." People like George W Bush would tell him that he and his buddies were "just like Delta House in college"--when of course what they were genuinely like was the villains of the movie, the Omegas. If you're interested, there's an interesting analysis of Animal House in a book called "Going Too Far," which reveals the important differences between the creators' intent, the audience's assignment of meaning, and the unintended mass-cultural effects that followed.

See, that's the bitch about satire--you can write it, but you can't control it. And the bigger and more popular it gets, the less control you have. We can be pretty sure that the creators of "Two and Half Men" don't have any grand satirical visions for their show, but then again maybe they do. Is it an artistic flaw that I don't get that from the show? Or is the flaw with me? Or is this kind of critique worthless? The show exists; someone made it, and their intentions count for something; someone likes it, and their connection counts for something; and all the rest is bullshit. Maybe?

Posted by: Mike of Angle at November 5, 2010 03:47 PM

I said "settled" for WVU because however proud she may have been to go there, who wouldn't have preferred to be able to get an Ivy Leage or Oxford education with all the attendant social and professional connections? I was recruited by some second-tier schools (based on my PSATs, certainly not on my grades) but settled for a just-post-"Animal House"-filming University of Oregon (among other schools) because there was no way I could have afforded anything but a state school.

Mike, I may look up the book. All I can say is my high school buddies and I (one of whom dropped out of college for the Navy and another who just about burned his hand off in a graveyard explosives experiment involving magnesium) loved re-enacting the scene with Bluto jumping around outside the administration building but I don't think any of us ever even thought it would be cool to join a frat.

Posted by: darrelplant at November 6, 2010 03:36 PM