Posted by: Yorgos | May 14, 2008

Text 18 – Selective Elitism

Most major bookstores in Athens (and here I talk about exclusively -kind of- bookstores) have a really small sections where they sell a couple dozens of music CDs. If one were to examine this small stock of music, he or she would see that it is made up of only two genres: Classical and Jazz.

I could pretend to wonder why is that, only to reach, in the end, to the conclusion that since these bookstores are visited by educated people and intelligent people, if they are to sell music, then this music must be what they prefer.

The thing is, though, that I have a big problem with that choice. What does it mean that they sell music only for the educated people? And what does it mean that they automatically assume that the educated people would only listen to classical and jazz? Furthermore, how come this elitism is selective and doesn’t spread to the actual commodity that this store is providing: books? Why do they sell all those Cosmopolitan types of books or books about true crimes or books which promote racism and xenophobia. These books sell a lot and since I want to believe myself an enthusiast of free speech (while, on the other hand, political correctness is not quite my thing), they should exist in the bookstores as long as their author wants them there. But why do these stores welcome Barbies and skinheads as their costumers, but automatically assume that if someone is to be buying music from them, it is going to be the ones who read the classics and the postmodernists and I don’t know what else. And why on earth should these people limit themselves to listening to these two types of music? I listen to classical but I have barely touched jazz. And I am sure I can find songs that I like and that a Barbie and a skinhead can also enjoy (by the way, there is no comparison or analogy between a Barbie and a skinhead; I just happened to pick these two categories as examples).

If I ask one of the managers in a bookstore like that, the answer I will get is probably that this choice is market driven. Which means that it is more possible that a so-called educated person to buy music from there, since this kind of person does not visit the record stores often; while other people will indeed go to the nearby record store to buy the latest pop or thrash metal CD. What the answer will not include is the reason behind this categorization of people and the categorization of tastes; and as we all should learn (I know I am still learning), giving labels to people can lead to dangerous conclusions.

My first reaction to seeing the kind of music being sold in the bookstores was absolutely positive. “Great! They only sell good music and not the crap that is being listened to right now”. And then I thought they sell books that are the crap that is being read right now. But of course, apart from some very basic elements, good music and good books are entirely subjective. And what I feel is stupid, might be brilliant for someone else.

The sad thing is that I kind of believe that educated people are indeed closer to listening to classical and jazz than other genres. But that should not make a difference…


  1. I was following you until the last two paragraphs… but I really can’t get behind the argument that “educated people” are likelier to listen to classical and jazz. I would be considered “educated” by most, and although I occasionally listen to classical, I mainly listen to rock and pop — that “crap that is being listened to right now.” I can safely say that most of my “educated” friends do as well.

  2. Hey wait a minute!!! In the last two paragraphs I also say: “But of course, apart from some very basic elements, good music and good books are entirely subjective. And what I feel is stupid, might be brilliant for someone else”.

    I think irony doesn’t come through really well on the screen. I think I should have used a “however” somewhere in that paragraph to make the contrast more apparent. Of course educated people DO NOT listen to classical and jazz exclusively. I had you and Gus in mind while writing the post. And of course my tastes, as I stated, do not define what is actually good…that cannot be defined.

    The truth is (and it is sad, maybe) though, that educated people are more likely to give classical and jazz a chance, even if they do prefer pop and rock…

    Hey, I was just accusing the bookstores of elitism and labeling, I wasn’t trying to define what is good…

  3. It’s cool, I get what you’re saying. I’m just nitpicky about words. Maybe Derrida finally got to me. 🙂

    I still don’t agree though that educated people are more likely to give classical and jazz a chance. And my biggest issue here is, what counts for “educated” anyway? So many different factors go into our subjective choices. This just got me thinking about Edmund Burke’s ideas on the sublime and the beautiful. He believed that true beauty is, in fact, objective, and that good taste can be cultivated. Kant too — only his distinction between the agreeable, the good, and the beautiful at least took some account of subjective taste. But hey, I don’t necessarily buy any of that. They completely ignore the political/social apparatus governing what is disseminated to the public and acknowledged as “beautiful” or worthwhile, and what is suppressed or marginalized as “crap.”

    Oops, that was a bit of a tangent, wasn’t it?

    Anyway, yeah, I agree, whoever is stocking the music shelves of the bookstores in Athens is elitist and subscribes to outdated stereotypes. And stupid. I know you don’t think “educated” people listen to classical and jazz exclusively, but apparently those morons might.

  4. Indeed. The problem, though, is that they are not elitists when it comes to selling books and not music. They sell everything to everyone…oh well…I’ll let them be.

  5. It’s still good to question these things though. So, right on.

  6. […] got onto this rant because of a blog post by a friend of mine questioning the musical selection in book stores. I haven’t decided where I’m going to […]

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