Have you heard of or read the book Spent, by evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller? In it, Miller posits that "each of us is born with our own individual level of six big traits: intelligence, openness to new things, conscientiousness, agreeability, emotional stability and extroversion. These modules are built into humans and other animals (apparently squid can be shy)..."
According to Miller, "Driving an Acura, Infiniti, Subaru or Volkswagen is a sign of high intelligence. Driving a Cadillac, Chrysler, Ford or Hummer is a sign of low intelligence. Listening to Bjork is a sign of high intelligence, while listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd is a sign of low intelligence."
Naturally, it was that last tidbit that caught my eye.
Sure, most of us are music snobs, whether we want to admit it or not. And we are guilty of making snap judgments based on a Phish or Korn bumper sticker, an Evanescence or Fall Out Boy T-shirt, or, even worse, someone's glaring lack of musical knowledge (as in, "You've never heard of Black Flag?!"). But do we really think that country or Southern music fans are dumb, and that listeners of wackadoo Scandinavian music are smart? That seems like a stretch.
And where do irony and intention fit in? If I I tell you that I like Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears, and Phil Collins—but only in an ironic sense—does that still make me stupid? Or does that mean I'm even smarter, because I know that that you know that I know that it's dumb to like those artists and we're both in on the joke? But if you're not in on the joke are you stupid? Gosh, it's so confusing.
Yet, let's be honest, it's true that there are subtle ways that we classify people and make assumptions about them based on musical preference. For instance, we're pretty sure we know the hobbies of a Jimmy Buffett fan: that's right, yachts and Hawaiian-print shirts! And followers of Kid Rock drink domestic beer and drive American-made cars. Dirty Projectors fans are college-educated and have an appreciation for French New Wave films. Beyonce lovers like to dress up when they go out. MGMT fans say things like "BRB" and "OMG!" Wow, do we actually think these things, or some version thereof?
Once you get started down the road of gross generalizations—and dare to write them down—you quickly realize that you might actually be putting music fans, including yourself, into a stifling and, frankly, discriminatory dichotomy of intelligent versus unintelligent.
Then again, I might argue that a solid and heartfelt argument for why you love an artist—no matter who that artist might be—is a truer sign of intelligence than blind or obligatory devotion. I'd take an earnest Lynyrd Skynyrd fan over a can't-be-bothered Bjork fan any day. Ugh, there I go again.......
Please share your thoughts about Miller's argument, your own assumptions about people's musical tastes, and whether you think liking a certain artist is indicative of intelligence.
Lastly, just to preempt this inevitable comment: Yes, I do know what happens when you assume.