Posted by Jay Livingston
Resentment against cultural elitists holds a prominent place in the populist energy driving Trump supporters. Mainstream conservatives have been playing this card since way back in the game with playground taunts like “brie-eating, chardonnay-drinking liberals.” In fact, this animus against elite culture may be what divides the pro-Trump and never-Trump conservatives, at least those who babble publicly in the media. Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity imagine themselves to be one with what another Trump supporter, Sarah Palin, called “the Real America” united against the cultural snobs.
But as Paul Krugman (here) points out, we’re all cultural elitists now. Or rather, what was once elite culture has gone mainstream.
|But most of all, this kind of punditry, while ostensibly praising the Real America, is in fact marked by deep condescension. One pats the simple folk on the head, praising their lack of exposure to quinoa or Thai food — both of which can be found in food courts all across the country. Sorry, but there are no country bumpkins in modern America.|
Even as recently as the early 2000s, part of the liberal stereotype mocked by conservatives was “latte-sipping.” Now NASCAR dads might well have a chai latter or venti in the cup holder of their pick-up. That didn’t just happen. Starbucks spent a lot of money opening outlets and spreading the word.
The same is true of Thai food. Americans didn’t wake up one morning with a cravings for pad thai and green curry. Matt Yglesias links to an article in The Economist.
|In a plan ambitiously called Global Thai, the government aims to boost the number to 8,000 by 2003. This, it is argued, will not only introduce deliciously spicy Thai food to thousands of new tummies and persuade more people to visit Thailand, but it could subtly help to deepen relations with other countries.|
In the United States at least, . . . the number of Thai restaurants has grown from 500 in 1990 to more than 2,000 now [i.e., 2002] . . . More modestly, the Thai government aims to make it easier for foreign restaurants to import Thai foods, to help them to hire Thai cooks and sometimes to benefit from soft loans. It has been much encouraged that Tommy Tang, a Thai chef working in the United States, has said that he plans to open 200-300 Thai restaurants there during the next five years
Sometimes popular tastes change seemingly without anyone with a vested interest pushing things along, as when names like Barbara and Ashley go out of fashion, and Olivia and Ava become all the rage. In other areas, an entire industry – clothing for example – depends on its ability to convince people to follow the latest fashion. With food, there’s a complicated interaction between person-to-person influence within the population and a strong push from the outside by players who have a stake in the outcome. I don’t know about quinoa, but thanks in part to the efforts of the government of Thailand, Thai food may be on its way to becoming as American as pizza.*
*As a food becomes more popular, restaurateurs in the US who want more customers will find ways to make it more palatable to Americans, probably by toning down the spices and ramping up the sweetness. That’s the cue for elitists to look down on The Olive Garden and other “inauthentic” foods. (Pad Thai is to thai cuisine roughly what chop suey is to Chinese.) The politically correct will decry the cultural appropriation in Hawaiian pizza or a college food court version of banh mi. I know: cultural propriation, bad; Asian fusion, good. But sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.