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The politics of cheese etc.

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There was a bit of a kerfuffle in the comments yesterday about whether the phrase “brie and cream cheese Democrats/liberals” was ever actually a thing. I definitely remember a couple of GOP politicians using this phrase in the aughts, but I can’t find any evidence it was ever widespread. Dubya mocked a reporter in August of 2001 for having spent time on the West Coast by saying something about how the reporter had gone to the land of “brie and cheese,” and weirdly I found a bunch of stories about the great San Francisco 49er teams of the 1980s to mid-1990s which referred to how they were sometimes considered “soft” because they came from the West Coast, where they eat brie.

Anyway, what was/is very much a meme was the association of brie with liberals/Democrats/progressives. This got rolling around 1980 or so, with Pat Buchanan’s fulminations about the “wine and cheese” suburban set morphing into a fixation with brie specifically over the course of the decade.

Now why brie? Geoff Nunberg, a linguist at UC-Berkeley, points out that brie is soft and white, and that right wingers love to associate liberalism with “softness” and, somewhat counter-intuitively, with whiteness, although this means “white” in the sense of Stuff White People Like, not white in the sense of, you know, white supremacy. Latte liberals follows this this trend: sitting around in a coffee shop drinking a white foamy drink with a foreign hard to pronounce if you’re not familiar with it word is “effete,” which is another word for gay, which means homosexual, which is bad.

Now if you’re a food snob brie is a practically proletarian cheese at this point, but you have to remember the incredibly primitive food conditions that Americans lived under when movement conservatism got rolling in the 1960s and 1970s: brie was at that point actually quite exotic, despite its very mild inoffensive character. (Claude Levi-Strauss writes somewhere that when American troops after D-Day advanced on the caves where some characteristic cheese – camembert? — was being aged, they fired flamethrowers into them, as they thought the smell was that of rotting corpses).

This is all about what Pierre Bourdieu famously identified as “taste” and “distinction,” which is to say the politics of class as expressed through consumer preferences. So what are the classic liberal tastes according to the right wing scream machine? An informal geneology:

1970s: Volvos. Volvos were ugly and utilitarian– Stanley Fish even wrote an essay called “The Unbearable Ugliness of Volvos,” and the poet Donald Hall said as I recall something like he was leaving the world of Volvos, tennis, and tenure behind when he quit his job as an English professor at the University of Michigan to go live in Vermont like a real bard. It also helped that Volvos were from socialist Scandinavia. Volvos have since gotten way sexier and very expensive so I don’t think this one really works any more.

1980s: Brie, sushi, (“here in Atlanta we call that bait”), Heineken absurdly enough, granola, vegetarianism generally.

1990s: Lattes and other fancy coffees, but especially lattes (I think it’s the foam).

2000s: The Prius totally replaces the Volvo. Remodeling a mid-century modern ranch.

Veganism becomes the radical Hezbollah-like splinter sect that is feared and hated even more than vegetarianism in general.

Craft beer. Somebody should write a book about how the transformation of the two classic American drinks of the working and middle classes — coffee and beer — into upscale matters of taste and distinction has all sorts of broader cultural implications. I bet somebody already has but I’m not checking.

So what are the right wing equivalents here?

Meat, especially steak, especially grilled outdoors.

Ford F-150s

SUVs

Macro brews obvi, but especially light beer and Bud Lite in particular, which is weird since you would think light beer would be gay, i.e. associated with concerns about maintaining a girlish figure. This must have been a really tough one for the Don Drapers out there but they pulled it off. I notice that light beer commercials are almost invariably aimed at men, and specifically on emphasizing that real men drink them.

McMansions

NASCAR

WWE? I’m not as clear on this one. A lot of liberal/lefties seem to love pro wrestling, although always in an ironic way of course.

OK that’s enough for now but there’s much more in this vein as I’m sure you can point out.

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