brie-eating liberals

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Wed Nov 23 17:51:25 UTC 2011

Please, give me a moment to rediscover America, so to speak. [Yes, the
expression is idiomatically Russian, in case you're wondering.] [I fully
expect claims that this has already been done, rehashed and buried--but
I searched the usual sources, including Big Apple and Language Log and
found nothing. In any case, this is all napkin scribbles--very preliminary.]

Geoff Nunberg, among many, has commented on "brie-eating liberals" meme.

The Years of Talking Dangerously. By Geoff Nunberg. 2009
p. 177
> Liberals were tarred in a kind of guilt by brand association, as
> Volvo-driving, /Brie-eating/, Chardonnays-sipping snobs--the "libs,"
> as Rush Limbaugh calls them.

Thousands of ghits for "brie-eating liberal" (although adding "-Nunberg"
removes 1000 of them). I've heard George Lakoff making an observation on
the same stereotype nearly three decades earlier (1991)--and, I suspect,
Limbaugh had already latched on to it by then. I don't have a record
because it was in a class (hence the precise dating). And memories may
be faulty...

The stereotype has been quite pervasive in the aughts.

The Virtues of Our Vices: A Modest Defense of Gossip, Rudeness, and
Other Bad Habits. By Emrys Westacott. 2011
p. 113
> Consider two stereotypical caricatures from the long-running culture
> wars in the United States. In the blue corner we have the
> fancy-suited, East coast-educated, Chardonnay-sipping, /Brie-eating/,
> whale-saving, gym-visiting, Europhilic, secular, liberal Democrat. And
> in the red corner we have the baseball-capped, gun-toting,
> deer-hunting, burger-eating, flag-waving,tax-hating redneck Republican.

Aftershock. The Next Economy and America's Future. By Robert B. Reich. 2010
p. 118
> Later that month, at the Conservative Political Action Conference,
> Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota attacked "the elites" who believe
> Tea Partiers are "not as sophisticated because a lot of them didn't go
> to Ivy League Schools" and "don't hang out at ... Chablis-drinking,
> /Brie-eating/ parties in San Francisco."

But this stereotype is not actually associated with liberals, but rather
with the perception of them as the moneyed/cultural elite--as Pawlenty
actually states--and it is this "elite" that's the root of American
liberalism. [We are operating in fantasy world here, but never mind
that. It is telling, however, that Pawlenty confused Chablis with
Chardonnay--no wine-drinking liberal would ever allow for such a gaffe!]

Stuck in the Sixties. Conservatives and the Legacies of the 1960s. By
George Rising. 2010
p. 318
> National Review journalist Rod Dreher, a self-proclaimed "crunchy
> conservative," popularized the phrase. In a 2002 article, Dreher
> acknowledged some similarities between bobos [bohemian bourgeoisie]
> and crunchy conservatives, but he emphasized the differences between
> two right-wing groups. "God save us from these Brie-eating bobos, who
> have the money to indulge their snobbish tastes and want to inflict
> them on the rest of us," he wrote. "[M]ost crunchy cons are different
> from bobos--David Brooks's bourgeois bohemians--in part because they
> don't have a lot of money."

[Of course, the preview in GB is missing precisely the page with the
footnote pointing to the article.]

The Princeton Reader. 2011
Aliens. By Joel Achenbach. [From Captured by Aliens: The Search for Life
and Truth in a Very Large Universe, 1999.] p. 3
> It's not as if poor, fat, Velveeta-eating people believe in aliens and
> rich, thin, /Brie-eating/ people don't. Socioeconomic and educational
> status don't seem to be factors of great import.

Strokes of Genius: Federer, Nadal, and the Greatest Match Ever Played.
By L. Jon Wertheim. 2009
p. 49
> The stands of other big-time sporting events are filled with corporate
> stiffs and the /Brie-eating/, see-and-be-seen luxury-box set.
> Wimbledon gets authentic sports fans.
Myth: liberal celebrities are an "elite" [Subthread on What Is
Liberalism? The Freedom FAQ]
> The politics of envy are alive and well in the conservative world:
> talk of "limousine liberals", "liberal elitists" "/Brie-eating/ new
> [sic] Englanders" "boutique liberals" and so on. What are they talking
> about?

[Again, don't mind the fantasy world.]

And it's not just Americans. Of course, with the French, it's only
natural to assume that they eat brie.

An Incomplete Education: 3,684 Things You Should Have Learned But
Probably Didn't. By Judy Jones, William Wilson. Third Edition. 2006
[Earlier editions in 1987 and 1995]
pp. 350-1
> Brush up on your high-school French. True, the Camboian were only too
> happy to break away from the French Union half a century ago, but
> they'd barely waved good-bye to the last boatload of /Brie-eating/
> bureaucrats when all these hostile neighbors started inarching into
> the country.
Vegetarian Times. November 2004
Wine's Disease-Fighting Power. p. 24
> A decade ago, researchers at the University of California- Davis
> wondered why the /Brie-eating/, cream-loving French weren't keeling
> over from heart attacks at nearly the rate Americans were.

The Ambler Warning. By Robert Ludlum. 2005
p. 268
> According to the news-magazine, he was "no mere /Brie-eating
> bureaucrat/" but rather a "cerebral Frenchman with a heart as big as
> his brains," who was "bringing new brio to bear on the most important
> threat to global security: loose nukes."

Apparently, it's also natural to shift it to California (or West Coast,
in general).

The Score Takes Care of Itself. My Philosophy of Leadership. By Bill
Walsh, with Steve Jamison and Craig Walsh. 2009 [no page number]
> Having won Super Bowl XX three years earlier, they were now a game
> away from a return trip, and Chicago had begun to celebrate early.
> Why? Because their opponents were coming in from the West Coast,
> meaning they were "wine-sipping, /Brie-eating/, effete athletes," as
> one popular Midwest image of the 49ers had it.

[The setting is 1988, but it's not clear if the expression comes from
that period. There's a bit of eivdence from 1995.]

Contra  Costa Times. September 2. 1995
The Battle of the Bay. p. A-1
> There's a perception that 49ers fans are snooty, /brie-eating/
> do-gooders who wouldn't let their manners slip and say something bad
> about others.

Then you have intersecting subsets, such as California (Hollywood)
liberal elites, Europhile liberals (already mentioned above) or
East-Coast cultural elitists. And "Hungarian cosmopolitans"?

Weapons of Mass Deception. The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on Iraq.
By Sheldon Rampton, John Clyde Stauber. 2003 [no page number]
> The main voices that television viewers saw opposing the war came from
> a handful of celebrities such as Sean Penn, Martin Sheen, Janeane
> Garofalo and Susan Sarandon--actors who could be easily dismissed as
> /Brie-eating/ Hollywood elitists.

The Official Handbook of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. The Arguments
You Need to Defeat the Loony Left this Election Year. By Mark W. Smith. 2004
p. 85
> Liberals think that the US acts unilaterally because they can't stand
> the thought of being despised by the wine-sipping, /Brie-eating/
> Europeans, whose decaying welfare states they admire so much.
Poetry Lover. By Gary Soto. 2001
[Text from preview--snippet doesn't show it.]
p. 54
> He told Felipe that poetry was precise art and the art of poet bios
> was even tighter, unless, of course, you're an East Coast,
> /brie-eating/ asshole poet;
Crosstown Traffic (II): Brie-Eating Budapest Cosmopolitans Get Downtown
Car-Free Zone, Lose Brie. April 21, 2010
> We say "pungent" because the bike-riding cosmopolitans who are always
> pushing to ban motor traffic from the city tend to be /Brie-eating/
> lovers of cute, foreigner-friendly little neighborhood places like T.
> Nagy's.

So when did this stereotype take hold?

Long Night's Journey Into Day: The Path Away from Sin. James Emery
White. 2002

> And then Time magazine declared 1984 the Year of the
> Yuppie--BMW-driving, /brie-//eating/, Rolex- wearing,
> debt-accumulating machines.

That's not quite right--and it's not clear if there was any reference to
brie eating in Time (and now that it's locked, it's hard to verify--and,
once again, the footnote is not in GB preview). But that date actually
sounds about right. GB finds one hit from 1982-3 Newsweek (dates are
less clear than GB makes it look).
> However, Will hardly advances the cause of wilderness protectors by
> continuing the stereotype of the /Brie-eating/ aristocrat. I was
> raised in a working-class neighborhood, live now in an integrated
> inner-city area and struggle to make my...

Another from Preservation News for 1985-6. [Preview text--snippet blank.]
> Constance Chamberlin of the foundation fears other attacks on the
> ordinance, however, saying locals viewed the fray as "poor people
> being dumped on by the white wine and /brie-eating/ set."

Boston Globe. March 6, 1986
Mass. and NH: Short Border--Wide Gulf. By Bruce Mohl. p. C-1 (Metro)
> New Hampshire sneers at Massachusetts as a state full of /brie-eating/
> snobs who look to government as the answer to all their problems.
> Massachusetts, meanwhile, looks down its nose at New Hampshire as a
> state full of yahoos wearing hats with floppy ear flaps. OneGlobe
> columnist took the stereotype to the extreme in 1983 by suggesting
> that New Hampshirites take two hours to watch "60 Minutes."

I do have one precise date that's earlier. While looking for sources on
ticky-tacky, I came across a 1983 reprint of the 1937 WPA Guide to
Massachusetts. Of course, the "brie-eating" part is not in the
text--it's in the 1983 introduction. I got the book from the local library.
WPA Guide to Massachusetts. With a new introduction by Jane Holtz Kay.
NY: 1983.
p. xxix [text taken from the hard copy]
> For all the threat of gentrification's three B's (brick, begonias, and
> brie) in the countryside, the overcommecialization of the coast of
> coast and Cape Cod, or the boom of the Hub, the genuine persists.

It was, in fact, this--alternatively phrased--line that brought me to
this post. It had the look of an early instance of the meme.

Another one is a bit earlier.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - Aug 20, 1982
Watt's Private Feud Against An Imagined Enemy. p. 9/3
> These citizens are not anti-energy, nor are they the caricatured
> /Brie-eating/ elitists that Watt sees as all environmentlists. They
> have accepted the compromises of the 1977 law.

So, if these searches are any indication, the identification of brie
with suburban/cultural elite originates in the early 1980s, evolving
into the liberal tag some time between late 1980s and mid-1990s. The
identification with the French is a distraction, except for the
conservative penchant for tagging "liberals" as "Europhiles", with a
particular affection for the French (including one comment during the
2004 presidential campaign that John Kerry is "French-looking").


PS: Comments about "brie-eating liberal" meme on LL are quite
common--what I did not find is any attempt to track it back.

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