nunberg at ISCHOOL.BERKELEY.EDU
Wed Nov 23 18:28:39 UTC 2011
As I noted in Talking Right (http://bit.ly/uIMQJy), "brie," like "chardonnay" is only a refinement of a stereotype that took wing in the early 1980's:
> Against that background, the right began to brand liberals in a literal way, according to the products they consumed. There was a telling sign of the shift in the replacement of "limousine liberal" by "Volvo liberal." "Limousine liberal" first surfaced during John Lindsay's 1969 New York mayoral campaign against Mario Procaccino, which was cast as a clash between working stiffs from the outer boroughs and wealthy Manhattan liberals who could champion programs like busing because they had no personal stake in public education. But when "Volvo liberal" first appeared about a decade later, it carved the social pie very differently. It didn't simply depict the prototypical liberal as a member of the middle class rather than the wealthy (a Volvo doesn't cost any more than a Buick, after all). It also signaled a view of political affiliation as merely another lifestyle choice. At its inception, "Volvo liberal" was just another one of those pop marketing descriptions like "baby b!
oomer" and "soccer mom," but it rapidly became a disparagement. By 1981, Pat Buchanan was accusing his radio sparring partner Tom Braden of being a member of the "the Volvo, white wine and cheese set."[i]
> The brand image of the Volvo was ideal for this sort of stereotyping: not only was it an unglamorous car from socialist Sweden that people bought simply because they thought it was safe, but its name had a serendipitously gynecological resonance -- probably the main reason why Volvos rather than Saabs were singled out for political stereotyping. And other products associated with an upscale urban lifestyle were accorded the same treatment, particularly those that were soft or light enough to convey effeteness, like white wine, brie and caffè latte. (Port and stilton might be equally up-market, but they don't connote effete self-indulgence the way brie and caffè latte do, and anyway, British products don't figure in these stereotypes now that anglophilia has yielded to francophilia in the catalogue of liberal vices.)
In fact the majority of brie consumers are Republicans, not surprising when you consider the geographical distribution of the retailers who carry the stuff. (see Michael J. Weiss, “A Tale of Two Cheeses,” American Demographics, February 1988.)
This isn't the first time that food and beverage preferences have been invoked in the process of political branding: Cf Swift in "The Irish Club":
Be sometimes to your country true,
Have once the public good in view ;
Bravely despise Champagne at Court,
And choose to dine at home with port.
http://bit.ly/taikEh -- for the the political background see http://bit.ly/u88AEX
[i] Stephanie Mansfield, "Spar Wars: The Sizzle and the Sparks of the Battling B's," Washington Post, July 2, 1981, p. C1.
On Nov 23, 2011, at 9:51 AM, Victor Steinbok wrote:
> 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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