Tuesday, August 26, 2008


I'm an elite. In current usage I am, at least. This despite living in a one-room apartment, having a good number of miners and assembly-line workers in my family tree, and working my own first jobs as a dishwasher and mail-sorter.

That's because "elite", now that it's been divorced from economics and class, has basically taken on the meaning of "different." It's become a dysphemism or cacophemism in that way. You can't just accuse someone of being different in those exact words without tipping your hand that your appealing to dumb prejudice. Throw around "elite" though, and you pick up a salt-of-the-earth quality.

Politicians who aim high are vulnerable to accusations of eliteness, because they've led lives and may stand out in some ways. Barack Obama is a black man from a mostly Asian-Pacific state, and has a half-sister who identifies as Buddhist, for starters. Hillary Clinton kept her maiden name during Bill's first term as Arkansas governor, and named her daughter after a Joni Mitchell song. McCain has worn the POW background into mundanity. Otherwise, that might strike voters as a trifle peculiar as well.

This weaponizing of "elite"ness is not good for any politico with a brain, but some of them deal with it better than others. Unfortunately the damage spreads further. A lot of Americans have opinions and backgrounds that mark them as different. To dismiss them as "elite" is to discourage people who consider themselves "normal" from giving half a thought to what they have to say.

I guess my point is that while presidential candidates wolf down chili dogs and choose neutral ties, the rest of us need to reclaim the weird. Weird is beautiful.

BTW, you know what "dysphemism" is now, so you're elite too.

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