Chances are if you read this blog you already know who the Arcade Fire is. The chances are equally high that you also have been amused for a few weeks by this tumblr account about the oh-so-uncultured masses who were terribly upset about their Grammy win.
The chances are a lot lower that you know what the Dreyfus Affair is. They’re not a band, and it won’t win best album next year, robbing the favored artist. However, there was a time when it did create a huge cultural schism down socioeconomic lines, and influenced authors, sociologists and philosophers. In fact, Lewis Coser (who’s book Men of Ideas I read earlier this year) claims that “the very term “intellectual” owes it’s present day connotations, both favorable and pejorative, to the Dreyfus Affair.”
So, who was Alfred Dreyfus? In a nutshell, he was a Jewish officer in France at the end of 1894 convicted of espionage for the Germans. He was secretly tried and convicted, and later evidence revealed that he had been framed and was innocent. However, no one was listening to later evidence, and quite a few people were convinced it was because Dreyfus was Jewish. Quite a few people included those aforementioned intellectuals such as Emile Zola, Marcel Proust, and Emile Durkheim. Of interesting note, that Wikipedia article claims that the Dreyfus Affair is part and parcel of the origins of the Tour d’France.
Why am I equating a hipster band with dead French Jewish officer? Because there was a time when I didn’t know about them both. And both of them were no less existent or extant because of my lack of knowledge. Surprisingly, whether or not I know about something has nothing to do with it’s relevance. Also, it has nothing to do with my intelligence. It simply reflects that for a variety of intersecting reasons some of which may be – who I’m friends with, where I’m living, what school I went to, and what job I have – I don’t happen to know about this thing.
Now I’m going to deliberately enunciate my point. Although it’s amusing to laugh because there are people who aren’t “in the know” about something that seems to obvious, so vitally culturally important, YOU are unfortunately just as ignorant about something else so obvious and culturally important. So be careful when you speak. If you aren’t the one making fun of a tumblr account, it’s probably because you’ve been quoted on that tumblr account and others are making fun of you.