Wine Geeks Can Cause a Rash

I’ve been thinking more about the idea of how our own experiences overwhelmingly shape our response to popular culture. Again, the movie "Sideways" and my experience with it proves the right place to really explore this notion.

I can not think of any other film in which a hard core, wine loving, wine geek, along with all the language, props, knowledge and ceremony that goes into being such a wine geek, is the protagonist of the story. That is to say, I’ve never seen myself and many of my friends and colleagues portrayed on film.

It’s a startling experience. At once you connect because you see yourself portrayed on film for the first time in a way that looks to you not to be a parody of the wine lover, but in real terms. Miles looks at the wine, describes it, and appreciates it in the same way and with the same language as I do, and as many of my friends do. You feel like your life is finally being portrayed in a way that demonstrates how a wine lover can be really into wine without being obnoxious or arrogant or just plain silly.

But then, as you read reaction to the film, you realize that the vast majority of people who saw the film see Miles as a comic figure, a charade, an over the top clown-like wine geek demonstrated in the odd obsession and arcane knowledge and silly ceremony that he brings to his wine drinking.

It’s disconcerting to understand the the vast majority see something entirely different from what I see in Miles. How could this be?

I think the answer is that the vast majority of Americans will find themselves in a situation that guarantees they will fail at being Miles.

The wine geek is really no different than the budding Egyptologist. Like the wine geek, the Egyptologist has an extraordinarily deep interest in ancient Egypt, it’s culture, its artifacts. But very few people will ever find themselves in a situation where they have speak the language of this kind of geek or evaluate the artifacts the Egypt Geek evaluates. So when they see this kind of person portrayed in film or in words, they view them as merely one who has found a rather esoteric interest. But wine is different. Most people will be confronted with a dauntinig wine list, or a wine geek talking a language they don’t know, or a sommelier who is asking them to make a decision about which they no nothing. It seems the result is ridicule of what they are forced to encounter but have little interest in.

The lesson is be aware of who you are speaking with when you fall into your wine geek-inspired mood. Make sure you aren’t forcing those around you to respond to something they have no interest in responding to. They’ll feel like you just gave them a rash and this will only result in you and your interests being ridiculed.


One Response

  1. putnam - May 19, 2005

    “…portrayed in a way that demonstrates how a wine lover can be really into wine without being obnoxious or arrogant… ”
    But Miles WAS arrogant.
    Jack: “You should work in a wine shop!”
    Miles: “THAT would be a good move.”

    Miles: “Jack, she’s a waitress in Buellton” (therefore unworthy of serious attention.)
    The writers and Giamatti did get it right. The words and how they were spoken were shockingly real. Miles was actually damned by his own knee-jerk elitism, and we geeks need to guard against that. First we must be able to sense it!
    Wouldn’t Miles have looked so much better and happier working in a wine shop instead of that room full of mini chair-desks? Didn’t that waitress outclass his wormy ex-wife?
    Miles was sympathetic because he was pathetic.

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