Who's Snobbier: New York or D.C.?

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Andrew Sullivan is returning to Washington, D.C., fed up with New Yorkers' "suffocating, provincial parochialism." Sullivan is sick of snobs, but is Washington really less snobby than New York? We debate.

New York Is Just the Worst

New York City did not treat Andrew Sullivan well. The noted columnist and part-time grumpy lumberjack marched into this city like a king and is leaving like a bitter lover. One of the things that turned him off were New York snobs. He's right. They're terrible.

"If you think you’ll find intellectual stimulation you’re thinking of another era. The conversations are invariably about money or property or school," our cultural spelunker writes in The Sunday Times. "I’ve never been more bored by casual chat." Sullivan adds.

In his short time here, Sullivan figured out what makes New York snobs the worst: there are so many different kinds. Unlike D.C., where political wonks reign supreme, New York City is more diverse and possesses a brutal ecosystem of snobs who aren't shy about showing how much they love their city and all the minutiae it has to offer. "When I tell New Yorkers [about moving to D.C.] they look at me with amazement. 'You’re kidding!' they say. 'Are you serious?'" Sullivan writes. 

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Point to anything on the street here, and some know-it-all will be able to talk your ear off about it— urban planning, city gardens, CSAs, bike lanes, Andy Cohen's gym, Broadway plays, Twitter followers, "300 sandwich" ladies, rich people who make their nannies take classes on how to cook quinoa— whatever you want.

Sullivan's biggest gripe is with really rich New Yorkers: 

The rawness of American capitalism is almost palpable here — the stark and growing divide between the self-entitled super-rich and the struggling urban poor isn’t mediated by anything but mutual contempt. And what drives you crazy is that these cocooned, wealthy lefties think they’re enlightened.

Listen to any person in New York City long enough, and they will tell you of some New York experience that would be fit for an Upworthy headline, or Thought Catalog think piece. And if you ask them what they're up to, chances are they won't say anything about how they love taking off real pants and watching The Good Wife. Instead they will regale you with some kind of nice hobby that The New York Times Styles section will be talking about in a few months. Andrew Sullivan is no exception. 

It wasn't too long ago that Sullivan was seen at Atlas Social Club. The ASC isn't just a gay bar owned by Anderson Cooper's boyfriend, it's a bar created for snobby discerning gay men, tired of Manhattan's stuck-up gay scene. But from The Wall Street Journal's description, the place seems just as stuck-up as the bars it was railing against : 

Atlas has a vintage gym theme and is festooned with Chesterfield furniture, precious incandescent lighting, leather boxing gloves and punching bags, all literally wallpapered with bodybuilding magazines from the 1930s and 1940s.

Imagine a gay Bruce Wayne's home gym, which isn't far from the truth: the design is highly evocative of the 1906-era home gym in the quasi-Victorian West Village firehouse-turned-townhouse Mr. Maisani shares with his boyfriend, Anderson Cooper, the 46-year-old television personality. 

"No lasers! No fog! It is chill! So important for amazing energy," a dancing patron said. Life has taught me that when people start talking about the "energy" of a place, it's probably a place you would not want to be. Yet, according to The Journal, Sullivan loved this place: 

By midnight, Andrew Sullivan, the 50-year-old political reporter and New York night life newbie, had already ripped off his white dress shirt in favor of the black tank top underneath and tugged at Mr. Maisani's elbow, asking him for some Jägermeister.

It isn't too hard to imagine that Sullivan may not have found the conversations he was looking for there.

Yet, even with a bunch of gay guys who are too cool for the "energy" at regular gay bars, there's still one more kind of snob that New York breeds which puts all the other to shame: the been-there, done-that New Yorker snob — the snob that already knows everything there is about this city after being here for a year. Sullivan is one of them. 

"The things you enjoy as a tourist — those crazy yellow cabs! Those steaming pretzel stands! — pale quickly when you live here," Sullivan writes. "I would also advise you never to eat anything from a street vendor, however charming their allure," he explains, sounding not unlike your cousin Steve who's back at home from his first semester at NYU. Unfortunately for D.C. and other places, some of New York's snobs don't tend to stay in one place very often.

Alexander Abad-Santos

D.C. Is Even Worse

The first week at my very first certified intellectual magazine internship, my new colleague told me, her voice dripping with disdain, that she'd never seen a single episode of The Daily Show. An editor walked by, leaned against the wall, and said he hadn't either. Why not? I asked. "I'm just not that into comedy," he said, "you know, as a genre." If Andrew Sullivan hates tedious pseudo-intellectual conversations with jerks, why on Earth would he want to live in D.C.?

More wonks doesn't mean fewer snobs. Many wonks are snobs — and the worst kind: snobs that think they're meritocrats. At least the lefty New York snobs Sullivan rightfully condemns will be internally wallowing in the gnawing insecurity that comes with living in a city where there's always someone richer and cooler. 

"If you bring up any political subject you are engulfed by a smug liberal consensus that borders on outright bigotry and brutal intolerance towards dissent," Sullivan writes of terrible New York people. You know what's worse than that? Arrogant 23-year-olds debating Middle East policy at parties while boring music drones softly in the background. Sullivan continues:

The rawness of American capitalism is almost palpable here — the stark and growing divide between the self-entitled super-rich and the struggling urban poor isn’t mediated by anything but mutual contempt. And what drives you crazy is that these cocooned, wealthy lefties think they’re enlightened.

That would be a pretty damning indictment if D.C. weren't itself a very highly segregated city. The richest live in the northwest quadrant; the poorest in the southeast. People on Capitol Hill make a living by demonizing the people who actually work in the city.

New Yorkers wear denim shirts to project faux working class authenticity. In D.C., people are proud of their khakis. They're both pretty terrible. But New York has the decency to have some faint instinct that it should be ashamed.

— Elspeth Reeve

Disclosures: Elspeth did two tours in D.C. which spanned four years. She has lived in New York City for three years. Alex spent one year in D.C. and has lived a total of seven years in New York. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.