Recently I received an email which read, in part, “you are often railing against the philistines, but you have yet to really define who they are. Just so I fully understand your points of view, who are these philistines that you see every day, and how can I recognize them?”
Good questions all. You correspondent must confess that defining the contemporary philistine is a formidable task: the picture must, thanks to the rapidity of change, shift too fast and too regularly for a concrete definition to take hold. However, like the good judge and pornography, I know it when I see it and so, in that spirit, following are some of the defining traits of the new American philistine.
None of these characteristics, separately or in-and-of-themselves, are enough to label one a philistine, but one or more are a sure sign of cultural and intellectual decay.
Multiple tattoos, for instance, or, anyone with tattoos that are visible when fully dressed. Why this repulsive, tribal holdover has reemerged is a mystery of terrifying potency; at times, it almost seems as if modern man wishes to run around in grass skirts and nose bones, which leads us to the next signifier.
Multiple piercings – if an individual is pierced in the eyebrow, nose, tongue, perineum, lip or has more ear holes than a rotary phone, then a charge of philistinism is warranted. In fact, I had recently seen a woman with so many piercings in her lip that watching her drink was like looking at a fountain.
If underwear is at all visible when fully clothed, then that person is a philistine (and rather unhygienic, to boot). Similarly, if trousers are worn so low on the body that running becomes impossible, you are witnessing witless philistinism. Such individuals invariably have photographs of themselves with: a baseball cap turned sideways or backwards, thumb-index-and-pinky-finger extended, tongue pointed at camera, or, a gun.
If you are near someone listening to an iPod, MP3 player or similar device through earphones and you can hear the music, you are near a philistine. If you can hear the music through their earphones more than two feet away, it is quite possible that the wearer is not only a philistine, but functionally brain dead. The same is true of car stereos audible outside of the actual car itself. Which leads us to another indication…
If the subject is interested in rock (be it ‘classic,’ glitter, glam, pop, bubblegum, hard or whatever), funk, rapp, hip hop, reggae, gangsta, disco, gospel or soul, then you are dealing with a philistine. This, I’m afraid, is beyond debate.
If the person in question owns fewer than 25 books (not including, of course, children’s books and/or comics and ‘graphic novels’), then they are a philistine. Similarly, a taste for Dan Brown, Harold Robbins, or Harry Potter is highly suspect.
A philistine thinks movies made pre-1980 are ‘old,’ refuses to watch anything in black-and-white or with subtitles, and equates box office success with quality.
If the television is on whenever the subject is at home, they are a philistine. If they have a predilection for Mad Men, they are a philistine with pretentions.
If artistic tastes run towards graffiti, ‘tagging’ or other forms of public vandalism, then you’re dealing with a philistine.
If tastes turn towards ‘art’ that incorporates any of the of the following – feces, urine, decapitated cows, lard, blood or detritus – then that individual has surpassed philistinism and entered barbarism. If you have paid a considerable amount of money for a signed urinal, ‘street art,’ a soup can label or a bucket of broken glass, you are not just a philistine, but a sucker, as well.
The philistine decorates their home with ‘collectibles’ issued by the Franklin Mint. Often, there is at least one picture of a napping puppy, throw pillows with ‘cute’ phrases stitched into them or potpourri. If you, gentle reader, find yourself in such an atmosphere, run for the nearest exit.
These are the signifiers that immediately come to mind. I now open the floor to my readers – how do you define the new American philistine?