It is a rare bird who isn’t sentimental about something. From the inside, affected by an emotional appeal, we view those unaffected with suspicion. There is something wrong with them. Something heartless, cold, not-fully human. From the outside, when a particular emotional appeal isn’t of much interest, we view those inside as not very bright, rather shallow and easily manipulated.
Judging from my emails, lots of people find animals sentimental. Puppies in costumes; kitties with captions. I am relatively immune to that, though not entirely with the puppies.
In politics, progressives tend to stand outside sentimental patriotic displays. And as above, with any display one stands outside of, they find those moved by such things shallow and not very bright. Yet progressives have their own areas of sentiment, equally opaque to their political opposites. Lyrics of popular music, especially from the 60’s or other cool categories, figure prominently here. Progressives find these so meaningful at times. I like U2 well enough, for example, but I just don’t see anything profound in what they say. They’re okay, but banal, obvious. Whatever that brand of sentiment is, it’s opaque to me. Thus, I have to fight hard not to regard those so moved as shallow and not very bright. Because generally, they read books (only the right ones), are reasonably intelligent, and educated.
Yes this is related to my soapbox about tribalism, but I’m not going there.
One of neo’s regular commenters, Occam’s Beard, referred to a liberal friend and the emotional appeals which moved him, causing the penny to drop for me. The friend is a Scandinavian from the upper Midwest. I know lots of those. Anyone who followed that great sentimentalist Garrison Keillor knows that type of liberal as well. To that group, flags and most country music are bad sentiment and they mock it; bumper stickers and folk music or light classical are good sentiment. (I don’t know what the music equivalent for later progressives is, other than U2. Anni DiFranco? Green Day? World music?).
In case it wasn’t clear above, I’m not saying that all conservatives are one type of sentimentalist and all liberals another. Many aren’t sentimentalists at all. Plus, there’s some crossover which I’ll touch on at the end. Personal nostalgia, telling little stories about themselves, are a major source of sentiment for this brand of liberal upper Midwest Scandinavians. Check out the nostalgia movies and sitcoms, all with pretty much the same politics.
They tend to gravitate to performance musicians, often marrying them. No surprise there, that sentimentalists would be moved by music. The Germans were known as overly sentimental long before they were stereotyped as coldly efficient. The musicians themselves, as they grow older, are less reliably sentimental, politically or otherwise. I’m thinking of half-a-dozen specific friends who fit that category. No, up to a dozen – and it’s most of the progressives I know.
Crossover: Here’s something interesting. Those who are strongly moved by sentiment can sometimes be moved by other brands of sentiment, so long as it’s not too far out of range. That type of conservative can be moved by some types of emotional appeals to social justice. That type of liberal will respond to some types of patriotic display. Just so long as it isn’t too obviously from “the other camp.” Keillor is an excellent example here.
I’m sounding a bit condescending to both groups, which is unfair. I have little of the sentimentalist in me now, but I have in the past, and it has been formative for me. And even in me, some easy soft spots remain. Eowyn’s speech to the Nazgul, Sam’s farewell to Frodo, Peter’s plaintive response to Jesus – “Lord, to whom shall we go?”, Bigwig’s defiance to Woundwort in the tunnel on Watership Down. I can barely think of these things without tearing up.
Not music so much anymore. Also, I like my sentiments separate, not mixed in a casserole. I like the meaty religious sentiment to be entirely separate from the patriotic potatoes, not even touching. (Gravy confuses that metaphor, but maybe it’s culture, or philosophy or something. And I have no idea what the vegetables are. Have fun with that.) The slideshows and videos people send me have the god-thing, the family-thing, and the country-thing all together. It has kind of put me off all those categories.
That’s worse than kitties, I think. Because that’s not my kind of sentiment.