Barders and birthers
Update: Correction. The blogger was Dara Lind, filling in for Adam while he was out.
Thanks to Adam Serwer for making my day by drawing the parallels between the Birthers and people who believe the conspiracy theory that there are "questions" about Shakespeare being the man who wrote Shakespeare's plays. I was a lit major, so I've probably had higher-than-average exposure to this conspiracy theory, and it has made me bananas since the first time I heard it. The implications of it should be immediately clear, but if not, Adam spells it out:
The reasoning behind Barderism should also ring a few bells for anyone familiar with the questions directed at various parts of President Obama's biography, from birth to his enrollment at Harvard Law School (supposedly the result of Affirmative Action Magic). This is because just as much of Obama-skepticism is motivated by the belief that a black dude could not possibly be legitimately qualified to edit the Harvard Law Review or become president of the United States, much of Barderism is motivated by the belief that a man from a small town without a university education couldn't possibly have written some of the best literature in the English language. Barders will frequently argue that the references to, say, falconry or court intrigue in Shakespeare's plays could only have been written by an aristocrat, or that no one would be able to write as intelligently about law as Shakespeare did without a degree from Cambridge or Oxford. The snobbery of this is pretty obvious — it's as if the Barders had never heard of an autodidact before.
The notion that someone who is an outsider couldn't be in innovator, or that someone who spent his entire life working in the theater couldn't evolve into a great playwright—all because he didn't spring from the loins of people whose people had arbitrarily assigned them to a higher class status—is so stupid that it can only be based in a belief that the upper classes are in fact genetically superior. I find it less plausible that an arisocrat would be able to demonstrate the creative flexibility and willingness to break with tradition that's evident in Shakespeare's plays than a commoner, because the class system puts so much emphasis on tradition and conformity. A commoner just has less to overcome, socialization-wise, when it comes to working up the gumption to write in envelope-pushing ways.
I'll add that another flavor of this kind of thinking crops up with a woman demonstrates talent and creativity and people start looking around for the man behind the curtain, though in many ways, that tendency is finally beginning to fade.