by Steven R. Van Hook
July 16, 1995
Santa Barbra News-Press
I've had my fill. I can't take it anymore. Please heed my plea: If I hear one more local denizen grouse about what a snooty town Santa Barbara is, I think I might pop the offender in the snoot (which is nothing against the word "snoot" itself -- it has a rather charming sonance about it).
Having grown up in Santa Barbara over the mellow (and briefly turbulent) 60s and 70s, I may testify that this pervasive snootiness was not always so. Friendly, homey, magical, paradise. Those were the words you heard attached to the town. I didn't even know what a snoot was.
I remember weekly folk dancing at the beach. You'd practice the new steps on the outskirts of the circle, until welcoming hands pulled you in. We learned the world's dances. It was certainly a celebration of multi-ethnicity, though no one ever called it such. We just danced, young and old.
I remember the 4th of July beach party, where hundreds upon hundreds of craters and cubbies were carved in the sand for a prime fireworks view, amid warm feelings for your neighboring excavators. The only cross currents were good natured rivalries over who's hole was the better.
I remember front-line workers and clerks who actually seemed to like their jobs and the customers they served. Too many of them now seem much too preoccupied with how they will possibly survive another month in this spendy town on their inadequate wages.
Santa Barbara was a quiet town, with the stress level just one notch above snooze. Then came the Change.
I'd say it started with the Reagan presidency, when he moved the White House westward to good ol' SB. On slow news days, national reporters dug up glowing side-bar stories touting all the beauty about us. It helped justify their high expense accounts to anxious comptrollers as the newshounds took a taste of the high life.
Then came the infamous soap opera, so named as our fair city (the show is currently running nightly on prime-time Russian television with top ratings, spreading yet further the other-world mythology surrounding our town).
Santa Barbara-ho advanced the glamour-seeking hordes, up went the snoots and property values, out moved the mellow. What a shock it was after an extended stay away, for me to return and hear so many people bashing my beloved hometown as a haven for nothing but snooty snobs. Not my town!
Though I can appreciate the impression we must make, I have certainly seen my share of snootier cities -- San Francisco, District of Columbia, and, of course, Paris (snoot personified). We have a ways yet to go to pass those extremes.
To those who have had a proboscis full of Santa Barbara attitude, let me advise you to just say "nuts" to the snoots (note how "nuts" is a near anagram with "snoot"). Disarm the attitude with a toothy smile and a shrug. You might even try a little sympathy. I suspect the snootiest among us are the newest arrivals, using their aloofness to mask their unsurety.
In my graduate counseling psychology courses, I learned about "emotional contagions" -- those communicable mental disorders as virulent and deadly as any other noxious invader. Hate gives way to yet more hate, fear begets fear, bigotry breeds bigotry, snootiness begets snoots; pernicious toxins all, infecting the body public. We can, however, turn this principle to a better advantage.
We of a different mind can become infectiously friendly, contagiously congenial. We can cop a new attitude and pass it on. The exploitive media and manipulative doomsayers casting their pall of despair can indeed be countered. We may be inoculated against negativity and snoots with just a small prescription of perspective. We are, each of us, much better than that.
The germs of kindness, goodwill and good cheer reside within us all.
Extend your hand and spread them around.
Steven R. Van Hook is a media relations consultant living in Santa Barbara.