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On Pretension 18 December 2007

Posted by Todd in Commentary, Culture, Philosophy & Social Theory, Pop Culture.

A brief comment during a long stream-of-consciousness conversation with my good friend Oakland Chloë (who comments here frequently) combined with a comment from Wry Catcher in my Xmas post below have provoked in me a brief fuming rant, which follows:

Wry, I’ve become über-aware of pretension lately, and saying “Silver and Gold” as your xmas colors doesn’t even come close. I live in the city of pretension (San Francisco), although here it’s less about normal elitist/ruling-class pretension than about Bay Area hipper-than-thou, liberal-er-than-thou, critical-er-than-thou or tasteful-er-than-thou (in a SoMa/Haight/Mission kinda way).

I find most culture at the present to be mere pretentious window dressing and slight of hand, used to avoid real connection, communication, affect, and vulnerability. Everything feels fake to me, from ethnic “identities” to politics to “art”. I’m weary of everything having to be “ironic” in order to be acceptable. I mean, god forbid anything should be sincere or any human being should actually have a pulse and an emotional connection to anything. God forbid that someone should actually find meaning in something that anyone “in the know” knows is just stupid/tasteless/immature/common or, worst of all, “bourgeois” or “provincial” or “middle-class”. Most irritating of all is the that the people saying this shit are all, themselves, middle-class professional educated-in-the-humanities pretentious fucks.

I had a friend over the other day who looked at my Christmas decorations and said, “At least they’re ironic.” WhiskyTangoFoxtrot**? They are tacky, drawing fully and unapologetically from my white-trash upbringing. But they are not in the least ironic. I love the Winter Holidays, and I put them up as sincere celebration.

Let’s talk about pretention: You’re stupid/conservative/retrograde if you in anyway take anything seriously or derive pleasure from in anyway any thing that does not pass postmodern muster.

Fuck that shit. I’ll take good old class-warfare, WASPy ruling class elitist pretension any day over this bullshit.

**I’m stealing this witicism from Bard, a cyber-acquaintance who cracks my shit up; mother of multiple small humans and “non-traditional” undergraduate majoring in Econ at some school in Michigan, land of snow, race riots, shaky auto manufacturers (although no actual manufacturing actually occurs there anymore), and crumbing cities.



1. wry catcher - 19 December 2007

I’m weary of all the pretension, too. But I think I was born weary of it. I have zero energy to put on a false front, and many don’t like my too-earnest, slightly-not-cool-enough real front. I get too tired to even say ‘fuck ’em.’ And then I begin to slowly but surely absorb their negative energy like a dried-out sponge. ‘Tis not good.

Now, let me preface this by reminding you of what an earth-loving, tree-hugging hippie-type person I’m NOT…but, I find myself longing for some type of real community. To the point of thinking of commune-type community. A square set of attached houses/flats (not too big! Small spaces help you collect less shit, I can attest to this), surrounding a courtyard/communal space. Those who are so inclined can grow their own food ‘n all that earthy shit. But it would not be a drain on the earth’s resources anymore than was actually needed to live a reasonably good life. And it would be populated by Real People, who want to be real with each other, and who find the most meaning in life through interactions with humans and ideas, and want to talk about it with people who love and care about them, and vice versa.

I’d like to put some rose-coloured glasses back ON. Instead, I just become more cranky and cynical. Gotta do something about that…

2. chloe - 19 December 2007

Had a long conversation with a US friend this morning, recently returned from 4 years in Europe, with Euro husband. We were talking the pathologies of Euro-US cultures, and a point for the US folk, is that even with all the pretension, they tend to be less than the Euros. Yes, it is nicer to look at women all dressed to the hilt even in the supermarket in Euro (or LatAm), but it also means they are always worried about what other people think they look like, on the other hand, wandering around Berk-Oak, I get so annoyed at the endless goretex and sneakers and unkempt look of the women, but hey THEY ARE COMFORTABLE, and don’t give a sh– what people think, so, …pretentious on some counts, great on others.

3. C - 19 December 2007

I am still cracking up over here about WhiskyTangoFoxtrot. Ahhhhh ha ha ha ha ha. Gonna use it!

Your post reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend of mine about lawn ornaments. I was saying that, even if I hate someone’s taste, I LOVE it when they express their taste openly and without reservation. Go flamingo!

4. Todd - 20 December 2007

Exactly. The reason why the old style pretensions of the wealthy elite don’t bother me is because I don’t give a shit what the elite think of me and my taste. I love everything from classical to Celine Dion (see other post), buerre blanc to Miracle Whip. My problem with San Francisco style pretension is that it’s all about professional, middle class, educated people worrying intensely about what they like to make sure that their tastes are correct for their particular subculture/politics/ideology/”look”/neighborhood/ethnicity.

Fuck. That.

Part of my problem is that, because of my social science background, i can’t help but see all cultural taste systems as group boundaries. And whereas different groups do have different degrees of social power, the cultural trappings are just so much fluff. I don’t mean to say that they’re neutral (they’re not), but I do mean to say that they’re not as fraught with meaning as the “Cultural Studies” types on campus, or the more-liberal-than-thou types in the Mission would have you believe. Indeed, what such pretentious folk seem blind to is that they are doing the exact same thing as the people they purport to criticize: They’re using culture to mark their status and exert their power.

It’s exhausting to try to keep up with all the rules of what you’re *supposed* to like or *supposed* to dislike. Find the music/fasion/art/tv/movies/lit/comic books or what-the-fuck-ever that speaks to you, and revel in it.

Again, not saying to be uncritical of it, but I am saying to be unapologetic about taste.

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