Thursday, June 29, 2006

On pretentiousness

It's funny that I'm writing anything on pretentiousness, since I sometimes wonder what it really means anymore. (Note to self: Look up "pretentious" on The denotative definition I seem to get everywhere is "claiming or demanding a position of distinction or merit, especially when unjustified," which even at first glance sounds completely subjective. Examining "pretentious" subjectively, I'm confused as to whether it really means overreaching, overachieving, simply aiming high or whether or not that's something the word just encompasses as part of itself. Sometimes I think its just as simple as "pretentious = artsy." I'll mull over the many different colloquial synonyms for "pretentious" a bit later.

I think "prententious" could be one of those words, its a distinct possibility anyway, that has been purposefully, negatively connotated. If it weren't, more people would be, or at least try to be, "that way." For example, "stingy" or "tight" is just a meaner word (what's the opposite of euphemism? expletive?) for "fiscally conservative." These words are firey and they keep people down with the threat of getting burned. I don't like it.

At this point in my personal life, I will gladly admit (at least in print, right now) that I AM A PRETENTIOUS PERSON. I believe that one can never truly see oneself. Like Chuck Klosterman said in "Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs," "I have never met anyone who has been truly self-aware." You can never truly see yourself. So it took me a long time to realize, particularly through writing and pontification about the arts (particularly music and film) I consume, that I am a pretentious person because I consume pretentiousness so ravenously. I admit it, I am pretentious.

I like pretentious music (see: Godspeed You! Black Emperor, progressive rock, free jazz, etc.), pretentious food (health foods, "organic" anything, remoulades, most French cooking, etc.), pretentious words (crux, nomenclature, unwieldy, ethereal, dubious, "somnambulist" as an insult, etc.) and most anything else pretentious, of which, you can think. Sometimes, I truly try not to be, but most of the time I am who I am, and that's pretentious. I cannot deny it. There would be no point because if I went on a voyage to rid myself of it, I'd just end back up where I started-- full circle.

At least if I were an English, Philosophy or Humanities student, this kind of thing could be expected, but I'm not and its not. I'm a newspaper journalism student (journos are "elitist," not pretentious, but I'll deal with synonymic semantics later) who needs to be less pretentious, according to the right side of my brain. Or my superego. Depends on who you believe.

Hell, just look at the title of this post! "On pretentiousness"! I can't even talk about pretentiousness without being pretentious. Though, I imagine it'd be difficult not to be.

This is exactly what I'm talking about.

I already touched on my personal life, but I've also acknowleged pretentiousness in my professional life, too. We won't even get into how pretentious I, or anyone else, can easily be in my creative life. Since, at college age, the development of my professional life is critical my choices of career goals are easily open to the criticism of being overly pretentious: pop music critic, film critic, professor, documentary filmmaker, therapist, something in a legal feild (anyone who knows me knows that I dig arguing). All these career paths are pretentious to some extent. I can only conclude that these are just things I naturally do. To touch back on food against (because, hey, garbage in garbage out!) I will always be "too good" for Subway or Jimmy Johns. Instead, I will go out of my way to eat at Quizno's. I won't mind spending more money because it makes me feel good-- nutritionally and egotistically. This will forever be my fate (while I wrote this, I didn't say "shall," there, though I thought about it and stopped myself).

There is hope for me and people like me, however, because I don't buy into some of the more tried and true pretentious habits that other unconsciously indulge in. A prime example: anachronistically using romance language vocabulary amidst normal, vulgar English (I find myself doing this, but only very rarely, like when I talk about the electronica group Kraftwerk-- the "w" is pronounced with a "v" because they're German). Its magnified when the non-English word is spoken in that language's regional accent, or some approximation thereof, in an effort to seem superior, more cultured or better-educated than the person to which one is speaking (see: Paul Giamatti's character Miles in the first minutes of "Sideways").

Often times, pissing contests (or "pretense-offs") ensue between two pretentious douchebags to see who is the more sophisticated (see: the New York City literati fart smelling in "Capote"). Citing picky eating (right here), an abnormal desire for coffee and/or espresso (I can take it or leave it), any use of the word "philistine" (see: Jeff Daniels' wonderful scene in "The Squid and the Whale") and just about ever liberal-arts professor ever is understanding overkill at this point. You get what I mean.

"South Park" touched on this matter somewhat recently, with its usual rancor and satirical saber-rattling. "Smug Alert," an episode dedicated to satirizing present-day hybrid car drivers and their "pious," fart-smelling (no, literally, they stick their heads in their ass and inhale deeply) culture. Instead of driving Priuses, they drive "Piouses." It should be noted here that "pious" is to sociopolitical issues, "pretentious" is to sociocultural issues, so parallels are easily drawn. The kind of fart smelling and egotism of "these people" (here's where I make up for my pretentiousness, by getting down to unpretentious brass tacks) is often manifested into San Franciscan liberal Democrats, per the episode, but geography and creed don't necessarily exclude anyone that isn't a liberal or a Democrat or a liberal Democrat. The creators of "South Park," Trey Parker and Matt Stone, verbally belittle liberals and virtually all persuasions (from the autistic to, well, I'm sure they've insulted Zoroasterarians, too) with their Peabody award-winning satire, but have often saved their sharpest barbs for the most pretentious of the liberal intellegensia: Barbara Streisand (why they do that I don't really get, and my Jewish mother hates), Michael Moore (who Trey Parker said he would "punch in the face" if they were to meet in person), George Clooney (arf arf!) and even the lesser-exposed, less-telegenic Rob Reiner (cuz he's fat!).

It shows there's precedent to this, my final argument and personally held belief: I revile pretentiousness in a field that inherently so, like the arts, and I'm not alone in that stance. I am not the first and, hopefully, probably, not the last to do so.

In closing, anything elitist, academic, smug, snobby, erudite, sophisticated, snooty, high-horse, pious, affluent, cultured, artsy, la-de-da, genteel, hoity-toity, pompous and, my favorite of the bunch, highfalutin' should be done in moderation. And that's the least pretentiousness thing I've said in this posting.

Thanks for reading. My favorites from the first half of 2006 is coming up real soon.


Blogger Matt Gilmour said...

I got through the 5th paragraph before I wanted to punch you and promptly quit reading. Are you honestly that bored up there?

6/30/2006 6:17 PM  
Blogger Konflict of Interest said...

Just something I had lying around I wanted to get out there. I have one (or two) more long things I'll be putting up soon.

7/01/2006 1:09 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

Matt and I chewed this over a few nights ago.

How is Quizno's more pretentious/fancy/health-conscious? It's a little pricey, but otherwise it's mainstream American fast food--unspeakable combinations of disgusting stuff, served up in a gaudy setting. Subway and Jimmy John's are cheaper but more pretentious, given their attempts at creating a health-conscious image. I don't believe you can get sprouts on your prime rib monster sub at Quizno's.

So favoring Quizno's over Jimmy John's is basically like favoring Miller High Life over Guinness.

7/03/2006 2:01 PM  
Blogger Konflict of Interest said...

Quizno's is more pretentious simply because its more pricey and they kind of rub it in your face that "they're better" because of "better" or "fresher" ingredients.

I worked at a Quizno's and the entire mantra of the corporate market model is "fresh... fresh... fresh," and shit. That's it! It's like it gives them carte blanche to charge someone 10 dollars for a large prime rib sub while keeping a straight face. Hell, I almost couldn't do it.

A fair amount of people are willing to pay that, like me, because its rich (more ways than one) and fattening and (here it comes) "you deserve it" implicitly or something.

Quizno's is also kind of in-your-face about why they're better, too (not "BLACK ANGUS!" in your face, though). They have their nutritional ethos (Quizno's is anti-"turkey loaf" and anti-"cheese food", apparently) printed on their walls, kid.

Subway is bare-bones and Jimmy Johns is goofy compared to all that. Being healthy is another kind of pretense, I guess, but eating "better" food is way moreso.

7/03/2006 3:28 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

Well, all I have to say is....HERE COMES THE GRAVY PIPE!

7/04/2006 1:52 PM  

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