Sunday, June 18, 2006

Poseur Alert

Which brings me to that other important question: "Are the French really pretentious?"

Well, yeah, sort of.

Now, are they really rude? No, that's just a myth. I find this to be completely untrue; like saying that Canadians are rude. The French are actually ridiculously polite. It’s impossible to walk past a French person without them saying “Bon jour!” or “Bonsoir!” depending on the time of day. I still don’t know at what point jour becomes soir, but it’s somewhere around six o’clock. Also, let us compare a visit to a convenience store in America and in France.

Customer: Hello, I’d like a coffee with cream.
Barista: (Annoyed grunt) (Reaches for coffee and glares.) Three dollars, dude.
Customer: Here you go.
Barista: (Annoyed sigh)

Barista: Bonjour!
Customer: Un Cafe, s’il vous plait.
Barista : Un cafe ! Merci ! Un euro.
Customer : Un euro. Merci.
Barista : Merci ! A bientôt !
Customer : Au revoir !
Barista : Au revoir !

Imagine having every person who passes by you in the morning saying either “Good day, Sir!” or “Good day, Madam!” It's pretty funny after a while. But, in general, the French are more reserved than Americans, and this might come off as rude.

Now, are they pretentious? Yeah, a little bit. But, so what! They fancy themselves to be sophisticates, and so they try to be sophisticated at all times. Average people dress like fashionistas, every TV show has a segment discussing the latest intellectual books, and people spend an incredible amount of time holding court in outdoor cafes. All of these things can seem utterly pretentious.

But, again, so what! Pretension is another word for striving- trying to become something that one ideals, but hasn't yet reached. In the punk rock scene, they call these people "poseurs" for not having been born with a complete collection of Cock Sparrer records. As if you're supposed to become interested in something and keep it to yourself until you know everything about it. Or just never become interested in anything too off-beat. Stay isolated.

Anti-pretention can be just as pretentious- it assumes that we're all interested in the same dumb things. "Who do you think you are watching all of those foreign movies, or reading that airy-fairy philosophy? Boy, you must have a lot of time on your hands!" I mean, what's worse- assuming that every televsion viewer would be better off if they just read more books, or constantly telling them that "guys don't read books! Dudes are into beer and tits!" Again , pretention is part of the process of becoming, and yes, it's painfully embarassing years later (which is why we should all kill off our blogs!), but at least it's better than assuming that everyone should be the same, everyone should think the same, and then cutting off everyone at the knees so they're not "putting on airs".

Have you read Garrison Keillor's hatchet piece about French writers? Everything about it screams that provincial mantra "Get over yourself! You're dumb just like the rest of us! Stop pretending not to be!" Get back in the bucket with the other crabs. As if there's nothing pretentious about a multimillionaire pretending that he's in the old country store for thirty years. Ugh!

We've lost the idea of bettering outselves. My Grandparents would read book after book trying to "better themselves". They learned languages that they would never end up using. Why? Because it was good to know them. You never know- maybe, one day, you'll need Latin, in case there's a time-machine mishap and you have to give street directions to Caligula.

But us, we just want to be happy the way we are. Actually, we just want to be flattered for being the way we are. We think it's pretentious to try to better yourself because it means that you haven't learned to love "the true you". We assume that everyone who seems to be intellectual or sophisticated is just 'putting on airs', and meanwhile every other American male that you meet tries to pretend that they're as tough as 50 Cent and every other American female tries to pretend that she's in Sex and the City. We've confused ostentatious display- which is what pretension actually is- with other people just being different than we are. We assume that everyone who is different must just be faking it. That every intellectual must be fancying up the same dumb ideas we all have, and every bohemian will wind up in a cubicle like the rest of us. That underneath it all, we're all identical. We insecurely assume that everyone who is smarter, or sexier, or more sophisticated than us must be a stuck-up creep who's probably just faking it. And I bet they never get laid! Nyah-nyah!

I'm tired of the conspiracy of the dumb. There are not more stupid people in America than anywhere else (believe me!), but fuck if they're not better organized in America! "Re-write the text books so our kids can be stupid! Pass more laws to protect us from the queers! More tits! More beer! When's lunch? Shut-up with all of your liberal science! Save Christmas!"

But, I don't buy it. I think the people who scream and yell about whatever dumb thing that comes into their head are a small, but vocal, minority in America. I think that the country is full of ecclectic, bright and funny people who keep their mouths shut because they don't want to get attacked for being too "nerdy" or "pretentious" or "pompous". Better to save our ideas for the internet. Let the morons call in to the radio shows to bitch about how blacks are lazy, and Mexicans want to steal our jobs. Try to become better, more intelligent or compassionate, but keep it to ourselves so that we don't get cut off at the knees.

So, Viva la pretension! I'm tired of the "anti-pretentious" poseurs! Let us have it all! Let us have tits and beer and smutty jokes and Bergman and Shakespeare and haute couture! Let us eat pussy and crêpe suzette! Let us drink beer and soda pop and absinthe! Let us have intoxication and seriousness! Let us have the Marx Brothers and Godard! The Ramones and Beethoven! Let us have truffles and hashish, James Joyce and the Cramps, roller-coasters and all-night poetry readings! Let us have life!


Jen P. said...

Awesome. I was unsure about pretension, but now am in your camp. Vive pomposity!
Jen P. (super-cool super-nerd, at least according to me)

jingyang said...

right on the nail, and funny as hell too.
Us 'pretentious' intellectual types have to stick together.
It must be refreshing to be in a country where it presumed that everyone is intelligent :-)
I reading Failed States by Noam Chomsky at the moment, and he has some very interesting observations on the differences between "official discourse" or "public discourse" and what then US public really think, especially in regard to international relations and international law. It is unfortuante the quality of public discourse in the US seems to have reached a new low. Thank God for the internet, at least for now.

Rufus said...

Hey, merci beacoup tout le monde!