I hate pretentiousness.
Then again, I hate calling people out when they’re just being themselves.
This essay was published in 2nd Opinion‘s March 2018 issue.
On that thing called pretentiousness
by KC Calpo
I’m afraid of a lot of things. Like cockroaches. And reptiles… well, maybe except for turtles, mainly because I can outrun them. Dying while in the bathroom like Elvis Presley; or being alive, but unable to move, breathe, or speak on my own accord. Becoming a plus-size snack for zombies and vampires, because I binge-watched numerous seasons of The Walking Dead and True Blood. My human rights and biological existence being completely devalued and openly obliterated, like those of thousands and thousands of our countrymen. It’s a long list.
Recently, I added another item to it: pretentiousness. To be specific about it, I fear being deemed pretentious by others as they voice out their unasked-for opinions about what I write, say, think, wear, and do.
Here are some recent examples of how this fear has manifested. I edit every article to its figurative death before submission, go through each essay/short story/script/play with an all-consuming focus I lacked in my 20s, and act as normal (whatever that is) as humanly possible in daily life and conversation. I often ask “Does this seem pretentious to you?” or “Trying hard ba?” because to me, anything short of realism is a failure. I worry that standing out gets people called out, that living that much-desired #authentic life makes mine (and yours) anything but.
I guess you can say this is how I try to belong in society, but pretentiousness can also be seen by others as a way to accomplish that same task. We live in a time where everyone’s encouraged to live their online and offline lives out in the open, to #liveyourtruth. So, why not become the cool, colorful, likable, and sharable main character in your own life story? First impressions last, and truth varies, right?
There are many ways to be consciously pretentious. Maybe it’s obsessively following current culinary, fashion, and interior design trends, then putting your own unfortunate spin on them. Maybe it’s racking up Instagram hearts, Facebook likes, or Twitter retweets by any means so you can be called an influencer. Maybe it’s saying you watched specific movies, TV shows, or stage productions known as artsy or difficult for the mass market to understand, but you actually haven’t. Maybe it’s regularly citing the work of Derrida, Kerouac, Szymborska, Foer, Millay, or Eco—or maybe Gaiman, Palahniuk, Hemingway, or Bukowski, “for starters,” because duh. Or maybe it’s calling yourself sapiosexual, as if it’s only now that intelligence became a factor in your choice of mate. Or it’s being “woke” or being a “feminist” in public, then reverting to your old sexist/misogynist/chauvinist ways when you don’t get what you want. (Unfortunately, these people do exist.) Or buying pricey, brand-name gadgets for five to six digits when you can’t even afford to pay this month’s bills. Or maybe… I don’t know what your jam is; feel free to add it here.
TL;DR. It’s all about doing anything to heighten your Dramaticus grabeae when you’re really just Normalus superii. Of course, I made those up, and, of course, I know jack shit about binomial nomenclature.
Admit it. It’s fun to call people out on their pretentiousness, whether consciously done or not, because it’s an amazingly potent form of deception. Good ol’ Google will quickly lead you to lists on BuzzFeed, Thought Catalog (and Quote Catalog, for the all-important cryptic/parinig post), and Reddit for ideas on making your own Pretentiousness Starter Pack. We compare ourselves with others, and declare ourselves winners where we stand. We use labels like elitist, pang-mayaman, hipster, poser, and basic to dismiss it. We make strict definitions for ourselves to adhere to at all times, then mock whatever it is we don’t identify with.
As for that last statement, author Dan Fox took the unpopular side and argued in its favor in his 2016 book, Pretentiousness: Why It Matters. (I’ll be up front and say I haven’t read the book, but the press interviews he did last year make me interested in reading it.) Fox mostly related pretentiousness with the creative sphere, but some principles can also be applied to other life aspects. In an interview with Vice that same year, Fox noted that “people use [pretentiousness] as a way of shutting down things they don’t understand, or which differ from their idea of what art, culture, or other people ‘should’ be.” Furthermore, “it’s used as a way to police class status—to stop people getting ideas above their station, from doing something not usually associated with their class background.”
Basically, your response to pretentiousness speaks volumes about how closed-minded you are in reality, and where you think other people should stay in the so-called hierarchy. That sucks, doesn’t it? But it’s oh so true. We all pride ourselves on being inclusive and open-minded AF, but in practice, we rarely are.
Fox also encouraged readers to take more risks and try whatever they can try, and that it’s alright to “fake it until you make it.” To hell with what everyone else thinks. Relating it to my aforementioned fear of pretentiousness, I see now that it’s like staying in an invisible prison cell I actually have the keys to. Why not just do whatever I damn well please, as long as it’s legal and I’m literally not hurting anyone? In the same vein, why not let other people be? If that’s how they want to live, leave them alone.
Do remember though that there is a huge difference between seeing what works for you and outright lying. It’s possible that the person you see—at work or school, on the street, on your screen, or in your bathroom mirror—is the textbook definition of pretentious. I’ll be honest about your fakery and say maybe you just want to look cool. And we all know how that feels. ⦾