On the topic of pretentiousness:
It may surprise you to learn that some of the members of the Long Winters struggle with pretentiousness. In fact, I can only think of one of the four of us that doesn’t seem to struggle with it and I’ll leave it open as to which one of us that is. Point being, when I say we struggle with it I mean a couple of different things and they relate directly to my writing on this web site so I want to cover them early on. So follow me.
The first part of struggling with pretentiousness should be obvious. Nobody wants to be pretentious or to be thought of as being pretentious, and if you’re a wordy person or one who likes talking about ideas the threat of being called pretentious is a constant worry. The result is that one maintains a semi-conscious vigilance over one’s language to avoid using words or mentioning ideas or even, in some cases, using correct grammar that might leave one open to the charge of ‘putting on airs’.
The second part of struggling with pretentiousness is a resistance to this definition of pretentiousness. I’ve seen many innocent remarks put down as pretentious by people who want to make the smart person feel dumb. Many people who like to use big words to talk about esoteric ideas confine themselves to little ghettos of brainiacs because they’re afraid of being called four-eyes. Other of these smarty-pants decide that they’re going to “keep it real” by totally fronting some fakey ‘hard’ street persona. Still others are constantly apologizing for their thoughts and scraping and bowing to make themselves understood until their lack of self-confidence makes them incomprehensible.
The thing is, American popular culture has elevated the base, the shallow, the stupid and depraved to such an extent that many innocent people with regular intelligences are left feeling uncomfortably “too smart” when they interact with their world.
Think about it. In mainstream rap, rock, punk and pop cultures the status quo dictates that the artist “represent” as being poor and uneducated, and in many cases defiantly ignorant of the world. The music is lyrically callow, focusing on pecking orders, status sex and bullying. She’s not just a shallow, materialistic showbiz brat, she’s also just Jenny from the block. Almost all punk and metal is about the simplest adolescent defiance. Either angry, “Fuck you, you’re not the boss of me,” or fun, “Fuck you, let’s party.”
In light of this, even the simple desire to not be called either a pimp or a ho can be seen as pretentious. For years people have been ‘ironically’ calling each other pimps and hos to signal that they don’t really think that each other are pimps and hos but they’re not so square as to want to be called something else, but irony is ultimately dull and insufficient. Normal, totally sane people who just want to have a little dignity and be respected are calling themselves “white trash”, or saying they grew up in the “hood” or the “ghetto”, and cherishing every bit of evidence they can find to prove that they’re not prosperous, middle-class people.
You can see where I’m going.
The Long Winters make what is dubiously called indie-rock. It is not exactly written in a slave vernacular. Yet this prejudice against ‘too-smartness’ has infected the American culture so much that even in our rareified, middle-class, nancy-boy rock world there are social pressures to be less verbal, less curious, and less accepting. In indie-rock the dumbing down manifests itself differently, as our peers outdo each other in who can be more autistic, more emotionally damaged, more gape-mouthed and stunned.
The fashion for coy, “don’t-hurt-me” vocals is another version of the “I’m a’ fuck you” rap. Both are cartoonish reactions to looming adulthood, and neither one admits the possibility that someone can grow up without either exploiting or being exploited. What are their aspirations? On the one hand to grab as much literal and figurative booty as possible, and on the other hand to be recognized, through passive maneuvering, as perhaps too delicate and sensitive to survive.
Well… I hope you get what I’m saying. By no means am I suggesting that the world was a better place when people were deeply classist, prejudiced and snobby, but neither is it much of an improvement now that we’ve asked our heroes to prove how fucking crass and stupid they are. (…fucking crass…get it?). Instead, all this respecting diversity we’ve been doing for the last twenty years should start reaping some benefits in the form of a culture that includes some of the elegant and graceful ways people around the world have devised to live gratifying lives. A culture where pride isn’t shorthand for “me first”. And where pretentious can go back to meaning ostentatious.