“Pretentious? Me? Why ever would you say that?” I sigh theatrically, brushing away a single glittering tear and gently shrugging my faux-fur stole off my shoulders to reveal the lace-trimmed dressing gown underneath as I drape myself across the lid of a grand piano strewn with glistening white rose petals while a Lana Del Rey vinyl plays softly in the background.
Okay, slight fake news there. I’m don’t have nearly enough money to make that happen. But don’t get me wrong – although being rich enough to buy a fainting couch would be nice, being pretentious doesn’t come with a price tag.
It’s an art form.
(Insert long, pompous metaphor for the American Dream.)
Webster’s defines “pretentious” as “expressive of affected, unwarranted, or exaggerated importance, worth, or stature”. I say phooey on that malarkey. And I’m here to show you how you, yes, you, can be just as obnoxiously pretentious as I am, and gosh darn happy about it, too.
The first thing we need to get out of the way is the difference between pretentiousness and snobbery. Being a snob doesn’t really have anything to do with how high-brow your cultural interests are. It just comes from the having the idea that liking Thing A makes you better than another person who likes Thing B, and somehow gives you the right to put them down for that. In which case, hi, Veruca! May a squirrel push you down Willy Wonka’s garbage chute!
I see being healthily pretentious as less of an act of dishonesty and more of a state of mind. (And, of course, worshipping Dave Eggers, the patron saint of self-aggrandizement). Like, you take yourself way too seriously, but you’re self-aware and you can laugh at yourself about it.
To illustrate: you could scoff at the girl across Starbucks for wearing a Twenty-One Pilots T-shirt. Or you could Bedazzle that T-shirt ironically and wear it to read Allen Ginsberg while sipping cold-brew at your local open mic. Only one of those options will earn you brownie points with the spirit of Oscar Wilde’s giant, quilted fur coat from hell. (Google that thing and your life will never be the same again.)
I think that, as a society, we need to stop placing cultural value on different kinds of art forms, artists, or lifestyle choices based on how little-known they are or how expensive they are to consume, anyway.
If classical is genuinely your favorite kind of music, it’s way more fun to dress up in all black specifically to melodramatically stare out your bedroom window while listening to Rachmaninov’s Isle of the Dead at 2 a.m. (which I say, um, definitely not from personal experience) than shoving it in other’s faces by saying crap like “Oh, I only listen to the classics.” Nothing screams “the last time I had fun was the Battle of Hastings” more than the question, “You like Rihanna?” followed up by a judgemental stare.
And isn’t doing the reverse – liking popular art forms and throwing shade at people who are into quote-unquote “higher” art – equally snobby, just in a different way?
I found this quote graffitied on the alleyway by the Strand Bookstore in Manhattan: “In a society that profits from your self-doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act.” And although that was the most aggressively hipster sentence I’ve ever written in my life, it’s true. The fact of the matter is that people who feel the need to justify what they like by invalidating the interests of others are just terrified of being unspecial.
What you might not realize is that liking what you like and not using that to bring others down makes you special enough. And since finding ways to love yourself is harder than ever before, if it’ll genuinely make you happy, what’s stopping you from rocking a beret, slipping on some horn-rimmed glasses and being the lovably extra ding-dong-dingus that I know, I just know is slumbering in a canopy bed strung with fairy lights and an embroidered satin duvet deep, deep within you?
Because, when it comes down to it, as long as you’re self-aware, you keep an open mind, and you’re not hurting or bothering anyone, being pretentious can actually be a great way to help you find a better relationship with yourself. Plus, it’s hilarious. Not to mention just plain fun.
And I swear by Dave Eggers’ lifetime supply of pretentiously disheveled polo shirts that, if I ever get rich, the first thing I’m going to buy is a red velvet fainting couch.