9.04.2007

hypersnobbery: a manifesto

there is this application on facebook called honestybox. i love it. it is the dream, the absolute dream, of anyone who has harbored fantasies of telling someone exactly what you think of them, and knowing that they can never trace it back to you. the sort of person who will go to a public library in a town in which they don't reside in order to make a fake gmail address in order to log a scathing and anonymous comment on the blog of an ex-girlfriend of an ex-boyfriend.

not that i am necessarily such a person.
or have done these acts.
recently.

the way honestybox works is you add the application to your profile, and suddenly there is a field in which your internet-friends can write things, which will be transferred to you behind a veil of secrecy that will reveal only the gender of the sender (this makes me want to say, as a rejoinder to strap-on advocates: "it's not the motion of the ocean, it's the gender of the sender") and their presumably completely honest comments on whatever it is.

most of the comments i've received on honestybox are about weird sexual fetishes and are from people i actually know in real life who i then email and say "stop honestyboxing me about vomit" and then they say "but it is HILARIOUS" and then i admit that yes, it is.

but the few actual honest assessments of character that i've received are, well, largely negative. this is not surprising, since the people who adore me and think i'm marvelous generally tell me directly. the thing that i do find surprising is that the insult most often flung is a single word: "pretentious."

here is the thing (because there is always a thing): i am not pretentious. what i am, kids, is a giant snob.

my raging snobbishness mostly manifests itself in the realm of language: if i had more free time, i would find it entirely spiritually fulfilling to be that girl on a messageboard who does nothing but hop in and correct people: "not only are you completely incorrect about the role of the elf-queen in issue 9.25, but you misspelled "avatar" AND "hortimancy" and you meant "irrespective" not "irregardless" and holy crap learn the difference between their/they're/there, because honestly i have no truck with morons like that. xoxo." and then i'd get flamed out of existence and be all huffy, and it would be awesome. also clearly i am ok with run-on sentences.

anyway the misapplication of "pretentious" bothers me, because pretension, by definition, requires pretense. it means you have to be faking it. you have to not belong to whatever group you are playing at belonging to. i'm pretty sure i'm not faking whatever highbrowism is being pilloried, though i bet it is probably my tendency to use words like "highbrowism" and "pilloried." except i am not faking being the sort of person who uses these words, i totally am the sort of person who uses these words. i am also the sort of person who does the new york times crossword puzzle, and thinks less of a person whose favorite book is The Da Vinci Code, and wants my entire apartment to be furnished by design within reach, and thinks critical thoughts about people who wear unattractive clothing. i am not faking being an elitist intellectual who wears hipster glasses and reads the New Yorker on the subway. i am that douche.

so the other thing is that i think about the pretension/elitism distinction often enough that on facebook, where you are supposed to list your interests in order to make it easier for your friends to buy you birthday gifts, my very first interest is, i am not joking, "the complexities of pretension." which itself is a totally snobby thing to be interested in. because, in summary, in the misused language of the masses: i am pretentious about being pretentious.

but, you know, i would not like to overlook the possibility, which if it turned out to be true would be awesome, that the people who are sending me anonymous messages accusing me of being pretentious are actually using the word correctly, and think that i am faking something that is not real. or -- oh my god even better -- that they are seeing that one of my interests is "the complexities of pretension" and so they are honestyboxing an accusation that i am faking my interest in pretension, and am literally pretentious about pretension. and that would be so cool.

also, to the one person who honestyboxed me an assessment of "elitist": i love you. yes. you rock.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

From one elitist to another... I think this is fucking brilliant.

Anonymous said...

About hypersnobbery...

If I can find a simple but effective means to make a literary play on words by confusing prehension and pretension while still retaining an element of positive commentary then I will post a comment to that effect. However, I am not a particularly witty or curt fellow so the success rate is probably below 50%.

Marcin said...

I think you've misunderstood the sense of "pretentious" in this context. It does not mean the quality of pretending (in the sense of portraying something untrue), it means, and I quote the Oxford English Dictionary:

1. Attempting to impress by affecting greater importance or merit than is actually possessed; making an exaggerated outward display; ostentatious, showy.

The sense in which you have apprehended the word is listed as obsolete; I've certainly never seen it so used. You may find it useful to identify the ordinary sense of the word with the sense in which "pretender" is used in the phrase "pretender to the throne," not as in "I'm the great pretender/just laughing and gay like a clown."

ps Your gay

helen said...

maybe i was imprecise in my language, Marcin, but it seems clear to me that the first part of OED definition is relevant:

"affecting greater importance or merit than is actually possessed" - i.e. not actually possessing the importance or merit.

the "ostentatious, showy" part seems more accurate in defense of the folks i'm attacking. but again, i think the intentionality of those words - ostentation and showiness both imply that you're doing whatever act in order to make an impression on an audience - get back to the same idea. and i'm not doing the "pretentious" things in order to impress people. i just like ballet or whatever.

helen said...

ps. your ghey.

Marcin said...

Ostentation in no way implies falsity, mummery, or any lack of truth. Instead it just means that you wear your intellectuallism (in this case) on your sleeve, in order to impress, perhaps to increase your perceived merit.

To illustrate: a diamond-sewn gown is ostentatious but it would not be misleading if one were rich enough to be able to afford it. In contrast, a rhinestone-strewn gown is always fake, although it is less ostentatious.

helen said...

note that i didn't say that ostentation or showiness are inherently false; rather, they are inherently performative: acts undertaken in order to be observed by others.

so this is, i suppose, the second flank of my criticism. am i ostentatious? doesn't that require intent?

Marcin said...

It is possible to genuinely like things which are fancy, and display that characteristic more than is necessary for the ordinary intercourse of society. As for instance when one unnecessarily picks someone else up on their use of the english language. That could be both ostentatious, and cruel.

helen said...

so would that be me, then, or you?

RW said...

My favorite part is the illustrations of erudition done in the manner of a flame war that followed the initial posting. I've been trying to get Helen - who isn't enough of a snob to yet know the function of capitalization - to respond to a comment... any comment... for months.

My hat goes off to marcin. But how shall I replace it on my out-sized head afterwards?

helen said...

i knew the capitalization thing would come up. i just knew it! you're right, RW. it's my achilles heel. i'm not precise, accurate, or consistent with it. consider my armor pierced.

but i do have some convoluted explanations here, if you're interested.

Marcin said...

I'll buy you a record by the ultimate gentleman of rock, Stevie Nicks.

RW said...

Yes OK Helen thanks. I looked at that and have to say it reminds me of the arguments used, I believe, two turns of the century before when there were those who wanted the entire rulebook of spelling (in English) removed to the sunlit upland of phonetic common law. Of course that movement had a name and that name escapes me but Mencken had something to do with it I think.

It failed too.

Kat said...

is it physically possible to fuck your brain and only your brain without killing you? because that's what I'd like to do. Mmm. Squishy smartness.

ljd said...

You have a blog. On which you write about your daily life. How is this not performative? And by the way, I object to your deviation from the J.L. Austin sense of that word. All best wishes, though.