I was listening to one of Stephen Fry‘s ‘podgrams’—”Wallpaper“—in which he briefly touched on the idea that the English tend to classify something as ‘pretentious’ if they don’t understand it. It’s a form of defense of tradition or perspective. Intelligence or flamboyance are marked as a personality flaw; people exhibiting uncomfortable behaviour or traits are disarmed by being seen as blemished. Pretension is perhaps the greatest fuel for satire and ironic mockery—maybe because it produces such good, well-recognised material. It is funny to see pretentious people mocked, and they are therefore rendered harmless. (I find particular hilarity in piss-taking of Tony Blair and would happily laugh at someone poking fun at Jacqui Smith, also!)
I think I recognise this, and I wonder whether there might not be more perspective defenses? The way we perceive the world—metaphorically “see”—is a deeply personal and fundamental aspect of our characters. Perhaps it’s tied in with our own beliefs about ourselves to such an extent that a conflict of perspective resonates with an attack on our person.
We defend our perspectives, especially perspectives involving personality or other foundational ideas, because they are metaphorical constructs to help us understand our world. Maybe that’s why it hurts so much to be called pretentious (speaking from the platform of a much-called pretentious git)? Because one is consigned to the same category as the most-maligned in cultural conscience?
Makes me think…