Friday, July 29, 2011

I am not a poseur but sometimes I pretend to be one

On last week's Pop Culture Happy Hour touched on poseur-dom, spurred by an article in the New York Times written by someone who avoided Harry Potter but after some condescending elitist rhetoric apparently concluded the only method of dealing with having missed out on it was to pretend to have knowledge of it.

Or there's the way I approached the exact same topic last week. But enough about that.

However, to be a poseur is to not merely feign familiarity with something but to do so for the benefit of fitting in with some situation. While I have overcome the need to seem in-the-know for pop cultural phenomena (because I am no longer young and have come to grips with the fact I know what I know, that I've seen what I've seen, that I've read what I've read, I've heard what I've heard), it is those areas of what some might consider "high" culture—classical music, opera, Shakespeare, literature, art, etc.—that put me in situations where I find it's easiest to just go along with the conversation rather than have to explain I don't really know the subject well (or hardly at all).

It's not that I have no familiarity with such things—I did have some introductory classes in college, or I've seen something mentioned on a TV show I flipped by on Discovery or History Channel (back when those weren't mostly reality shows) or somehow remember an answer on Jeopardy on the topic, and in some instances I have actually read or seen the thing in question—so I am not, as the saying goes, a complete Philistine*, and that is the challenge. Someone who does have some greater investment in the topic heard me use an expression involving the term "Philistine" and from there made an assumption that I am the sort of person who would know about the larger realm of culture and history and whatnot. In those situations, I tend to find myself thinking it's best to go forward and not dispel the impression of me that this person has drawn, to move the conversation subtly back to something on which I can speak, or to politely excuse myself; to admit the limitations of my knowledge would render me permanently unworthy and often I cannot tell in that moment if I will ever again have need to converse with this person, so I don't burn that bridge so overtly.

It is unfortunate that there's this dichotomy wherein one must know everything about everything or one is a completely uncultured fool with no middle ground, even though everyone must know that everyone is actually in some middle ground on at least something.

I will note that whenever possible I fully admit to my limitation, perhaps couched in phrases like "I meant to" or "it was so long ago" or something that seems unlikely to come across as disputing the worthiness of the topic—because, a) I do not believe these topics are worthless, and b) in those situations, the last thing I want to do is to engage in some argument with these pretentious types.

Not that I tend to be inclined to argue with pretentious types during alternative situations. Just so we're clear.

(If while you were reading this you assumed I'd come up with a better ending, allow me to assure you at no point did I intend to make you think I was posing as an actual writer.)


* That expression is something I could not explain very well if pressed to elaborate; I am merely content to be able to spell that term without having to look it up.

1 comment:

  1. I just pretend I don't know anything about the topic at hand, even if I do. I let other people prattle about the topic. Sometimes I learn something, even if it's only the fact that my conversation partners are blowhards. ;-)


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