Pretense, Joy, and the Residue of “Cool”

Stop making fun of adult women who read YA; stop making fun of men who take a childlike delight in things. There’s no law that says we have to become stuffy and boring as we age. Let people find joy where they can.

Boze Harrington

I cannot remember the first time I felt embarrassed for liking something. It was probably sometime in the fifth or sixth grade, around the time cliques were forming and my classmates were doing their dry runs for the Lord of the Flies that we were about to start at Sayville Junior High School. That was about the time when “cool” became a label, and as I have written ad infinitum, I was never cool. More of a problem, of course, is that was I not only uncool but I cared way too much about how I was perceived–something I still talk to my therapist about.

Finishing up my teenage journals and moving on to the MS Word files that are the 1995-2001 journals has gotten me thinking about this yet again, especially since this uncovering and examining my adolescent thoughts has been an “offloading” of a lot of this stuff and trying to get over the feeling that I should be embarrassed by … whatever it is I like, feel, believe, or any other aspect of my overall existence. Now, consciously, I’m over it or at least I realize how ridiculous that is, but there’s a reflex there that’s the complete opposite and that’s why I have an astounding level of self-consciousness that nibbles at my self-confidence. And like I have said, I know that I should just “not worry about it”, but it’s incredibly hard not when it’s been a constant presence.

Furthermore, when you spend all that time caring about whether or not you are “cool”, the lack of acceptance or your perceived failure to achieve the level of acceptance you thought you were supposed to get (not feeling entitled to acceptance, btw; more like getting a C when I was trying to get an A) really makes you feel like a failure. For just about everything, even the successes I have had over the years because I also don’t have cool stories to tell (lamenting reckless youth filled with alcohol drugs and one-night stands?). And the effects are the anxiety and depression that comes out in therapy sessions.

A side-effect, though, is that at some point in your life is that you turn into a pretentious asshole. Now, I’m not saying that every pretentious asshole in the world is compensating for a self-consciousness stemming from a lack of self-confidence–I certainly don’t have the credentials to make that call–but I am saying that at some point in my youth, I learned that becoming overly critical of things with a superior tone was a way to shield myself from my uncoolness. If I could be discerning, and look down upon those who liked things I considered “lesser”, I would make up for my lack of cool.

Trust me, it made sense when I was in the middle of it. I even went as far as to write a blog post on my now-defunct teacher blog wherein I lamented that my students were considering Twilight serious “literature”. I got a number of comments from readers who were pissed off at my gatekeeping (though they did not use that word), asking me what right I had to judge what is literature and what is not. Some even chided me for using the phrase “young adult” or “YA” and didn’t accept that my use of the term came from where I was seeing those books housed in my public library and Barnes & Noble. The latter complaint is probably irrelevant, but I will admit to gatekeeping to a degree, even though I still don’t understand why anyone could put Twilight alongside The Great Gatsby.

I think I applied this to movies and comics, too, and I think that came from the years of hearing “Oh, you read super hero comics” as well as my lack of proper film fandom because I preferred Savage Steve Holland to David Lynch. I didn’t completely abandon the what I enjoyed, but I made sure that I went and read the “right” texts/watched the “right” films/listened to the “right” music so that I could hold my own in a conversation and “ironically” liked the “crap.” But hold my own in a conversation with … whom? People whose ass I felt I needed to kiss because they were somehow the “people to know” or something stupid like that?

Yeah, when I look back at it, I don’t understand it. But I do understand is the pull of that pretentious asshole because it’s so easy to look down at one thing in favor of another, and you don’t look down on stuff for a couple of decades and not still engage in those behavior at times. But this is where I say that I am fortunate to have found a community of people who live the sentiment at the top of this rambling post who are very good at reminding me that there is joy to be found in what an individual likes, and while you certainly have license to not like something, there’s no glory to be found in putting someone down for what they enjoy. Unless, that is, you find being the biggest asshole in the room to be some sort of achievement

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