Published: essays

A Pretentious essay about preteniousness

It is my current understanding that pretentiousness is the act of pretending you are something you are not. Putting on airs, generally in the attempt to appear smarter, more elegant, and deeper than something actually is.

In practice, this word is applied to many many things that actually do have the depth and wit that people are attempting to claim they do not. It is a term that in common parlance tends to mean "I do not get it".

To me, and I generally think of myself as someone who is rather open minded, I think people tend to be a bit shallow when it comes to this.

An aside, I don't think I actually got jaded but I never really decided not to do something due to the initial impression I got of it. If something seemed new and interesting, id give it a shot. This push for novelty has been a pretty consistent throughline for my whole life. It'd probably take quite a bit more writing, but the summation might be that a highly polished concept that has been done a hundred times before interests me less than an entirely new experience that is somewhat rough around the edges.

When it comes to pretentiousness and where it current resides these days, it firmly resides in many many movies (and games). Funny enough it really comes through in only a few forms.

Current there is a renaissance of the celebration of anti intellectualism (by many of those I would assume consider themselves "intellectual" in some capacity.) Basically the lifting of low, junk food art by the masses into something that can be pretendrd to have a deeper, more resounding meaning and message.

Listening to these people they would have you believe that Black Panther (2017) truly shook them to the very core of their being and made them question life itself. If this is truly the case, we suffer from such severe illiteracy that I'm somewhat horrified at the consideration. I will allow for the possibility that some are telling the truth, but some are surely at least kind of aware they are deluding themselves.

--another aside-- I have always, always hated the thought that I might be one of the smarter ones. --

Does putting on airs apply to Lynch? Kubrick? Scorcese? Aranofsky? I firmly believe that these people might not have wanted to explain all the details of their movies, maybe they didn't stick the landing on all of them, but the attempt to be something more is not in itself pretentiousness. It is NOT the act of attempting art-aspirational filmmaking (or whatever) and missing. It's the act of pretending to have done that.

The conspiracy genre seems to fall into this so consistently that I can't help but think that only idiots make conspiracy movies (like big budgeted student films, the siren call of the big twist is just too much for hack writers to resist). As a rule, they will tie themselves up in knots to establish an unsolvable mystery in which a litany of characters play some murky, unknowable role in some plot that is never really explained, one without any sort of relatable (or memorable) stakes. There will then be a climax in which many people betray each other for one reason or another having actually worked for some other party or another, and no one will be able to follow it and will come out thinking that the movie was smarter than they were, and will then promptly forget the whole thing.

These are so benignly pretentious that it hardly matters, but the main reason they slide under the radar is because uniformly they are the sort of movie one recalls with a "ah shit I actually DID see that". To me it sure seems a shame that people avoid establishing any sort of followable plot or likeable or interesting characters in this chase toward what I can only assume is being seen as a "smart screenwriter".

Side note, the only good conspiracy movie I've ever seen was Jin Roh, but I'll elaborate on my thoughts on that and why it's exceptional in another post since it's a bit too much of a tangent. To briefly summarize; the conspiracy is tight, but completely secondary to the main point of the movie, which is a character study. This is because conspiracies are generally terrible fodder for a plot.

MCU falls into this to a great degree and is far more malignant. The main expression of the pretention is very very visible as many critics will bleat the marketing line of whatever the movie is in the coat-of-paint sort of sense. Ant-Man sorta looks like a heist movie if you squint hard enough. Capt Am Winter soldier might be a cold war conspiracy thriller if you have enough brain damage! Logan is a Western. It is a Western. It is a heartfelt, meaningful, deep western look we put it in black and white it is a Western dammit. The issue is that these aren't things anyone actually thought until people (from Disney) told them to say so, and the illiteracy of the audience causes them to think that they must be telling the truth because they've only ever seen parodies of parodies of most of the things that they have actually seen. (Horror is one genre I expect some of these people are at least decently watched in, but it remains to be seen just how much of a """""horror""""" movie the next Dr Strange will be) this act of fiat declaration of genre, instead of the effortless being of that genre, is the root of the pretention.

Fundementally it seems to emerge from aping actions that have been witnessed in actual works with some amount of depth without any understanding of the deeper purpose or meaning, as though these were produced via a Chinese room of art.