I’ve been listening to a LOT of Lenny Bruce, lately… and I think what’s most consistently striking about him is… the lack of pretense? And I think that’s also what he skewers so relentlessly about human culture, the rampant and consistent use and abuse of pretending.
We pretend not to be sexual or have destructive impulses, we pretend not to think thoughts that are too strange to say aloud, we pretend to feel feelings we don’t really feel while pretending not to feel the ones that we do, and on top of it all, we pretend that we know exactly what we’re doing the entire time. It’s exhausting.
I see Lenny Bruce as someone who saw all of this and saw that he couldn’t live that way, so he just… opted out of it by creating a spectacle of himself, by honing his personality and experiences and perspective into something that really “cooked,” as he would say.
What’s scary, though, is how easy he makes it look to just exist as you are, while also being a kind of martyr, going through the worst case scenario of what can happen when you do decide to just let your mind be an open book instead of a well-rehearsed line from a play written by somebody else.
I guess those aren’t the only two options, but you can see what I’m trying to say, maybe.
The lesson of Lenny Bruce is that we don’t live in a society that actually values freedom of expression, but one that pretends to, one that tries to enlist all of us in its game of make-believe, where we all pretend to care about free speech and the pursuit of happiness, while most of the time really defining what that means fairly narrowly. We care about these things so long as they fall within acceptable parameters.
And no, in case you’re worried, I’m not about to morph into an alt-right “free speech advocate” – in fact they’re the worst pretenders of them all, I’d argue. They pretend to care about freedom of expression, but the freedom they’re referring to is their own freedom to prevent someone else’s, which is a blatant and shameful contradiction in terms. But because language has this tricky effect of diverting our attention from all of the salient information being conveyed, and focusing it rather on what the sentence chooses to shine the light on, well, you can get away with some pretty wild bullshit if you know how to light the scene how you want someone else to see it.
To value free expression, really value it, is to want people to be able to live how they want to, speak how they want to, without living their lives in fear. That means everyone – all races, religions, genders, sexual orientations…
I’m venturing into territory where I’ll just sound stupid, but the bottom line is: what we pretend to be matters. You might start by just trying to fit in or not make waves, but before long, if you’re not careful, what you pretend to be becomes real. But you have to really fight, I think, to truly think for yourself, especially in our society which is largely founded on coercion. Even today. Even now that they don’t arrest comedians for saying certain words. Those power structures are still at play in our world, I’m just curious how that conflict will play out. Is free expression really safe for everyone? Maybe what these “free speech” advocates are actually pissed about is that for once, they’re starting to get a taste of what it feels like to be silenced and shamed the way everyone who’s ever actually tried to push boundaries already was. What they want isn’t to be free to speak, but for the people who are actually free to stop talking.
I don’t know, food for thought. lil brain burp. duno.