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.
3 thoughts on “You become what you pretend to be…”
I love this, and I also hope that as the years and years progress, I am pretending less and less. I used to pretend a lot, but now I feel as if I lack both the energy and desire to even be something I am not. This is not to say that I am authentically me all of the time, but I am more me than I was yesterday. Thanks for the great post!
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Also if I can make my point more tangible…limiting, prohibiting, shaming etc. opposing view points also has the effect of eliminating self-examination and challenge of ones own belief…a good example for me is the video you did on “Why Feminism Needs Men” (and to some extent the Jordey Petes one😝) critically and sometimes scathingly examine the methods of feminism…point is we can think that what he says is vile, has no value and has no validity but if we don’t protect his right to say those things across a wide spectrum of platforms then the subsequent self-examinations and discussions don’t take place for a movement like feminism whose core aim is virtuous but whose methods were maybe ineffective, outdated or counter-productive…and it is a net loss for everyone.
Comedians like Lenny Bruce going back to antiquity have contributed vitally to our social conscience by breaching dangerous or uncomfortable ideas with humor in order to begin difficult conversations. Shamefully (in my view) most of the top comedians and certainly the most controversial of them will not perform on college campuses anymore because of backlash and outrage from the “PC police”. Surely our students are not better off because they have have been spared possibly being offended at the cost of exposure to the ideas and musings of the artists. I would go a step further and say bluntly that the ideas and the contributions of artists and other prolific thinkers are worth tolerating far more unpleasant speech than off-color jokes….a lot more. The problem itself is with the boundaries. Who sets them? Who ultimately decides what we can and cannot say…and how do we enforce these standards? Is it by acclamation and coercion and ostracism alone?
It is convenient to dismiss other viewpoints with sentiments like “what they pretend to care about is this but what they really are saying/want is that” and absolves us of the burden of guilt when we take away their ability to express their views…Personally I think that right-wing and alt-right viewpoints and their worldviews are horrid…but I also think them being “silenced and shamed” is not the answer and limiting someone’s right to say and express horrible things will also someday limit someone who says brilliant, vital and enlightening things… that approach is why the workplace, social media, traditional media, college campuses…just about everywhere people congregate is sanitized by political correctness now and in my view at least we are far worse off, have a far narrower scope of ideas, blander art and an almost sterilized culture because of it….not to mention we are far less funny!