The Poison of Pretense

Or What Happens When The Polite Right Meets the Loved-up Left

I woke up this morning to the news of the lovely candlelight vigil on the campus of the University of Virginia. Concerned that their opposite-viewed peers would not be able to see during their protest over the presence of a Confederate statue, a group of civic-minded individuals gathered to help light the way. In the end, there was some amount of discord but mostly because the fumes from the torches were a bit overwhelming and things got a bit crowded and heated. Nothing at all out of the ordinary, just some high-spirited, start-of-term camaraderie. As you were.

Isn’t that what happened?

No. But why tell the truth when pretending is so much more convenient and digestible? Of course, no news outlet actually covered the events of last evening in anything remotely resembling the summary I just provided above, but would it be so unbelievable if one had? Twenty years ago, yes. Today, no.

I was brought up in the South; not the polite, “butter wouldn’t melt in my mouth” South, but the ballsy, say it like it is, don’t waste anyone’s time, don’t make an ass of yourself, don’t whine and never, ever let the neighbor boy borrow your quad bike South. A South that is all but gone, replaced slowly, almost imperceptibly over a number of years by the “polite” South whose habits and graces are built around religion, manners and the ever-present concern of the perception of “the right thing” to say or do. “Isn’t she a sweet little thing” is commonly known to mean, “What an insipid little dumbass.” Of course the more infamous and widely known, “Well bless your heart,” basically means the same thing, but is far more wide ranging and can be anything from, “Oh sweetie, your husband is gay. You know that, right?” To “Even a plastic potted plant has a higher IQ than you.” But why don’t we just say it? Because it wouldn’t be “nice;” it’s “just not done.” Or my most derided, “How would that look?” Well, the truth, as it was once known, used to not only be done, look just fine and be nice, but it made for a far more efficient and straightforward way of life.

I once had a client who was quite possibly the most vindictively stupid human being it had ever been my misfortune to encounter, and after twenty years in ad agencies, that is a very competitive contest to win. She was a very heavy girl but spoke with this tiny, squeaky voice in some misguided attempt to make her seem smaller. She knew absolutely nothing about her job, had led this business to year over year decreases in sales, had never changed one single tactic to improve anything, would not listen to anyone, and the entire C-suite all openly admitted that they fantasized about leaping across the table and choking her, with one even admitting he sometimes wouldn’t come into the office because he could not stand to be in the same room with her. She dressed like a slob and frequently had food stains on her clothes, she told outrageous lies to keep from having to do anything that remotely resembled work and was prone to having screaming, crying meltdowns in the office when she did not get her way. She wasted $500K per year on something about which I will not be more specific as I’ve already given away enough, but to reiterate the way I opened this paragraph, she was an unforgivable trainwreck of humanity who should not have been employed by this company and who should not be allowed to impose any of the one various toxic aspects of her poisonous ineptitude on anyone. But there she was and maybe still is. Why? “Well, she has a small child and I think they’re trying to have another one. It just wouldn’t be right.” And there’s that word again: right.

At one large agency where I worked, we had a creative director who was one of the most flamboyant gay men I have ever known. He was witty, loud, brash, outrageous and always entertaining. He was also the least talented creative lead with whom I had ever worked. But he was gay, so surely he was creative, right? And he was gay so we couldn’t second-guess him, openly criticize him or his work and nor would they get rid of him. Despite him having lost a Nike-ish account because of his dreadful sense of messaging and delivery. He never won a single pitch and lost more clients than I can recall. But perhaps the most interesting aspect of this for me was that the social-conscious brigade with an average age of 24.5 at the time did not realize that their insistence on his almost absolute entitlement to that role was, in itself, a bias. They thought they were protecting him and his creative identity when what they were really doing was pigeon-holing and stereotyping a gay man. And noticeably reducing the quality of work our creative team was producing. 

Last Thanksgiving when we had our annual gathering of my son’s high school friends all home from college for the holiday, we asked a few of them one morning over breakfast to explain to us the new gender terms and how and what, exactly, we are meant to know, say or do. They went into a level of detail and variants the likes of which a love child of George R.R. Martin and J.K. Rowling could not have conceived. We alternately hmphed with disbelief and laughed at the outrageousness of it, all the while marveling at how fluid this generation finds the lines of reality to be. You were born with a pointer? You’re a man. You have a hoo-hoo? You’re a woman. Job done, let’s move on. Mais non! In this day and age, we can pretend to be whatever we like and can impose our pretense on others by masquerading it as respect for diversity.

But here’s the thing: the genesis and outward manifestation of both the “politeness” of the right and the “open-mindededness” of the left are the very same; each is based on how we should behave based on what we believe looks best in the eyes of others in our respective strata of society. What we feel sets us above and apart. Whether you call it manners, Christian caring, social justice, diversity/equality championing or anything else, it’s all just virtue-signaling, and it is destroying more than just our ability to have intergenerational dinner conversations. It’s destroying our fabric.

I read the memo by the guy who was fired from Google and all I can really say is that if anyone ever again tells me that I ramble when I write, I’ll refer them back to his tome. Oh, and I’m pretty sure that by the time he settled in to put pen to paper, he had necked at least four airplane mini liquor bottles. Yet I do not completely disagree with what he says at all, and in fact what I’ve written is not entirely different in its underlying meaning. But he was fired for saying it, for having an honest thought, a genuine point of view on a substantive matter. From a company which claims to be one of the lone unimpeachables in the realm of new morality and the art of acceptance. Thanks, Google, for making my point.

So some anti-fascists kids want a statue torn down. Do they know why? Have they read the entire history? Do they know that little saying about being doomed to repeat the history we ignore? I was in school in Moscow when one of the first Stalin statues was taken down. They decapitated him first in front of an uncharacteristically baying crowd for the gray and stoic streets of Moscow. But it helped, didn’t it? Getting rid of Stalin and Lenin and such? Because now they have Putin and he is so much better. Isn’t he? He doesn’t murder millions of innocent people with purges, after all, or pile them into labor camps where they will eventually die from exhaustion, starvation or some horrific combination thereof. No, he silences his opponents one at a time, killing them off like annoying flys on a windscreen, thereby surgically and immediately removing hope for those whom the adversary’s attempts at change represented. He forces others into willful submission, a war of attrition waged by threat and won with fear. But a yet even larger populace he squeezes by robbing them of resources, slowly over time; by engaging other countries to the point of embargoes which deprive free trade and, in some cases, ready access to affordable food. No, Stalin, he is not. He is more subtle, more creeping, more sinister; in it for the long game, playing it like a master, and in the end just as deadly. But he kisses babies and hunts and fishes and has an approval rating near 80%. He looks the part. So tear those statues down and we can forget what came before. As though it never happened. And continue to pretend that everything is okay.

2 thoughts on “The Poison of Pretense

  1. It’s so nice to read that someone else is thinking what I’m thinking and writing it so well. I’m really enjoying this blog. Thank you!


  2. I just hope people receive the things I write in the manner in which they are intended, so it’s a bonus when someone likes it and tells me so, and is a gift beyond words when something I write resonates to the point that it helps someone through something or just helps them realize that no, they aren’t the only one who thinks, feels or sees things in a certain way. Thank you for reading, and thank you for your comment.


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