Tuesday, January 06, 2015

A Tribe Called Bourgeois 

From the Gap's Dress Normal campaign

It has come to my attention that I have become that guy no one wants to be. Following several public announcements of snobbish snark, it was obvious. I am that guy. Even a guy using the phrase “snobbish snark” sounds snobbishly snarky, no? It’s like that paradox of sounding pretentious the moment you say, “That’s so pretentious!” which also rings heavily with condescension. How did I get here and more importantly how can I get back?

I’d like to blame the City of Toronto. I'd like to blame society at large. Why not? Reality television comes in only two flavours: humiliation and aspirational. We either hope the best for the competitors or enjoy mocking them from our couches. That can't be it though. I don't watch much reality TV. But I'm sitting here in a doctor's waiting room trying to decide what's worse, the magazines or the pop music. See? Condescending again.
“I pretty much dress in …clothing from Gap … which I consider the closest we've yet come to an invisibility cloak”
Lately I've been verbally accosted in my new 'hood by what is best referred to as Badger & Skinny Pete*. Why was I so wrongfully reproached? As a friend put it, they could tell from a mile off that I was, to paraphrase, a bourgeois prat. The sort of upper-middle class, affluent dandy Conservatives love to hate. Fair enough, but how did the two strung out string bean junkies know I was a bourgeois prat? I hadn't even opened my mouth so it wasn't my accent or grammar. I pretty much dress in the normalcy of clothing from Gap (see their Dress Normal campaign) which I consider the closest we've yet come to an invisibility cloak so I doubt it was my attire. Most likely, it wasn’t because I was riding a bicycle. A lot of people ride bicycles. I will guess it was the combination of all these things – that I was riding a bicycle while wearing a helmet, clothed in the “norm-core” of basic attire while donning thick-rimmed glasses. There is something in the way I looked and acted that set me apart as “different”. I assume it’s down to body language. That thing we intuitively learned just after descending from the trees. That monkey is walking or standing funny, therefore injured/sick/not of our tribe. Like that monkey, I don’t fit in this neighbourhood because I don’t walk or move with a street-affected swagger, I wear clothing that looks recent and laundered, and I clearly look like I’m on my way to a casual-dress office job.

These are the subtleties of class warfare. A certain haircut, glasses, cut of clothing, condition of your shoes, body language, posture, how you carry yourself, having a well maintained set of teeth, your grammar or the vernacular you use (like using the word, “vernacular”) or what type of mobile phone you use. Do you have a shoulder bag, a knapsack or a plastic bag – is said plastic bag carried or on your head? Is it new from the grocery store or old and tattered and holding all your worldly belongings? There are so many infinitesimally small cues that we use to determine whether someone is part of our tribe that it is difficult to articulate. Whatever those cues are, like musk to an animal in heat, we know them when we encounter them. This one thing is clear, I practically radiate Bourgeois Prat. I reek of it. Among those Ford Nationalists, I am most definitely a Downtown Elite. When I go home to St. John’s, I’m sure to be mistaken as a Mainlander. In the UK, undoubtedly, I would be seen as a Wanker Most Foul. In the States, I may be seen as a Hipster (though my beard foliage is a modest trim at the moment rather than a full Brooklyn plumage). I assume in France I might be Une Prat du Bourgeoisie.

How do I extricate myself from this coterie? Do I abandon my cultured attire? Considering my wardrobe is more hash and dash than “haberdasher” I doubt it would make a difference. Do I ditch my stylish specs for something less “European”? Come on. It’s a prosthetic you wear on your face, you might as well wear something you like. Do I start walking with a limp? Wouldn’t such an affectation be worse than just being yourself? The answer may lie in becoming that kind of person that many people like. The Guileless Open Facer (my term).

In my life I’ve known a handful of people who seemingly get along well with anyone, and seem equally comfortable with executives, blue-collared rednecks, and even children. The qualities they seem to share are guilelessness, openness and well, being smiley. They are the kind of people who are rarely mean or say mean or hurtful things. They tend to be open to try anything once without judgement (until at least, they’ve tried it). Lastly, they seem to smile and/or laugh a lot. I laugh, I like to smile. It’s just not my default. What if it were? Would you see me differently? Maybe, just maybe, if I banish the meanness and snarkiness from my mind, approach everyone and everything new with an open embrace and generally greet the world with a friendly smile, not only will I be open to the world, but it would also be open to me.

Then maybe everyone who thinks I’m a Bourgeoise Prat will just go back to their unemployed, unwashed, drug-addled waste of a life and stop giving me grief about having better posture.

Clearly this is harder than it sounds and I have a lot of work to do. Namaste.

*If you know the series Breaking Bad, you may remember Jesse Pinkman’s two meth using friends who could best be described as two low-level, drug-using criminals, who were at times, braggarts, belligerent, stupid, uneducated, slovenly, tattooed messes of humanity. In the end, we find they really lack the guile to be violent or killers.



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