Column 58 — The Art of Pretension

Category: Blog — @ 1:04 pm January 5, 2006

A few people have already given feedback on this column. Half say it’s complete bunk, that the apprehensions outlined below don’t exist in this city. Those people, however, don’t work in offices or know anyone who lives west of 90th St. The other half wholeheartedly agrees and says that it’s not only a problem in Omaha, but in other cities they’ve lived in. There are bigger reasons for the cultural divide, specifically family and time obligations — people generally quit going out altogether after they get married and have kids (other than to family-based events). Yet somehow those barriers always seem to be overcome for Husker football, blockbuster movie premiers or big-name rock concerts. Such is life. There are reasons why all the art galleries and original music venues are east of 72nd St…

Column 58: Fear of Cool
Don’t be afraid of the art

As I sat down to write this week’s column, I received this prime directive from the publisher:

Happy Old Year, TMac. Next week’s issue is New Year’s resolutions in culture, life, etc… things we’re encouraging the readership to do in 2006, based on our eternal wisdom and experience, with a dash of “You haven’t lived in Omaha until you’ve done this…” If you could write a column in this direction, that would be grand.

Beyond merely giving thrill-seekers a list of untried vices to feed their insatiable appetite for awkward situations, this topic instead highlights the unfortunate divide that exists between the “arty” and “artless,” the “cultured” and the “mob,” or simply, the line that divides those who go out and see stuff from those who stay home and watch lots of television.

What keeps people from venturing out to original music venues, art galleries and live theaters? Certainly not the cost or inconvenience — these are the same folks who will lay down hundreds (or thousands) of dollars to see an over-the-hill U2 or Paul McCartney at that hollowed-out, echo-filled, dead whale called the Qwest Center. No, it’s something else: Fear of pretentiousness. Not their pretentiousness, yours.

These folks are most comfortable watching a bowl game at a sports bar or going to a movie at the AMC. They prefer herd activities where they can blend in with everyone else, unnoticed. Doesn’t mean they wouldn’t love viewing some fine local art, watching a good play or hearing a local original band that rocks better than anything on MTV. But the thought of wandering down to a mid-town or downtown venue makes them squeamish. They don’t think they’ll fit in.
Look, I know those of you who live in a loft in the Old Market or are “working on your screenplay” don’t buy any of this. Why would you? You rarely venture west of 72nd St. You not only don’t mind getting noticed — you want to get noticed. Hell, you pretentious bastards are the problem! You assume there is no culture west of Crossroads, and you’re partially right. But I’m not talking about the unwashed masses that are already brain dead from too much bad radio music and reality television. I’m talking about people we all know who crave something different, but are afraid to venture outside of their warm, safe little cubby holes.

They suffer from “I’m-not-cool-enough” phobia. And who can blame them? Gallery openings conjure up visions of giddy, half-drunk half-stoned art-school drop-outs wearing wonky hand-made clothes flittering around the room giggling with everyone… except you, who they figure is probably a cop.

Then there’s the indie music scene. I know a lot of people who would enjoy seeing Omaha’s stellar cadre of nationally known bands, but fear they’d stick out at Sokol Underground or O’Leaver’s or even Mick’s among the bed-headed, too-small-T-shirt-wearing, angst-ridden hipster youth. If they only knew…

Those of us who actually go to art openings and rock shows at indie clubs know just the opposite is true. There is no uber-pretentious Andy Warholian “It Crowd” in Omaha (except in their minds). Most people involved in the local arts and music scene are struggling just to get by. Most aren’t super cool, they’re super insecure. They desperately want people from the suburbs to check out their art, acting and music. Unfortunately, these same people also make fun of the throngs who gush over poorly crafted wind chimes and elaborate God’s Eye yarn art at the Summer Arts Festival.

So here’s my proposal for ’06: This year, find that person or persons with a willing but fearful heart and bring them to an art opening, play, indie rock show or even dinner at a small, independently owned restaurant. Arrange everything. Find them a sitter if you have to. Pick them up and drive them downtown. Do whatever it takes. And for god’s sake, once you’re there, don’t leave them hanging. Introduce them to people you know. Show them that there’s nothing to be afraid of except maybe missing out on all the things they’re too afraid to try.

Who knows? Maybe they’ll tell all of their friends. And the next time you have an art opening or CD release show, those truly pretentious bastards who are killing the scene will be stuck waiting outside in the hold line.

–Got comments? Post ’em here.

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