Earlier this week I went to a burlesque show, which, if you’ve never been, is basically a classy striptease with 1920’s cabaret vibes. I don’t particularly enjoy burlesque, but I went anyway, because I wanted the people who invited me to think I was cool. As I sat there, sipping the first of two mandatory drinks, I looked around the club and wondered how many other members of the audience felt the same way I did. I wasn’t sure which was the more horrifying possibility: that everyone here was only pretending to be enjoying themselves, or that everyone but me genuinely was.
There have been so many things in my life that I’ve done not because I wanted to do them, but because I wanted to be the kind of person who would do them. The way I told the story above makes it sound like I fell victim to peer pressure, like it was all about how I thought other people would see me. But really, it was about how I see myself. I don’t want to admit to myself that I’m the kind of person who spends the majority of a burlesque show just trying not to look too awkward. Like all good liars, I lie to myself first.
And the truth is that by the end of the night, I was actually starting to have fun. But was I having fun because I was enjoying the show, or was I having fun because I’d managed to successfully pass as someone who was enjoying the show? Maybe there isn’t even a difference. Take parties. You might enjoy one because you’re genuinely comfortable there. Or you might enjoy the accomplishment of successfully hiding your discomfort. The paradox of my own anxiety is that it pretty much went away once I realized how good I was at covering it up.
So maybe my presence at that burlesque show wasn’t misleading anyone after all. I may not appreciate the art of burlesque, but I can certainly appreciate the way my attendance there fortifies my perception of myself, illusory or not, as a cool and interesting person. That may not be the most pure way to enjoy a cultural artifact, but it still counts.
Yours in the awareness that I have likely way overthought the degree to which any of this actually makes me at all cool or interesting,