Modesty: A Success Story
“Blushing is the color of virtue.”
“Your Cadillac ain’t no hipper than my bus stop.”
I have refused fame for years. I rejected adulation, eminence, great wealth, political power, sainthood. I always thought it was more important to be just a regular guy. It’s a lot less trouble.
Fame is alluring but look where it gets you: harassed, accosted, scrutinized, stalked. It might seem attractive to be a celebrity, but people are the main source of trouble and why risk attracting them? Celebrities can’t get away with shit. They rat you out if you’re drunk, high or flirting. If you get too big, everyone wants to take you down a peg. People hate you when you get old and embarrassing. They get jealous and root for your failure. I don’t want any part of it. Still, I’m having trouble keeping the well wishers at bay.
Sure, I could have been a top model but what kind of life would that have been. Having thousands of people masturbating to your image is psychically draining and metaphysically—well it gives you warts. Besides I’d rather be in a mug shot than a fashion photograph.
I could have been a movie star specializing in the kind of roles George Clooney gets, (or maybe the kind George Plimpton used to get,) however I much prefer acting like me than some fictional apparition or social cliché. Acting is selling your personality out. That’s why Madonna can’t act; her personality doesn’t want competition.
I could have been a rock star, but I wanted to get enough sleep and take better care of my skin. I could have written the great American novel but it’s not all that great to be American, and novels aren’t very novel now. They’re too long, even from the best writers and in the end, novel, so what? I’d rather stay in my own character. I’m good at it already.
I could have been an artist. But I just couldn’t bring myself to say it. If somebody calls me that I’m not going to object, but I’m not going to put it on Facebook either. (Even if I were on Facebook.) I don’t mind “artistic.”
I am certainly not boasting about these rejected possibilities. I didn’t avoid fame just to win more of it. I meant it. I only got this far because I was trying to figure out a way to disable the mechanism. One can always get back to obscurity.
Don’t try to talk me out of hyping modesty. It is inherently unhypeable, I’m just bearing witness. Furthermore, although I believe that widespread conversions to modesty among our population would be pleasant, sexy even, I doubt that the consequent intelligence rise would be enough to slow down the momentum society has toward disastrous entropy and global doom. There’s no way out. You can save your compliments. Or if necessary express them financially. I’m just trying to spread the cult of anonymity here. Sure, that is a great and important thing to do, but please reserve your applause until the end.
Besides which, look at you! What nerve. You are a mess, can’t you see that. Did you have to be on Real Housewives to put food on the table? Did you have to go on The Bachelor? Did you have to pose nude? Make that sex tape? Why are you talking about yourself in the third person? Couldn’t you get somebody else to like your posts? What’s with the dj-ing and the curating? You actually call yourself a stylist? Why not philosopher?
You should be ashamed of yourself. Did you think that what you did was going to do it for me? For anyone? Is that all there is? I have seen that shit before. Do me a favor and go park that Ferrari in back where nobody can see that shit.
Do you think you’re going to get by on your looks? Hey, you look okay. I’m sure you can get somebody to fuck you, or hire you or both, but do you think by simply making yourself look that available that you’re going to get somewhere? Do you think making an entrance is going to work. Why not scream “Hey, Look at me! Look at me! Over here!”
If you’re going to make demands on our attention, at least don’t bore us. But I think you’re going to have to make it on the news because this doesn’t qualify as entertainment or porn. Nobody’s going to pay for what you’re peddling. And wearing something that you have borrowed from some desperate designer hardly qualifies as news. You are just another one of the showroom dummies (schaufensterpuppen.)
Get off it. Come down from your pedestal and stop bragging. Be modest. Just say, it was nothing. Really. Nothing special. Anybody could have done it. Say your lines like they were written. This is not reality TV.
Reality television originally entered the media because of a writers strike. The people on the tube had to improvise and despite worries that their words might prove embarrassing, clichéd, or simply stupid, the public was charmed. “Why, they are just like us,” they said. Finally, democracy comes to entertainment. The real people said whatever came into their heads. They dragged the petty details of their miserable lives before the cameras where they fascinated the similarly afflicted. Today we have celebrities who are famous for being famous, with no specific talent to recommend them. It is a contest of vanity.
Vanity is the excessive belief in one’s abilities or attractiveness to others. Learn how to be embarrassed again. Cringe and enjoy it.
There are no celebrities. There are no experts. They are lying. Nobody knows any more than I do. Sadly, nobody is better looking than me. And I don’t care. Repeat that after me.
What we need now is a rediscovery of Modesty. That comes from modestus, keeping measure. It means being accurate. Telling it like it is, no sales pitch.
Modesty is the middle path. It is the way of zen. It is the path of least resistance. It is what William S. Burroughs called “DE, the Do Easy Method.”
Modesty is decorous. Unpretentious. Free from excess. Liberated by understatement. Relaxed. Top quality modesty like that exhibited by photographer Bill Cunningham, musician Flea, illustrator Jean-Philippe Delhomme, or guitar player Thurston Moore, designer Jean Touitou, image maker Jean-Paul Goude or director Wes Anderson, or jazz legend Ornette Coleman.
Unprofessional ethics are far more stringent than so called professional ethics, which are often little more than codified strategies for stealing, lying and posing.
We don’t do The the Selfie, a self portrait illustrating the wishful thinking of the author. I don’t masturbate because frankly I’m not that attracted to myself. No, I’m certainly not trying to look attractive or fashionable. I’m just trying to blend in. Andy always said the best look is a good plain look.
Fashion is too vulgar. I gave up. Vulgarity or subscribing to fashion dictates is particularly likely to affect women. I would like to quote Mr. Jean Touitou of A.P.C. who was eloquent on the subject of Modesty in The Guardian: The conventionalities of femininity can be excellent, but too often they end up making women look, less rather than more, than the sum of their parts…Don’t get me wrong: I do not advocate coldness and old sweatpants. All I ask is that our culture stops asking women to emphasise body parts that call out to men’s sexual desire; this desire that is already always there, ready to pop up regardless of elegance or relevance…Women should dress for themselves, and eventually for other women, and only then maybe also for a handful of men. But they must step out of this outrageously sexed-up hell of signifiers; if they don’t, this junk will make them lose their self-respect. I advocate understatement. Search for subtlety, dare to pass as someone reserved, refuse the stereotypes of sexiness. That way, you will spread fever only where it deserves to be.
Touitou is out there on his own blowing the whistle on so called sexy, but I agree. Sexy isn’t really sexy. I’m over your leather pants. I’ve always liked girls in glasses. Girls in socks. Saddle shoes. Barrettes. Sweaters. White cotton underpants. It just looks right. It can be measured.
Modesty is measure. How much do you weigh? Really. How much do you eat? (How much you vomit doesn’t enter into the equation.) How much of the conversation is outgoing, how much is incoming? What is your carbon footprint?
I have seen plenty of girls in g-strings, pasties and less. Plenty in push up bras, high heels, thongs, garters and restraints, but really nothing compares to a skirt, sweater and flats. Horn-rimmed glasses. Not unless it’s something like the bunads of Norway, those folk costumes from centuries past. On a contemporary beauty there is nothing more alluring, except Manolo Blahniks under a burka. Modest fashion is made to be removed, layer after layer. Trying to look sexy is so fucking out!
Purity means freedom from adulteration or contamination. It is exactly what we are looking for today in our food, our drinking water (and wine) and our friends. Suddenly you catch someone close to you repeating word for word something they read on line or heard on TV and you know that they have been contaminated.
How does one retain purity in an age of universal pollution. You have to build up your resistance.
What’s the difference between modesty and humility? Modesty comes from within. Humility is something that can be forced upon you. Although we are told it is good to be humble, society as it is so constituted is so humbling that being humble deliberately seems like just asking for it.
Humble keeps its mouth shut. Humble keeps its head down. Modesty is a critic. Modesty reports actual size and true direction. Modesty summons resistance to superficial change.
To be truly modest is to be determinedly unprofessional. When one behaves as one is supposed to in a certain profession, one subscribes to the standards of the job rather than bringing personal standards to bear. If the job calls for being a liar or a thief—it is a forgone conclusion that professional ethics don’t really preclude it. Many professions require substandard work, putting strict limits on creativity, or the aggressive adulteration of quality. Do you really have what it takes to pull that off? I myself am much too modest for such high powered jobs. I do a little of this and a little of that.
Am I an artist? It takes a certain gall to call yourself an artist. I’d rather call myself a student. Or an epistemologist.
We used to have art directors, now we have “creative directors.” Why not just call yourself “creator?” It worked for Jehovah. On the other hand, some of the best artists I know don’t even call themselves artists, thinking it pretentious. It’s okay to call yourself a painter—that is a simple fact, not an assumption. But some of the best artists today seem to prefer to call themselves illustrators. It’s a good cover and under its protection it is unlikely that one will be bothered by greedy art dealers, pretentious curators or white collar criminal collectors.
Every day I practice saying, “Well, that’s why I’m not an artist. Well, that’s why I’m not a politician. That’s why I’m not a lawyer. That’s why I’m not an accountant. That’s why I’m not an agent. ” Once you get used to it, being outside a strict job description is the mark of real accomplishment. That’s why I’m not an asshole.
Next time someone asks, “What do you do?” answer “Good! How do you do?”
This was originally published in L’Officiel Hommes
Painting of Modesty by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1902