First off, sorry if I pulled the bait and switch on you here, but this will not be a review or critique of the play The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde which is a delightful play you should all check out at some point.
Let’s start with the definition of “earnest,” shall we?
Resulting from or showing sincere and intense conviction.
It’s feels a bit outdated, doesn’t it? The world often feels too cynical for sincerity, let alone sincere conviction. Perhaps the word and what it represents have fallen somewhat out of fashion. Honestly, it had kind of moved to the back of my lexicon outside of the comic strip Frank and Ernest (which is not only a great play on words, it’s usually a guaranteed chuckle).
A few years ago, I was talking to a co-worker who I quite liked, who I generally thought of as cool. They were plugged into the heavy metal scene and hosted a long-running heavy metal show on a local station. Now, admittedly, I’m not the biggest heavy metal fan. My favorite metal is the kind of stuff that looks good painted on the side of a van–wizards, dragons, over-muscled warriors.
But I do have this favorite band, New Model Army that is kind of metal adjacent. Technically I guess they’d fall into more of a post-punk category. Angry and political with a great bass line and sharp lyrics. I’ve been a fan for over a quarter century now, and my first tattoo was the Celtic knot from their Thunder and Consolation album cover. They’re not that well known despite having been around for over 30 years now. But this co-worker knew them and was immediately dismissive, waving them off as goofy.
Obviously, everyone is entitled to their opinion. And I get that not everyone who knows who the band is aren’t fans. But “goofy” is not a word I would have ever associated with New Model Army. They take themselves pretty seriously. No costumes, no flash. Just music. I don’t think I said anything, but she saw my confusion and clarified, “They’re just so earnest!”
I should have seen that for the red flag that it was at the time. But I’ll get back to that.
Last night I rewatched High School Musical for the first time in about ten years. I was one of those people who stumbled onto it before it was a phenomenon. Skimming through the channels, I clicked into our two leads, total strangers, being pressured into singing a karaoke duet at a party. I like karaoke. The song was reasonably catchy, so it hooked me for the rest of the movie. It was only later I realized this was the second broadcast and it had since become something of a “big deal” for Disney. I enjoyed the movie. I didn’t love it. I wouldn’t rank it in my top ten musicals, or even the top twenty. But I do own three songs from it courtesy of iTunes that I listen to from time to time.
So determined to start off 2016 with something positive, (and unable to find my first two choices), I swung back around to High School Musical. Yeah, it’s a flawed, simple movie. Gee, you’d think it was made for television or something! And yes, Zac Efron didn’t do most of his own singing. I don’t honestly care. It’s no more simplistic than a lot of crap out there that people are more than happy to give a free pass. But the music is good, I like the story, and the central message is one I honestly think we need to do a better job of communicating to kids.
That message is that we’re all complex people with complex interests, and that sometimes those conflict with how people see us. For instance Zeke from the basketball team who loves to bake. Or our heroes Troy and Gabriella who realize that they enjoy singing as much, if not more than the narrow jock/mathlete niche everyone would rather stick them in. It suggests that we be genuine with who we are, what we like, and not try to be someone other people want us to be. And most importantly, it encourages us to support our friends when they figure their own shit out.
It’s a sweet film. And it’s so goddamned earnest!
And here, kids, is the real takeaway.
Fuck being cool. Seriously. Chasing after “cool means spending energy worrying about how others view you. It’s not genuine, and it never lasts.
However being genuine, sincere, and yes, earnest, is the gift that keeps on giving. Yeah, you might lose a few friends. I don’t talk with the co-worker who thinks being earnest is a negative. At one point I thought that we were friends, but slowly they revealed themselves to be more interested in the superficial trappings of things, more interested in being cool than invested. This person is no longer a part of my circle or my life, and I don’t miss them. Instead, my life is filled with weird, creative people who are passionate about all kinds of weird stuff. And I support that. It makes for a better world.
Embrace the genuine. Be your best, most real you. Life’s too short to be anything other than earnest.