WHEN did we start to live so loud? What made us decide that attention was the ultimate commodity?
Maybe it’s another unfortunate modern phenomenon that we can blame on Madonna. Warren Beatty said of her, in the documentary Truth or Dare: “She doesn’t want to live off-camera, much less talk. There’s nothing to say off-camera.” Back then, in 1991, we marveled at Madonna’s obsession with being in the public eye. Now countless millions have caught her disease.
Traditional and social media have invited us to unburden ourselves on a mass scale, and many of us have accepted with pleasure. As a columnist and blogger, of course, I seek an audience every week. This summer, my random acquaintances have also had the questionable thrill of watching Stanley’s photographic updates on the building of our new patio on Facebook.
Do they care? Highly doubtful. But it’s summertime, and they’re bored, and – well, honestly, who can explain why people look at these things? Stanley also posts pictures of meats he’s cooked that he believes are stupendous. If any of his FB friends respond, la di da, he’s made a connection.
But is it the fault of the media, or is there something else at work to make so many of us prefer the thought that we are living in a reality TV series, blog or podcast to actual reality? Why are we madly broadcasting data about our lives and interests, like we’re paparazzi stalking ourselves? Next thing you know, we’ll be hacking into our own telephone lines, like reporters at the scandalous Daily Mail, in an effort to unearth something vaguely titillating. When we find nothing there, my best guess is that we’ll report on it anyway.
That’s because over-sharing personal information, no matter its international relevance, is now the norm. In 2009, for instance, one high-profile blogger in the U.S. mentioned in a tweet that she was sitting in a business meeting thankful that she was having a miscarriage because it would be an awful lot of trouble to get an abortion in Wisconsin. People who had tuned in for Penelope Trunk’s usual “Brazen Careerist” advice were obviously taken aback.
Numerous readers reviled her for this disclosure, for a variety of reasons. In a later blog, Trunk wrote that those who commented said they felt the topic was gross, her cavalier attitude was gross, and accidentally getting pregnant was gross, or something along that line.
Quizzed by CNN about her decision to bestow this intimate information on strangers, she said, “I think we each decide when (a subject is) personal…. I actually thought a miscarriage at work was no great shakes.” Since “no great shakes” means unexceptional, you sort-of wonder why she thought it was worth tweeting.
Trunk seems to be just another proponent of the view that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, confidently defending on TV her belief that “you should be your real self at work,” posting her CNN clip on her blog, and boasting afterward about how good her hair looked during the interview. Evidently, being your “real self” means making your every physical act and concern general knowledge. Ladies and gents, I suppose this means that in 2011, you may all pass wind at your desks. Luckily, I work by myself, so that isn’t an issue for me.
The trouble with constantly seeking the spotlight, however, is that you tend to attract censure. Comedian Harris Wittels, for example, has launched a blog documenting the most heinous examples of what he calls the Twitter “#Humblebrag.” Wittels reserves the term humblebrag for celebrities who use Twitter to feign modesty while stroking their own egos.
He cites parties like Fox News legal pundit Greta Van Susteren, who tweeted the world that she’d just “accidentally pocket-dialed the Pentagon,” and Lindsay Lohan (natch!), who wrote, “Omg, I’m so embarrassed, paparazzi just blinded me with flashes again, as I was walking into dinner. They pushed me and I tripped :( hurt…”
Waning movie stars like Lohan are predictable sources of the humblebrag, as are wannabe movie stars. “No makeup on, hair’s not done, toothpaste stains down the front of my shirt, pretty sure I’m not wearing deodorant. Still get hit on. Sigh,” wrote one Trish Adams, who appears to have once had a role in The Town Christmas Forgot.
“I’m truly humbled you follow my tweets,” wrote evangelical Christian minister Rick Warren. “I pray they enrich your life & strengthen your ministry. God bless all 200,000 of you!”
Warren likely assumed that God was one of his 200,000 twerps and would therefore heed his prayer. In a world that so heartily endorses narcissism, though, that’s an easy mistake to make.