We're in a brave new world of bragging, people. Everyone does it everywhere! Facebook, Twitter, the Internet in general. On the phone, in the car, via text message and gchat, even in that old-world in-person face-to-face method of using our big mouths. With friends, family, coworkers, and total strangers! We are in a self-promotional spiral. Brag, brag, braggedy brag-BRAG!
It is this very world, the world of the brag, that The Wall Street Journal's Elizabeth Bernstein considers why people brag, "what we can do about it," and the culture of bragging in general. She points out some ripped-from-Facebook-status-update-type brags:
Swam 30 minutes at a very fast time despite the large amount of Chardonnay served to me on the plane last night.
Got my first royalty check for my book!
Sunset sail. Turned into a moonlight sail. Shooting stars everywhere…Perfect.
These are brags in sheep's clothing, she implies; we've come to expect such comments on our friends' walls and in their tweets and on their Tumblrs and blogs, and while some of us, perhaps, groan over the implied "My life is more perfect than yours"-ness of such commentary, many of us fail to recognize these sentences as brags at all anymore. This is News, as Facebook puts it. She writes, "Clearly, the Internet has given us a global audience for our bombast, and social media sites encourage it. We're all expected to be perfect all the time. The result is more people carefully stage-managing their online image."
She is part right and part wrong. These brags are obvious brags, they are the former sales-and-marketing model of brags. They are not edgy or interesting or scary or drastic. They don't really have much of an impact individually, it's only after days and weeks of accumulation that they produce that faint twinge of annoyance on the reader and whatever weird feeling the poster gets from posting such brags. (Surely not much satisfaction, if any?) They also seem, well, kind of fake. No one who's spending a bunch of time on Facebook bragging has a life that's all that great, and savvy people have come to recognize that, which is why the humblebrag has had its moment.
The humblebrag, of course, is a way to brag while also seeming humble about it. It's a subtle brag, a brag with a wink and a nod, the inside joke of bragging, and is thus far more suited to today's "Don't even try to sell me something" (at least not overtly), "I can see your motives a mile away" modern marketing experience than is the brag-brag.
But the humblebrag, well, folks are onto that, now, too. We know when someone status updates, "Oh, I'm so exhausted from dancing all night with models at Cielo but I really need to pack up all my stuff tonight for my vacation on Martha's Vineyard," or tweets, "The food at Davos is really not very good, you know, that's why I bring snacks," or Tumbls, "I'm such a klutz, I broke the heel of my new Louboutin when I was getting out of the Venezuelan diplomat's Lincoln Town Car," that they're really bragging undercover. Which means it's not undercover anymore, now, is it?
Enter, then, the underbrag.
What's the underbrag? That's when you brag your own disaster or situation that one would not normally brag about. Skilled underbraggers can get away with doing so because the underbrag is not fake like the brag brag; it reveals intimate life details that are interesting and probably even embarrassing; also, it does not show any inclination to hold back or attempt to hide the truth about the person beyond the brag. Part of the twofold power punch of the underbrag is what it demonstrates about the person who can get away with it. It is a sign of both authenticity and enthusiasm. And power. If you can underbrag and not get fired, grounded, or shamed into brag-bragging, you are a force to contend with indeed.
The irony of the underbrag is that it shouldn't BE a brag. It's a terrible brag, the un-brag, not really a brag at all—except for the fact that the underbragger is bragging about it and therefore changing the rules of bragging as we know them.
Some examples of underbrags:
"I biked drunk last night and fell in a ditch and you should see the bruises!"
"I got dumped on a Post-it note!"
"I woke up with all of my clothes on, including my glasses and boots, and a bucket of chicken wings next to me. I then stumbled to the bathroom, where I discovered a goat in my bathtub! Whatta night!"
"I ate a big bag of Doritos for dinner last night!"
See? The underbrag is the new humblebrag because it is the brag that doesn't care what The Man thinks, the brag that pulls no punches, the brag that does whatever its braggy little heart desires.
"I am the best underbragger in the entire world!"
Yes, yes you are.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.