WASHINGTON – “So, Mom,” he says. “Did you tweet that you were going on ‘Meet the Press’?”
“Did you tweet that you were going on ‘Hardball’?”
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So goes a recent conversation with my adult son, who insists I must be more aggressive about raising my profile, building my brand and promoting myself.
“In my tribe,” I say, “self-promotion wasn’t done.”
“I know,” he says. “Now we brag.”
Exhibit A: Donald Trump, who can’t stop talking about how rich he is.
My father used to say, “People who have it [money] don’t talk about it.” No one told his mother, whose tropes included, “If you got it, honey, flaunt it.” They didn’t get along.
“Be slow to know” was another of my father’s favorite refrains. As in, be a little mysterious, don’t give away everything, keep yourself to yourself. When I was a child, the most humiliating reprimand from a parent was, “Don’t be a showoff.”
To be a showoff was to signal to the world that you were so lacking in character or talent that you had to attract attention some other way. Enter Trump, though he does apparently have a talent for making money. It helps if your father leaves you millions, as Trump’s did.
Whereas humility was once the universally acknowledged virtue to which one aspired, today we “humble-brag.” As in: “I looked like a wet mop the day I got the Pulitzer.” Something like that.
Obviously, Trump’s parents never discouraged his showing off. Or else, they did so often that he decided to get even by being the biggest showoff of the human race. Not long ago, his pontifical self-heraldry, which really isn’t fair to pontiffs, would have doomed him to urgent anonymity. Today, alas, he’s winning!
Not to make this column a Trump dump, but he personifies the social disease of narcissistic indulgence. He seems almost preternaturally to have emerged upon the national stage as a didactic performer to remind us of what we once were not. Like Jim Carrey in “The Mask,” upon donning the mask of Loki, Trump has become an extreme version of himself.
At the risk of again humble-bragging, I’m lousy at the skills needed to make the big time today, especially in media. Forget the 80 million print readers (#humblebrag) or other traditional measures of success. Forget the nearly 500 newspaper subscribers (I think I’m getting the hang of this). By today’s standards, I’m a virtual nobody.
In the social media universe, it matters less what you do than what people say about what you do. Put another way, it isn’t enough to erect a massive building on Fifth Avenue. You have to put your name on it. Finally, it isn’t enough to meet a friend for dinner. People must know that you’re meeting a friend for dinner (tweet) and they must talk about it (retweet).
It was under precisely such circumstances that I was first introduced to Twitter, thanks to Ana Marie Cox (@anamariecox), formerly known as Wonkette and now a writer for The Guardian. We were sitting in a restaurant having a drink when in walked Rahm Emanuel, then President Barack Obama’s chief of staff.
Cox and Emanuel hugged. She tweeted. I marveled. I should have tweeted that they hugged, but I’ve just written it so all those readers – did I mention 80 million? (#braggingisfun) – now know about it. Which is meaningless. What matters is that Cox has 1.3 million followers and I (@kathleenparker) have something well south of that.
I’m told this is embarrassing.
Really? I’m embarrassed when I forget that the word “media” is a plural noun and should be followed by “are” not “is.” I’m embarrassed when I put a comma before “but” when it follows a negative predicate. As in: Having few Twitter followers isn’t only embarrassing(,) but is also career-limiting, as the following anecdote illustrates.
A year or so ago, I was e-chatting with former CNN President Jon Klein about his new venture, an online subscriber network, TAPPtv.com. When I said I might be interested in joining him, he said, “Great! How many Twitter followers do you have?”
So it has come to this.
People have long said it doesn’t matter what people are saying about you as long as they’re talking about you. What’s new is that we quantify their talking about you and extrapolate the numbers to indicate your importance more broadly. It’s such serious business that people hire people to develop strategies to increase their number and “grow” their value.
Their value as what, you might ask? Why, in attracting attention, of course.
Kathleen Parker’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.