Bragging used to be a lot simpler. In the time when our parents walked the Earth, brags were mostly about how large of a boar they'd just slain, or how deep into the Dark Woods they were about to venture, or how wide and cavernous their child-bearing hips were.
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"Madam, I have a third-grade education and can identify a chair. Would you be interested
in bearing 78 children with me this evening?"
But following the invention of irony in 1995, bragging became more complex, and in the era of social media it's become incredibly complicated indeed. Although the general intent -- to seduce mates/gain street cred/seduce street mates -- remains the same, bragging is now couched in layers of irony and misdirection. Here then, for the sake of the 24th-century archaeologists who use Cracked.com as their Rosetta Stone of ancient jackassedness, are five of the most current ways we use bragging.
"Humblebrag" was coined by the late comic Harris Wittels, and essentially means a boast casually mentioned in the context of something else in order to downplay it. You can read a bunch of them here or, if you hate clicking on blue words, think of a wealthy Wall Street-type bemoaning the cup-holder size in his Lamborghini or a celebrity casually tweeting, "LOL, why is Oscar polish so sticky?"
"Just crashed my commuting yacht into my weekend yacht, YOLO."
But humblebragging isn't just celebrities being disingenuous dicks. It can come in lower-key forms as well, like when someone casually mentions their mildly admirable lifestyle. Ever seen someone mention on Facebook the tasty new meal they made in their new kitchen, or the rad new verb they're going to use in the novel they're writing, or the great new whatever they saw while they were jogging at 6 this morning? That's a humblebrag.
"It was a chocolate volcano. Your kind don't usually see them -- they're gone by 8."
Social networks are seemingly purpose-built for the art of humblebragging, the hauntingly empty "What Are You Doing" box taunting us to freely jabber away about our lives to people we'd never be so open with in person. Many humblebrags do in fact look accidental, someone not realizing that the active and fulfilling lifestyle they have is a slap in the face to the people who read it, who almost by definition (their life currently involves reading about other people's lives) don't have much of a life of their own.
I talked a bit about haters a couple months back, and touched on the bizarre pride some people take in the fact that they have them. In a way, this makes a certain amount of sense: If you have haters, then you're at least doing something worthy of attention. So from that perspective, bragging that you have haters is clearly just a back-handed way of bragging about your success.
"Yeah, I'm bringing this punk in because I'm jealous of his success."
Still, you can usually smell a big whiff of defensiveness from these haterbrags -- loudly announcing that something doesn't bother you is usually a pretty clear sign that it does bother you. And even if you're not defensive, there's something a little odd about bringing this up to your own audience. Whether you ignore haters, or listen to them, or let them fuel you, you probably shouldn't be introducing them to your audience. Although your fans are as likely to ignore them as anything else, maybe they'll read what your haters are saying, and go, "Hey, wait a second. This guy has a point!"
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"KnobGoblin420 is right! I'm going to run all my opinions about Taylor Swift,
and indeed my whole life, past him from now on!"
Worse, if you're quite famous and have a large fanbase, telling your audience about your haters can encourage them to attack. This can quickly get out of hand and will have the unwelcome effect of making you look less sympathetic than someone called KnobGoblin420.
This might just be particular about the corner of Twitter I hang out on, but a huge number of people there spend much of their time talking about how awful and pathetic their lives are.
Should not have eaten that floor Cheeto.- Chris Bucholz (@ChrisBucholz) October 17, 2014
Whether it's people talking about their terrible love life, or the week they ate all their meals on the toilet, or even just pointing out the fact that they're posting on Twitter and *sad trombone noise* clearly their life isn't going too well, bragging about how much of a loser you are has, confusingly, never been more popular.
"I'm so jealous of that loser. She really does have nothing."
In a sense, this is just a new form of good old-fashioned self-deprecating humor. Making fun of someone always poses the risk that your audience won't feel comfortable laughing at the butt of your joke -- it's why jokes about politicians or big business are so much more popular than jokes about war orphans or hero dogs. Self-deprecating humor is one of the most straightforward ways to pick a "safe" target for the butt of your jokes, and the loserbrag is just the latest form of this. And seeing as the audience for a loserbrag is hanging around on Twitter anyway, they're clearly familiar with the topography of Loser Land, allowing the joke that is your wretched life to resonate more forcefully with them.
A hyperbrag is a term I just invented right now with my powerful brain. It's a boast that is obviously false, so over-the-top that its primary purpose isn't to boast but to amuse. It gets the audience laughing at how big-headed the speaker is.
"Yeah, I'm full of muscles. My pecs got glutes, and my bench lift has all of the abs."
What makes this so sneaky is how it uses humor to deflect any actual discussion of your strengths or weaknesses. While an actual boast can open you up to refutations about how dope you actually are, a hyperbrag -- because it's an obvious exaggeration -- shields you from any criticism.
"Leading moisture scientists have proven that I'm definitely not crying on the inside."
This can have a useful effect away from social networks. I was kind of shy through most of my adolescence, on account of the fact that I was a worthless garbage baby with self-confidence issues. But eventually I realized the importance of confidence in one's life, and that even if one lacked such confidence due to garbage-baby syndrome, it could easily be substituted by humorous overconfidence. Hyperbragging became a way for me to introduce a bit of (wholly unearned) swagger into my life, and the waves of swooning women that followed eventually ended up inspiring the real thing.
"Women motorists are constantly fainting and veering off the road when I walk by. It's on all the news.
They're now mentioning me specifically in driver training manuals."
A few times each year, some event seizes the attention of everyone on the Internet. The Super Bowl, for example, or maybe the Academy Awards. If you hang out on Twitter or Facebook on those nights, your feed will quickly fill up with people talking about the event, or making a joke about it, or making that same joke again and again and again.
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"More like Breaking Good."
It sort of looks dorky, but this honestly isn't much different from the same basic socializing humans have been doing for thousands of years, just getting together in the evening and gabbing about the events of the day. And yet, inevitably during this, someone will loudly mention that they're not watching the event, and that they don't get all the jokes going on, and aren't they so cool for this, and otherwise bragging about their ignorance.
"Sorry, too busy making a trophy for being such a brave iconoclast to participate in society."
Not watching the Super Bowl is a pretty reasonable decision. There are many other things you could be doing with your life, and sure, most of those won't involve heavily sauced chicken wings, but that's fine. You do you. But bringing up your non-participation in the middle of a group conversation about that thing? You're not better than us, you pretentious f**k. Let us have our saucy-fingered fun.
Chris Bucholz is a Cracked columnist and has permanently sticky hands. His first novel, Severance, is incredible and available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Apex Books. Join him on Facebook or Twitter.
For more from Bucholz, check out 5 Superheroes Older Than You Think and 6 Ways To Fix Computers (So People Stop Asking You).
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This should have resulted in years of therapy.
Sometimes it's just a matter of making the US Department of Defense look, like, REALLY cool.
Actual impending doom like global climate change or mass extinction just makes people bored.