What ever happened to self-esteem? Have you noticed it's no longer the buzzword it was in the 90's and early 2000's? In fact, liking yourself appears to be a foreign concept. Today we strive for self-deprecation instead.
In recent years, smack-talking yourself has become a bizarre cultural phenomenon. On popular websites like BuzzFeed, listicles used to sell light-hearted relate-ability"”" 10 Things Only People From the South Will Understand," "18 Things All Cat Owners Know to be True," "20 Songs Every 90's Kid Knows by Heart," and so forth.
But now, this brand of info-tainment has taken a much darker turn."10 Things Only People Who Can't Get a Date Will Understand," "18 Things Only People Who Can't Seem to Do Anything Right Know to Be True," "20 Songs Everyone Who's Lazy and Stupid is Obsessed With,""”this is the new brand of rhetoric society seems to have now embraced, both on and off the internet. Two recent headlines on Elite Daily for example? "Feel Good About Feeling Bad: Why Wallowing In Your Sadness Is Healthy" and "Why I Casually F*ck Up Every Good Thing That Happens To Me."
There's no denying that putting ourselves down has officially become a beloved cultural pastime"”especially now that even advertising campaigns are looking to cash in on people's penchant for self-loathing.
For instance: Pizza Hut has a new commercial promoting its new `modernized' line of pies. In the ad, old school Italians are asked to try the restaurant chain's recently added menu items"”and openly hate them! As far as taste-test testimonials go, these are the kind businesses that once fought to keep anything negative hidden from the public"”but now, self-deprecation appears to be a selling point.
Of course, the commercial is also intended to demonstrate that Pizza Hut's new pizzas are just too innovative for pizza purists to appreciate. But it also accomplishes the goal of telling consumers, "We know we ain't a classy pizza joint. We know discerning palates frown on our crappy food and stupid recipes. But we're going to suck loudly and proudly, just like the self-proclaimed lazy, clumsy and socially awkward folks are doing nowadays."
I think Alfonzo is trying to say he'd rather eat the cat, nydailynews.com
Some may argue that Pizza Hut's new campaign is no different from the one Domino's ran several years ago, in which the restaurant's president openly admits their food wasn't any good in numerous TV ads.
However, while Domino's may have been carefully dipping its toe in to test the waters of self-targeted smack talk, the campaign was primarily meant to appeal to people's appreciation of brutal honesty, corporate transparency and belief in second chances. Pizza Hut, on the other hand, may as well have sponsored a BuzzFeed list titled "10 Things Only Chain Restaurants That People Hate Will Understand." In Pizza Hut's case, the ad is a full-on appeal to people's newfound appreciation for self-targeted insults and the belief that pointing out one's shortcomings is super cute.
But is it really? Why are we suddenly celebrating getting down on ourselves? Perhaps we should blame Lena Dunham for making a career out of simply being gross, awful"”and proud of it.
After all, as the writer and star of the show `Girls,' Dunham adamantly shows off her far-from-perfect body, relies on clichéd quirks like poor eating habits to make her character seem more relatable and weaves her personal struggle with OCD into the show's plotline, so as to say "oh, what a flawed, chunky, mentally unstable kook I am!" And people eat it up!
There's no doubting the show's role in making the celebration of one's own flaws a mainstream practice. Dunham's writing in general isn't merely self-aware, it's highly self-critical"”and given the success of both `Girls' and her recently published book `Not That Kind of Girl'"”today, self-criticism sells.
Jennifer Lawrence serves as even further proof. Would she have risen to her current level of fame by just being a cute girl and okay actress? Probably not. But her repeated"”and likely calculated"”displays of self-deprecation served to make the Hunger Games star America's sweetheart.
Even Taylor Swift recently got on board. The singer who used to take herself oh-so seriously is now cashing in on making fun of herself. In her latest music video, Swift plays up the psycho-girlfriend persona that's been ascribed to her by critics. Before that, she channeled her inner Elite Daily writer in order to come across as just your typical awkward ol' every-girl klutz in the video for `Shake it Off.'
Taylor Swift in her video for 'Blank Space,' abcnews.com
Given the growing popularity of self-deprecating behavior, you'd think that people nowadays"”especially millennials"”are suffering from a major self-esteem deficit, but it's actually quite the opposite.
The seemingly self-deprecating lists (i.e. "10 Thing to Which Only Social Rejects/Chronic Overeaters/Couch Potatoes/Boring People/Hot Messes/etc. Can Relate") despite, to an extent glorifying bad habits and character flaws, do help to alleviate people's anxiety. By candidly focusing on the traits and behaviors which were once dirty little secrets no one would openly admit to, this kind of media content lets people know they're hardly alone in their ways. Former social stigmas are now things we can bond over and thereby, feel a little better about ourselves in the process.
Moreover, not only is today's brand of self-deprecation not an indicator of widespread self-hatred, it's actually a sign of rampant narcissism.
Previously reserved for overweight class clowns and insecure stand-up comics as a means of self-defense, self-deprecation has now been adopted by egomaniacs as a fun new way to humble-brag. When skinny girls moan about the `disgusting' amount of food they consumed at lunch, they're actually trying to make you notice their slender physique. When Lena Dunham writes a topless scene for herself into any given `Girls' episode, what she wants people to notice is her ballsy self-confidence and artistic edge. When Jennifer Lawrence points out that her strapless dress is giving her "armpit vaginas" in a red carpet interview"”when it really isn't and no one would have even noticed this alleged `defect'"”she's really pointing out how flawless she looks.
My thoughts exactly, sarahchristensen.com
In this sense, self-deprecating rhetoric is actually exponentially more annoying than it is alarming. Nevertheless, it's undeniably in vogue"”and advertisers, like those behind Pizza Hut's new campaign, know this. Which is why they knew a commercial rooted in the modern day version of low self-esteem will actually translate as confident if not cocky.
`Our pizzas are so hip these old Italian squares just don't get it,' is the real message, and given the way we now automatically interpret self-deprecation, marketing execs knew audiences would have no problem extracting the message.