Photo courtesy of 1950 Collective / Facebook

Self-Deprecation: Is It Still Funny?

Self-deprecation is widely accepted across social media as a means of "owning up" to one's flaws, especially through the medium of humor. But is it healthy for the individuals who use it most?

Self-deprecation can, in moderation, serve as a means of freeing one's identity from social norms. This tool is particularly useful within the "keeping up with the joneses" attitude that appears to dominate social media--and not always in the most obvious ways. We all know that social media naturally shows off the better--often best--sides of oneself, but, in practice, it's easy to fall into comparisons. When I see a picture of a friend smiling, that receives two hundred likes, compared to a stunning picture from another friend that captures a unique moment, which gets only forty likes, I naturally assume that the one with more likes is more popular than the other. In the psychological tendency typical to humans, I simplify the situation into easily-understandable terms, ignoring other possibilities.

For example, the first friend could have more friends on Facebook. She also might have friends who check Facebook often and post the same sort of material that she does. If she's a good-looking woman, and the picture highlights those features, the attractiveness might be compelling for those on social media. Maybe most people on social media don't really want a beautiful scene of a fantastic moment--maybe they just want something simple and attractive that they can like and then forget.

But these are all possibilities that require time and reflection--most reactions to social media aren't examined thoroughly. So, the extremes of acceptance or rejection are reached quickly.

Self-deprecating memes and humor via social media can come in handy in such cases, because they generally imply recognition of feelings of inferiority, instead of mindless mantras meant to offer reassurance ("I DO have friends," "People like me," "social media is a lie"). Jokes about everything from feeling unattractive to being at odds with societal norms imply an acceptance of supposed inferiority--and a nonchalance concerning the whole matter that renders the individual superior to the matter. Somehow, in being able to make a joke about failing to make it to the gym, an individual can earn more approval than someone who works out consistently. Humor turns the whole dynamic around.

But underneath this self-deprecation lies an acceptance of the extreme dynamics of inferiority and superiority within social media--which, as I explained earlier, aren't necessarily true. To combat feelings of being at odds with the majority, self-deprecating humor reverses the standards, changing the order of importance so that a new majority is formed. The scenario still follows the "us and them" dynamics of before--now there are simply new victims. Even if this reversal isn't entirely obvious, even if it's merely hinted at or joked about, the underlying tension it furthers, arguably, isn't healthy.

Even when it doesn't run to the extreme of implying superiority, self-deprecating humor implies the flaunting of flaws. To flaunt flaws means to accept them, to some extent, as truth. And advertising them, humorous as the medium might seem, can serve as a scarlet letter upon the scaffold: brandishing one's wrongs to the world in order to receive some sort of acceptance and relief.

We fail to remember that many of the flaws that we perceive are the result of either exaggeration or environment. People can imply through self-deprecation that they're lazy, unpopular, awkward, and even disliked, but rarely do they actually and consistently have such flaws. In many cases, self-deprecation can reveal a tendency to harp on nonexistent flaws. It can reveal an unforgiving attitude about personalities that runs to extremes. It can even serve as a means to attack oneself in a socially acceptable manner.

Overall, I believe the self-deprecating humor on social media can be healthy. It allows individuals to generalize any perceived attacks against them when it is infeasible explore all of the possible explanations. It can even be said to nullify the competitive nature of social media as it casually subverts the otherwise rigid standards. In moderation, like most forms of humor, it can be an effective coping mechanism. But a tendency to self-deprecate can imply an inaccurate and potentially harmful perception of oneself and even societal dynamics. Pushed too far, the humor wears thin and the jokes hit very close to home. Continual self-deprecation should be noted and kept in check; this will prevent running to the extreme of verbal and/or emotional self-harm.