News that "Parks and Recreation" and "Sarah Silverman Show" writer Harris Wittels died on Thursday of a possible drug overdose has saddened the comedy world. But even if his only achievement by age 30 were his Humblebrag Twitter account (with more than 249,000 followers), which became the book “Humblebrag: The Art of False Modesty," it would be a minor but noteworthy contribution to understanding 21st century manners and social media's role in shaping what's socially acceptable.
Andy Warhol famously predicted that everyone would get 15 minutes of fame, but he couldn’t have anticipated that we would all also have our own PR agencies in the form of Twitter, where we can broadcast to our “followers” what great things we recently accomplished or recognition we just received.
But since bragging is never a good look, we've discovered ways to hide our bragging -- albeit poorly. Wittels began to see a weird form of bragging on Twitter from celebrities and noncelebs alike: what he brilliantly named the humblebrag, the Trojan-horsing of a brag into a not-so-convincing self-deprecating statement.
Why is it men always tell me I'm beautiful when I don't have a stitch of make up on? So crazy!
â€” Patti Stanger (@pattistanger) February 18, 2012
On my way to get interviewed by Oprah at the coffee shop I went to growing up with my family. #weirdestsentenceihaveeversaid
â€” Jonah Hill (@JonahHill) February 7, 2012
I just called Randy Jackson "dawg", making me officially the lamest man in America :-(
â€” Andy Cohen (@Andy) September 10, 2012
It could even be argued that the humblebrag has an image equivalent, the #Wokeuplikethis hashtag, a selfie project that's supposed to "scratch away at beauty standards and expectations," according to this Tumblr blog by inviting people to post images of themselves unretouched, without makeup. It usually ends up featuring images of people who, instead of promoting authenticity and humility, are mostly advertising how good they look unretouched and without makeup. A visual humblebrag.
In a 2011 interview with the A.V. Club about humblebragging, Wittels gave a disclaimer. "I feel like whenever I talk about humblebrag, people try to call me out on the fact that that is in and of itself a humblebrag. So I’m putting it out there that this whole thing is a humblebrag. So now no one in the comments section can say that." When asked if it was the "bane of his existence" that people were calling him out on humblebrags, he joked, "It truly is. I can’t really say anything, I can’t speak anymore."
The blurbs for his book "Humblebrag" were filled, naturally, with words like "weird" and "awkward" that warned the reader, "Caution: Humblebrag ahead."
"I can't believe they asked me of all people to blurb a best-selling book! Weird," wrote sports writer Bill Simmons.
"So weird to be asked to write a blurb for this amazing book when they passed over Alec Baldwin, Bono and The Pope. Like I'm ANYWHERE near as important as those guys. I mean, I DO have more Twitter followers than Baldwin. Oh well," wrote comedian Patton Oswalt.
RIP, Harris Wittels. Long live your humblebrag.