In life, self-deprecation is a brilliant tool. It serves as a gentle and humorous way of letting others know that you’re aware of your own shortcomings and erases any thoughts of an inflated ego. Like most jokes, it can defuse tense situations and build relationships. Within the University of Missouri School of Journalism, the joke is being lost. As a growing amount of journalism students, not quite yet journalists but not quite simple citizens, find themselves moving beyond the blog and into the papers, self-deprecation has started to become a little twisted. The students are fairly infamous on campus– talking with non-journalism majors about your studies often culminates with a sigh after the initial reveal as one of the well-known thousands. This splits the j-camp into two groups: the proud and the fearful. The proud are self-proclaimed journalists, blessed light-bringers who suffer and struggle for the true story. They bleed for their readers, for the people, and then use that blood to decorate themselves as bastions of journalism and the world. Every story they write is front-page material, and anything less is an insult to their abilities. The fearful are the others, excessively self-aware of their status as mere students and hesitant to call themselves journalists in fear of being grouped as one of the proud.
I, and most of the people I consider my friends, find ourselves in the second camp. Our free time is dedicated to mocking the proud and their seemingly silly outlook. We find ourselves shy when it comes to the subject of our own material, myself less so since I have managed to lose all sense of literacy these past few months. The fearful refer to their work jokingly, with hardly a serious word about the effort and work that has gone into the piece. This is the Damoclean threat that hovers above the heart of self-deprecation. Its original purpose of self-awareness and humor is put into overdrive as it is forced into two new roles. First, it serves as a protection against the self– indicating that you are aware that there are flaws shields you from any form of criticism.
“You know, the writing on this is alright. I don’t really get drawn in though.”
“Yeah, I know, I’m not good at it or anything. Just had to get through it. It was a stupid story idea anyway.”
The second new role of self-deprecation is that it serves as a protection against others. You aren’t one of those obnoxious proud j-school students that live up to the stereotypical “journalist” with an overinflated ego.
“I’m just a journalism major. I’m not like a reporter or a journalist or anything. Just some kid in Missouri really.”
The automatic deflection of others expectations is not quite what self-deprecation is for– we are not showing any degree of self-awareness or even humor.
It’s this same self-deprecation that kills thousands of pieces and writings that die before they’re even created. Kind of like this one.