Friday, July 1, 2011

What Mitt Missed

This story is already a wee bit dated, but my reaction to it isn't.

At some point last month, Mitt Romney, presidential aspirant, was speaking to a group of unemployed people when he tried to make a funny, stating words to the effect of, "I'm unemployed too, so I'm one of you...but as some of you may know, I'm looking for a job now."

The joke, of course, went over like a lead zeppelin, as it well should have.

His reaction didn't help any, either. He, or his campaign, made some lame comment about how Mr. Romney enjoys "self-deprecating" humor, and how others need to lighten up.

Lighten up?

Mitt Romney is worth hundreds of millions. For him to get in front of a group of people who truly know what it means to be involuntarily unemployed -- to lose sleep at night wondering about mortgage payments, to make tradeoffs about which bills to pay, which to let go, and what day-to-day niceties (I purposely didn't say 'luxuries') to shirk, shows, at best, a complete lack of self-awareness.

Frankly, I'd expect better from a would-be Commander-in-Chief. I had already had my waterskis-over-Jaws moment when he had to have his own son stage a prank call supposedly from "The Governator" but this helps prevent any chance that I will reverse course from 2002 and ever vote for Mitt Romney for anything.

The second charge I'd throw is that his response is a total bastardization of what self-deprecating (or, more technically accurate, self-effacing) humor is all-about: poking fun at your actual weaknesses.

Genuine self-effacing humor is refreshing, disarming, and often downright funny. But the key word there is genuine. Let's say, for example, your boss stutters, is clumsy, can't type memos, sweats profusely, etc. If he or she makes jokes about that, it tends to go over well.

But if someone who obviously takes his or her own intelligence seriously says, "Well, my wife says I'm not real smart, but she keeps me around because I can lift heavy objects," and expects the whole room to break into side-splitting guffaws, or thinks that's somehow endearing, that person is a huge tool. It's kind of like when someone who looks like a model thinks they're winning others over by saying things like, "I must have helped meet the quota for ugly people then" when looking at pictures of themselves among groups of friends. Far from endearing, it's just awkward and disingenuous.

I could do a lot more hypotheticals, but I think you already get the point.

On a slightly different note, a friend of mine sent me a great link to something that comedy writer/stand-up comedian Harris Wittels put together. It's based off a term he coined called "Humblebragging." You can go to his Twitter page right here, where he collects shameless celebrity name-dropping cloaked in so-called humility "I can't believe I was at John Travolta's house last night...who can believe it -- little old me?!!?" or "I totally tripped on my way up to the stage to receive my Oscar."

If you're as bad as I am about following links, you won't click, but I strongly recommend you do. I can promise you will laugh, and will think of some "Humblebraggers" in your own life.

One last point -- I always wonder what genuine really means. I've had trouble with knowing when to use that word when describing people, and just sort of settled on the idea that it's akin to the old Potter Stewart-ism about "knowing it when you see it."

I'm not sure who to attribute this quote to, but someone, somewhere, at some point in time once said, "I don't say all the things I think, but I do think all the things I say." Probably about 10 seconds after I heard that, it instantly skipped a long list to become one of my all-time favorite quotes ever. If someone really lives by that, I'd say they're about as close to genuine as anyone I could imagine. Obviously, no one is going to say all the things they think (besides, their jaw might quickly get tired), but if you truly "think all the things you say" to include everything from compliments to constructive criticisms to just all-around conversation, I would have to count you among company worth keeping.

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