The Art of Self-Promotion

The goal of social media is to convey a wholesome sense of self in a superficial world where no one goes to the bathroom or says goodbye. It's a performance art piece based on the conceit that we’re all relentlessly radiant stars.

One night while riding Link Light Rail, a lanky, consternated, black adolescent took a seat next to me and began writing in a bound leather notebook. He held his pen as fiercely as a grudge, his stringy forearm muscles pronouncing themselves with each stroke, the blank white sheet filling in with words at an alarming rate as our train sped sideways into the Seattle night. The earnestness with which he crafted each letter recalled to me a romantic impulse I felt at his age: If we could bend the right words into their best order, all the crooked ways in our lives would be made straight.

If I weren’t seated next to him, I would’ve taken this young man’s photo to remember the moment and relate its significance to Instagram. But his closeness made such a maneuver impossible. So I sat quietly, piecing together sentences I’d never speak, embarrassed to find—this time, and always—that the words flashing before my mind’s eye took the shape of digital letters filling in a status update window.

I daydreamed a paragraph in that form, crafting lines

calculated to garner the most likes or comments, redacting the ones that went against nuggets of wisdom I learned in a “How to Use Social Networking to Further Your Arts Career” webinar.

On the train to the airport and I swear I see myself 10 years in the past. I want to warn the teenager writing his life away to not let his ambition give itself over to the kind of arrogance that could alienate those he’ll depend on to achieve his vision, or those who’ll depend on him to reach theirs.

Because if a stranger who means well doesn’t tell you that sooner, one who doesn’t will later. Feeling: determined.

An emoticon would seal it. I’d time the post to go up at 2:30 p.m—three hours after adding my middle initial to my Facebook name and three hours before changing my profile picture from a photo of me as a child to a snapshot of a recently deceased and impossible-to-dislike political figure flipping the bird (because having both my cover photo and my profile avatar set to images of me is the digital equivalent of wearing a t-shirt with a picture of myself on it).

Later that night, I’d post a YouTube link—Common’s “Sum Shit I Wrote”—and insist you Listen to this, just to show you I’m listening to this. With this flurry of Internet activity, I’d demonstrate—to exes and crushes, friends and frienemies—that Shaun S. Scott can still #occupy the correct middle ground between aloofness and intensity. 

Participating in social media is a lot like being a character in a film. Spew too much text and you tune me out. Too many images of me and me alone, I seem self-centered. The goal is to convey a wholesome sense of self in a superficial world where no one goes to the bathroom or says goodbye. Social media is a performance art piece based on the conceit that we’re all relentlessly radiant stars.

Sometimes I grow so impatient with my online character’s lack of progress that I threaten to storm off the set and abandon the role for something more realistic. But I can’t quit. Turning my back on an audience anywhere is tantamount to turning my back on audiences everywhere.

I’m afraid that if I can’t project a version of myself with conviction via social media, it’ll reflect badly on my abilities as a filmmaker. Both social networking and film entail arranging images, words and sounds in an engaging way; to me, proficiency in one field is a metaphor for proficiency in the other.

But the art of self-promotion isn’t just professional. I grew bored of posting dense articles and newspaper clippings because I want my online character to be more than a talking head. And at the same time, I became bored with filming talking heads. I developed a desire to direct dramas as well as documentaries. I want to see the full spectrum of my personality reflected wherever I find myself.

Now offhand observations, fictionalized episodes from my daily life and punch lines fill my feed and I’ve slowly but surely outgrown the itch to untag myself from other people’s posts. Being a character in this world means being a part of others’ stories, and sharing the kinds of small, quotidian details that define the dramas of our daily lives.

In the young man’s notepad, I noticed a biblical citation soaked in neon yellow highlighter ink: Proverbs 27:2. As we departed the train and parted ways, I looked it up on my Bible App. “Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.”

And I’ll be goddamned if I won’t be posting that, too.


Shaun Scott is a Seattle filmmaker.