“There’s just so much pressure to play the self-promoting game,” says Andrew Dunn, a paralegal and writer in New York. “Every party I go to, people ask, ‘What do you do?’ or ‘What are you working on now?’ People expect you to communicate in sound bites, and unless you have rehearsed bits on hand, nobody gives a shit what you have to say. Maybe I’m naïve, but I liked the idea that people could talk about thingscurrent events, movies, television, anythingwithout constantly advertising themselves. I can’t remember: Was there ever a time when that happened?”
If there was, that time has passed. That happy hour thrown by the boss of a rival firm? The launch party you bailed on because it was raining? Those wouldn’t have been missed by the professional self-promoter, who would have flyered the crowd and created Blair Witchlevel buzz in the room about his next project before leaving.
“More and more people we see say, without a trace of irony, ‘Now let’s talk about my brand,’” says James LaForce, co-owner of the P.R. firm LaForce + Stevens. “And they mean themselves. They see their identity not as some essential thing but just like another product.”
Relentless promoters have no time to do moral inventory. They take up their selfhood campaigns like they’re a spiritual necessity. And you can bet that the most skilled among them have either read The Secret, which tells readers that they can make their desires reality by visualizing what they want, or attended the intensive three-day Landmark Forum workshop, which charges middle managers and sales associates more than a thousand dollars for the privilege of learning how to become unapologetically ambitious and get “access to being extraordinary.”
Another course gaining momentum teaches attendees how to be aggressive self-promotion machines. BecomeALPHA runs three-day-weekend seminars across the country (though the actual course work stretches out over 60 days and is completed via phone coaching and tele-seminars) that use sociological research about the success of “alpha” individualsthe type of people who, according to the company’s research, gaze directly into the eyes of others and lean in close to you when they talk. Darryl Pierce, a BecomeALPHA representative, explains in an e-mail, “The P.C., ‘everybody’s a winner’ mentality has clouded the fact that the alpha types will always rise to the top and be the most successful. It’s a cold, hard reality that many don’t want to accept, but it’s true nonetheless.”
Thankfully, there are still limits, even in this shameless era. For example, when Whole Foods CEO John Mackey was exposed hyping his company’s stock under a fake name on Internet message boards, his reputation suffered. As did that of Lee Siegel from the New Republic, who, in an attempt at self-inflation, posted anonymous raves (“Siegel is brave, brilliant”) on his blog on the magazine’s website and was suspended from his job.