Growing up as child, one of my most triumphant moments was mounting the shiny blue BMX bicycle I got for my tenth birthday and riding it in the neighbourhood for the first time. Few things can match that feeling of being the subject of attention of an entire street. Without looking, I could see the children huddled in the doorways of the Face-Me-I-Face-Yous; staring at me as I rode along. I could feel their eyes on me; their admiration and envy crawling on my skin. If you grew up in a neighbourhood where chasing after disused car tires was the kids’ favourite pastime, you’d get what I am talking about. Today, we examine that wonderful, near-universal human trait of flaunting ourselves and our possessions to the world.
Most of us have been showing off as far back as when we sprouted our first teeth. The proof is in those wide smiles in our baby pictures; how we so wanted to show off that shiny white enamel in a sea of pink! We moved quickly to flaunting, before our playmates, our toy cars and Barbie dolls. A good part of school was showboating; how we longed for the first day of the term when we got to show everyone else our spanking new tennis shoes and schoolbags. In secondary school, closing hours were primetime TV. It was all about the kind of ride your folks or the driver came to pick you up with. Though we’ve traded, in the intervening years, Super Nintendos for smart phones and Timberland boots for Armani suits, it seems notice me has stayed with us all the way. Many years have passed, but majority of us haven’t outgrown that childish inclination to show off our new toys to drooling playmates.
Where you live should be more important than what car you drive right? Wrong. I know peeps that live in rundown apartments in the slummy outskirts of Lagos but drive Range Rovers. The logic to this is quite simple: whilst we can carefully choose who to invite into our houses, we have less control over who we run into as we go about town. Our penchant for SUVs is not just about protection from potholes and floods, it is about making a statement. We want to be seen in bigger cars – as big as any driven by our peers. You’d think that in these perilous times when kidnappers are on the prowl, no one in his right senses would opt for vanity licence plates. No way! What’s the threat of kidnappers compared to the envious stares a “BELLANCHI 1” would draw as I cruise by.
There are no boundaries to what can be shown off. Young women are quick to flaunt engagement and wedding bands at social gatherings, as eager to announce to their peers “Girls, I’m off the shelf” as they are to dismiss the guys: “Sorry, I’m taken”. Surely, it cannot be love of alma mater that makes that friend of mine wear his Harvard Law hooded sweatshirt almost every other weekend, often in the sweltering heat, or is it? We’ve seen a 50-something-year-old public figure subtly brag about the women he was involved with in the heady days of his youth. Ask guys that went to boarding schools or stayed in hostels on campus; they’d tell you about how their well-hung mates went about bathing in the communal showers with a certain carefree confidence. If that wasn’t showing off, pray, tell me what is.
How parents love to flaunt their kids! We say we want to give them exposure and opportunities we never had, but oftentimes we are merely catering to our own whims. For many new-generation parents, the choice of school for their children is as much a function of the quality of teaching on offer as who else’s kids go there. We say the reason our children have British and American passports is so that they can have choices we didn’t have, but we can’t deny that it’s also become fashionable to have kids whose nationalities and accents are foreign. For the father, seated in the living room with visiting friends, beaming as his seven year old daughter plays Handel’s Messiah on the Steinway, it is more about the adulation of the visitors than appreciation of his child’s talent.
There are few things we love showing off more than where in the world we have been. No vacation is complete without loads of pictures splashed all over Facebook and Instagram. Really, what‘s the point of a trip to Paris if you’re not going to slap in our faces pictures of you beaming, set against a background of the Eiffel Tower or the Arc de triomphe? It would have been okay if the look-at-me-travelling-all-over-the-world stopped at our summer vacations in exotic destinations. Methinks it gets pretty ridiculous when the rest of the world has to know every time your office sends you abroad on training. As if to remind the rest of us that have regular office jobs what boring, uneventful lives we have, peeps whose work involves a lot of travelling are constantly twittering about where in the world they are. Surely, I am not the only one here whose timeline is regularly splattered with those irritating Hello New Yorks or Touchdown Madrids? So you didn’t realize that the Show My Location/Timezone feature on your BlackBerry was enabled, right? Come on guys, who are you fooling? We both know you wanted us notice. Isn’t that why when we ask “you’re in Seoul?”, you are so quick to reply “yeah, for a few days – business trip”, as if you had been waiting, finger hovering over your keypad, for someone to ask?
Social media and technology have made bragging easier than ever. In this piece previously published on Bellanchi, we examined the role of Facebook in modern day showboating. Twitter and Instagram come in just as handy. The most incisive commentary on a tennis game I have ever come across was not on ESPN or any sports news website, but in the tweets and BlackBerry updates of a friend that was in the audience at the All England Club. You don’t get to watch Wimbledon live and not announce it to the world, do you? Savvy users of twitter know how important the retweet is to self-promotion. Take for instance that retweet of some big shot in government new to Twitter courting your followership. You think we can’t tell that you’re just showing off?
These types of bragging are less obtrusive. Strangely, they are the ones I find most irritating. There is something low and shifty in going about showing off in a roundabout way. I prefer that you take a picture of yourself in your 2013 Range Rover Evoque and post it on Facebook under the tag “Cruising in my brand new ride” to a smug, oblique tweet: “This Evoque wasn’t a bad idea after all”. If you’re going to brag, be upfront about it. Boasting is crass business anyway, so what’s the point of trying to make it look tasteful?
It’s been several years since that toy car got broken and the Barbie doll lost her head; some have grown potbellies, others have begun graying. Looking around, this much is certain: there’s still that little boy or girl in you and me.
I am on twitter (showing off) @bellanchi