ust a few days ago, I wrote a satirical-but-I’m-only-half-joking post on “DJ bios,” the marketing strategics that go into them, and the clichés that make them sometimes absurd and unreal. And then, just this morning, a friend of mine sends me a link to another blog, where the author gives tips on “How to be a shitty plus one.”
Here’s a bit of explanation for those who aren’t familiar with this bit of shorthand: a “plus one” is the extra person you can usually bring with yourself when you’re on the guest list. If someone puts you on the guest list for a particular party or club, your name will usually appear with “+1” next to it, sort of like the “with guest” formula you see on wedding and banquet invitations. Bringing one companion with you is standard: you usually have to negotiate to get more than a +1, and the person putting you on the list should be apologetic if they can’t get you at least a +1.
So, the blogger at DanceFever5000 has helpfully put together a sort of anti-etiquette guide of how to be as unpleasant as possible when you aren’t on the list, but instead you’re someone’s +1. Here’s a little snippet:
4. Do you have to meet your host before you can enter the club to go in together? Make sure you are very late. No one minds waiting outside a club and missing half the show so they can get you in for free.
Both of our posts have a few things in common: satirical humor; sarcasm; the play between hyperbole and understatement; the use of clichés and generic situations rather than specific anecdotes and “naming names.” All of these characteristics are also common to the genre of the complaint, and I’d argue that both of our posts are complaints masquerading as pedagogy in the form of humor. Sure, there are lots of layers, but it’s easier to swallow than, “I can’t stand ungrateful guest-list parasites!” or, “DJ bios are made of unoriginal yet extravagant bullshit.” I mean, at least make the bullshit original, right?
There’s the humor again. It’s interesting how complaints are so often coated in humor and/or pedagogy, as if to make that bitter pill a bit easier to swallow for the reader. It’s a common strategy that isn’t just unique to our historical period. If you go back to Baldassare Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano (The Courtier), you have an early-16th-century etiquette guide that often teaches good behavior by bemoaning the failings of “courtiers these days.” By the turn of the twentieth century, you can read Emily Post’s various writings on etiquette, whose late-Victorian primness does not allow for direct complaint; instead, her work is peppered with oddly-specific lists of “do not ever do this” offenses of behavior and style, leaving it up to the reader to guess which sorts of society women she is writing against (or perhaps even specific society women). If you look at historical writings on music (in which I have a bit more training), you see the same trend all the way along: in the early 14th century, Jacques de Liège devotes large portions of his treatise on musical notation, Speculum Musicae (Mirror of Music), to attacking the techniques of the Ars Nova—that “new fangled” music the younger composers were creating in the 1300s; by mid-1500s, Gioseffo Zarlino was describing and teaching “good” counterpoint through opposition to the expressive chromatic and enharmonic techniques being developed in contemporary musical circles; by the late 1700s, Carlo Goldoni recounts a (probably embellished) pedagogical anecdote of Count Prata enumerating to him the list of unwritten rules about Baroque operatic form with absurd rigidity—which allegedly prompted Goldoni to abandon tragic opera and move to comic opera and plays. The list of examples goes on. Teaching and humor frequently make an appearance when someone wants to lodge a complaint.
In any case, I definitely encourage giving “How to be a shitty plus one” a read, and to compare it to what I’ve been up to with my own “how (not) to” essay. In addition, the two of us have been having an amusing exchange of comments in the thread of her post. There may be more writing in the works…