Re: Holly Brubach’s review of “The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement”

Living in the Age of Entitlement by Twenge and Campbell

Living in the Age of Entitlement by Twenge and Campbell

In the NYT Style Magazine today (2.22.09)

“What is going on here?”
This is my new stock question –the question that I ask of myself; the question that comes to my mind when I am trying to figure out what’s going on before my eyes. I am always looking for an answer.
I look for answers, because I feel there are answers. I expect answers. I feel there are explanations. In our world –I feel– there ARE explanations; things happen for a reason.
We have to be curious….
One thing that I have learned is that –I don’t get an answer unless I ask a question. And that is why I am asking you: “What’s going on here?” I know that if we put our heads together we will come up with an answer.

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Holly Brubach writes for the New York Times. In her current incarnation she writes a piece (a column?) artfully titled “Biblio File”. You will find her piece about NARCISSISM on page 130 of today’s NYT STYLE magazine.
Entitled “ENOUGH ABOUT YOU: A Little Narcissism goes a Long Way” she is essentially reviewing a new book “The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement”, (Free Press).
When I saw that title I thought of my new question, “What is going on here?”

Holly Brubach’s answer: Narcissism. Look for Narcissism, she tells us.

It’s everywhere.

The dictionary defines it in general terms: “Narcissism…1. Excessive admiration of oneself.”
The second definition comes from psychoanalysis: “An arresting of development at, or regression to, the infantile stage of development in which one’s own body is the object of erotic interest.” [After Narcissus, who –in Greek mythology– was the youth who, having spurned the love of Echo, pined away in love for his own image in a pool of water and was transformed into the flower that bears his name.]

Holly starts with a short list of well-known names featured in the new book: “Paris Hilton, with her cellphone full of pictues of herself…Lindsay Lohan, who declared herself a role model to ‘younger generations as well as generations older than me’; Britney Spears, the teen-queen train wreck; Barry Bonds…Bode Miller…”
You get the idea. Probably not the most consequential names –but, we all know them!
(It raises a thought: why not a magazine “Celebrity Narcissist”? Which raises another thought: “Would your average narcissist read it? Probably not. Or maybe, check the contents page, to see if there’s anything about them.)

Holly goes on to comment on some favorite narcissists who are not in the book: “Jelena Jankovic, the tennis star riveted by her own image during instant replays on the Jumbotron at last year’s U.S. Open, and Madonna, who has parlayed self-absorption and exhibitionism into a multimillion-dollar career…

I just have to see Jelena on the Jumbotron. You Tube might have it?

The authors of the new book contend that the United States is suffering from an epidemic of narcissism. They make the telling point: it is not the narcissistic stars who are the problem; “their arrogance is equaled if not surpassed by the grandiosity of so-called average Americans.” (They instance an Atlanta teenager on MTV who wants Peachtree, a main street in Atlanta, closed off so she can make a grand entrance for her birthday party.)
A website called hotornot.com, where people post pics of themselves for strangers to rate their sex appeal, has –we learn– registered 12 billion votes.
We also hear of a company called Celeb 4 a Day which “…offers a package deal for a night on the town that includes six ‘personal paparazzi’, a fake publicist and a bodyguard, plus a limo and a tabloid mock-up with the clients picture on the cover.”
And we are reminded that Time magazine made “You” the person of the year in 2006.

It is a surprise to learn that it was as recent as 1971 that Heinz Kohut, the psychoanalytic theorist, first identified narcissistic personality disorder. The authors “assemble a complete picture of the epidemic’s current state of contagion, brought on by the Internet, reality television, a booming economy (!), easy credit and other developments over the past decade.”

There has been a concerted campaign abroad in the culture to turn narcissism into a positive thing…”to tolerate and even encourage narcissism…that it’s a function of high self-esteem…that a little narcissism is healthy, that narcissists are in fact superior, that you have to love yourself to love someone else….”

Narcissism, we are told, is “a disease that causes others to suffer.” The symptoms are pernicious….”Narcissists brag about their achievements (while blaming others for their shortcomings), focus on their physical appearance, value material goods that display status…constantly turn the conversation back to themselves, manipulate and cheat to get ahead, surround themselves with people who look up to them (like a ‘posse’ or entourage), seek out ‘trophy partners’ who make them look good and jump at opportunities to garner attentionm and fame.”

The authors zero in on changes in child-rearing…”Parents instill in their children the conviction that they are “special”; 223 children born in California in the 90’s were named Unique….some children’s sports leagues have stopped keeping score for fear of hurting the feelings of the losers; others give trophies to everyone just for being on the team….”

“…Children who think they are special grow up to be adults who expect success –and the money and fame that it brings– to come quickly and easily, who take offense at the slightest affront to their presumed superiority, who routinely look to be the exception to the rule.

Authors Twenge and Campbell aren’t too hopeful for the future. Though they see indications of a “simplicity movement” they don’t foresee huge changes… “Their prescriptions, saving rather than spending, practicing gratitude and mindfulness, telling children no, applauding hard work rather than talent or brains– may not go down easy with the shopaholic candidate for a tummy tuck.”

But here Holly Bruback makes a powerful point: “But if there ever was a moment when these remedies might stand a chance, the time is now. The authors recommendation for emphasizing our similarities instead of our differences sounds remarkably like one of the themes on which our new president campaigned. And the prosperity that allows a full-blown sense of entitlement to flourish has collapsed.”

I’m glad that Holly Brubach makes that point.

She makes another telling point, her last in her piece: “But justice? Research shows that narcissists aren’t as successful in the long run, and their inability to form deep and lasting relationships leaves them marooned on their own islands. But not before they’ve done significant damage to the people around them.”

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So –not a pretty picture!

But there is hope. There has to be hope –audacious as it might seem– and I am hopeful. In the drastic downturn in our economy, there is an opportunity to make huge changes, to get things right, to get real, to take on the challenges, to get involved. To not give those bonusses. To think Thrift.

To do that –to embrace the great opportunity to change that we are presented with– we have, I believe, to do one very important thing: we have to get rid of that gathering sense of depression that our consumerist culture is promoting. Look up! –that’s not a dark cloud; that’s a brightening sky…
Sure there are tough times coming, but they are also good times. We are being forced to shake our addictions –our addiction to stuff, our addiction to passivity…..
We are right now just walking out of the doctors office, having received a telling diagnosis, an ultimatum –change, or else! So, cheer up, look on the bright side –we caught it in time. Is that too Pollyanna-ish? Too much “happy talk”?
I don’t think so. I think we are finally on the right track. What do you think?

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Holly Brubach is giving us an important piece of the puzzle we have created for ourselves, and must now unravel. Are we all narcissists? No, but I do believe that we all carry something of that urge in our makeup.
But it is, I believe, NOT narcissistic to save oneself first: it’s what we do next, after that, that matters –what we do for others. How we help; how we encourage. How we “do unto others”. We’ve had the triumphalist inept Old Pols, we’ve had Wall Street –how many more Madoffs and Sandfords(sp?) are you and the SEC hiding–, we’ve had the Risk Managers at Goldman Sachs, we’ve had the banks –“Doing unto us”.

Leave out that “unto” if you want a clearer picture…)
Mad as hell yet? Not going to take it any more?

Anger is coming. A little anger would not be misplaced. (OK, leave out that “little”) But –some of that anger has to be directed at ourselves, or it will be all for naught . We won’t screw up this time by not taking responsibility –we won’t hand the otherside the advantage. We will take responsibility. Remember –and I know this is hard, but– …we ALL voted for George W. Bush in 2004! Yes, it’s true –you may have voted for Kerry. But we didn’t work hard enough to have him win. And we did also allow in a weak candidate.
(But let’s not attack John Kerry too much –he did give us Barack Obama (It was he who got Barack to make that famous speech at the 2004 Dem. convention. And look at how much harder we worked for Barack this time. It got worse before it got better.)
Which makes my point! (Which was….RESPONSIBILITY!)

(Talking of Political Narcissism: when are we going to see an examination of George Bush as Narcissist. Mr. Immaturity. Mr Arrested Development. Mr Who-Lied-to-US!
At least, we should feel grateful for the Two Term Limit.
Yes, George –finally, it’s “ENOUGH ABOUT YOU”.)

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I am sure that Holly Brubach was only too aware of the ironies.

Of all the sections of Sunday’s New York Times that her important piece might appear in, it is in –irony of ironies– that Temple of Narcissism, otherwise known as the NYT Style Section. Page after page of Pictures of Narcissa, courtesy of Ralph and Prada and Calvin and Giorgio and Dolce and Gabana (the last two count as one, in case you didn’t know.) My “favorite” is the Louis Vuitton (he of the Bag). Louis’s model –let’s dub her Narcissa Vuitton– is sprawled over a couple of bentwood chairs in a Parisian drinking place. She is ready for sex with you RIGHT NOW! OK, not specifically you, but –with whoever shows up.
Isn’t that …uncomfortable? (No, silly, –not the propriety; I mean the bentwood chairs!)
In the foreground, hanging on another bentwood chair, is the FAMOUS VUITTON BAG…The same Bag that has served Louis so well as the badge of office of the me-too narcissist –everybody has to have the me-too symbol even if they can’t afford anything else. It’s such a powerful icon that it may well carry him (VL, that is) through this whole Darkening Downturn.

As “The Homeless” will we still carry our stuff about in a Louis Vuitton bag?

(Now, as I leaf through the magazine I notice something interesting. Every now and again, one or other Narcissa model has a smile. No, actually, it’s more of a grin. Hey, look at that!: she is laughing at herself; she is sharing a joke with us.)

THAT’S THE ANSWER, or at least a start: LAUGH AT OURSELVES!

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[In the interests of Full disclosure: Many many years ago –actually in Nov. 1987– Holly Brubach, when she was picking out special items for her column in the New Yorker, called “On and Off The Avenue”, picked out my “How To Make A Decent Cup of Tea“. Here’s what she wrote:
“A trove of gifts for the discriminating: a small hand-fashioned book, “How To Make A Decent Cup of Tea” (by Malachi McCormick, who with that name should know.”
Gee, Holly –it’s still sort of flattering (even though the trust implicit in your remark about my knowing “with that name” does not quite live up to the much-vaunted Fact-Checking standards of The New Yorker.
So, here’s an invitation. Holly, you can come to tea anytime. I’ll be sure to have some homemade (hand-fashioned, if you prefer) Lemon Poppy Seed Cake for you. We can even brew some of that Harney Tea ( the one with my name on it, if that’s not too narcissistic! OK –bring you own tea.)

And by the way, “How To Make A Decent Cup of Tea” is still available. Price: four dollars.

Signed?
How many copies?


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One Response to “Re: Holly Brubach’s review of “The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement””

  1. Kevin McEneaney

    Nice post on a good theme. The banking culture was also deeply narcissistic. When I was teaching in college over the past decade, narcissism was an epidemic problem in the classroom, and this was something new and different from the previous decade of students. I think the problem was enchanced by 9/11. After it, fear replaced logic in public discourse and with the loss of logic people withdrew into their own imaginary worlds of fantasy self-esteem. Among teens such perceptions are enhanced by their playing of video games and the celebrity culture.