"If narcissists were not attractive, it wouldn't be a problem."
~ Elizabeth Lunbeck
Excerpt from “Dysregulation Nation,” by Judith Warner, New York Times Sunday Magazine (June 20, 2010):
In the late 1970s, the historian Christopher Lasch famously described America as a culture of narcissism. Today we might well be called a nation of dysregulation. The signs that something is amiss in our inner mechanisms of control and restraint are everywhere. Eating disorders, “in general a disorder of self-regulation,” according to Darlene M. Atkins, director of the Eating Disorders Clinic at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, grew epidemic in the past few decades, and in recent years have spread to minority communities, younger girls, older women and boys and men too. Obesity is viewed in many cases by mental-health experts as another form of self-dysregulation:a “pathologically intense drive for food consumption” akin to drug addiction, in the words of Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and Charles P. O’Brien, a professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, who have argued for including some forms of obesity as a mental disorder in the coming version of the psychiatric bible, the DSM-V.
In book publishing, addiction memoirs seem to have evolved into the bildungsromans of our time, their broad popularity suggesting that stories of self-destruction through excess can be counted upon to inspire a reliable there-but-for-the-grace-of-God affinity in readers. We read about dopamine fiends sitting enslaved to their screens, their brains hooked on the bursts of pleasure they receive from the ding of each new e-mail message or the arousing flash of a tweet. We see reports of young children so unable to control their behavior that they’re being expelled from preschool. And teenagers who, after years spent gorging on instant gratification (too-easy presents from eager-to-please parents, the thrill of the fast-changing screen), are restless, demanding, easily bored and said to be suffering from a plague of insatiability.
Mental-health professionals report seeing increasing numbers of kids who are all out of sync: they can’t sustain attention, regulate their rage, moderate their pain, tolerate normal types of sensory input. Some of this is biological; a problem of faulty brain wiring. But many of the problems — in both children and adults — according to Peter C. Whybrow, director of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at the University of California in Los Angeles, come from living in a culture of excess.
Under normal circumstances, the emotional, reward-seeking, selfish, “myopic” part of our brain is checked and balanced in its desirous cravings by our powers of cognition — our awareness of the consequences, say, of eating too much or spending too much. But after decades of never-before-seen levels of affluence and endless messages promoting instant gratification, Whybrow says, this self-regulatory system has been knocked out of whack. The “orgy of self-indulgence” that spread in our land of no-money-down mortgages, he wrote in his 2005 book, “American Mania: When More Is Not Enough,” has disturbed the “ancient mechanisms that sustain our physical and mental balance.”
From “But Enough About You… ” by Emily Yoffe, Slate.com (March 18, 2009):
These days, "narcissist" gets tossed around as an all-purpose insult, a description of self-aggrandizing, obnoxious behavior. Unfortunately, the same word is used to describe a quality that comes in three gradations: a characteristic that in the right amount is a normal component of healthy ego; a troublesome trait when there is too much; and a pathological state when it overwhelms a personality. Narcissism fuels drive and ambition, a desire to be recognized for one's accomplishments, a sense that one's life has meaning and importance. The problem occurs when narcissism becomes the primary principle of someone's personality. Its most extreme form is narcissistic personality disorder, a psychological condition that impairs a person's ability to form normal relationships and wreaks havoc on those who have close encounters with it.
A recent study titled "Leader Emergence: The Case of the Narcissistic Leader" describes how narcissists have skills and qualities—confidence, extraversion, a desire for power—that propel them into leadership roles but that when true narcissists are in charge, other aspects of their makeup—a feeling the rules don't apply to them, a need for constant stroking—can have "disastrous consequences."
Elvis Mitchell: In your movies there's a lot of vanity that the characters have. The characters pay a lot of attention to their looks, which is also really the province of young people, too, isn't it? I mean you're constantly sort of aware of the way you appear superficially. They like looking at themselves. They look really cool in those uniforms and that's a big part of it, too, these guys, so many of them have the flag tattooed on the bicep --
Kimberly Peirce: So there's two things there. One is masculinity, which I find really interesting because you really do have to perform masculinity in order to sustain it. It doesn't kind of just come naturally, even for men in a way...I originally got a hold of twenty soldier videos and they were putting cameras on sandbags, on gun turrets, inside Humvees, and--unfiltered—just recording their experience. But that wasn't enough. Then they were going back to their barracks and they were cutting them into, in a way, what was a fantasy of themselves.
So they would take Toby Keith, I'm an American Soldier—I mean the words in the Toby Keith song are heartbreaking and great, it's kind of like, I'm just an average guy, but I happen to be at war, and I can't go home at night, and look at the sacrifices I go through—it's total heroism...Or it's the thrill kill stuff which is, Look at me, I'm powerful [Linkin Part, AC/DC, Rage Against the Machine]...It's like, Wow, America is powerful, don't screw with us...So when you talk about that narcissism or that sense of one's own image, when I look at these videos, I see, Wow, they're really trying to tell their own story, but in a way that really makes them look both heroic and strong and patriotic.
Excerpts from Rise of the Takedown by Alex Williams, New York Times (4/8/07):
“It’s a new generation, and there are a lot of people who say they have more of a feeling of entitlement,” said Michael Addis, director of the new film, Heckler. He added, “They feel like they should be getting the attention.” Indeed, Asher Patrick, a temp worker whose hectoring of the comedian Jamie Kennedy at a Nashville comedy club last year earned him a brief appearance in the movie, said in a telephone interview last week that he saw his role as “more of a critic” than a hooligan.
But what is driving all this vitriol? One factor, at least where the Internet is concerned, said Mr. Addis, is that “sex sells, but hate really sells,” and helps bloggers draw traffic. Mr. Kennedy believes that Internet meanness, which flourishes on media gadfly blogs and pop culture Web sites like televisionwithoutpity.com and PerezHilton.com, and independent movie review sites like mrcranky.com and rottentomatoes.com, has bled over into public discourse, a point echoed by P. M. Forni, a professor at Johns Hopkins University who founded the school’s long-running Civility Initiative.
The psychological term, Dr. Forni said, is the “disinhibition effect,” where people express themselves more openly or bluntly online than they would in person. The old filters — namely, good manners — atrophy offline, and the result is a cultural narcissism: people think that only their feelings and opinions matter.
The comedian Kathy Griffin said in a later interview that heckling has thrived as “the lines have become blurred” between legitimate performers and mass-produced pseudo-celebrities, like those manufactured by reality television and YouTube home videos. If everyone’s a star, no one is — so forget the traditional deference that fans once accorded the famous.
“Let’s face it, it’s their moment in the sun,” she said of taunters. “The guys who heckled Michael Richards did 20 interviews.”