Sunday, July 18, 2010

Mad Mel

OK, so after reading not one but TWO NY Times Op-Eds on Mel Gibson's crazy rant (the latest by Frank Rich, no less), Tommy and I decide we must hear it.

Holy. Shit.

It was actually a lot worse than I even imagined.

And yes, Mel is a total narcissist. But we seem to be seeing that a lot these days.
And I really don't think he's the worst one out there. Which is a scary thought.

OK, so, we're all a little self-involved. We need to preserve ourselves, of course. If we didn't have egos, we would just lay down and starve to death.

But then there's behavior that goes beyond mere self-preservation.
And then behavior that goes beyond that.
And then there's behavior that goes WELL beyond that.

It's like the creaming station at Starbucks.
You know, that little counter with the cream and the Splenda and the stirrers?
I LOVE watching that station: it's always interesting to see how much space people take up, without a thought or regard to others that might be behind or next to them.
And then there's others who actually seem AWARE that the station is for MANY people, not just them.
And there's still some others who seem cowed, apologetic even, to be taking up space: deferential and shy, cowering over the skim milk, moving quickly.

There are different types of narcissists, too.
You can be entitled.
Or vain.
Or authoritative.
Or an exhibitionist.
Or superior.
Or simply self-sufficient.
Or a combo.
And there's degrees within that, as well.
Again, sometimes it's not all bad.
It's better to be self-sufficient than vain.
So no narcissist is alike.
Like snowflakes.
Self-absorbed, self-centered, selfish snowflakes.

I love the BP guy, what's his name: you know, the guy who "wants his life back" after his company's cheap-o methods killed 11 of his employees, and created the worst oil spill in history: destroying our coast, killing wild life and the livelihood and well-being of countless people.

At one point, he took a break to go yachting in the middle of all this.
At a really high-profile yachting event in England.

Now I can understand wanting to spend time with your family.
To be with loved ones.
I'm sure he is under a lot of well-deserved stress.
But to go YACHTING? At a wildly popular, expensive PARTY?
That's when you realize that this man is different from you, different from most empathic human beings.

In short, that he's a fucking asshole.

And he's a LOT more dangerous than Mel, at least right now.

And there are TONS of men and women like him.
Remember the parents of "Balloon Boy" last fall? These were two people that forced their children to lie and staged a phony, multi-state emergency, all so they could get attention and (hopefully) a reality show.
The scary thing is, unlike Mel, some of these people have actual POWER: they run our big companies (Enron, Lehman Brothers), they manage our finances (Bernie Madoff, and countless others), they are elected officials (Jon Edwards, George W. Bush, anyone?) they control gigantic organizations that are doing God knows what to us (back to BP and the oil companies, the insurance companies, the tobacco companies, the fast food companies, and on and on...)

The thing about an out-of-control narcissist is that they can be quite driven, and they are ALWAYS right.
About everything.
Because they say so.
They have no understanding of how other people might think or feel.
Other people do not exist to them or are merely an extension of themselves.
They are self-confident, because that is all they know, and they take great risks.
They ignore any criticism and see anyone who slights them as a mortal enemy.
All these traits can make them seemingly great leaders, but they are not: because they will ALWAYS sacrifice the good of the company and the people they are supposed to serve for the good of themselves.


And it seems we are fast becoming a nation of narcissists.

David Brooks of the NYTimes wrote this last week:

"In their book, “The Narcissism Epidemic,” Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell cite data to suggest that at least since the 1970s, we have suffered from national self-esteem inflation. They cite my favorite piece of sociological data: In 1950, thousands of teenagers were asked if they considered themselves an “important person.” Twelve percent said yes. In the late 1980s, another few thousand were asked. This time, 80 percent of girls and 77 percent of boys said yes."

This made me think of two things:

First, of course, since I was a teen-ager in the late 1980s, I am a part of that data.

It secondly reminded me of the film "Greenberg" (which I just rented) and made me realize that the title character represented Gen X self-involvement to the nth degree.

Both these observations, of course, are hugely self-aware.

Some social observers are blaming modern parenting methods, which tend to involve constant "Brave New World" -esque self-esteem building, for the influx of self-loving little darlings.

But whatever the cause, it seems that our egos will soon out-grow the limits of reason.

Actors can take the wrap sometimes for being the biggest narcissists, but I think it's the non-celebrity narcissists that do the most damage. We just notice actors more, because they are in the public eye, and have our attention (the perfect place for a narcissist).

But I don't think the best actors are narcissists.

This is perhaps because you cannot truly understand a character and how they might be different from you, how they might think and feel, how they might see the world, if you can't see other people in the first place, if people do not fascinate you, if they do not hold an interest beyond what they can do for you. You can never really TRANSFORM.
But more and more, actors are not required to transform. They just need to hold our attention.

Which is why actors are slowly being replaced with "reality stars".
It's why we watch shows like "The Real Housewives of New Jersey": those women are APPALLING, spoiled, self-centered monsters. But we can't tear our eyes away from them.

It's why we love watching the first three episodes of "American Idol": all the talent-free hopefuls that can't believe they aren't wonderful singers, that Simon Cowell is just "mean".
He IS mean, but that's beside the point.
The real mystery, what is so entertaining, arguably, is how (really WHY) so many people - a whole generation, it seems - can believe wholeheartedly that they are special; that they possess the pure raw talent (often with no technique or training or discipline whatsoever) to be a pop star, only to find that they are not only ordinary, but well below average.

They can't believe it.

They stare in disbelief at Simon and Randy.

The usually get quite angry, even rageful.

It is the mirror cracking in front of their face.

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