Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Media, Entitlement, & Narcissism

I was planning to discuss in this next post how I felt that Sex and the City had continued to send Americans further into narcissism. However, this morning I read this article:

Say Hello to Underachieving

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/05/fashion/05summer.html?pagewanted=1&ref=style

Essentially it is how the Millennial Generation is being forced into underachieving because their parents, hit by the recession, cannot bankroll internships at the White House or summers abroad in Europe. In fact, these young adults are being asked by cash-strapped parents to find summer jobs to earn money. The author of the article expresses concerns that the recession will (based on statistics from previous recessions) force the Millennials to underearn for the next 15 years.

My initial reaction was that this was not necessarily negative. Members of the Greatest Generation, which grew up in the recession, served in WWII, and had the highest rate of savings, worked unglamorous summer jobs. My own father, for example, sold ice cream on the summer streets of NYC along with his father. He was able to go on to college and grad school and had a long, successful career as a teacher while still keeping a love of ice cream.Summers spent scooping were not held against him by universities and employers.

Then I remembered that the unemployment rate is still high. Heads of families don't have jobs. Many people are facing layoffs. There is an exceptionally high number of families in NYC shelters and many people are still facing foreclosures. Once again, the media is encouraging narcissism in the young. The article could have asked the Millennials to reflect on how lucky they are to have a job at all, parents to feed and house them, time before they must be self-supporting.

Is the media deliberately trying to promote narcissism in the young?
Is this a refusal on the part of reporters to accept that the economy has changed, and may have done so for good?

8 comments:

Warren B. said...

It would have been better if the article's author had sought out some students who were finding ways to cope with the lack of internship opportunities by volunteering, or seeking to make their own way somehow. I agree that the article's perspective of young adults accustomed to personal growth without any obstacles pervades the entire piece. Perhaps this reflects the Times playing to what it sees as its core audience? I thought there was an article in the NY Post recently about young entrepreneurs facing down the economic conditions and finding ways to generate meaningful business opportunity. My sincere hope is that they are all able to find positive ways to take advantage of the downtime, even if they don't have the spending money to traipse around Europe.

Tracey said...

Did you read this from the Daily News?

http://www.nydailynews.com/lifestyle/galleries/teenage_entrepreneurs/teenage_entrepreneurs.html

Very inspiring.

Tracey said...

Sorry, here is the full URL:

http://www.nydailynews.com/
lifestyle/galleries/
teenage_entrepreneurs/
teenage_entrepreneurs.html

Warren B. said...

I don't recall that Daily News article exactly. I thought it was from another paper. I could be wrong, but I think the News article may have pointed out a class divide in that it seemed that most of the five kids in the photos of the top five were not the type of kids highlighted in the Times article. Does Twenge address a disparity in narcissism by socioeconomic status?

Chris Maisano said...

Doesn't the moral logic and social structure of industrial capitalism itself encourage rampant narcissism? Capitalism broke up organic communities (in which the well-being of the collective was more important than the desires of any single individual) and turned us all into isolated atoms seeking our individual self-interest, and the devil take the hindmost. And the form of capitalism that we live under in the early 21st century does not hinge primarily on production but rather consumption, whose machinery is greased by a massive advertising/propaganda industry that is always encouraging us to buy stuff to make ourselves happy. And because so many of us in the US and the rich countries are not engaged in direct production of goods anymore but rather the delivery of immaterial services and the interpretation of data on computer screens, many of us feel alienated and impotent. Because of this, I think the kind of narcissism we see in society today stems not so much from an excess of pride or self-centeredness (which is what the authors of the book seem to be saying), but rather a highly weakened sense of self. It's not just the media that is responsible for this situation, it's the entire debased civilization we find ourselves living under.

Warren B. said...

I think there is a lot to be said for the decline of the extended family as contributing to the isolation of the individual, and ultimately, the rise of narcissism. Could we at least consider that capitalism replaced those social structures to some degree with the business units, organizations and other groups? These do foster some sense of interconnectedness, or at least they once did. Companies, or work crews, could become primary groups for individuals and provide a matrix of connectedness. Ethnic or religious identity also filled the gap to some degree. Has some other force been at work to deplete the power of these institutions? I gather that Twenge argues the culture of celebrity as fueled by the media has been that force.

Peter Leonne said...

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Anonymous said...

How do I love ME ( or my look alikes, my feel alikes, my think alikes, my talk-alikes, my tribe, my nation etc.), let me count the ways. Narcissism, among other impossible things, is also a universal force in human unconscious, and therefore part of human nature with consequences all around the self, culture and the planet. It has a lot to do with patriarchy and therefore testosterone. Narcissism is implicated in all of the following: "Man versus Man," "Man versus Nature," "Man versus Self," and "Man versus Society" not to mention "Man versus Women."

But whatever real exists in human nature or human condition has developmental or evolutionary origins. It is also a safety mechanism in the human brain which keeps us at a safe-distance from "non-look" alikes who used to be predators in the jungle life. Matters of taste are also a matter of exposure eh. As we know from history of this species, that human genes take a long time to "unlearn." Humans have spent more time in jungles and tribes than towns and cities. In the jungle it was neccessary to recognize the "other" in a split second or otherwise one was dinner and/or dessert. Seeking similarity-familiarity had survival value. But all forces that reside in the archaic human unconscious, they have a tendency to take neurotic proportions if uncheked by right education and example. No wonder, it is still a jungle out there because human education is still inspired by narcissistic values. But Humans are also good at finding complex rationalizations and justifications for their archaic unconscious. Yet there is a way out, it seems. Even Freud, the father of unconscious, was not without hope: “Whoever loves becomes humble. Those who love have, so to speak, pawned a part of their narcissism.”

But learning to love is the real question. How do I love thee, let me learn the ways.