Twenge suggests that brainwashing by the media has contributed to much of the narcissism in US culture. In the past, people just envied and competed with their neighbors. With television, they were able to see how people in different classes and different parts of the United States. As a result, people began to deserve the lifestyles and belongings of the extremely wealthy, which they might not have been aware of in pre-television and internet days. Keeping up with the Joneses was taken to an international level.
Twenge blames reality TV shows for the exceleration of this problem in the US. I agree with her but I personally think the problem began back in the late 1980's. Long before reality TV, long before Sex and the City, the baby boomers of America had their reality forever altered by thirtysomething. It not only changed their lives but those of their children, the current Generation Y (or as Twenge calls them, Generation Me.)
Back in the mid-80’s, many baby boomers were fans of the television series thirtysomething. Set in Philadelphia, it was about several yuppies who were adjusting to yuppiedom after spending their college years as flower-children. They lived in large, clean, nicely decorated houses that looked like shoots for an upscale home furnishings catalogs and were stay-at-home moms or artily employed single women depressed over their lack of suitable dating prospects. The men all seemed to make huge amounts of money as lawyers or advertising executives. All the characters spent much time obsessing over every action they took, whether raising their child, working, or the man they broke up with years earlier.
While I found the show depressing, I knew many baby boomers and Gen X'ers who took this show as the model for their life and those of their children. They wanted the lavish house, the life where the main focus was on children (one character quit a part-time job as a fact checker because she was unable to find time to rear her child), the refusal to take politics seriously, the culture where a single woman was pitied and miserable and people who tried to effect social change were ridiculed. I also knew people who took this show as a model in how NOT to live their life, but they were a minority.
The next show to have such a major impact on US life was Sex and the City, which will be considered in my next post.