The word "narcissist" means egotistical, self-focused, and vain. That's today's modern society. Selfies, social media and video challenges - society is becoming inundated with and defined by the me, myself and I culture. And it can move from harmless egotistical banter on Facebook to acting out violently in a local shopping mall for real or perceived online slights. In other socially and emotionally damaging ways -- beyond the "selfies" shared to vapid, mostly air-headed consumers -- are the extremes that explain the age of the "me first" culture.
In America today men are obsessed with "six pack" abs, movie star faces, and tanned bodies that would make the Greek god Dionysus green with envy. Girls, as young as sixteen years old, are getting breast implants, butt jobs, sculptured nose enhancements and every kind of self-obsessed cosmetic surgery money can buy. Many are dissatisfied with themselves, the way the look, or some body part and bolt straight into the plastic surgeon's waiting arms for cosmetic solace. For this industry its big, big lucrative business.
We're routinely privy to the narcissistic tantrums of adolescents and mature men and women suffering from the Peter Pan Syndrome -- they never grow up. The facts are compelling: Five times as many Americans undergo plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures as ten years ago, and ordinary people hire fake paparazzi to follow them around to make them look famous. High school students physically attack classmates and post YouTube videos of the beatings to get attention. And for the past several years, Americans have been buying McMansions and expensive cars on credit they can't afford.
Ah, history or Greek mythology is certainly our guide on this one. The story goes that there was once a young man named Narcissus who was so vain that he fell in love with his own reflection in the water and died. In some versions of the mythological tale from Ancient Greece, Narcissus was transformed into a flower that today carries the name narcissus, or daffodil.
Today's narcissists come in many different shapes, sizes and forms. We see middle aged, pot-bellied men, guts spilling over size 50+ trousers, acting like adolescent young men trying to seduce young women, some the ages of their teenage daughters. Likewise, we see overweight women sporting rolls of protruding belly fat wearing clothes fit for Niki Minaj and company. In both cases these narcissistic denizens of society appear oblivious to the bemused head shaking from members of the public as they view their grotesque physical characteristics. Or maybe they've made enemies with Mr. Mirror.
Although these seem like a random collection of current trends, all are rooted in a single underlying shift in American culture: the relentless rise of narcissism, a very overly positive and inflated -- mostly erroneous - view of self. All narcissists believe they are better than others, lack emotionally warm and caring relationships, constantly seek attention, and treasure material wealth and physical appearance above all else.
How else can one explain the fact that in 2013 "Selfie" was awarded word of the year by the prestigious Oxford Dictionary? Capturing an image of oneself -- once the purview of despondent artists-- has become an accepted international pastime. We are witnessing the making of the most narcissistic generation of our time. Children growing up with no concept of life before selfies and Instagram, and popularity measured by likes.
And it's not just young people with idiotic "selfie sticks" but baby boomers -- those over 65 - as well grandparents in their 80s getting on the "me, myself and I" trend. But, admittedly, the most narcissistic generation are young people -- teenagers and young adults in their mid-20s. Nowadays, it is not uncommon to see young narcissists take 50 or 60 photos of themselves, change poses (the backside is now very popular profile photo) in about 15 minutes and be utterly and completely oblivious to everyone in their immediate vicinity.
So absorbed in "me, myself and I" these narcissists fail to appreciate their surroundings, the beauty of nature or any activity save them, or those with them in it. For narcissists, the continued explosion of social networking and media has provided them with productivity tools to continually expand their reach and continue to grow their oversized egos -- the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Foursquare, and occasionally Google Plus. Moreover, digital technology pioneered by Apple, has handed the narcissist with even more tools clothed and couched in the language of the narcissist-- Ipad, Iphone, Imac and even Icloud.
But the danger in all this is that narcissism hides very fragile, insecure and oftentimes needy personalities. Narcissists bristle at the slightest of offenses that appear to question their behavior. Their picky egos explode in vicious revenge egged on by the warped thinking that "he or she is out to get me." The situation becomes even more volatile when verbal Internet combat spills over into violent encounters in public spaces.
On the Internet - virtual space - many of the physical interactions that restrain any kind of behavior in "real time" vanishes. Delusions of grandeur, narcissism, viciousness, cowardess, impulsivity, and infantile behavior for some individuals rise to the surface. Long held peeves, gripes and personal jealousies boil over into vicious, delusional acts. Group spite, ridicule and virtual gang activity can go so far as to bear responsibility for or end in suicide and murder.
Narcissists have no humility, no doubts, and no empathy. Whatever life or luck or others may have helped them to achieve, they feel that they deserve it all, and more. They have worked for everything they have, whereas others who have suffered setbacks and misfortune simply have made bad choices or been lazy. And if others have been cheated and abused, then they deserve it for being stupid.
They are often judgmental and racist, and brimming over with hateful scorn for others, unless they can be co-opted into their sphere of influence and behave according to the narcissist's world and rules.
And, please don't view this as Generation Y bashing and not "understanding" this new generation and its fads -- from wearing pants below the accepted definition of a "waist line." Today's youth are incredible and talented. But narcissists can be talented, smart and bright. That's not the point; it's beside the point. I'm really speaking about this generation of youths who are bored by EVERYTHING that is not centered on them and what they want to do. You see them moping and sullen at McDonalds or holding court in some public place -- loud, foul-mouthed, obnoxious and irritating.
They adore and fanaticize over and about Kim Kardashian's ample derriere and mug for whatever camera is near, usually their own, and then avidly posting selfies on Facebook. When they do get a job they want a big salary and retirement at the same time, while living at their parents' home. They are weekend divas and hunks swilling Hennessy and Moet while playing at being the local nouveau riche. And I'm sad for them because no amount of selfies will help them find themselves.
There is no app for selflessness, kindness and concern for others. All of us cannot be rich and famous, good-looking and business savvy. Yes, today's X generation should look to emulate the positive and progressive. But how can they do that in a modern climate dominated by big media escapism, reality TV, movie stars and pompous mavens packaged by millions of dollars of cosmetic surgery to look as Venus and Hercules? No, until sanity prevails the insanity of "my, myself and I" will rule the day.
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