On Narcissism

January 10, 2013

More generational fodder for your thinking melancholy

I’ll be honest, when I read Gawker’s “Journalism is not Narcissism” last week, I tellingly thought it was a direct attack at me. The piece addressed an apparent flaw in how the American collegiate system teaches journalism. I am American, I went to college, and I was effectively taught how to become a journalist. But am I one? No. And why? Because I’d rather talk about me.

I’d originally seen the article because a former college professor of mine (he taught Criticism at The New School) posted it to his Facebook wall, teased with a line that read, “if you’ve been a student of mine, tattoo this to your ass.” Was that, too, a personal attack at me? Irony smacked me with a frying pan when I began reading and noticed another former college professor of mine (she taught Writing for Publication at The New School) was quoted in the article (for the sake of contention) waxing such controversial poetic as: “You have to grab the reader by the throat immediately, which is why I launched my second memoir with the line ‘In December my husband stopped screwing me.'” I had gotten an A in her class and now I had to wonder if that’s where I’d began fucking up.

Gawker isn’t wrong. The ability to anchor a good story and simultaneously possess the gift to share that story with tender, beautiful words is almost as true a rarity as a live seal reading The New Yorker over coffee at The Bowery Hotel. This is where the journalist, with his/her literary skill comes in: to season and finish preparing that already-cooked-but-not-quite-there-yet, meat.

The quoted professor isn’t wrong either–proven by a statistic offered in this week’s New York Magazine clocking in the number of Self Help books available for purchase at over 35,000. Where there’s that much supply, there’s obviously hearty demand, and when the demand in question all but speaks to the nature of our unanimously unilateral narcissistic demeanor (the writer is writing about him/herself, the reader is hoping to learn something about him/herself), we’ve got to wonder where we’re heading.

Subsisting in a world that is macroscopically catered to appease our independent selves is getting tiring. In reflecting on the epic re-branding of Apple Inc., it’s obvious that iPods, iMacs, iPhones, and iPads have changed the way in which we interact with technology, and due to the oneness factor, ourselves. With the growing popularity of consumption by way of tailored-to-self subscription, it is near impossible to step away from our newly-forged communi-me’s. At WWD’s CEO Summit earlier this week, Karl Lagerfeld noted that he has more couture clients now than he did 20 years ago. Isn’t that telling? Who needs ready-to-wear when we can have ready-for-me? Finally, with the inevitability that we have all become our own brands because of social media, we have also become obsessed with preserving ourselves. In 2013, we’re not really Generation Y anymore; we’ve become Generation I.

And if I know one thing about the collective us, it is that we’re obsessed with achieving happiness. I blame self-help. Reading true, naked tales of combat, defeat and a sweeping lesson learned from the devil’s mouth is honest, raw, and touching. It also incites feelings of inadequacy though. How can the writer arrive at this wildly fulfilling life, while, we, the reader, recoil at the thought of it?

Yesterday, I asked my younger brother if he thinks true, euphoric happiness is a real place. Admittedly, I’d began thinking that there are fleeting moments of happiness on a journey, yes, but that there’s no real destination. (I think I’m getting my period). He had a different idea. “Of course happiness is a real place, and the key to it is being happy.”

It’s a simple sentiment that when unpacked explains what we all know: state of mind is state of self, and what we feel, how we feel it, what we do with it is wholly in our control. This in turn really makes me wonder: if we’ve become so narcissistic, so obsessed with maintaining, bettering, becoming ourselves, why are we trying to achieve happiness instead of just be it? Conclusively, I want to say that we’ve got the power but that just might be the narcissism talking.

  • http://twitter.com/iamstyleeye StyleEye

    Thank you for presenting this! First, Happiness is bullshit, peace is what we should all strive for. And as a fellow “style blogger,” I don’t know why i used quotations as though I’m saying this title may or may not be official…where was i? Oh yes, as a fellow blogger, I have struggled to walk/write the line between making it about me vs presenting general inspired ideas. I was a journalist student at FIT in 2002, before the invention of social media, I’m pretty sure I wrote my first essay on a typewriter…Try eating more greens for your PMS;-)

  • Keely

    It takes a degree of humility to be happy. The constant (narcissistic) persona-editing that millennials do online doesn’t help them to “be happy.”

  • http://www.EatStylePlay.com/ Eat.Style.Play

    Well i just got mine today and i can’t read this article all the way through because i feel like someone is bungy jumping from my lady bits. Anyway what I did read was new for me, a topic i’ve never thought of. I think i just get irratated at Narcissitic people who are boring. The ones who take selfies of themselves everyday with the caption good morning/night those are the ones who make me wish social media didn’t give them a platform…at all. But this year I want it to be about me. I’ve given so many of my years to catering to others it’s tiring as well. but I don’t think this is about “bettering ourselves” in that sense.

    • http://www.EatStylePlay.com/ Eat.Style.Play

      ….that was probably TMI but then I remembered where I am haha….and excuse any typos. The massive amount of painkillers I’m on don’t allow me to spellcheck today -__-

  • Agnes

    Bravo Leandra! Thank you for a great read!

  • Courtney – Mamasheels.com

    Now that the average neighbor is a reality star and entire lives are documented through blogs, mine included, journalism has been forced to evolve into a somewhat narcissistic venture. Personal branding is now almost more important than professional resumes for most of us. I find it an interesting twist, though I do at times long for the days when my first interaction with the world each morning was a newspaper, not a celebrity gossip outlet or my personal social media pages.

  • http://janmarcel.com/ Michiel

    Absolutely love your writing style!

    http://www.janmarcel.com/

  • http://www.facebook.com/SynderelaPage Synderela Story

    goes back to “Love yourself first before you can love another”…simple, but true….which now makes me want to quote Shakespheare & supports the argument still; “To thine own self be true” It’s old stuff that ironically has become New Age. & we’re selling it too…One of a Kind, Original SYN. xx Synderela

  • http://www.facebook.com/drew.martino Drew Martino

    People will never ever be truly blissfully happy. We are constantly searching for something else. We are either worrying about tomorrow or dwelling on the past.

    • Leandra Medine

      I’m also just not sure that “lifes meaning” IS happiness. Why are have conditioned ourselves to believe that it’s sweeping goal?

      • the (un?)social butterfly

        I´m not sure there is a meaning to life and that is precisely the reason why I think the best thing to do is to be happy (and, again, the discussion about that not meaning trying to achieve happiness). No?

        http://humanwomen.wordpress.com

  • Claudia

    I agree that we have become Generation I…and I also think it keeps getting worse and worse with the younger generations! But maybe this IS our way of being happy…there isn’t right or wrong way don’t you think?

    http://www.lovealwaysmini.com

  • lavieenliz

    you should write books! you have such a great writing style!

    http://lavieenliz.com

  • Eve

    As a proponent of self-help books (currently reading Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit and before that The Language of Emotions) I respectfully disagree with your theory. We all are a bit narcissistic at times as it is was natural evolution of the ego’s self preservation, as well as growth. While it is certainly true that your generation’s (I am Gen X) obsession with social media and the internet leads to an information overload, and allows the focus to be on all the wrong things, if every day we ask ourselves, “Am I better today than I was yesterday,” how can that not benefit the world as a whole?
    Emerson stated in Self Reliance, “The wealth of the universe is for me. Everything is explicable and practical for me.” Was he narcissistic? Perhaps, but try and imagine a world without the ripple effects of his writings. Just as your blog may be considered by some to be feeding the superficial, self-absorbed consumption of our capitalist society that you speak of, others, such as myself, consider it a much needed, individualistic diversion away from the sexual debasement of young women so pervasive in our culture.

    Also, happiness is overrated. Try joy, contentment, or peace instead.

    • Leandra Medine

      CONTENTMENT. That’s the one.

    • http://www.anorexicescapades.com/ BougieHippie

      Brilliant!

    • dira

      wait love this!

    • Addison

      This is so true. We waste all of our ime checking instagram and twitter for information that we could clearly do without.
      I, too, love Man Repeller because she inspires us to dress for ourselves and be individuals. AKA, not give a fuck what other people think! It’s incredibly freeing. Awesome post.

      http://willcodeforclothes.com

  • Jamie

    As a person who eats up self help books, I truly loved this post!

    http://www.inspirationlush.com

  • Dawn

    Maybe to many, happiness seems so far away, because it’s mostly linked to things you should achieve first. But as most people who ARE happy or have experienced happiness will tell you, happiness lies in the little things, you just have to stop to notice them….
    Also, I think you brother brings it to the point most times, he should do a guest post.

  • Lindsey

    True journalism and narcissism are diametrically opposed. The idea is to remove yourself from the piece, while leaving your voice. It’s difficult, and initially less rewarding, but we’ve seen the opposite form of journalism for too long. It’s no wonder the public doesn’t trust us anymore. But then, narcissistic journalists don’t want their trust, do they? They just want to be liked.

    • Ekah

      do they want to be liked or do they want to find ‘truth’? In relation to journalism, might the trend of pointing out the writer’s perspective and experiences be a response to the demand for revealing how that truth was shaped?

  • http://twitter.com/BrittanyPMF Brittany Fowler

    Good lord your writing is on FIRE. Love this, I was lol’ing for realz.

  • Guest

    And how many times do we throw “likes” at pictures of shit (figuratively speaking, of course) uploaded by people we genuinely like (you know, in real life?) just to give them a virtual hug? When a friend (that real-life kind of friend, again) does not show their positive reinforcement for the outfit you wore shopping, can this be taken as an insult? Another hole left to be filled by compete strangers, instead? The power of a “like” is scary, but so is the power of NOT “liking” something. Social media junkies are hooked on the drug of re-tweets, double-clicks and thumbs up. There may not be a bag of drugs in your pocket, but there sure as hell is a phone.

    • Will Code For Clothes

      Couldn’t agree more. Retweets and likes on instagram photos are disgustingly satisfying. It’s worse than a fucking drug.
      http://willcodeforclothes.com

    • m.a.r.

      that’s the point, absolutely agree

  • The Lingerie Lesbian

    I always struggle to make a dividing line between self-indulgent vanity and compelling, journalistic subject matter. However, the truth is, my subject is very much me and people like me. I think that something the article failed to address it its mourning of the death of objectivity and the removal of the ego is how biased such an “anti-ego” can be. The faceless, nameless journalist defaults to straight and white (and often male)– now that there is more of a celebration (or even merely acceptance) of diversity, there can be a recognition that identity actually changes the conversation.

    To turn this comment more personal (fittingly), when I go around in my daily life or even post online without the moniker “The Lingerie Lesbian,” everyone assumes I’m straight. No matter what. And I could just let that be, I could have chosen a different name for my blog, I could have gone on to write about lingerie and fashion and pretending that my identity has nothing to do with my subject matter. But that’s just not true– who I am is important and has everything to do with my writing, especially because of the lack of similar voices and that my views on gender and sexuality are affected by a position outside the mainstream.

    Assuming that “Generation I” is just an egotistical mess assumes that there is no value in our individuality, which I heartily disagree with.

    thelingerielesbian.com

  • http://twitter.com/laprintemps Julia Schramm

    It is so interesting to see how you instantly applied the articles intention to yourself – because isn’t this the core of narcissism? Don’t get me wrong: I read the article and just because I consider myself explicitly not as a journalist I survived the read. I have been thinking about (digital) narcissism a lot as I am a blogger myself (political blogger and without pictures (yet!!) and in German .. I only got two posts in English and you will probably only love the one about the amazing poem by mark grist on why reading girls are sexy http://juliaschramm.de/category/english/ – but I lost track :D) and super active in social media, which strictly speaking killed my political career. And made it possible in the first place. But people don’t like to self conscious politicians – so I decided to be fabulous and narcissistic and not a politician ;-)

    The real problem here is that social media forces you to depict yourself. It starts with the picture, what kind of name you choose, which spots you fill with what kind of content. It’s narcissm in sheer purity, because it is indeed all about sharing yourself and what you are doing. This is the very concept. And somehow people are interested in it – be honest: The most popular posts are the ones where you show the outfits, isn’t it? Kind of reverse-narcissism: Watching people displaying themselves nurses the narcissism a lot of people can never live publicly, because their bound to a nerve wrecking job or whatever. So the people admire the ones earning money with self-portraying. Simultaneously they hate it, because it seems that those people are super happy and strong and shit, which is not true as we both probably know ….

    And btw. is this actually just the consequence of the radical individualism that became the ideal in the western modern hemisphere. But this is an essay I will write sometime different. Maybe in English.

    Apart from that: I love your blog, although it’s “just” about fashion. Your writing is superb and as a non-native very instructing for me. If all the fashion-victims were like you – the world would be a much better place <3

  • the (un?)social butterfly

    Regarding happiness, I am perfectly in tune with your young brother and your own epiphany; however, I am sure there is a difference between bettering and becoming ourselves and being narcissistic. True self-improvement — of the kind that yes, might lead to a state of serene and rather constant happiness — requires absolute detachment from the very notion of self-image, which is key to narcissism.

    But don´t worry — you write far less about yourself than you apparently believe. :) On the other hand, woman, you are a public figure and that is part of what you do for a living — it is perfectly reasonable for you to care about your likes.

    http://humanwomen.wordpress.com

  • http://viennarightnow.wordpress.com/ Chael

    Narcissism is not the same as constructing one’s identity, which we all have to do everyday, as we dont have such a thing as a ‘natural’ identity, that is just awaiting its uncovering …

    http://www.viennarightow.wordpress.com

  • http://www.vintageobserver.com/ Couteau @VintageObserver

    That’s a very modern tendency, to project manage life. Calling it branding doesn’t make it any better.

    Reminds me of a recent article by Clarissa Tan where she says, “In my frenzy to get everything out of life, I’ve often squeezed the life out of everything”.

    Link to her article for those interested. http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/8802271/mortality-and-missing-socks/

  • aitanareimondez

    It´s all about to create your own personal image like a brand does ;)

    http://ladytrendy.blogspot.com

    xoxo

  • SJP

    I read that article with interest as I studied journalism too and I do think that, for a want of a better word ‘softer’ journalism is definitely becoming more and more about the author in some cases.

    As for happiness and our constant quest for it, it couldn’t be more accurate. As well as that I’d add the constant need to prove that we’re happy – not just enjoying it ourselves but actively promoting it through social media.

    Ship-Shape and Bristol Fashion

  • Paola

    The pursuit of eternal and permanent “happiness” is unhealthy and an unattainable goal… it’s an American thing, part of “the dream” maybe?

  • Nicole

    Aw, I sure hope those professors weren’t making indirect jabs in your direction. I decided the other day that unhappiness is pretty much controllable.

  • http://cirquedelatelier.blogspot.com/ Cirque de l’Atelier

    Blogs will never be considered sources of journalism. Don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing?? Obvious pros and cons to both sides.

  • http://twitter.com/Heirloom1982 Oana Leonte

    We are all narcissists underneath but just don’t like to admit it. That’s why happiness does not exist as a permanent feeling, but as bits and pieces of moments that you decide to offer some one else for free.

  • http://twitter.com/contentnet contentnet

    Your post makes me wonder whether narcissism is a term that is applied to loosely.

    In today’s world, many people are not lucky enough to land a corporate job, or even a job at a small, family-owned company. It is possible, though, but it is not as common as it used to be, though. My point is that, to a certain degree, one was expected to be humble when working for others. But today, the game has changed a bit. Many bloggers, for example, are self-employed. They are not working for a corporation, unless they are affiliates of a group-publishing franchise.

    If one is self-employed, or at least a self-starter, having an ego can also lend itself to developing a point-of-view. This can be a good thing, too.

    A point-of-view that can be maintained can solidify one’s brand and, voila, one may be seen as an expert. In the process, one may draw the ire of those who are not so adept. It is from this place that the label “narcissist” may arise; it can be used as an epithet against one who knows her own mind.

    Contentment comes with knowing thyself. Naysayers, will be naysayers.

  • Maria B

    I (as a member of the collective us, I suppose) have asked many of these questions too, Leandra… but ironically I tend to believe that true happiness and contentment can only come when we forget ourselves and live to serve others. I’ve certainly felt that to be true in the rare moments of my life when I can say I’ve at least tried my hardest to forget myself and take up another’s proverbial cross for a moment. (I’m rarely successful, but there is joy in trying.) The irony that our increasing self-obsession, in our attempt to find happiness, could be the exact reason that we can’t find it is too poetic not to be true…

  • http://twitter.com/NyaLogos HOSNYA A|K

    The older we get, the more being happy is a conscious decision. I agree with your brother’s statement. I think the place we are all looking for may sometimes just lie before our very eyes, while we are too blind to realise, due to our lack of appreciation and negligent acting. True happiness should not feel like an extravaganza, but it should be sprinkled on those moments we can share with our loved ones.

  • http://twitter.com/looksharpWI Look Sharp Sconnie

    You don’t achieve happiness, you make it.

    deep sista

  • Jane

    This is just something random—don’t you think bloggers should put up a disclaimer, for SPONSORED posts? I feel incredibly let down by Rumi, Karla & Emily, who don’t disclose when an item was free/a post was sponsored.

  • Erin

    A wise man once said, “We’re all just waiting for our turn to talk”

    • oldbobbydraper

      you have had way too many turns to talk.

  • Nelya

    This is a question that I try to answer every single day too. Since so many people try to reach happiness as if it’s a destination, then what happens when you reach. Yeah, you’re happy. But, then what?
    Overall, I think happiness isn’t a place but, as you have stated previously, snipets of time of our journey.

  • cheersdaily.wordpress.com

    “I am American, I went to college, and I was effectively taught how to become a journalist. But am I one? No. And why? Because I’d rather talk about me.” -you rock

  • http://madamecouture.blogspot.com/ Emma H

    To mold a quote to this context, Anais Nin once said “we don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”

  • http://www.alterationsneeded.com/ Alterations Needed

    My domestic man-friend is currently reading “The Dictator’s Handbook”. We’ve got to worry where we’re heading indeed…

  • CDJ

    This was great. I was thinking these thoughts this morning while listening to Rihanna’s “Diamonds” about the part where she says “I chose to be happy.” I think with social media people like to display just how “HAPPY” they are. I often see facebook statues that just say “HAPPY” with a stupid smile emoticon next to it. Then it makes you say, “Why are they happy? What do they have that I don’t? Are they as happy as me? How can I prove that I am happier?” Like some freaking contest. She/He who is the happiest wins? As if it were something that could be measured, or as you put it, achieved. IMA JUST BE HAPPY, or happy that I’m not at the level of happy I desire, but its still ok.

  • Jowhara Mahomed

    Flippin good piece ! Had me on the edge of my seat here, being a so called ‘budding blogger’ and reflecting on posts I easy felt the article was aimed at me

  • Caroline

    I really think you’d find some compelling ideas in “Radical Gratitude”. It is indeed a bit radical but it covers topics like narcissism, accepting what is and what happiness is, giving up the idea of more, more, more, the problem with buying our identity…, how self-improvement is not just that. Much of it has to do with now and realizing, (and this is where it may be radical to some) that we’re not here for ourselves, but for the higher power that is. Of course, not for everyone but definitely some interesting ideas surrounding one’s “self.” Check it out, especially if you’re okay with trying to wrap your head around new ideas :)

  • http://twitter.com/EstherFreedman Esther Freedman

    great piece, and by the way, the journey IS the destination. if you want to be happy, enjoy the ride.

    http://www.cuteheads.com

  • anu dean

    I don’t think a little bit of wanting to be better is necessarily a bad thing. It gives us something to look forward too. But I guess I can see your point too.

    http://www.visceralmaze.blogspot.com

    Anu

  • http://twitter.com/AleeeMarr Alejandra

    The problem with my generations obsessions with social media, self-help, and “I” is that we are currently killing all the caterpillars (getting rid of the reality) yet in 5 years we’re going to wonder where all the damn butterflies are at.

  • Leandra Medine

    It IS a drug

  • Roberta Klein

    Muito bom!

  • Jenny

    You’re an incredible writer
    My-floordrobe.blogspot.com

  • Natalie

    I believe that happiness is something you can find in yourself without even really looking. All it takes is to tell yourself you’re happy. What we’re looking for isn’t happiness, it’s this selfish state of utter bliss and complete attainment which is non-existent and when you think about it, totally unrealistic…

  • http://www.facebook.com/TheGodsofVictory Joel Harris

    Keep making shit. It looks good on you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/TheGodsofVictory Joel Harris

    And BTW, your pseudonym is the best fucking thing ever. (yes, I read. I write too … but not for this forum) … I remain a fan, though. So do my friends in the fashion/makeup scene. Keep it repellant! .. ;-)

  • fairytalesandcoffee

    Wow. I need to follow you now because of that incredible write up. Your writing is vivid. I am not a fashionista and I don’t like repelling clothes, but your point of view and style of writing are worth following and reading.

  • http://twitter.com/AradYam Dara May

    comes to mind… GIRLS: “I’m an individual and I feel how I feel when I feel it.”

  • J.

    I’m thinking..Is there a we in narcissism?

  • tstar33

    Can’t quite begin to explain how much that resonates (with ME yeah you can’t get away from it) – I need to tell my analyst today after 6 years, yeah 6, I know right, that I’m done, I’m OK, it’s over, I’m not coming back because – I’m ‘happy yay’ …. but what’s happy and am I?… it’s a question that has no answer -I want her to tell me I’m fine/free/’happy’ but I think she wants me to say it first – for me to tell her I’M HAPPY… but i don’t know if I’m happy – I do know 6 years is too long but… is it a plausible idea… happiness.. as a sustainable state… surely its a reactionary emotion, surely its momentary, surely it pertains to an action OR is it that – you’re either an analytical neurotic person searching for ‘peace of mind aka happiness’ or someone who’s mellow, happy in your skin and pootling along saying ‘this is OK, I’m OK, every things OK – happy’ and bascially it’s the old lottery of life which you are and whether you were anywhere near the front of the self-esteem/contented queue or were beaten by the paralysing need for perfect and over analytical stick – life seems to be a direct conflict between “i have enough, I’m clothed, loved, comfortable, there we go, that’s enough, (guilt guilt) I’m so bloody privileged to be in the 1st World (let alone got a pretty comprehensive wardrobe of I Marant) which then whilst brushing your teeth or picking a scab flips into wanting more happiness and its all about me and I want to be the best me, the happiest me I can be and where does happy live and what does she look like and I need to find the switch – my own personal switch that’ll ping on my happy … someone should make one and call it the ihappy. Wish me luck.

  • Claire

    I LOVE THIS ARTICLE thank you so much for sharing. “state of mind is state of self, and what we feel, how we feel it, what we do with it is wholly in our control.” perfect

  • m.a.r.

    that’s brilliant, Leandra. My congrats