Take it or leave it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

THE CULT OF PERSONALITY DISORDERS

In Welcome to Me, Kristen Wiig plays a somewhat dysfunctional woman who wins the lottery and uses the money to buy her own talk show.

In being self-centered she is not alone. This is after all the Me generation. Though the term was coined by the writer Tom Wolfe in the 70s to refer to the self-involved baby boomers (born between the years 1946 and 1964) it now also applies to Millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000) and really anyone in between. Like Wiig's character, who was born in '71.

Because these days, who hasn't taken a selfie? Who doesn't Twitter? Or post personal pictures on Facebook? Who hasn't self-published a book? And memoirs abound, most of them poorly written and by people who have no business writing them. Guilty as charged.

The trend was fueled by the Internet, which makes sharing so simple, and led by celebrities who became famous for being famous, including Paris Hilton, or famous for being infamous, like Lorena Bobbitt, who cut off her partner's pecker, and of course the queen of them all, Kim Kardashian. I propose that if you recognize the name, or the face, or the backside, of this attention-hoarding vixen, you spend too much time on the Internet. I spend too much time on the Internet.


Movies predicted the rise of the average person for nothing at all, based in part on the common person's penchant for tuning in to the lives of others. In Edtv a video store clerk, played by Matthew McConaughey, agrees to have his life filmed by a camera crew for a television show. The movie came out in 1999, a decade before YouTube and Facebook became household names and made the "living on display" phenomenon an everyday reality for every individual with a webcam or an iPhone.
What has been the result? You know the type. "Now that I've told you about me, what do you think about me?" Self-absorbed, self-involved, obsessed with personal image. In the 80's the group Living Colour came out with a song that sounds like an anthem for this new age. And it is aptly titled "Cult of Personality." It came out in the 80's. Prescient. The video features personalities such as Martin Luther King and JFK. Today's greats? Not so much.


The selfie type is far too prevalent. And with so many talking heads (one for every Twitter account, and there are 236 million active monthly users) one wonders, is anyone even listening? Does anyone even care whether they are heard? Nobody reads these posts, but I keep writing them.

The textbooks will tell you that the term personality generally describes a person's observable behavior and her subjectively reportable inner experience. Both the public and the private aspects of her life. But now the public and private have merged to become one. People with personality disorders, and Wiig's Alice Klieg is one of them, are dysfunctional. They are far more likely to refuse psychiatric help and deny their problems than those with other psychiatric conditions, like depression or anxiety.

In the film, Alice has borderline personality disorder, whose flaws appear most glaringly in the realms of interpersonal relationship and self-image, and whose characteristics include unstable and intense relationships, a shaky self-image, impulsivity (whether in spending or sex or substance abuse), suicidal threats, and mood fluctuations. Wiig does a comic spin but in reality this personality is anything but a good time, at least not for long.

Sound like anyone you know? It does to me. It seems so many walk the line, the border line, with a bit of narcissism thrown in for good measure. Narcissistic traits include an exaggerated sense of self-importance, fantasies of brilliance and beauty, a belief that the person is "special and unique," and worthy of intense admiration. Such a person usually lacks empathy and is often exploitative and envious of others, not to mention arrogant and entitled. (And indeed a 2008 meta-analysis of 85 studies showed that narcissism is on the rise in young adults in the West.)

Do you read that description and see ME? Is ME you or is it me? I usually include a personal anecdote in these posts that nobody reads because I think it makes it more personal. Because in this age of plagiarism, the days of cut and paste, when every catchy phrase is a click away and if you make it your own who will ever know, there is nothing new under the sun - and yet, we all are still snowflakes, and what happens to you happens to you alone. That at least is legit.

(To prove my point, I challenge you to think of a unique title for a movie or book, one that has never been thought of before. Go ahead, think on it. Next  visit amazon.com and imdb.com and see whether your one of a kind title has been used before. I guarantee you it has. If it hasn't, let me know and I promise to put your title that is not nonsensical on the cover of my next book, which I'll likely never write because without an audience, why would I? But still, a challenge is a challenge.)

And I like writing about myself. Don't we all? Who isn't her own favorite subject? But I am a good listener too. Are you? Do to others, as they say.

You know where I'm going with this. It all boils down to who we are really talking about, when we say ME. There is a marked difference between Klieg's self-absorption on the one hand, and the self-awareness we are urged by mystics and metaphysicians to cultivate on the other. One is subjective, the other objective. You can remain locked in your own head, slave to your limited point of view, believing yourself to be this bundle of flesh and bone living in your own fucked up little world (perfect though it sometimes may seem, at least) OR you can train yourself to see your thoughts and actions as if through the eyes of another.

Get out of your own brain! You may find your most cherished notions and behavior quaint if not totally insane. In which case it will be worth a good laugh. Stop taking yourself so seriously. View your life as though it were happening to someone else. Your antics are the new slapstick. Be the butt of your own jokes for a change. Because really, who's dumb and dumber than you (other than me)?


We can all use a bit more humor. Welcome to Me (which I do plan to see) probably isn't as funny as the preview suggests. Don't you hate it when they cram all the best lines into the trailer? I'm sure she learns valuable life lessons and comes out a changed person and for the better in the end. Ho-hum.

Still, Wiig's aight. I'd let her, you know, laugh at my ass any day. Or send me a selfie. Preferably of her backside. But I'm not picky that way.

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