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Celebrity narcissism reaching public?

Though I didn’t know it when I first picked up the book from my local library, one of the most interesting facts to me about The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism is Seducing America, initially, came with discovering the author’s background.

Dr. Drew Pinsky is the host of VH1’s Celebrity Rehab, a reality television show, thus making Dr. Pinsky a reality television star. The focus of his book is describing to America its fixation on celebrities and how a narcissistic behavior can result from that. Essentially, Dr. Pinsky tries to tell us that we’re all narcissistic in one way or another, and that this “pathology” stems from the media constantly covering celebrities and their lives. It’s a “celebrity fixation,” as Pinsky terms it.

Right off the bat I was struck with the pangs of hypocrisy, and I hadn’t even read the first page of the book; just the back cover and did a little research online about the author. (Actually, there are two authors – Dr. Drew Pinsky and social scientist Dr. S. Mark Young – but the second plays a minor role, aiding Pinsky in the actual studies with his expertise, and does not star on Celebrity Rehab with Pinsky. Therefore, when I pass a judgment like this one, I do not mean to include Dr. Young.)

So, to say the least, I wasn’t impressed at the start with this book, but then I began to dig into it.

Overall, I like what the book stands for, essentially Pinsky’s thesis on how celebrities are more narcissistic than the average Joe, which Pinsky classifies as “Narcissistic Personality Disorder.” He says, using psychological terms, that it’s apparently not self-love, but self-loathing and the “inability to form a sense of self without input from others” that results in this form of behavior and pathology.

The problem for American society with relation to this fixation of celebrities on themselves came with the Internet and the ability for people to put themselves in the public eye with something as simple as a video camera and access to YouTube. With this, Pinsky and Young want to demonstrate that celebrity narcissism is actually “luring American into a vicious trap” because it provides instant fame, and being “obsessed with celebrity can lead to dangerous mimicry of the worst celebrity behavior.” And, of course, since many celebrities can be unsympathetic to anyone hurt by their sometimes bad or “outrageously uncommon” behavior, copying it can lead to problems for everyone in American society.

This makes sense to me, though the first part I think I could have told you without a degree in psychology.

Pinsky then goes into detailing those most affected and prone to this behavior. He cites that those with the “greatest exposure to technological developments” are the most likely to fall into this “trap.” Of course, teenagers are the most obvious group because of their “body image obsession, sexual acting-out, drug use and diva behavior.” Pinsky points out that these are all ways that celebrity “gawkers” can inadvertently mimic bad celebrity behavior.

One of the most interesting portions of the book, to me, was when Pinsky and Young gave an example of how a typical American would respond to “typical” celebrity behavior. The example was when Britney Spears took her son out for a ride in her SUV, except the baby wasn’t in a car seat, but sitting on Spears’s lap, window rolled down for the whole world to see, which it did. Pinsky says on a typical American’s reaction to this story, “The person would dismiss it as spoiled or crazy.”

I agreed with this almost immediately, but soon had my thoughts challenged when Pinsky and Young brought up another point, and backed by psychological study.

Pinsky and Young want their readers to understand that narcissism isn’t just a personality trait, but it’s almost always the result of childhood trauma. The book goes on to describe the different sorts of trauma and to point out notable examples among today’s celebrities. The main idea behind this is that if we refuse to recognize the underlying cause of celebrity misbehavior, then we’ll never succeed in understanding it and may well end up encouraging it.

Since the behavior is rooted in childhood, this suggests that celebrities are not just normal people who behave badly or become “corrupted” by fame. Instead, they are drawn to the celebrity culture that satisfies their already narcissistic desires, which goes back to the thesis and how we all have narcissistic tendencies. It’s just whether these natural tendencies are stimulated and brought out of us.

I think this is a most important book for any parent of today to read. Celebrity is everywhere. Just start clicking through your cable television stations to see, or go to the grocery store and look at the covers of the magazines in the check-out line. It’s undeniable that celebrities are a huge focus for many of our media outlets. This, in turn makes celebrity impression and influence important because it will certainly have some impact on our society, particularly youths as this books points out. And instead of providing the negative aspects of this personality disorder, Pinsky and Young end with expert instruction on how parents can raise their children to prevent these narcissistic tendencies. Not to mention, the authors also provide at the end of the book a “Narcissistic Personality Inventory” so that the reader can see how narcissistic they really are, which I found to be extremely interesting.

Overall, I found the book to be a great mix of science and celebrity.