Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Narcissism: It's All About Me!

"That's enough about me. What do you think about me?"

My first blog post was on May 28, 2004, so I am fast approaching my fifth anniversary. I blogged then about my dogs (favorite line: Spotted dogs come from God. There is no doubt.), my garden, my children, much as I do now, but with more restraint, desperate that my identity should not be revealed. Of course now it matters little whether or not people know who I am, but at the time I had a Big Job and Lots of Responsibility and Clients to Protect. I could not compromise my position, I thought. Here is a lovely picture of Mr Smith & me from around that time, one of the few pictures of myself on the blog. Which leads me to a brilliant segue.

A book about our culture of narcissism is being touted on NPR. In The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement, Jean Twenge argues that celebrity culture, focus on body image and the current trend towards plastic surgery have fueled an alarming trend in narcissism, particularly in young women of college age.

At a dinner party on Saturday night, I set next to two writers, one of whom was married to a leggy blonde Russian ballerina and the other who decided to lecture me on the moral depravity of Twitter. "I think Ashton Kutcher is a huge ego-maniac" he announced, rather predictably. Other middle-aged men near us nodded and mumbled in agreement. "I don't care to know what he has for breakfast," he continued, "It's so boring." I pointed out that he might be following the wrong people because I find that my twits often have very interesting things to say, or funny, or sad. He waved his hand at me, the way that English men used to do when I was a child , although he was decidedly not English. I tried a different tack, "Don't you think that Twitter has done rather a good job of cutting out the middle man, ie. the paparazzi?" I asked. "Afterall, what exclusive pictures can those poor photographers get when Ashton is posting pictures of Demi's bottom in a bikini bending over while ironing a shirt." "Nonsense," he said. My dear host then came to my rescue. "Miss Whistle is a former publicist," he said. Bless him for not spitting the word into his New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc "and she knows a bit about this." (Because it's MY blog, I can end on this note without giving you the benefit of his pithy reply. Truth is, he didn't have one. The convo petered out as we concentrated on our delicious saffron risotto and the man on my right, it turned out, was rather nice, just not up to speed on social media.)

Of course there are dullards and narcissists and sociopaths on Twitter, but there are nutters in real life too. And you avoid them. My old friend Rollo once said (about horror films, I believe, or maybe roller coasters):
"Some things exist in the world and you can be aware of their existence without actively seeking them out."
The most surprising aspect of Twitter is how extraordinarily polite and considerate everyone is to each other. A man I follow yesterday tweeted about a lady next to him on the bus with "excess back-fat" and went on to say something extremely mean. I immediately stopped following him. It revealed something deeply unkind about him, not just a funny joke at the expense of an overweight woman on the bus, but something a bit flawed in his character. Hey, I'm sure someone else though it hilarious, but I didn't really want to hear it.

Blogs contain nothing that wasn't otherwise available in books or newspapers. The only thing they have over books is spontaneity and the lack of an editor or a fact-checker. Therefore, nothing particularly new or groundbreaking is being said that couldn't have been accessed on some level before. Blogs serve different purposes. They can be online diaries, photo albums for the family, short stories, contain amusing anecdotes, be dedicated to one passion or another, fulfil a scrapbooking role, or scurrillous sources of gossip. I wrote my blog for years in a vacuum, absolutely terrified that anyone would read it. Only my very best friends knew about it, perhaps two or three people, and they were all sworn to secrecy. I was terrified that my English family would find out and be shocked at my vulgarity. But I was bursting. My blog was where I poured all my frustration with my job, all my secret longing, all my pent-up anger, and all my delighted musings about my life. I didn't really want anyone to see it. I was ashamed of it. I just needed to have a place to go and for me, it felt more cathartic than pen on paper. I'm not sure that vanity had much to do with it; for me, it was more like self-preservation.


[nahr-suh-siz-em] Show IPA –noun
1. inordinate fascination with oneself; excessive self-love; vanity.
2. Psychoanalysis. erotic gratification derived from admiration of one's own physical or mental attributes, being a normal condition at the infantile level of personality development.

Last night, I had three Twit friends for supper. Two of them are bloggers. One of them I'd never met before. Another I knew very little. We talked and laughed until midnight, finding a surprising amount of common ground. I discoverd that many of the people, most of whom are women, that I follow on Twitter, are friends, and yet they haven't met each other in "real life". However, they share real-life concerns and interests and humour. They are also fellow bloggers (look at the list in the right hand column to see the blogs I love).

And so now I'm not alone. I belong to a funny, warm community of people who do what I do and don't find it strange in the least. I'm out of my self-imposed closet. And we live in a democracy, so if you don't like the same things as I do, you are more than welcome to seek out other blogs, other sites that are more to your taste. That's the beauty of the whole thing. Birds of a feather whistling together, and all that.


Liberty London Girl said...

I always thought a blog and, especially, Twitter was a frightful exercise in Narcissim. And that forums, chatrooms, penpals were the last resort of the friendless and odd. Now I realise I am just as odd as everyone else out there. And I wldn't change a thing about it. My blog & Twitter friends are a blessing.

And what a wonderful collection of photographs you have posted! Funny how we are all slowly cracking out of our blog eggs, slowly unfurling our feathers, so to speak.

Have written already on snail mail, but blissful last night. Mille mercis LLGxx

Sarah said...

Narcissism. Narcissists (well the ones I know) usually lack any curiousity about others and yet the whole point of twitter is to find out what's going on with everyone else..I thought love s xxx

Sindre said...

Dear Miss W;

as someone with near-fatal allergies to narcissism and banalities - and isn't it funny that we know each other from our previous lives? - I just wanted you to know that I really enjoy reading your blog, and consider it as worthwhile an endeavor as anything. I've come to realize that the only commonality in everything I like in life, is a sense of imperative. It could be punk rock or Borges; if it doesn't matter to the artist, it can't possibly matter to me, now can it? (Narcissism is exclusively of imperative interest to the Narcissist - that's how we can spot them from afar, and get out of their way.) Anyway - this piece explained to me why your blog matters to you, and thus must matter to me.

Miss Whistle said...

thank you for your words; i'm not quite sure how to thank you properly for saying such nice things. we've definitely been through the battlefield together and come out the other side. thank you for caring.xx

I love that we're all unfurling our feathers, watching each other's progress xoxo

You're completely right. thanks so much for commenting xx

-- MissW

Tania Kindersley said...

The perfect blog post. Perfect. Although of course I do not believe in perfection. But really, it's everything that a post should be - funny, wry, revelatory, personal, universal, thoughtful. Hurrah for all of us whistlers and Hurrah for you.