Saturday, March 15, 2014

Entitlement, Part 2

Jean M. Twenge's first book about the attitude of the current generation, Generation Me, focused on the bloated sense of self importance and individualism of the young people of today, in comparison to those of generations past. Her second title, The Narcissism Epidemic, co-authored with W. Keith Campbell, continues the study while narrowing its topic to the growth and spread of narcissism since the baby boomers were born, and its effect on society.

To provide background on the concept of Narcissus, Twenge and Campbell relate the Greek myth of Narcissus, a handsome man who rejects the woman that loves him and dies from becoming locked to the image of his reflection. There are various versions of the story, though one variation claims that Narcissus committed suicide by the pool, due to remorse. This ending would imply that narcissism is an acknowledgable trait, and with the proper attention, can be cured. Naricissus’s remorse represents a narcissist’s ability to retain their morality, which can be reawakened. (Text-to-text)

When the authors discuss the spread of narcissism across demographics, they question whether "it's just the rich white kids who are narcissistic" but discover that "twice as many black as white teens said they'd rather be famous than be smarter, stronger, or more beautiful." However, "this overconfident attitude...isn't based on anything substantial," and the "description...sounds similar to some affluent suburban kids." The overconfidence in affluent suburban kids, when it turns for the worst, has been deemed "affluenza," which has been described as a sense of superiority and lack of concern for others due to material wealth and unlimited power. Affluenza, an extreme form of narcissism, was used to mitigate the charges on Texan teen Ethan Couch, who killed four people due to drunken driving. His defense attorney claimed that his upbringing was to blame for his actions, and he had not been raised with proper morals. These extreme levels of narcissism restrict a person's ability to make logical and moral decisions as opposed to desires and gut feelings. (Text-to-world)

For years, Americans have envied Asian students' higher international and national test scores. However, Twenge and Campbell revealed that "39% of American eigth-graders were confident of their math skills, compared to only 6% of Korean eigth-graders. The Koreans, however, far exceeded the U.S. students' actual performance on math tests." This divergence between presumption and reality in American and Asian students can be explained by a difference in upbringing. According to the article, "How Do Asian Students Get to the Top of the Class?" by Dr. Soo Kim Abboud and Jane Kim, "While American parents continually try to boost their children's self-esteem, Asian parents tend to dole out praise less frequently," and instead will talk to their child about how to improve any mediocre performance. While American students spend the school day being told how special they are, and come home to the same treatment, many Asian parents greet their students with extra work. Americans are obsessed with being the best, while Asians are always trying to become the best.(Text-to-world)

Twenge makes references to her first book when she defends the Baby Boomers' narcissism: "The Baby Boomer idea of self-exploration and 'finding yourself' sounds narcissistic and often is, but it can lead to greater maturity and eventually a return to the community. In her first book, Twenge never referred to the Baby Boomers' independence and spirituality as narcissistic, instead making them appear as revolutionary in their lenient attitudes. However, as she states in both books, the current generation gained their sense of self importance from somewhere, and the Baby Boomers' need to find and understand themselves transformed into the Millennial's need to promote themselves. (Text-to-text)

When the authors analyze the effects of parenting on narcissism, and how a parent's caving can cause a child to feel superior and entitled, they claim that if a child has been convinced by friends, the media, and other sources that something is okay, then a parent will eventually give in. I can vouch that my mother never gave in to anything; even things that were considered appropriate for children. In retrospect, I can understand why she wouldn't allow me to wear makeup or refused to buy me an expensive portable gaming system, but until recently, I could not figure out why she did not cave in to allow me to watch Cartoon Network. This channel was already paid for by our subscription, and it was the only channel my cousins would watch. I could only catch a clip or so at a time when in the appropriate company, but in my lonesome, could barely enjoy Nickelodeon. My playdates were scheduled far in advance, and I am still not allowed to spend time outside of school with friends except for scheduled events. This "caving" appears to only work on younger parents, who were raised by a lenient generation. Older parents tend to be more strict, like those before them. (Text-to-self)

Twenge and Campbell cite one of the causes of narcissism to be embracing a sense of entitlement by spoiling children. They claim that “as kids get older, the demands grow larger for expensive iPods, cell phones with every feature, and front-row concert tickets. Many kids don’t earn the money to pay for such things, instead expecting they will just be given to them.” In 40 years, the amount of money parents spent on their child rose from $1,106 in 1973 to $2,217 in 2006 (adjusted to 2008 dollars). The rising trend applies to all levels of income, though the wealthy are spending more. This spending becomes a problem as children depend on their parents for all of their resources. Students are encouraged to focus on school or extracurriculars, leaving little time for jobs. Their parents provide both their needs and wants, and these children begin to expect that they will always have their desires met. I admit I have fallen into this belief; I have never had a job and I expect my mum to purchase my clothing and school supplies and provide transportation. Her willingness to do so is reminiscent of the parents of narcissistic children. (Text-to-world, text-to-self)

The narcissistic senses of entitlement and self-importance in the digital world are identified when Twenge and Campbell mention how ironic it is that an individual's persona on a website is called an avatar, when the term avatar originally referred to the human forms of deities. The authors do not analyze the coincidence further, but is an implied commentary on how the narcissists view themselves as being on a higher level than their peers, and sometimes all of society. These narcissists "believe in themselves" and expect their opinion to be right in all situations. Their self-confidence, which the authors decided an excess of causes narcissism, allows them to be brutal in online discussions if they feel passionate about the subject, and the ability to create false or colorful identities, and change these identities at a whim, increases the sense of entitlement and detaches responsibilities for their actions. The stakes would have been much lower, but had Ethan Couch been an online troll instead of a murderer, he could sit at home and laugh about his evil deeds instead of face nationwide animosity. Anonymity allows the user to act as they wish, as though they may be despised for their actions later on, they can evade retribution by changing their identity. (Text-to-itself, text-to-world)

Twenge and Campbell also reignite the narcissism of celebrity and popularity when they describe how "other people use YouTube as a way to break into Hollywood without the usual gatekeepers of producers and studio bosses," and mention YouTube cofounder Chad Hurley's comment that "Everyone, in the back of his mind, wants to be a star." Near the beginning of the book, the authors describe how celebrities scored higher than average on the Narcisstic Personality Inventory than the general public. They also describe ways people indulge themselves in order to feel famous, such as by hiring paparazzi or throwing extravagant sweet sixteen parties. Social media allows these people to not just feel famous, but gives them an opportunity to become famous; their quest for fame encourages them to act like the celebrity they wish to become, which results in narcissism. (Text-to-itself)

The authors blame the increasing availability of credit for the majority of Americans' debt. People used credit to obtain material goods high above their means in order to feed their narcissistic desire to appear more wealthy and important than others; these actions cause their downfall when they fall into debt. The same pattern of rising and falling popularity is apparent in non-material form as well. Earlier in the book, Twenge and Campbell describe how narcissists usually become group leaders initially because they appear most confident and present themselves as skilled, though as their peers spend more time with them, the narcissists selfishness, dishonesty, and lack of true competence (or whatever their faults may be) are revealed, and they fall from grace. However, just as those narcissists remain in their high positions as their peers cannot find a way to remove them, when the economy recovers, the formerly rich usually regain their wealth, despite any infamy they claim. (Text-to-itself)

In the book Richistan, Robert Frank describes the divides within the upper class, and the lifestyles millionaires live. One anecdote Frank includes is that of a "Richistani" that ordered Ben and Jerry's ice cream to be delivered to his yacht in the middle of the Caribbean at 3 a.m. These expectations reflect those of someone who feels entitled, as if the world exists to serve them. It also channels the god-complex earlier implied by the use of "avatar" to describe an online persona. Frank explains how even though more people are rich than ever before, the middle class is effected in the worse way, by becoming more envious of the wealth and acting more narcissistic and entitled while in pursuit of wealthy lifestyles. (Text-to-text)

Twenge and Campbell describe their grandparents' lives in order to illuminate the differences between materialism in that time and modern attitudes about possessions. The chore-filled, money-lacking, work-with-what-we've-got lifestyle of their grandparents accurately describes that of mine as well. Like Jean's daugther Kate (born in 2006) I find it hard to believe that she lived in the wilderness, with not even a radio to listen to on stormy nights. Instead of owning the most exclusive clothes, in the thirties, my grandmother's family focused on not being mauled by bears. However, as the years passed, her lifestyle become more materialistic, as she moved to the city, managed her own restaurant, and built up a collection of designer dresses that impresses most people her age. This is evidence that materialism, an asset of narcissism, can develop over time. (Text-to-self)

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